2017-05-12 11:15 pm
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The Place of Forgiveness

I thought about making this one of my Evangelizing Advice from an Atheist tips. Then, I searched my memory and found that, while this is a problem in general, it's not, to my experience, so much of a problem in the Evangelizing and Apologetics fields. It needs to be stated (though, I won't be the first), but it gets nebulous in terms of category.

I don't know where the problem with our attitude regarding forgiveness starts. But, I do know one place that typifies the problem, best, and that's in the words of Jesus in the Bible. It's the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor.

Here's the text, copied from Biblegateway.com, from the New Living Translation.
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2017-05-05 10:25 pm

Tip #77 The Uncertain Value of Certainty

At the end of the Nye/Ham debate, a few years ago, when the moderator was presenting audience questions, one telling question came up. What would it take to convince you that the other side was correct? In this debate, the question wasn't God versus not, but evolution versus Young Earth Creationism.

Nye, the proponent of evolution, gave a quick list of potential evidences that would contradict the evolutionary model of Earth's history. Ham, the proponent of Creationism, insisted that, being a Christian, nothing could sway him.
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2017-01-31 07:12 pm
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The List

Here's a term I thought up a few months ago and, mainly, kept in my head. It was useful for me to organize my thoughts but I didn't think it'd need to be put into common use. Things being where they are, politically, I think this needs to enter common use, if only because it's something that needs to be discussed.

The List. You've heard the phrase, put in the mouths of youths looking to be intimidating, "you're on my list." You've heard of Nixon's enemies list. That's a good start. That list is a metaphor. The physical lists are controlled by one person. This List isn't controlled by any one person, but everybody in a culture gets a hand in crafting The List.

The List is all the people that will get agreement someone says "this country could do without..." or "things would get a lot better if we could get rid of all the..." or "we should do something about the...".

The List shifts with the times and with which specific culture you're talking about, who's in power, etc.
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2016-06-14 05:40 pm
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The Social Iceberg

Last week, I didn't make a post outside of one of my tips for my Evangelizing Advice from an Atheist series. I wanted to, but something had happened at the beginning of last week (or rather, I became aware of that something and it became well known to the world). It was... I couldn't not comment on it. And, yet, I couldn't comment on it in any way that wasn't using that horrible thing just to repeat something that has already been well said before.

Then, an entirely different horrible thing happened at the beginning of this week. Again, comment has already been made. In each case, the applicable comments have been made long before the events actually happened. I can't add to the conversations in specific.

So, in the hopes that I can do some good, I'll add a general concept and phrase, in the hopes that future conversations can go more smoothly.

The Social Iceberg
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2015-12-06 02:02 am
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Okay, It's Time to Explain Something about Privilege

In some ways, I might be a little late on this. Months ago, there was that article by some college student explaining that, no, he won't check his privilege because he refuses to feel guilty for being white, male, Christian, cisgengered, heterosexual, etc.

Still others demand proof that they're privileged.

So, let's clarify this matter.

The best definition of "Privilege" that I can come up with for the purposes it's being used is "the stuff you don't have to deal with, but others do for the same goal or the same situation."

Put that way, this means that there's likely not a soul alive that isn't privileged in some way, shape or form... or who doesn't lack for privilege given a certain context. So, checking your privilege is meant to remind you that there's stuff you don't have to deal with, that some others do and that you're failing to factor that into your assessments.

Let me tell you a little story to help illustrate the complexities.
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2015-11-29 12:48 pm
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The Wind and the Sun and Where Bad Choices Lead

Content note: Discussion of abortion, pro-life politics, and the recent act of terrorism at a Colorado Planned Parenthood
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2015-08-13 01:08 am
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The Dark City Dodge

In the Creationism v Evolution debate, there's a common claim made to defend Creationism as a science equal to evolution. It's the notion that the scientific method simply does not apply to the past. This is, perhaps, farther than people might want to go.

The scientific method, boiled down to the most simple possible description, is looking at the evidence and drawing conclusions accordingly.
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2015-06-01 10:03 pm
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The Lesson To Learn From the Duggar Scandal

There are a few lessons to learn from the Duggar Scandal. Cover-ups only make it worse. Rigid gender roles make sexual predation easier. Religion doesn't make you better.

