Lex Luthor vs. Maximus the Confessor: An Apophatic Response to Atheism


Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman

Warning: This Post Contains Spoilers

As nerds around the world fume over, what many agree is “a crime against comic book fans” and “the worst superhero film of all time“, one aspect of Zack Snyder’s controversial new film, Batman vs. Superman, has yet to be analyzed. I am, of course, referring to: (SPOILER ALERT) Lex Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

Moments before the film’s climatic battle between two of the worlds most beloved heroes, the insidious Lex Luthor–portrayed in this film as a sort of morbid cross between Mark Zuckerberg, Victor Frankenstein, and Jim Carrey–delivers a good-ole-fashion super-villain monologue. One that explains his motivation for seeking to destroy Superman (a seemingly all powerful, godlike, being who writes the sports section at a local newspaper) and reveals the movie’s true meaning. That’s right folks, Batman vs. Superman is not merely a superhero flick; it’s an allegory.

Lex Luthor is the personification of New Atheist Post-Enlightenment ideology: a zealous scientist hellbent on proving to the world that God (i.e., Superman) is neither omnipotent nor omnibenevolent and, thus, a sham. Batman represents man’s struggle (unwittingly spurred on by Luthor’s ideology) to overcome and ultimately defeat the God delusion; a delusion that many claim is harmless–and even beneficial–yet has the potential to destroy humanity. In short, Luthor’s speech reveals that the true conflict in this film is not between Batman and Superman; but, between man and God . . . or, at least, a particular conception of God.

As a philosopher, I found this subversive underlying theme intriguing. Not the least of which, because it affords me the shameless opportunity to use pop-culture as a platform for having a serious philosophical discussion. Also, because it affords me the chance to correct several common misconceptions.

Stated succinctly, Lex Luthor’s idea of God is so far removed from traditional Classical Theism (CT) it’s laughable. To demonstrate this, I will contrast Luthor’s conception of divinity with that of one of the greatest ancient exponents of CT: St. Maximus the Confessor. Then I will show how St. Maximus’ apophatic approach to theology provides a powerful response to Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

We shall begin by examining Luthor’s conception of the divine, and his argument, a little more closely.

God as Man Writ Large

Lex Luthor holds a grossly anthropomorphic view of the Divine Essence. His picture of ‘God’ is simply ‘man writ large’.  In other words, he imagines God is something like a human being; only with unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

These are all attributes Superman appears to possess: he is virtually an unstoppable and indestructible being, he can listen to any conversation, or radio transmission, or TV broadcast, around the world, and has unlimited access to a Kryptonian super computer–containing virtually all the knowledge in the known universe–and seems completely unimpeachable.

Luthor’s conception of God–which I’m going to call the omniGod thesis–entails the Divine attributes are essential properties of the Divine Essence.  In other words, for Luthor, what it is to be God is to have: unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

Copy of Lex Luthor's God2It is precisely this conception of the divinity (or something like it) that many contemporary arguments for the nonexistence of God are aimed at. One popular line of reasoning goes like this: If we identify something from general experience that conflicts with the notion that a single being possessing one or more of the divine attributes actually exists, then we can show that God (who, just is, a single being possessing all of the divine attributes listed) does not exist.

Atheists, utilizing this type of argument, typically point to the fact of gratuitous evil to demonstrate that no omnipotent and omnibenevolent being actually exits. According to them, if such a being actually existed, it would, necessarily, ensure there was no gratuitous evil. In other words, if the omniGod thesis where true there would be no gratuitous evil. Since, however, we do experience evil, we can only conclude that God–conceived of as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being–does not exist.

Lex Luthor's God

The argument above is what philosophers call the problem of evil. Interestingly, Lex Luthor utilizes a similar line of reasoning in his climatic rooftop monologue. In this speech, it becomes crystal clear that his stupid-elaborate plan to wrangle Batman and Superman into a gladiator style battle is motivated by his determination to prove the Man of Steel does not posses the essential properties needed to be divine.

