Every time I’ve seen an article about ISIS lighting a man on fire, I’m reminded about how adorable our modern popes have gotten. It’s almost enough to make you want to pat Papa Francesco on his head. Nearly everyone in the West is well familiar with the Catholic church — at least, with their burning people alive during the time when they had the most power (which also happens to be the time when they abused their power the most). The funny thing is that we’re reminded of it now, when people who aren’t even Catholics are burning people who aren’t really heretics; in other words, we bring it up at a time when it isn’t really helpful. Just like we bring up the time when white people used to torch black people before Americans wised up and began persecuting our own murderers. A smart person might almost be led to believe these experiences would make us more likely to condemn the psychotics; but others, unfortunately, find it more enlightening to relate to them. It almost makes you wonder whether, if somebody from another race or religion tries to rape any of our girlfriends, we’ll end up hearing about great-grandpa Gideon throwing a sack over a mountain woman’s head and forcing her to marry him (although I think this was called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Gideon might argue that he was only behaving like Plutarch’s account of Romulus). (more…)
7. February 2015
7. January 2015
Since I’m about done with the fourth season, I suppose I owe an explanation to someone for having begun to watch Game of Thrones in the first place. I’d sworn it off for years now, only to prove that I’m not the kind of man who should be swearing anything. If it wasn’t for marriage and business, I wouldn’t believe in vows at all. They work out fine for men like David and Jonathan, who pledged each other their mutual devotion, because their souls were knit together. But then there’s Jepthah, who vowed to sacrifice the first thing that left his front door if he won a war, and then ended up sacrificing his daughter. Some people think it’s sexist that Mosaic Law prohibits women from making vows without their husband’s consent, and it may very well be — perhaps toward men. The idea that women can express their ecstasies and sorrows in ridiculous vows and not find themselves bound to something which, being made in the heat of the moment, has every ability to ruin their lives later, you would think a greater benefit than an insult (although I can conceive of its being an insult to the intelligence of women). Both sexes, after all, are capable of being rash. But enough on Biblical vows and feminism.
The reason I began watching Game of Thrones, aside from my recent lapse in religiosity, is because Doctor Who and Sherlock were both horrible. Both came with the highest ratings and the warmest recommendations. Doctor Who, from what little I saw, was too weird without being deep, which means it has more the vices and less of the virtues of Star Trek; and Sherlock was about a man who was too intelligent to be understandable. The former show was all action without any wisdom, the latter had so much plastic superhuman “wisdom” it almost lost every trace of excitement — an excitement, which, I believe, results from the possibility that things might go irrecoverably wrong. Sherlock wasn’t only too smart to be human, he was also too smug to be humane. It was like watching an autistic man-child run everyone else over for an hour and a half. There’s a part of you that wants to see an evil mastermind lose, and then another that makes you wish Sherlock wouldn’t win.
And so I got tired of wasting my time. I’d just finished The Walking Dead, which was an excellent show — slightly corny at first, but bolstered by the novelty of a world gone undead. The characters were excellent, in almost every regard. Some were good, others bad — most of them capable of going in either direction. There was a constant tension between the drive to be practical, and the drive to be human — or in other words, between whether or not we survive, and whether or not we’re willing to protect the things that make survival worth it — the same tension that exists every time we discuss welfare and borders and armies. This tension resulted in several different kinds of leadership, and several different kinds of character development. You could see Rick Grimes, a centrist sided slightly toward the ideal, trying to maintain law and order and justice by playing his role as a policeman long after the world had collapsed — and how Shane and Dale were tugging him (respectively) towards practicality and idealism. Neither Shane nor Dale were quite balanced enough to make either of them a great leader. Rick’s tightrope walk is the centerpiece of the show, because difficult decisions, especially when both sides are adequately represented, are the height of drama.