I want to focus on one that, if forgotten, will force you to forget all the others as well.

Moral hubris leads to doing evil and calling it good.

The Quiverfull movement, like much of Conservative Christianity (not all Christianity is conservative, but I'm referring to that element thereof), dresses its hubris in terms of humility. Oh, they'll tell you that they do not own morality, but God does, and they just happen to know that God wants their specific set of rules obeyed without question and without exception. It's in the bible, therefore it must be true.

Never mind that Christianity doesn't need the bible to be written by God or to be infallible, it is to them and so is their interpretation. They may even argue that the bible needs interpretation in the first place, it just plainly means what they think it means and any notion otherwise is you either being ignorant, immoral, or both.

It's not so much the notion that they are infallible, but that they never even consider the possibility of their error long enough to consider it impossible. Hubris that is so fast and yet so pervasive that it cannot be seen any more than the air in front of your face.

Because the Duggars were so certain not only that God existed, not only that God owns morality, but that God's desires were exactly what they thought, without any room allowed for the slightest doubt on all grounds, they had an obligation. They couldn't let the world around them be confused on the matter. Such details as children who aren't smiling would just confuse the outside world, possibly make outsiders doubt the truth of Conservative Christianity or the Quiverfull movement*.

That notion was a part of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar's mindset when they were first told that their eldest son had molested a pre-teen girl. Others were at play, as well, which is why they disbelieved the first girl to come forward on the notion that children make things up. Still, when Josh Duggar told them, himself, they waited a year, doing nothing. When they finally did something, Michelle and Jim Bob sent young Josh to Christian Counseling... in a facility set up by Bill Gothard, who is now noted for his own sexual abuse of minors.

This story should give many of us a feeling of deja-vu. If you've paid attention at all since the late 90s, this can't help but seem familiar.

Because of moral certainty, moral degradation was inevitable. The Duggars could no more allow the world to question their own moral credibility than could the Catholic Church. So, both covered up abuses, blamed and devalued victims, and proclaimed the importance of their remorse while ignoring the importance of restoring power to the victims.

Those are egregious examples. Only slightly less so is Ray Comfort's insistence that Josh Duggar is a fine moral example now, on the basis that his "mistakes" happened before he was a Christian. Ray Comfort's definition of "Christian" makes another example**. Less egregious, if only due to the distance of time, is William Lane Craig, so certain of the truth of the story of Exodus and the moral perfection of God, defense of biblical genocides.

This is an important lesson to learn and we need to both learn and apply it. We need to apply that lesson in our way of life, in our choices at the voting booth, in how we treat each other and how we treat others.

The moment you come to the conclusion that morality is something that can be so easily owned, your descent into evil is inevitable. It might be what has now become stereotypical. It might be anything from bullying to bigotry to brutal murder. You might not even do it, yourself. But, once you believe that morality can be owned and that you or your religion or your community or your family can own it, you will find ways to shield it from outside notice.

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it is moral hubris that rolls over the concrete.

For your own good. For the good all those you care about. Please, doubt.

*For a blog that, among other things, takes a look at the abusive practices of the Quiverfull movement, check out this blog http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/

**Ray Comfort defines "Christian" as someone who has a personal relationship with the risen Christ, a relationship marked by believing the same things that Ray Comfort finds it important to believe (which Josh Duggar, to all available evidence including his own word on the subject, believed) and not being a moral embarrassment to those who meet the first condition.
2015-04-16 04:07 pm
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Instant Evil: Just Add Evil

A while back, I expounded upon the Jesus Problem*. The short of it is being so certain of a subject's goodness that one is willing to accept or attribute actions to the subject that would otherwise be identified as evil.

It seems that there's a mirror image in what I'm going to call Instant Evil. For my thinking on the name, imagine the packaging that says "Instant Evil: Just Add Evil". Here is the means of making a subject (or position) evil via the addition of evil.

A few months back, the show Sleepy Hollow provided an example. The antagonist, Walter, had a plot to awaken the latent magic talents of a town that had a solid population of the descendants of witches. Note: One element of the show is that witchcraft isn't evil and neither is magic. The means of awakening these talents would be the use of the sound of a specific bell.