If Superman loses, and Batman kills him, he is not omnipotent. If Superman wins, and brings Batman’s head to Luthor, he is not omnibenevolent.  As a backup plan, Luthor also hacks into the source of Superman’s omniscience (i.e., the Kryptonian super-computer) and uses it to create an abomination that will totally obliterate the Man of Steel; thereby proving he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter what, the outcome of Luthor’s allegorical battle will prove, definitively, that: God is Dead!

St. Maximus and the Apophatic Way

In stark contrast to the omniGod thesis, Classical Theism (CT) has never pictured God as ‘man writ large’. Rather, it says God is so radically distinct, so different, so transcendent, that he is literally beyond understanding. Which is just another way of saying: we have no idea what God is! In fact, because he defies all human categories, and human thought, we can never know what God is. St. Maximus put it like this:

“God is one, unoriginate [i.e., he has no beginning or end or cause or explanation], incomprehensible . . . altogether excluding notions of when and how, inaccessible to all, and not to be known through natural image by any creature.”

When he says God is “inaccessible to all”, he is not claiming it is impossible to have a relationship with God. Remember, he is using metaphysical language. What he means is, ‘God’s Essence’ or ‘Divine Nature’–what it is to be God–is inaccessible to the human intellect. Rest assured, St. Maximus strongly emphasizes the fact that we can enter into a direct personal relationship with God in his other writings. The point, in this passage, is to establish that we have no idea what God’s essential properties are.

He goes on to explain that the Divine Essence stands in marked contrast to created being which, according to St. Maximus, can be understood and lead us to believe God exists:

“Created beings are termed intelligible because each of them has an origin that can be known rationally. But God cannot be termed intelligible, while from our apprehension of intelligible beings we can do no more than believe that He exists. On this account no intelligible being is in any way to be compared with Him. Created beings can be known rationally by means of the inner principles which are by nature intrinsic to such beings and by which they are naturally defined. But from our apprehension of these principles inherent in created beings we can do no more than believe that God exists.”

In other words, creation (which encompasses everything in existence outside of God) is fundamentally intelligible. This means it is possible for the human intellect to grasp it, to define it, and to explain it. The Creator, however, exists outside of the universe; and we simply can not grasp the nature of something outside the universe. We can, according to Maximus, know that the Creator exits; but we can’t say what he is.

Classical Theism: Radical Ontological Distinction Between Creator and Creation

classical theism

 

An Apophatic Response to Atheism

It may have occurred to you, by now, that CT is completely immune to arguments for the nonexistence of God like Lex Luthor’s. Why? Because Lex Luthor style arguments are aimed at the omniGod thesis; which assumes God’s attributes are His essential properties.

According to proponents of CT like St. Maximus, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For him, the attributes are either negative statements (with no positive content) or grounded in God’s energies (i.e., his active presence in the world). For example, to say that God is omnipotent is really just to say: God does not lack power. This is a negative–or, apophatic–statement with no positive content.

Positive statements can be made, but are made in reference to God’s energies (not to His essence). For example, when we say that God is good or just, we are not referring to His essence but to His energies. We come to believe God is good or just because he reveals Himself as good or just through His real presence and interaction, in history, with people and in the world.

All things considered, Lex Luthor is, not only, a disappointing super-villain, but a lackluster philosopher.

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Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine Kills Fascism (Part 1)


JPEG image-552A266454C7-1It’s a common argument against socialism (or what is perceived as socialism): “We can’t have complete economic equality because it’d remove all incentive to work harder and be innovative.” And to a certain extent, that’s completely true. Why would I work harder to take on a position of more responsibility and risk if I didn’t make more money for it? Certainly there are some out there who’s egos alone would push for such a promotion, but at some point most people would ask why you’d want to be the CEO when you can make the same amount of money as being the janitor.