Shane was my favorite character. Of all the characters, aside from Rick Grimes himself, he was the man who protected the weak and innocent; his difficult decisions repeatedly saved everyone; he would have made a great father and husband and a friend — if it hadn’t been for his misplaced affection for Rick’s wife. But then again, this is the story of many great men, the earliest I can think of being David with Bathsheba. To have a truly great man go sour over a particularly nasty but understandable affection is the mark of a great tragedy. But Shane isn’t alone. Every character develops from a pre-apocalypse suburban archetype to a hardened survivor, and none of them, even if they’ve chosen the wrong, is left without a healthy dose of sympathy. In short, the overwhelming majority of the characters are three-dimensional, because you see them change for good reasons before your eyes.
There is no magically-intelligent autistic man-child, and the show isn’t action without consequence, or a portrayal of anything other than the depths of the human soul. The Walking Dead is a great show, because whoever made it understands people. I’ve heard several people say that the show is boring, because it’s like a soap opera: they think it would have been better if Rick Grimes had been hacking zombies the whole way through. But I think they’ve missed the point. The zombies are a convenient backdrop to expose the frailties, desires, and heroics of the human race. It allowed the writers to express, in the most easily digestible form, that many choices can be made, and there are plenty of paths to follow — most of them bad. Socialism gets a serious beating, in the medical highrise of Officer Lerner; a benevolent dictatorship, with all its secrets and propaganda, takes the form of Woodbury. The merits of democracy and monarchy are both toyed with in Rick’s camp. Mistrust eats the souls of the men in Terminus, who become patriotic to the point of extreme barbarism. Nobody who survives is allowed to make easy choices. But there are always choices that are worse than others.
This brings us to Game of Thrones. After watching a show as deep and complex as The Walking Dead, it’s easy to imagine a difficult transition into something as campy as Dr Who or Sherlock. So in short, if I can attempt at making this as easy to understand as possible, Game of Thrones is what would happen if Shakespeare and Machiavelli had a baby with Ron Jeremy and (eventually) the Marquis de Sade. Or in other words, it exhibits the wisdom of a philosopher and the tactics of a seasoned politician, while ruining it all with some of the nastiest soft-core pornography on television, and furthering the sexual depravity with unhealthy doses of sadism.
There has never been a time when wisdom and action were teamed so closely with beautiful storytelling and believable characters. The plot is complex, and meaningful beyond anything I’ve ever encountered. The characters will surprise you, but unlike the lazy wizardry of Sherlock and Doctor Who, they surprise only within the boundaries of human expectation, which is the hallmark of good writing. You’ll hate Jaime Lannister before you love him. You’ll laugh with and clap for Tyrion before you want to cry for him. You’ll want to be like Ned Stark, before you realize he’s honest to the point of naivety. You’ll pity Jon Snow before you want him to lead you in battle. There is no character in Game of Thrones comprised of a single aspect, like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. You’ll hear wisdom spouted from ruffians and queens alike, and each of them will speak in their own voice, from their own experiences, as if they’re someone who actually exists — a product of their own actual environment, and decisions good or bad. Everyone hates Cersei, but sometimes they agree with her. Nobody likes The Hound, but they can see why he’s such a bastard. Allies become enemies, and enemies become allies; every change in fortune is believable.
There is a tendency amongst those we consider the better Americans to believe that ruling is only about justice. Game of Thrones proves, not only by the consequences of foolishness and naivety, but by an actual speech by one of the chief villains (a speech rivaling John Falstaff’s famous oration in defense of cowardice*), that wisdom and cunning are equally important. Enough maxims are stated to fill Poor Richard’s Almanack and the book of Proverbs, but none of them feel unnatural, or out of place. Evil is given as good an argument as Goodness, which is the way it is in real life. You will not find any of the characters, excepting maybe one or two, who lacks a reason for his bad behavior, like how nobody in The Walking Dead who runs a horrible dictatorship ends up in one without a healthy dose of your sympathy. Sins as well as acts of righteousness have their incentives, many of which appear legitimate. Spurgeon once said that discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong, but knowing the difference between what is right and what seems right. I’m inclined to agree with him. But if I was to recommend Game of Thrones to anyone based on its merits alone, I would be falling into the latter category; and so I refuse to give my recommendation — I’ll give only my assessment.