Almost immediately, I figured out that this would be a good idea. Simply display the magic, ask for volunteers to enter a soundproofed room. Employ the bell in those controlled circumstances. Result: More evidence of magic. Simple but, perhaps, not incredibly fast.

Walter's idea, a plan that remains when his mother defects to his side, is to use the bell on an entire, well populated area, without any warning to anybody. The consequence identified in the show would be uncontrolled and, inevitably, result in casualties. The consequence not identified in the show was that this would make magic users and witches out to be terrorists.

No indication was given that the awakening of latent magic talents could be viewed as a good thing by anybody not willing to cause unnecessary casualties in order to accomplish it. Shouted aloud by the show "Awakening latent talents is evil!" with the unstated essential of "so long as you go about it in an evil way".

There has to be antagonism, in order for there to be conflict. And, said conflict can't be resolved by anything so simple as a concept so basic that I thought it up on the fly. (Really, I'd be surprised to hear that the majority of viewers didn't come up with a similar idea with similar alacrity.)

This is a problem for which I see far more examples in real life, none more glaring than the issue of LGBT rights.

Several conservative evangelical churches are self-identifying themselves as an analog to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They oppose LGBT rights. Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed the Holocaust. And, yes, there are claims that marriage equality will lead to the rounding up and killing of Christians.

That means that LGBT rights, which they view as evil, can't be called evil on its own, no matter how much they feel it. So, in order to make it evil, they have to add in the Nazis. There's an intense irony there, that just seems to go unnoticed by its enactors.

If you feel that something is evil or even just morally suspect, make that case on its own. That's both for fiction and for non-fiction. You can't prove something is evil by adding evil.

* http://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/3214.html
2015-03-26 02:38 pm
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Schrodinger's Cat: An English Class Supplement.

Because this is just such an amazingly useful concept that some people are not yet fully aware of, I'm going to just do the internet a favor and give a reference point. If you need to explain "Schrodinger's Cat" for whatever reason, you have a link to point to.

The Background: One of the early theories in quantum physics is that a particle that could, physically, be in any one of several states/places/positions, it is actually in all of those states until such time as it is "observed". The observation isn't by a conscious mind, but by the reaction of the next sub-atomic particle or wave or whatever to one of the possible states, which collapses wave functions and... Listen, if you think you understand quantum physics, you don't understand quantum physics.

Erwin Schrodinger had a thought experiment to describe this. Seal a cat into a box. Place in that box a radio-active molecule that may or may not decay, around a 50/50 chance. According to this bit of quantum mechanical thinking, said cat, until the box is opened, would exist in states both of living and dead.

Note: This was a thought experiment only, and intended to express how nonsensical quantum physics are on the macro scale.

As nonsensical as this concept is to our intuitions of physics, it's immensely valuable for our concept of dealing with decision making.

To give a generic example, if you're in an apartment and there's a knock at the door, you don't know who it is. It could be a good friend bringing you good news. It could be an enemy meaning harm. It could be something more neutral. You neither immediately grab a gun and start shooting through the door, action movie style, nor throw open the door and open your arms for a great big hug... some other movie style. Until you find out, you have to interact with the whole range of possibilities.

This is useful in explaining the position of the person inside the apartment. But, it's also something important to note about the person on the other side of the door. That person, knowing hir own conditions, might not think about the other possibilities, but is still in position of dealing with someone who does have to deal with those possibilities.

The person in the Schrodinger's Position can make use of this position. Schrodinger's Asshole claims a serious statement to be a joke or a satire of someone who holds a view as just stated, based upon the reaction of the audience.

Mainly, this is useful for explaining the concerns of somebody facing a Schrodinger's Unknown. Dan Audy, someone I know from comments on another website explained that he can face anxiety when dealing with possibilities of unknown potential worst-case-scenarios far greater than any specific worst-case-scenario, for the basic reason that he is interacting with all the potential worst-case-scenarios at once. He calls this Schrodinger's Awfulness.