Yet, a similar argument that’s rarely brought up is that low wages have the exact same effect. After all, if people on the “fry line” or “flipping hamburgers” sees their managers, even general managers, struggle to pay bills, sees them on government support, sees them struggling paycheck to paycheck, then why work harder to take on that responsibility? If you tell someone who struggles to put food on the table that with 5-10 years of real hard work they can finally break through to the lower-middle class, what incentive is there in working harder? The more the middle class shrinks and the less meaning there is to being middle class (in that it doesn’t really provide as high a standard of living as its used to), the less incentive there is to work harder or be innovative.

Thus, it seems there’s a happy medium to be had, one where wages are staggered enough to provide enough incentive to work harder and be innovative, but pay well enough to provide enough incentive to get to that new position.

And that, kids, is why the minimum wage debate is so pointless. We’re debating over the minimum a person earns, which impacts about 3.9% of the population. Not that I’m against raising the minimum wage – we need to – but that in the best case scenario, raising it will give us one to two years of economic growth. After that, we’re back to debating on raising the wage again. And raising the minimum wage would inevitably send some jobs overseas (jobs that would have gone eventually, but an increase in minimum wage would be the tipping point). It wouldn’t be the doomsday scenario of conservative talkshow hosts, but it also wouldn’t be the economic utopia of liberal think-tanks. Raising the minimum wage, while necessary and overall good (even with some negative consequences), is focusing on the wrong problem.

See, our economic problem isn’t that our minimum wage is too low, it’s that our median wage is too low. Now, ultimately, our problem is greed, but you can’t legislate people to be virtuous and to give up their greed. You can, however, create an environment where they can’t practice their greed, or where you can limit their pursuits in the name of greed. After all, I can’t legislate someone from hating another person, but I can legislate stopping them from acting on that hate. Likewise, while I can’t prevent people having an attitude of greed, I can prevent them from acting on that greed. The reason our median wage is so low is because we’ve allowed people to act on their greed, and it’s time to stop.

When we allow economic inequality to continue, when we allow the poor to become poorer, when we allow the middle class to disappear quicker than the polar bears, we create an environment that inevitably leads to a revolution of sorts. The times we face are hardly unique to world history. Economic inequality preceded many horrible events in history, such as the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution. In both cases income inequality erupted into violence. But we often forget that income inequality and its crippling effect on a nation preceded the election of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Both Italy and Germany suffered from high income inequality prior to the rise of fascism, and Germany suffered from a national inferiority complex due to losing WWI (which radicalized their fascists into Nazis, a more extreme version of fascism). A combination of national pride, blaming of the “other,” and workers not making enough to live led to the eventual conquest of fascism.

Fast forward to the modern era and we’re on the brink of seeing a revival in fascism, both in Europe and the United States. In Europe the far-right parties such as UKIP (United Kingdom), Front National (France), Law and Justice (Poland), Danish People’s Party (Denmark), and many other nations are experiencing an increase in nationalistic movements. These movements typically focus on the struggle of the working class, but tend to blame immigrants rather than the ruling elite (though the ruling elite are still blamed, the vitriol is saved for immigrants). Within the United States we have Donald Trump on the verge of victory in the Republican Party and a legitimate shot at winning it all. Fascism is alive and well, but it doesn’t appear ex nihilo. Rational people who lead comfortable lives don’t just wake up one day and go, “You know what, I hate immigrants, the poor, and want a revolution.” Fascism can only find berth in a revolution, and a revolution only arises out of discontent. The breeding ground for fascism – lack of economic growth, stagnation in the real economy, lack of motivation to move ahead, a loss of hope – are real issues. Failing to adequately address and fix those issues will almost always lead to horrible results.

We’ve had 30 years of globalization policies that have all but destroyed our economy (as well as many other economies). There’s a popular video going around about a Disney worker losing his job and having to train foreign workers to take over his job, workers hired by Disney because they’ll work at a cheaper rate. Manufacturing jobs lost in the 80s and 90s due to recession went overseas and will never return. Wages have stagnated and fallen. We have an entire generation today that is worse off upon graduating high school and/or college than generations before them, which is a first in American history. A populist backlash – and make no mistake, fascism is populist, as is socialism – was inevitable. That backlash has taken on the form of Trump in the United States, but resembles different leaders and candidates in other nations.

