Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Pleasure of Disagreeing With Movies

I'm currently in the process of finishing an article which (I hope) Reformation 21 will be running in the future about watching films to the glory of God. One surprising theme which is emerging in my writing is the incredible privilege we have to hear points of view which we disagree with. This happened in St. Paul's time on Mars Hill in Athens as often as the philosophers and religious leaders would meet. It still happens every day on the internet, it occurs whenever religious thinkers meet together to debate with one another, it happens when arminians and teetotalers read this blog, and it even happens when we go to the movie theater.

What got me thinking about this again is that my wife and I decided to watch the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster; now I had seen this movie a hundred years ago, back when I was an atheist. I remembered greatly enjoying it and finding it a great reinforcement to my already skeptical worldview. Now, however, I see the movie as being full of horrible arguments and misrepresentations of a more robust and complex Biblical worldview than the filmmakers were willing to offer forth as its own counterpoint.

One of my favorite quotes from the film is from Ellie: [Referring to Ockham's Razor] "So what's more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn't exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?"

Interestingly, Carl Sagan (the author of the story the movie is based on) has invented alien species in the film so humans don't have to feel so small and alone. Consider this quote from the alien who meets with Ellie in the machine: "You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other." So couldn't we just as easily turn the tables of Ockham's razor and ask the question whether the aliens don't exist at all, and that we created them, so that we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?" It seems likely.

Actually, I have no problem with the existence of aliens. I believe that if they do exist, they will have been created by God, and therefore answerable to Him. I grew considerably more open minded about the compatibility of God's existence and extraterrestrial life since reading C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, but this is all a moot point.

On the subject of disagreeing with movies, I saw Wall-E on Friday with my wife and daughter, and thought it was a delightful movie which I recommend to everyone. I only wish I could disagree with Pixar's seemingly grim and horrifying dystopian future for Earth. Once I saw the space ship full of massively overweight white Americans living without the use of their muscles, I knew they were spot-on pessimists, just like me. The horrific dystopia which Wall-E presents actually rivals other dystopian visions (such as Children of Men or even Orwell's 1984) in terms of sheer realism and terror. With the exception of Mike Judge's brilliant Idiocracy, I don't know if I've ever seen a darker vision for humanity's future wrapped in such sweet, well-made candy coating. And yet I call it delightful; that probably tells you more about me than it does about the movie.


  1. Adam,

    I know that you said this was a side point, however, I would like to talk about the possibility of alien life. What do you think about alien life? Are they fallen? Could they be in heaven? I have lots more questions, but that is enough for now.

  2. Theoretical theology is about as useful to us as theoretical food is to hungry people. However, it can be fun to think about, in either case.

    I suppose that, first of all, if God has created life on other planets besides our own, it does not guarantee that they are responsible to him. For example, they may not be made in his image, just as rabbits or bears are not made in God's image. As such, they may simply be brutes or creatures of a lower order.

    If, however, God does have some higher regard for them or if He has created them in His image, it would seem that, though they might now look like us, it is a certainty that they would have the same spiritual aspects that we have (whatever that actually means).

    Even if these creatures are made in God's image, it does not necessarily follow, I suppose that they have had the same fallen experience that we have. Perhaps they chose to obey God and live in eternal fellowship with him which is unbroken by sin. God is free to do with his creatures as He wishes.

    Really, we have no idea what God has done outside our own experience and outside the knowledge He has shared with us in His word. I know this is probably obvious, but I want to be clear that I only see extraterrestrial life as being compatible with God's creation, not that I actually believe there are aliens out there.

  3. You said "rabbits and bears aren't made in God's image." this got me thinking, which is unusual in its own right. there is currently a trend where emergents, or at least Rob Bell and maybe C.S. Lewis, believe that God wants us to work to redeem creation, or to put it another way, the work on the Cross was not only for salvation of the human soul, but also for salvation of creation. I know this is off point, but what do you think about this ridiculous theology, and if you agree or disagree, where is the scriptural support?
    as for the aliens, I don't think God would allow them to break through to our world if they were not fallen. Chuck Missler has some interesting thoughts on this topic. I wonder if he would consider reading your blog?

  4. I disagree with your analysis of the movie Contact. What I remember taking from the movie was the idea that there is not always physical evidence for something that is nevertheless true. The main character falls through the space portal and as far as anyone can tell she didn't go anywhere. All we have is her crazy story about what happened to her. Irony. She criticizes faith in the existence of something that cannot be scientifically proven, ultimately to wind up believing in something that cannot be scientifically proven herself. Yet she continues to believe it despite the fact that the evidence does not seem to support her belief.

    I don't believe the movie was trying to postulate the existence of aliens that seeded our planet or anything like that, or arguing for atheism. It was only a commentary on the importance of faith. So I actually remember enjoying the movie, despite Matt McConohay's warped version of Christianity which I remember him adhering to in the movie. (It's been a while since I saw it so I don't recall the specifics of that particular part though.)

    I would definately reccomend it.

  5. I don't think you're completely wrong in your analysis, Heretic, but the important fact that I usually square in on is that Sagan thinks there is a correlation between a Christian and his faith and Jodie Foster's character after her experience. It seems he's extending an olive branch of sorts, but in reality, he's saying that there is no evidence for the Christian worldview, and you and I simply believe in Jesus based on fideistic principles. This is simply not the case, and I'll stomp my feet and stand my ground at that point.

  6. Well I don't know that Sagan is trying to say that there is no evidence whatsoever for Jodie Foster's experience - but only that she can't prove her beliefs to someone else that doesn't already accept them. Certainly Christianity cannot be proven just as Jodie's space travel cannot be. But that does not mean that Jodie's experience is not evidence nonetheless, even if it is not accepted as such by anyone else. But I can see why you wouldn't like the movie nonetheless, because as I recall Matt McConohay portrayed Christianity as an excercise in blind faith which it certainly is not. I'm not sure this enough for me to scrap the whole thing, however. I thought it was a decent watch still.

  7. Well you're totally right about that last part; as a movie, I think it's really really wonderful. I love the movie, to be quite honest. It's probably in my top ten (maybe 20...).

  8. I expect a full review of the dark knight


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