That becomes a reminder to people who are in Schrodinger's Position of where they are, in terms of other people's information. One big, and uncomfortable reminder is that of Schrodinger's Rapist*, in which women meeting men for the first time, or entering into newly vulnerable situations with men have to interact with the potentiality of... yeah.

You can see how valuable this is with regards to... so many states of mind. Seeing that most highschool English classes have yet to devote one full class to the exploration of this concept, I'm providing a little something. Hopefully, people can just link to this page to smooth things along.

* http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/
2015-03-12 12:14 am
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Okay, It's Time to Explain Something About Political Correctness

Just recently, I heard the claim that political correctness was just about stifling white, Christian heterosexuals.

That is... I'll be nice and say "inaccurate".

Other "inaccurate" statements about political correctness have included the claim that it's intended as a replacement for Christian morality, that it's a punishment for thought-crime, or that it's entirely encapsulated within a concept of "word police".

"Politically Correct" refers to the values of the culture or audience you're dealing with. Specifically, what would they deem correct or in keeping with their beliefs, values, and identities.

Yes, this *can* be applied dishonestly or restrictively, in an effort to restrict the ideas that can be expressed without suffering consequences.

And, in case you're wondering, yes, this does mean that, in certain contexts, railing against political correctness is the cheapest and easiest way of being politically correct.

An example of political correctness used to score with an audience that hates political correctness. In a Christmas special, Jeff Dunham, in a conversation with one of his ventriloquist dummies, Walter, had this exchange.

Jeff Dunham: Hello, Walter. Happy Holidays
Walter: You know what? Screw you, it's Merry Christmas!
Jeff Dunham: Walter, there are other religions.
Walter: But, their wro-ong (in a singsong tone of voice)

The reverse of that, of course, was the end of the Beetles, when they, said, on the Ed Sullivan Show, that they were bigger than Jesus. Note: They were referring to their popularity being larger than Christianity, but that's not how it sounded.

That's the concept and the example of right-leaning application thereof. Anybody reading this has likely either already come up with examples of left-leaning application or takes it as a given that the left wield political correctness.

That's the concept. Now, I became aware of this phrase around the same time I started becoming politically aware, that is in the 90s. But, there's a good amount of pre-dating relevant history.

In terms of political discourse in America, up until the past few decades, it's been politically possible and even advantageous to speak of people who weren't white, male, heterosexuals who conformed to gender-norms as though they were all mythological creatures. Sure, you mention them and other people would know what you're talking about. But, there was no need to couch your statements in the understanding that no population can be homogeneous. There was certainly no political risk in offending them.

If you really want to feel like a white, male, cis-gendered Christian before the PC movement became a thing, try talking in sweeping, not obviously derogatory terms, about pegasi. Discuss how you have no problem with harpies so long as they stay in their place. Don't just say that you're fine hiring a centaur, but not letting one date your daughter, but construct a mythology in which your statements are accurate. State that mythology without even considering the possibility that you might be contradicted, let alone pay any kind of political price. And don't forget that lycanthropy is a choice.

If that sounds funny to you, let's bring back the discomfort by saying that, once upon a time, a certain song sung on a certain bus, regarding the exclusion of certain people from a specific college organization, that included the statement that said specific people were okay to "swing from a tree", was Politically Correct.

With that history in mind, when people bring up political correctness today, what they're usually referring to is the fact that the people about whom one could make sweeping generalizations or otherwise dehumanize ACTUALLY FUCKING EXIST. That's right, they exist, they vote, they have money, they have allies. So, they're no longer the mythological creatures with all the same real-world importance of a goblin.

With all of that in mind, there are two lessons you should probably take from this.

Firstly, the current move for political correctness probably benefits you. That may seem shocking, but remember "white" didn't always refer to all European descent. It used to be limited to those who's ancestry was from England. And, no, Scottish or Irish didn't count.

That's right, if Benjamin Franklin were to be resurrected and shown the movie Harry and the Hendersons, he would find the Hendersons being generically white farther fetched than their meeting up with a Bigfoot. So, if your ancestry is German, be thankful that PC is protecting you, now.