The above are all very real problems. It’s a problem that a job can be sent overseas to near-slave labor (which doesn’t benefit the worker in that country or the worker in the US). The wage gap in America is a massive problem, allowing the super-rich undue influence in politics, which secures their position while lessening the position of the average voter. By ignoring economic justice, by removing our economic policies away from doing what is right, we’ve created a very dangerous situation, a breeding ground for one of the worst political ideologies to come out of the Enlightenment.

What, then, are we to do?

This is Your Place in the Universe: The Tiniest of Kings and Queens


Source: NASA

Source: NASA

It’s popular on social media, notably Twitter and Facebook, to post videos that show how infinitesimally small the earth is when compared to objects inside our universe. They then draw some conclusion of, “See how insignificant we are?” or “So when your problems seem overwhelming, just look at how big the universe is and realize how small your problems are.” Such messages, I guess, are suppose to be inspiring, but ultimately they’re quite nihilistic. It’s like one of those Lisa Frank paintings with nihilistic messages:

tumblr_nuceptJzuw1uegvy1o1_1280

It looks kind, cuddly, and just pukes sentimentality, but the message is pretty dark. And that’s how these videos on the universe are; yes, we’re small, we’re tiny compared to other physical objects in the universe, but does that really mean our problems are insignificant? Just say, “Cry into the night sky, but understand that your sound goes into a void that will not answer back and will not hear you.” It’s atheistic existentialism without the acknowledgement of angst or absurdity, it’s optimistic nihilism, which is to say it’s neither optimistic nor nihilist, but just a logical contradiction.

How non sequitur is it to say, “But the universe is vast and large and we are insignificant” when someone comes to you with a problem? More importantly, why would the size of the earth play into our significance? While the magnitude of a problem experiences some subjectivity – to a three year old, dropping an ice cream cone is an act of supreme evil – it doesn’t mean our problems or even our lives are insignificant. We can’t look at the crisis in the Middle East, the number of orphans, widows, and rampant genocide, we can’t look at the rapes, the theft, the wanton loss of life and go, “Yeah, but VY Canis Majoris is 5,000 light years from earth and dwarfs our own sun! So really, how big can our problems be?” That response is properly received as cold and callous, and that’s because it is, because human lives are significant regardless of their size.

See, while VY Canis Majoris might dwarf our sun, or while the whole of North America might look like a smudge when compared to the size of Jupiter, human lives dwarf absolutely everything else in this universe, including the universe itself. We are the kings and queens of creation, placed as stewards over all that we observe, even if what we observe is bigger than ourselves. Much to the chagrin of atheists or the non-religious, though evolved we are still made in the image of God. And since God is infinite, within that image there is infinity, and infinity shall always remain greater than the finite. And the universe, no matter how vast it is, is still finite. The problems we face, the evil we cause, the good we enjoy, the love we create, and every aspect of our existential lives are not insignificant or small just because the universe is large; these elements echo in eternity and will surpass even the universe itself.

And for those who aren’t religious or are atheists and prefer not to believe that we are in God’s image, I can respect that, but I can’t respect the devaluation of human life. For even the atheist existentialists would embrace the absurdity of treating human life with dignity because, after all, it’s the only intelligent form of life of which we know As small as we are, our intelligence makes us of far greater value than some distant star of mass quantities.

So yes, in terms of physical limitations humans are insignificant. We’re nothing compared to other animals on this planet, if we’re only looking to physicality. But if we’re looking to more, if we’re looking to the intangible, immaterial aspect of our existence (for love, knowledge, and the like cannot be measured and though immaterial, are a vital part of our existence and are what makes us human), then nothing in the observable universe comes close to our own significance.