There are people who say that Led Zeppelin sold their souls to the Devil so they could make great music, but I don’t believe them. But if somebody told me George R. R. Martin sold his soul for Game of Thrones, I would have to accept it as fact — not because I even believe in the Devil, but because Game of Thrones is simultaneously too good and too bad to have come from a common man. If the Devil is good at anything, it’s at hiding horrible things inside the things we normally think are excellent. Game of Thrones is the height of artistic perfection, in theater and cinema, marred by an almost inexcusable and inexhaustible moral sickness. George R.R. Martin is our fallen Shakespeare. If Martin’s name doesn’t survive the century, it will only be because the majority of our neighbors are too decent to share it with their children.
Why, thou owest God a death.
Exit PRINCE HENRY
FALSTAFF ‘Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before
his day. What need I be so forward with him that
calls not on me? Well, ’tis no matter; honour pricks
me on. Yea, but how if honour prick me off when I
come on? how then? Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. ‘Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
- Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism.
28. December 2014
One thing that’s come into fashion lately has been people’s tendency to mock Disney characters for being “racist.” Nobody questions whether the crows in Dumbo might have been modeled after real musicians of the era, and nobody questions whether there really were (at some point in a bygone era) Indians like the ones in Peter Pan. Apparently nobody has ever ridden the Washington State ferry system and seen old pictures of actual Indians. It’s almost enough to make you wonder what Millenials think when they go to an Americanized Chinese restaurant. Is it more racist to call Chinese what they aren’t actually, or more racist to call them what they are? Or is it racist to pretend Chinese people have certain kinds of food at all? Maybe someday we’ll live in a world where all the different races act completely the same way, so that everyone can pretend to be more diverse without any stereotypes. But I don’t see how this could help us find good food. (more…)
I’ve lived many places throughout my life, and this one, situated in the South, happens to be one of the worst. And I say this because, on the right side of me and on the left, I’m neighbored by a racist, and a redneck (respectively). The latter parks his trucks on the grass and plays his Luke Bryan late into the evening, and enjoys getting into fights with his girlfriend — who could very possibly be his sister. The racist, on the other hand, presents a different kind of problem. He hates everything to do with any race except his own; which is unfortunate for me, because I’m a half-bred Hispanic. He believes everyone other than his own race is against him: the Asians have taken his child’s place at college because they study harder, the Mexicans have taken his job because they’ve outclassed him in price and work habit. And lastly, perhaps worst of all, he believes that whenever something bad happens between black people and white people in the national news, the black people are innocent, and the white people, whose minds he cannot read, are racists. Oh — I’ve forgotten to mention something. This racist neighbor is black. (more…)
It might be prudent to confess, before getting too far along with this essay, that I have nothing against Pope Francis except his politics. It isn’t that he’s rude or selfish or uninspiring; anyone with half a brain knows that Pope Francis is one of the kindest and most exciting public figures we’ve had in a while. I simply have a problem with him saying horrible things, like that he knows many good Communists. (more…)
The other day I was accosted by the first militant Jew I’ve ever met. I’ve heard of militant Jews for years now; the ones in wide-brimmed hats and ridiculous curls who go around “shaming” people for turning on light switches and spitting on the Sabbath. I’ve lived long enough now to know that it’s always better to meet religious people before making judgments about them: I heard terrible things about the Mormons for years, and then I found out they were some of the greatest neighbors in the world (at least, they are in Seattle). But anyone who thinks he’s morally superior for not eating shrimp or wearing polyester is already too unbearable for my taste. Thankfully, I’m not alone. Jesus seems to have agreed with me. (more…)
I don’t remember ever directly encountering the 5 Points of Calvinism in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, but here they are, in case you aren’t sure you remember them.