Secondly, if you rail against political correctness, what I hear is you railing against having to admit that other people really exist. If you take pride and call for audience approval for being politically incorrect, I hear hypocrisy.
2015-03-08 09:21 pm

Tip #8 Caps With Skulls On

In the first sketch of the first episode of the British sketch comedy show "That Mitchell and Webb Look", there's a conversation between two German officers on the front lines of the Russian front in WWII. One of the officers notes that the official uniform hats have, as the official sigil, skulls on them. He follows up this realization with a question. "Are we the baddies?"

There are, obviously, far worse things to object to. The joke rests upon the reality that people can accept or even commit acts of horrific evil... without really noticing that they're doing bad. In fact, it can be the small things that get to them.

Now, you and I may ask the question of how it is that some people can do obvious wrongs, large or small, without even the slightest visible inkling that they're doing something wrong. I've asked the same of Christian evangelists and apologists.
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2015-02-15 12:54 pm
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Dances With Wolves, Avatar, and Getting it Less Wrong.

I was young in the mid 90s and didn't pay a whole lot of attention to critics at the time. But, I remember Dances With Wolves getting a mostly positive reaction for its positive depiction of Native Americans. Few people that I knew of had anything negative to say about Dances With Wolves on the matter of story.

When it came to Avatar, the positives were all about the visuals. Make no mistake, those visuals were amazing. The vistas of flora and fauna of an alien ecology were beautiful. Even the destruction scenes were a thing to behold again and again. And, of course, there were secondary sex characteristics for anybody who enjoyed such things.

The reaction to Avatar's story was different. It was mocked for being simplistic and cheaply manipulative. It was also recognized as... racist.

Oh, it tried to appear the opposite. But, the Navi were obviously a generalized, simplified, and homogenized version of the general kind of sense of Native American culture and religion that a lot of people have when they don't know all that much about Native American culture and religion. Oh, and they apparently need a white guy to tell them what to do... yeah.

But, Avatar has the same storyline as Dances With Wolves. Oh, there are some cosmetic differences, but they're the same story. (which isn't an insult to Avatar, by the way. Hamlet is a pre-existing revenge play with a couple changes. Unoriginal isn't Avatar's defining failure.) Why, then, doesn't Dances With Wolves strike as simplistic, cheaply manipulative, and racist?

There are a couple additional influences that I can think of over and above the point that I've telegraphed in the title of this article. So, let's get them out of the way.

I could simply have been far less aware when I first saw Dances With Wolves. I was in my early teens. I wasn't politically or socially aware. I wasn't any less privileged than I am, today. And, while still on the more liberal side, I had passively accepted some toxic narratives.

Those cosmetic differences might actually make a difference. Dances With Wolves is set in a real history with a real conflict already in place that doesn't need some magical sci-fi element for a McGuffin. And, it included the Native Americans of a real Nation that could be accurately represented.

For the most part, I think the reason is that Dances With Wolves came at a point when it was getting things less wrong... because it certainly didn't get things right. Appropriation and Unfortunate Implications are the premise. Oh, and it also has to create an orphaned and adopted white woman so that the main character would have a white love interest. Yes, that's a pre-existing trope. No, that doesn't make it any better.

For all that, compare Dances With Wolves to Hollywood's treatment of Native Americans prior, particularly in the Western genre. Just prior, Hollywood had, for the most part, seemed to avoid the topic. Prior to that... Let's just say "Cowboys and Indians" stories weren't about complexities of multiple viewpoints and the problems of privileged narratives.

Dances With Wolves was an improvement... at the time. But, when you repeat that story after the improvement has already been made, it's no longer an improvement. Avatar doesn't take a new or more culturally sensitive look, anymore. Therefore, the problems that remained became more glaring. The cheap manipulation, the simplistic storyline, and, of course, the racism.

I can't argue that Dances With Wolves wasn't racist. Then again, I also can't argue that Abraham Lincoln, who once stated that he would never support Black Suffrage, wasn't racist. And, I also can't argue that I don't hold some harmful habits and beliefs today. I try to address them as I find out about them.

I also can't argue that I haven't said something horribly wrong in this article. I probably did. So, feel free to correct me. I don't promise to get it right in the future, but at least I'll be a little bit less wrong. That will be something, but it won't be a stopping point.
2015-01-23 03:20 pm
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The Star Trek Reboot and Privilege Power

Note: Being that this is text, I cannot place an echo on Privilege Power. For full effect, please imagine one each time you read the phrase.