 

Contra Progress: We have made the modern world, but the modern world is not made for us


IMG_0039The United States is a place full of oddities and contradictions, much like the rest of the world. Our greatest contradictions exist within the workplace. We leave a house that we hope to sell (in order to move into a bigger one), drive in traffic that we hate onto the way to a job that we deplore, take orders from a boss we despise, and spend 7-8 hours (on average) in a building we’re working to eventually escape, only to fight that same hated traffic on the way home. By the time we get home we’re drained, we have no creativity or energy left, and what’s worse is we must wake up and repeat the process all over. Our only respite is the weekends, but even then we must fight crowds and face the reality that the eternal return of the same shall stare us down beginning Sunday night into Monday morning.

The angst of modern man is quite different from his ancestors. Existential angst has always been a part of human existence, the crisis of realizing that we exist, but truly understanding why we exist is at the core of many philosophical discussions. It is a question that spans across both Eastern and Western philosophies; both Socrates and Buddha, both Christianity and Taoism, and everything in between attempt to explain the crisis of existence. Even into the 1960s when hippies weren’t tripping off LSD, they were questioning why we’re here. These hippies eventually became the yuppies; the counter-culture warriors of the 60s became the consumerist capitalists of the 80s. Today, the question of “Why am I here” is answered in a myriad of commercials: “To produce and consume.”

Whereas the term “progressive” is commonly used to refer to someone who is liberal or even socialist, the greatest irony is that modern capitalism is truly progressive. Imagine a CEO coming out tomorrow and saying, “Our corporation has made a huge profit this year. We really don’t need a bigger profit at this point, so we’re going to give any extra profit to our workers.” That, of course, isn’t really progressive because it limits the growth of the company. Modern capitalism wants a world where satisfaction and contentment are dirty words, not signs of maturity. Some might say that this is really consumerism, to which I’d say that consumerism is a logical conclusion of capitalism.

We’re stuck in wage jobs where our entire existence depends not on our work or creativity, but on the effective management of the company for which we work (in previous ages this was called slavery, just of a higher degree than non-wage slavery). “If you work hard enough, you can make it.” I’m sure many people who were laid off or “downsized” work incredibly hard; but their labor was owned by another, and their owner mismanaged the fruits of the labor. If you want that new car, that new TV, that new boat, that new house, that new whatever, then you need to keep working. But ultimately, what are we working for? All these things will gather dust and eventually gain nothing. They are not wrong to have, but to pursue, to make them your goal in life? To seek a new model in a few years? We’re told our purpose in life is to consume, to consume things we don’t need, to consume things that will lose value within our own lifetimes; and if we reflect on that, even for a millisecond, when we think of how many hours of work we put into buying a new TV, we can’t help but feel the angst and disgust.

In pursuing progress in all things financial, we’ve stopped asking why we were created. But such a cessation of questioning is only harmful and has created nasty side effects. Just 100 years ago the majority of Americans lived in small towns where they were no more than a few minutes walk from the world as it was. While we might not have had an answer as to why we existed, we could at least walk within a natural environment and, even without knowledge, feel at home. Today, because we’ve stopped asking why we are here we have lost our connection with our first home. The sounds of nature, of birds chirping, of the wind rustling the leaves of a tree, of the beautiful silence of a forest during a winter snow are often interrupted or drowned out by bustling cars, honking horns, or the “progress” of construction. The incessant clamor of the modern world was born out of the silencing of the big questions.

How odd that modern man has moved his home away from nature when he is only home when closer to nature. In seeking to master the world, we have become slaves to our progress; in seeking to move our homes into the modern era, we have become homeless. We’ve struggled to create a fantastic world, a utopia, only to discover that it is so fantastic and so utopian that we don’t belong to our own creation. We have no frame of reference for our existence and so we stumble forward, blindly into a dark abyss, until we hit the age of 45 and go, “What the hell is all of this for?” To which the car salesmen sells us the new sports car, we leave our family for someone new, everyone chalks it up to a midlife crisis, and we still lead empty and mundane lives, just filled with new stuff.