Perseverance of the Saints
They mean, in essence,
1) That from the second you’re born, you’re in a position of damnation
2) That God chose you to be saved regardless of anything you’d ever do
3) That God only chose some of us, and then damned the rest
4) That you don’t have a choice in your salvation
5) That once you’re saved, you’ll always be saved (more…)
I’m absolutely certain that it was my anthropology professor who told me that in certain bushman cultures, a menstruating woman is put into a hut until she stops menstruating. What I’m not certain about is whether quarantining a menstruating woman is a good idea.
One of the strangest periods of Roman history was the period right before the republic collapsed and became an empire. The Romans weren’t known for losing, but during this period, they lost nearly everything they put their hands to. Catiline nearly overthrew the republic by rallying profligates, whoremongers, and drunken hipsters under the flag of rapacity. A Numidian king named Jugurtha practically walked into the Senate, bribed a bunch of senators, and caused them to overlook his hostile foreign policy — which cost a friendly kingdom its ruin; and pirates practically owned the seas, so that all sea trade had practically stopped. Nothing was fought for, everything was bought. Money, and not honor, was the currency; safety was lost for safety’s sake. Jugurtha was told by the Romans themselves that everything was for sale in Rome, and he proved them right. Rome itself was plunder until Pompey arrived and in a moment of manliness and decision cleared the seas of pirates; the republic was lost to Catiline until Cicero shouted like an angry patriot and placed his own life in danger to save it. Rome was bought until Metellus and Marius arrived, denying the bribes of Jugurtha, and actually decided to stand by their friends.
I just realized, this morning, that the reason I’ve been having a difficult time wanting to be a Christian isn’t because of Christianity, but because of other Christians. To give a single example, Victoria Osteen recently made a silly speech about how Christianity and church and religion in general is about us being happy, which seems perfectly reasonable to me. The problem is, the most “serious” Christians were quick to respond that Christianity isn’t about our happiness. (more…)
If anyone really wants to know what the most interesting thing about the Song of Solomon is, I wouldn’t tell him, like our dear, late friend Mr. Caldecott, that it’s interesting because of its physical position in the Bible. It may be true that it’s halfway through the Bible; it may be true that God’s passionate love for us is central to the meaning of the Bible, and that the Song of Solomon is a powerful allegory about God’s desire. But if anyone was to ask me why it’s really interesting, I would tell them it’s because Solomon was already married when he pursued the Shulamite. (more…)
This morning I happened to find an article on Rachel Maddow’s Facebook page about a new voting law in North Carolina. Now, it’s easy to guess what her position was on the matter, because nearly every leftist says the same thing: she believed that the voting law was aimed at preventing minorities from voting, and the article was addressed particularly to the black community. The truth about the law was, of course, that the law was aimed at illegal immigrants in the Hispanic community — which is a perfectly reasonable law to pass when foreign nationals are threatening to upset an election. But the most interesting thing about the complaints was, they had nothing to do with language tests or anything other than having a valid ID and being prepared to vote. (more…)
31. May 2014
I’ve heard strangers say perhaps a dozen times, that if the Native Americans had only kept control of the Americas, that the environment would be in much better shape — but I think this is only half a truth. It isn’t so much that Native Americans were very good at taking care of the environment; it’s more that they were very bad at taking care of their children. (more…)
25. May 2014
One of the strange things about living in America is that one moment you’ll see everyone pretending to cry about 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls, and the next moment Americans will practically try and force you to be one. I say this because I just finished watching a 7-minute long (and slightly foul) Louis CK monologue, and discovered that I have a moral obligation to romance fat women. The problem is, I’ve never had a fat girlfriend because I’ve never really wanted one. Maybe Michelle Obama should be wearing a shirt with my face on it. (more…)
2. May 2014
I’ve never been able to understand why Americans feel so comfortable glorifying Vikings and dressing their children up like pirates. So far as I’ve been able to understand, Vikings and pirates are rapists on boats. You’d think anything would have been a better option. (more…)
28. April 2014