Additional Note: I have not, neither do I intend to see Star Trek: Into Darkness.

This was almost a case for the remake, and it could very well be so. But, there's really only one major problem in this movie, James T. Kirk. And, that's a problem in other movies and other fictions. It's the problem of (ready your imaginary echo effect) Privilege Power.

For those that haven't seen the movie, in the reboot, a time-travel mishap alters the timeline so that James T. Kirk's father dies while young James T. is just born. As a result, young James is not inspired, by the image and model of his captain father, to study and improve himself for the purpose of being a good Starfleet officer and Captain. Instead, he leads an aimless, selfish life that, by all indications, is marked by casually using and abusing those around him.

What puts Kirk back on the path to Captain Kirk is that Captain Pike has faith that Kirk will make a good captain. Captain Pike *claims* this is about young Kirk's ability to leap before he looks, which I'll take as the ability to act quickly and decisively without being balked by excessive contemplation. (That's my attempt at being generous, here.)

Are we to expect that the entirety of Starfleet is built of people who are, down to each and every cadet, frozen by the need for more information or in terror of making a decision when the right decision isn't absolutely clear? I'm doubtful. Are we to expect that, of all the young civilians that Captain Pike might ever have the opportunity to observe, not a one of them has the courage to make that leap? I'm even more doubtful.

That leaves one reason for Captain Pike to have such faith in the leadership abilities of one James T. "drunken bar fight" Kirk, James is his father's son. No other reason can be applied. James has not displayed either skill, judgment, or character that Starfleet would need. But, half of his chromosomes came from a heroic captain, so...

Part of that is the story of the bad boy redeemed. But, the bad boy redeemed story needs Privilege Power (imagine echo here) to work. The Bad Boy gets into trouble, but not so much trouble that it totally derails his life. The cops don't like him, but the off screen judges must because the worst he gets is community service. He's just so great at (insert whatever here) that the sports team/band/dance troupe has to have him on their team so they can have a shot. For whatever reason, he comes to care about the team and, at the end, everything comes down to him, because he's the only one that can do whatever the big thing is.

We saw that in Battleship. I don't remember the main character's name, so I'll call him Privilege P. Privilegeson. He starts out the movie by breaking into a 7/11 to grab a burrito and not going to jail over the matter, but somehow becoming a naval officer with enough rank to be second in command. If young Mr. Privilegeson isn't heavily privileged, he's an ex-con and barred from service. There's even a moment where someone asks him "if not you, who?" in regards to who will captain the ship. The answer should have been "the next officer in line". The inspiration for him to get up and do something shouldn't have been "nobody else can do this" but "shit or get off the captain's pot".

So, the bad boy redeemed needs Privilege Power (imagine echo here) to really work. Otherwise, it's "bad boy crushed by the consequences of actions and an uncaring criminal justice system".

Privilege Power is endemic, even with more likable characters. Harry Potter is The Boy Who's Major Accomplishment That Made the Entire Wizarding World Pay Attention to What He Has to Say Was Not Dying. Everything was about him just because, nothing he had to do to accomplish that. Superman, as I discussed in Superman and The Jesus Problem*, is someone who's superior as a matter of birth. The word "hero" comes from the Greek, literally meaning the child of a god and a mortal (in other words, someone who is privileged, from birth, to have supernatural power). King Arthur is the rightful born King.

This is a big problem, in part, because it's so heavy in our history of stories. It's almost difficult to tell an alternate story. But, we have to.

It should be noted that the alternate stories are out there. Within the Star Trek reboot, we have the story of Spock, who's accomplishments are the result of his own personal vision. Spock is not entirely without privilege. His father, being an ambassador, likely had status and resources not available to the average Vulcan. But that privilege did not take Spock and make him great. His own intent and vision did so, granting him more right to the Captain's chair than Kirk would have.

Yes, I did just make the argument that the reboot should have seen Spock in the Captain's chair and Kirk should have considered himself lucky to be a first officer.