Marriages aren’t falling apart because we’ve lost religion or because “the gays” can get married. Adultery doesn’t occur because we live in a post-sexual revolution world. Family values haven’t decreased because of Democrats (or Republicans). Society isn’t falling apart because of some liberal or conservative conspiracy theory. Rather, we’ve created a world that isn’t suited for humans and all we see are merely the conclusions of such a world. Just like our bodies will die when placed into an environment not conducive for bodies, so too will our souls die in an environment not conducive to the soul. Our modern world, the one that places our existence on our ability to produce and consume, one that seeks to work us and work us until our company can progress in its profits, is a world that is not only unfavorable to souls, but in many instances kills the soul.

Humans are not meant for the busy life. We’re not meant for 8 hour work days, five days a week (and that’s if you’re lucky; more and more we’re working a clocked 56 hours a week, not to mention the emails and calls at home). We’re not meant to sit in traffic driving metallic cows herded from one area to another. We’re not meant to be “producers” or “consumers,” at least not as our primary function. We’re not meant to remain busy, busy to the point that we lose who we are or worse, never discover what we could be. We’re not meant to look for the next big useless thing and then slave away so we can pay for that big useless thing. We’re not meant to be cut off from nature, not to the degree in which we’re separated, for ultimately we are still a part of nature. We’re not meant to live in isolation amidst our crowded cities. We’re not meant for the modern world.

There is no “Us or Them”


“We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them”

– Gungor

Last year Gungor released a delightfully dark, lyrically deep, and musically sophisticated album entitled I Am Mountain. Michael Gungor, the band’s founder and front man, also wrote an honest and insightful blog exploring his doubts about biblical literalism and fundamentalism. As a result, they were heavily criticized and even anathematized by many conservative evangelicals (Cf. Ken Ham, Q90 FM Radio, & Al Mohler).

On a personal note, I was living in Wake Forest at the time the controversy broke out and very disappointed when, at the last minute, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary canceled a Gungor concert I had been planning to attend for six months.

Gungor recently released a new song entitled “Us for Them” (which is embedded above). I find the song both moving and inspiring; especially in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston and the backlash regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. Nevertheless, I suspect, it will only embroil Gungor in even more controversy.

The reason for this is simple: it calls for us to love unconditionally. 

Rejecting the Either/Or

Gungor’s song decries our fallen tendency to divid people into categories (e.g., white/black, cool/uncool, rich/poor, educated/ignorant, gay/straight, etc.), to stigmatize and judge, and to segregate and hate. This is the either/or that Gungor rejects and which fuels their declamation against those who would “define us”. Many, however, will misunderstand the message. They will, instead, interpret it as an attack on objective truth.

After all, one might argue that, to reject the either/or distinction is to violate the law of non-contradiction; literally to say that A is both A and Not-A at the same time and in the same sense. If this is true,”Us for Them” advocates the logically absurd and is, ultimately, a misguided call for us to embrace moral relativism.

To interpret the song in this way, however, would be misguided. For Gungor is not attacking the laws of logic, nor are they denying the possibility of objective truth. They are, in fact, doing the exact opposite. They are affirming the objective existence of the God who is love and who loves all men unconditionally; and calling for us to follow His example. 

Two Ways of Viewing Humanity

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of viewing humanity. The first way denies that human beings have an essential nature–i.e., a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is merely a random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is contingent upon the vacillating whims of society and individuals.

The second way affirms human beings have an essential nature–i.e., that there is a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is more than a mere random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is an objective feature of reality. This means that what it is to be human does not depend upon accidental features of individual human beings (e.g., the color of your skin, your social status, your sexual orientation, etc.).

Christianity views humanity in the second way.  It maintains people are essentially good, in as much as they are made in the image and likeness of God. For the Christian, all human beings are intrinsically valuable and worthy of love in spite of their accidental properties. This means that you are valuable, you have dignity and worth, and are lovable, in spite of the way you look, the level of your IQ, or the things you’ve done.

It is the second way of viewing humanity, through the eyes of Christ, that Gungor’s new song champions. As such it stands squarely against those who define and judge other human beings in terms of some accidental feature of their existence. It is, thus, opposed to any worldview that would cause us to hate another human being due to their race, age, religion, or sexual orientation.