I’m not exactly sure who the Shulamite in the Song of Solomon is, but if there is something of which we can be certain, it is that she was one wife of seven hundred, or perhaps one of three hundred concubines. It may perhaps be more useful to us to know whether she was the first wife of a thousand, or whether she is #533; perhaps if she was the former, then Solomon’s wooing would appear more honorable and sincere. But there is no denying that whatever sentiments are expressed, and however sincerely, this was not the only woman Solomon romanced. He is likely (at least, we would hope and expect for the women’s sake, he having more than one wife) to have felt the same things toward other women, and the book is expressly condoned by both church fathers and Jews alike as a legitimate expression of sexual desire. If it were a book about lust or adultery, it would have been an injudicious choice for canonization (something which I am disinclined to believe): as a parallel matter, it is one thing to portray David’s lust for Bathsheba in passing, as a background for God’s ensuing justice: it is entirely another to dwell on sin and share in it. (more…)
9. April 2014
I haven’t seen any pictures, but I’ve been told that when my grandpa was a baby, he used to wear a fluffy dress. Now, my grandpa wasn’t a sissy; he actually turned out to be a very muscular, very virile, very rugged machinist, and he happened to get a woman pregnant before he was even married to her (this woman became my grandma). But the reason that I mention his wearing a dress as a boy, is because nobody was ever concerned during those days that making him wear a little dress was going to in any way make him effeminate or give him gender confusion. Today, making a baby boy wear a dress would either arouse a healthy amount of laughter or a deep sense of concern; yesterday, that is how we dressed a good portion, if not all, of our soon-to-be warriors, machinists, preachers, and neighborhood grocers. (more…)
30. March 2014
Being an American is a messy business. Nobody watches mediocrity or the boring; the whole world has better things to do than sing about Scotland, and none of the African states are quite as deplorable as Somalia. It seems that the more power and prestige a nation has, the more attention it gets, and even the worst of nations at least is forgotten from time to time unless a man is living in it, or it happens to be disrupting the price of oil. The greater something is, the more it inspires our admiration and invites our censure; and if we may be certain about two things, it is that great power produces great corruptions, and that men have always been envious of power. And therefore, whether one lives within or without a great nation, we are frequently more likely to hear complaints rather than praise. (more…)
29. March 2014
There really isn’t any way to keep myself from getting into trouble with this letter, so I’ll begin it in the most straightforward manner possible: if anyone tells you we must take the Bible literally, it’s important that you question that person’s teaching seriously. (more…)
25. March 2014
It’s four o’clock on Sunday morning, and I’m sitting down to write you about happiness. I don’t know why, but the UN has decided to have an International Day of Happiness, and I can’t sleep because I keep thinking about it. Maybe having a day about happiness makes them happy; writing about why they shouldn’t works much better for me. (more…)
19. March 2014
Nobody should ever suggest that leadership and assertiveness are mutually exclusive: all sensible people must agree that in order to lead, someone must give directions, and when the time comes for it, that those directions must be given strongly. A great leader, like Germanicus Caesar, knows that at certain times even mutinous soldiers must be courted, and that at others they must be executed, and that only wisdom can discern which is more appropriate. But I would never agree with Cheryl Sandberg, that we should teach all bossy little girls not that they’re bossy, but that they’re natural leaders. I have heard plenty of women say that bossy women make great leaders; all of them have made their fellow women miserable. (more…)
17. March 2014
As I’m thinking about my library, I have no other thought but that it will belong to you at some point. I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about who’s going to get it; most of the time has been depressing. There isn’t a single person in the world I could give these to after I die, without thinking my gift was a waste. Nobody pursues knowledge anymore: nearly everyone thinks he knows everything. I’m afraid they simply won’t be read. I’m hoping you will be different. (more…)
13. March 2014
Before I was a Christian, if anyone was interested in finding the fastest and surest way to misery and isolation, I would have recommended to them casual sex. Now that I’m a Christian, the most viable alternative would be to take writing seriously. (more…)
3. March 2014
