Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Harry Potter and the Supreme Court

I recently went to the movies (one of my favorite pastimes) and saw "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." I must confess that I have read all but the last of the Harry Potter books and have seen all of the movies. It's not that I'm a great fan of either the books or the movies, but I invest my time in them precisely because they are so popular. There is great power in the media, the type of power that was once the exclusive province of the printed word, power to shape minds and attitudes. As a parent and a concerned Christian I feel an obligation to understand what's being promoted philosophically to the wider culture. Call me what you will, but I don't trust the culture to promote what's best for anyone, especially my kids. But I digress...

I found the "Half-Blood Prince" to be visually entertaining, well-paced and for the most part well acted (Not that I'm Siskel or Ebert, mind you). If your idea of entertainment is to spend 2 1/2 hours in a darkened room unplugged from your world then "Half-Blood Prince" will fill the bill nicely. But there is a troubling aspect to the world of Harry Potter that unfortunately has an all to real counterpart to our world.

The Harry Potter stories, at their core, are morality stories. They are about self-discovery, overcoming loss, friendship, and right and wrong. That's precisely where Harry Potter falters and exposes the bankruptcy of the world of Hogwarts. The Harry Potter stories are morality stories with no moral center. In Harry Potter's world there is deception, manipulation, and the taking of life, and ambition among other things. I can hear some asking "How's that different from our world?" The answer lies in the fact that in our world there is, or used to be, a moral foundation that delineated right and wrong, truth and falsehood and other essential fundamentals. This moral foundation provides (or provided) the parameters within which civilization could reasonably operate and made possible the concepts of personal responsibility and social order. While it is true that these concepts exist in the fictional world or Harry Potter, they are not and cannot be sustained because there is no moral foundation upon which they rest. Thus civilization becomes the Darwinian ideal of "survival of the fittest."

By now you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with the Supreme Court. Since you asked....

A radio news report today announced that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a suit challenging the legality of a cross shaped monument in the Mojave Desert. The cross, originally erected by a veteran's organization as a part of a memorial to those who died in defense of their country, has been at the center of an eight year long legal battle concerning the "separation of church and state." What's really at state in all this dust up is the moral center of American culture. If the ACLU and their friends get their way not only will public expressions of morality (don't let the drape of religion fool you, this is about the destruction of morality) be outlawed, but eventually the very concept of an overarching moral code will be swept away in favor of a do-it-yourself, make it up as you go along kind of morality.

When, and if, that happens our world will certainly be a mirror image of Harry Potter's world where there is virtually no difference between right and wrong. The Bible tells us that during the time of the Judges that everyone did what was 'right in their own eyes" (see Judges 21:25), which is a prescription for disaster.

Sadly, this is already true for too many who call themselves Christians. As Paul wrote, they have a "form of godliness" but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). A Christian who pays only lip service to the Word of God is really nothing more than an unbeliever in church clothing. We cannot simply pick and choose what we will follow and disregard the rest. The Bible is either the Word of God in its entirety or it's nothing but empty words. Could that be part of the reason that it's almost impossible to tell the difference between most "Christians" and the unbelieving world around them?

Something to think about.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lessons Learned?

The recent deaths of Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop," and Steve "Air" McNair, former professional football player highlight the bankruptcy of American culture. Death has a way of bringing out the worst in us, not that many of us need any help in revealing our dark side. While in graduate school I worked for three years in a funeral home and saw first hand the effect that death has on every strata of our culture. Sadly, the deaths of the rich and famous are more often than not opportunity for spectacle and aggrandizement than serious introspection.

The Michael Jackson memorial service is a prime example of spectacle and aggrandizement. From parading elephants to parading people in various degrees of costume, Jackson's service had it all. There were widespread reports of ticket scalping. The speakers all praised Jackson, speaking in glowing terms. The crowds outside were filled with people who spoke of Jackson's effect on their life. My question throughout all this praise: What did Michael Jackson do to merit such effusive praise?

I mean no disrespect, but Michael Jackson made no great discoveries, found no cure for any diseases, did not pour out his life helping others. Michael Jackson's greatest contribution to the human race was his album "Thriller."Michael Jackson spent his life in a constant state of turmoil, as evidenced by his bizarre behavior and choices. Jackson himself once bemoaned the fact that he did not have a normal childhood, a regret that seemed to exercise immense control over the rest of his life. I do not deny his talent, but I wonder if that talent improved our world or the plight of anyone in it. All Jackson's millions and all his fame will have no lasting impact on the world.

Steve McNair was a great football player, and by all accounts a good man. He rose above his own difficult circumstances to make something of himself. Yet when the cheering stopped McNair seemed to have trouble adjusting to the mundane life that the rest of us live. McNair, the married father of four sons, had a very troubling relationship with a young woman almost half his age. It seems that this relationship cost McNair his life. I wonder why McNair could not honor his vows to his wife or his responsibility to his sons. McNair lost his life...his family lost far more.

I realize that my opinion concerning McNair is not popular, not that I care about being popular, but I refuse to excuse his choices simply because he was a great football player. I also refuse to rationalize his failures because he was a man or, as one columnist has said, a black man. Manhood, fatherhood, the commitment to your wife are all more important than the need to feel valued or manly. Mr. McNair, at least for me, forever tarnished his legacy and reputation. One man's need to relive the glory days has left four boys without a father.

Michael Jackson's fame and fortune. Steve McNair's fame and physical ability. Neither man found the answers that he sought. They both died tragically, but perhaps more tragically is that fact that they are not alone. So many of us hope to find the answers to our longings in fame, fortune or physical conquest. But there is no hope to be found in any of those things. They are all fleeting. At best fame and fortune are illusions, diverting us from the real answers for an all too brief time and leaving a greater longing than existed before.

Mr. Jackson and Mr. McNair have already learned the truth...Will we learn the truth before it's too late?