“Our Only War is Love”

To reject the either/or–i.e. humanities fallen tendency to divid, categorize, and judge others based upon accidental features of their existence–is to call for us to love one anther as Jesus does: unconditionally.

To embrace the way of love is literally to wage war on our fallen dispositions and against the fallen world system. It is to stare in the face of ISIS with open arms, as Jesus did on the cross: praying for the very people who murdered him.  It is to look at all of humanity, regardless of their sins, and to see the very image of God; to see that there is no “us or them.”

It seems appropriate to close with these words from St. Maximus the Confessor:

“For him who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between his own or another’s, or between Christians and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because he has risen above the tyranny of the passions and has fixed his attention on the single nature of man, he looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who ‘is all, and in all”

Christian “Atheism”


Five-Cent Synthesis

jupiter

I have developed the habit of reading four to five books at a time, plus dipping into another dozen in between, which may or may not prove very edifying. This, I admit, is a symptom of intellectual intemperance; however I also admit that I am ambivalent about seeking a cure. One I have just begun is Faith and Unbeliefby the English theologian Stephen Bullivant; as a former atheist turned Catholic theologian with a doctorate from Oxford, he appears to have an expansive grasp on both orientations towards reality.

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Of Mad Men and Discredited Russian Philosophers: The Angst of Donald Draper


***DISCLAIMER: Massive Spoilers! But that should be obvious, right?***

 

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Imagine a decade ago that I came to you and said I had an idea for a show. That idea would be to follow the lives of people who work in the office, in advertising, in the 1960s. You’d ask what happened, and I’d say, “Nothing. Nothing happens. They just live.” Would you green light the show? Probably not, but someone at AMC did and called it Mad Men, and the rest is history. Or at least soon to be history as the show comes to its conclusion.

For nigh on a decade (in show years; and kind of in real years) we’ve witnessed Donald Draper and the rest of the crew grow, develop, and collapse. All the while the question to the casual viewer is, “So when will something happen?” We thought that something was when Pete burst forth with the revelation that Donald Draper is actually Dick Whitman, to which Bernie Cooper gave a “Meh” response. The something was actually nothing. So goes the pattern of the show: Something major occurs, we think this is the *it* we’ve waited for, and it’s met with “meh.”

Yet, there’s an inescapable feeling that indeed something has happened, we just don’t know what that something is. After all, we’ve watched Don Draper live a “man’s dream,” of being successful, of marrying a woman half his age (who’s a french model), of drinking while on the job, and living a life with few consequences. But Don seems unhappy and unfulfilled. He fought to get his job back, only to continue to seek after other things. Don is never happy, nor is anyone else on the show. No one ever reaches the mountain and feels satisfaction, contentment is always a few elusive feet away, and for this we think something might have happened. Indeed, something has happened and continues to happen within the story of Mad Men: The battle for Don Draper’s soul.

No, this is not a Jesus Juke. This is not where I turn around and, much like the irate husband in this past week’s episode, tell Don Draper to find Jesus because “He can do some good things.” Rather, the battle for Don’s soul is fought on the existential level. One could say that the thing happening is the fight and struggle for Don Draper’s existence, for his identity, for his happiness. See, Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper, rather he’s two men. He’s Dick Whitman and Donald Draper. Rather than Draper being a cover so that Whitman could escape the horrors of Korea, Draper is also an entirely other personality.

Whitman is a carefree individual, not quite a hippie, not quite a beatnik, not quite an existentialist. But there’s no doubt that he loves life and desires freedom. In the very first episode of the first season we’re actually introduced to both Donald Draper and Dick Whitman. We see the businessman (Draper), the patriarch of the ideal family of four, living in the suburbs. In the darker elements we see a man living for himself, the ideal objectivist who uses anything and everything for his happiness. We also meet, albeit briefly, with Dick Whitman (though we don’t know his name), in having an affair with a bohemian-style woman, someone who seems incommensurable to the businessman. As the season and show progress the divide between the two personalities grows wider as the two fight for supremacy.  Continue reading