I don’t care what people say — I refuse to believe that a man who’s a drag at work is a good man in whole. Eight hours a day are spent at work, at the very least; eight hours are spent at home, and eight hours are spent sleeping — at least, if a man is sensible enough to get himself some sleep. Work may only be a third of a man’s entire day, but it is half of his waking hours, and if a man’s a drag to be around for half a day, I say he’s entirely bad — especially if that’s the only portion of the day I see him. (more…)
27. February 2014
I remember hearing about ten years ago, from my professor of biological and cultural anthropology, that people had many names for the things which were most important to them. She was specifically talking about Inuits, and how survival in the Alaskan wilderness brought them to recognize many different kinds of snow — there were maybe fifty terms, if I remember correctly — and how recognizing the different kinds of snow was useful to them. I suppose it would be useful to anyone trapped in snow. Perhaps it allows them to read the weather and expect certain changes; perhaps they are bored, and tired of telling stories, and so they looked for anything to talk about. What I do know is that when you are surrounded by something and live within it, it is what you know: to the Eskimo, the snow is a matter of life and death, and so snow is too broad a term for him to use. He knows it better than us, because snow is a great part of his existence. (more…)
3. February 2014
It seems strange, at least to me, that anyone could pray for a specific country about which they know nothing, and to which they have never been. And I bring this up because I recently encountered a postcard in my house, asking me to pray for a certain country which I have never prayed for, despite the fact that the postcard has been in my house for several months now. It’s not that I am against this country’s well-being: I have never had a negative thought about the country in my life. I have also never had a positive thought about the country in my life. But I have also never had an intention of praying for this country in my life, something which (at least, one would assume) is something someone would do only if he was apathetic about something’s well-being, especially when he is being asked to pray. (more…)
30. January 2014
Almost halfway through Herodotus’ historical masterpiece, The Histories, and I have yet to encounter a single mention of the Jews. That a Greek may have happened to ignore such an important people may result from his national bias, and the fact that up until this point, Greece may have had little contact with the Jews. But if his silence admits any particular fact, it is that of all the kingdoms mentioned — of nations and empires and tyrants, of races large and small — Israel had little if anything to do with shaping their history. (more…)
28. January 2014
I remember a time, right about the time I became a Christian, in which I found myself at a burlesque show. Now, I had never intended to be at a burlesque show; I had actually intended to attend some kind of a circus, at which an acquaintance of mine was the ringmaster. Even in my promiscuous days, I’ve always been too embarrassed of expressing sexuality openly — being a romantic man, I preferred a romantic approach, and always thought an open and forthright admission of sexual desire to be not only barbaric, but unattractive. This kept me away from all strip clubs and a good portion of the dirtiest girls, even though I was constantly hindered from getting a quality girlfriend. Thus I constantly found myself getting pretty girl-next-door types (and by pretty I mean, innocent upon first impression), while what I wanted from the very beginning was a princess. But princesses require princes, and I was nothing more than a dog. (more…)
16. January 2014
Editor’s note: this essay is dedicated to my dear friend and brother, a great encouragement to me and my fellow Thaddeus, John Anders.
Of all the apostles, I’ve heard most Christians claim to be like Peter. The reason is obvious and natural enough: to claim likeness with Paul is to claim a share in his sufferings and idealism and wisdom which borders on the comically narcissistic; and to claim likeness with John is to say that we are the disciple whom Jesus loved. We know little more of Matthew than that he was a tax collector, and of certain other apostles, our understanding goes little further than a business of fishing. But Peter is far different: he’s brash and rude and mistaken and forgetful — cowardly and silly and short-sighted: in other words, a perfect match for nearly every Christian in existence. The other apostles are Apostles; Peter is human. (more…)
4. January 2014
The other day I heard a preacher ask if Jesus Christ ever exaggerated. This question was rhetorical, of course, and he was expecting us to answer no, simply on the basis of our believing Jesus Christ to be a true teacher. But upon second thought, there is nobody I can think of in the entire Bible who’s given more to hyperbole, which is extremely similar to exaggeration. (more…)