* http://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/3214.html
2015-01-20 08:37 pm

Tip #3 Evil Jesus

Take a moment and read the following line taken from a movie. Try to imagine the potential context from just the line.

"And, the degree with which you'll experience love and joy and the good things in life is the degree to which you will bend to my will."

If your mind's eye is anything like mine, you pictured the lighting dimming, the music turning just a touch ominous, and the camera, ever so slowly, turning to a Dutch angle as the line is stated. The viewpoint character comes to the dawning realization that the speaker is soooo evil.

The audience may already have come to this realization by having previously heard the speaker say things like "you're a woman, you're precious".

It's okay if you feel the need to take a shower after reading that line. This isn't live text.
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2014-12-22 04:00 pm
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Superman and The Jesus Problem

Full disclosure: Though I was raised Methodist, I am an atheist. My opinions about religion in general and Christianity in specific are those of a former believer and current outsider.

That said, this isn't about religion, but about a problem in fiction.

Having been born in '78, my ideas about the most iconic of superheroes were formed in the 80s, with the Super Friends. Flight, heat and x-ray vision, super strength and speed, this was all a part of the basic framework of Superman to me. That and constantly taking battles out of the city in order to avoid collateral damage and people caught in the crossfire.

Some of you already have a clue as to where I'm going with this.

Before we go there, let's go back farther, to the origins of Superman, back to a time when jumping over a tall building was still impressive of Superman. He couldn't fly. The exclamations of jumping over that tall building, being faster than that speeding bullet, and being stronger than that locomotive weren't just exclamations. In a way, they were the limits of his super power.

And, Superman, himself, wasn't just less powerful. He was less worshipped. This wasn't a perfect man and the icon to which all superheroes should kneel. He was an immigrant orphan, raised by American farmers, who wanted to make his home a better place using what he took with him from his place of origin. It's now a joke, but Superman is an immigrant and when he fights for Truth, Justice, and The American Way... that American way is the fact that he was not born of us, but he is one of us.

At least that was the way it was in the beginning. As I said, my first exposure to Superman was in cartoons in the 80s. By that time, he was the first among superheroes and the good guy by definition.

Now, in that time, good guy by definition meant that he would never do the bad guy things. He wouldn't steal. He wouldn't kill. He would save the life of his enemy, because standing by and letting even an enemy die would be the same as killing them oneself.

But, by this time, we're also getting the first set of movies, with Christopher Reeves and with Marlon Brando playing Jorell. "They can be a good people, they wish to be. They only need a light to shine the way." We're into Jesus Mode, now. And, this is a problem.

The problem is that Superman's goodness, up until very recently, hadn't come from his Kryptonian heritage. It wasn't an inborn instinct of just being such a great guy. It was John and Martha Kent that raised young Clark to care about people, about the law, about empathy, and never to respond to a question of letting people die with a "maybe".

This all becomes setup for two movies, Superman Returns and Man of Steel. Both of these movies present a superman that shouldn't be given the credit that the writers give him. In Superman Returns, Superman does return (let's give the movie credit for fulfilling the title's promise), and instantly starts to harassing Lois Lane into carrying back with a relationship that he had abandoned. Oh, and he's framed as being loving and caring for having no relationship at all with his biological offspring, who is being raised by, arguably, a much better man than he is for being there to raise said child.

Man of Steel has deliberate property damage and petty, truck-wrecking revenge. Again, this is framed as stuff the good guy does. Heck, the neck-snapping is less objectionable.

That is the Jesus Problem. And, you can see it in modern depictions of Jesus, too. For a big example, check out Fred Clark's deconstruction of Left Behind. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/tag/left-behind/

The Jesus Problem is that once you identify a character as inherently the good guy, the relation of actions to good guy changes. The thing a good guy needs in order to be a good guy, as it should normally be, is to do the good thing. That, by the way, is a tall order. The good thing isn't easy even with the full range of Kryptonian super powers.

But, the Jesus Problem takes that normal relation and reverses it. The actions are good because the good guy is doing them. Superman is a good example. So is Jack Bower. And, for an amazingly blatant example, look for the unaired Wonder Woman pilot.

Moral perfection is a moral hazard.