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Posts Tagged ‘Film’

I haven’t seen James Franco’s As I Lay Dying yet, but I want to so bad I can taste it.

Now it looks like James Franco is going to tackle The Sound and the Fury. That’s awesome. I am 100% in favor of as many Faulkner adaptations as possible. Bring all of them to the screen! I will watch them all.

Neither As I Lay Dying nor The Sound and the Fury are among my favorite Faulkner novels, but a not-favorite Faulkner is still like a billion times better than most everything else. Hopefully HBO will get around to making everything else.

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This looks like it will be absolutely everything I have been hoping it will be. I am incredibly stoked.

Incidentally, the music that’s playing at the beginning of the trailer is “Moving On” by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, from the soundtrack to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The cool thing is, I listened to that soundtrack while reading As I Lay Dying last year, because I thought it had just the perfect atmosphere for the book. Apparently someone else thought so too.

Also, true story: I have a Google Alert set up for “William Faulkner.”

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Inspired by Katie Langston (her blog is blocked right now so no linky) and my beautiful and sexy wife Katyjane, I am going to compose a list of fifty things I absolutely love.

1. Katyjane
2. Beer
3. Led Zeppelin
4. Jim Morrison (I would lick his torso)
5. Eating pancakes with my three-year old
6. I Walk The Line
7. The Cthulhu Mythos
8. Heavy metal concerts
9. MRE cheese and crackers
10. Getting a good night’s sleep
11. A Ford Mustang convertible
12. Tarot
13. Talking about religion
14. Trust and estate law
15. Iron Maiden
16. Battlestar Galactica
17. Conan
18. Pretty much everything written by C. S. Lewis
19. Road trips with katyjane
20. Cowboy boots
21. Rattlesnake-skin cowboy boots
22. The way I feel after I go running
23. All Along The Watchtower (the Hendrix version)
24. Mythology
25. Being outside
26. Laying down in the grass with someone I love
27. A clean house
28. Honeysuckle
29. London
30. Black Hawk Down
31. “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
32. Rick Hurd
33. Wolverine
34. Riding my bike, when I am wearing my awesome socks with flames on them
35. The last thirty minutes of The Road Warrior
36. Alaska
37. Tattoos
38. The Episcopal Church
39. Feudalism
40. Enabling my wife to buy unreasonable amounts of yarn
41. When my one-year-old daughter says “happy happy happy”
42. Grapheme-color synesthesia
43. Autumn
44. Goya (the artist, not the brand of food)
45. Going out to eat
46. When my wife beats me at video games
47. Thanksgiving
48. Giving money to panhandlers
49. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
50. My big fat evil vicious cat

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It should be clear by now that I passionately believe that real spiritual/mystical experiences happen. People experience the presence of divinity. I don’t know for sure whether they are merely experiencing a neurological or psychological phenomenon, or whether they are actually contacting a real deity, or whether the distinction is meaningful. What I am sure of is that mystics throughout history have reported eerily similar phenomena and labeled them as divine contact.

Mormonism has taught since the days of Joseph Smith that such mystical experiences–jargonically termed “personal revelation”–are available to Mormons, basically on demand. Modern-day Mormon prophets have consistently promised that every earnest seeker who asks God for a personal confirmation of the truth of Mormonism and/or its components will receive it. The problem with these promises is that inasmuch as mystical experiences exist, that’s just not the way it works. No matter what your theology promises, God is not on tap. God is not predictable, as much as we would like it to be.

To reconcile the irreconcilable–theological promises about the availability of mystical experience and the unpredictable reality of mystical experience–Mormonism has lowered the bar on personal revelation. Mormons believe a priori that mystical experience is there for the asking, so when experience prove otherwise, experience must be wrong. Mormons tell each other things like “I think you have had personal revelation; you just don’t recognize it,” and they tell themselves stories about how subtle the Holy Ghost’s influence is.

But they’re wrong. They’re ridiculous, even. The real experience of the presence of God is not subtle. It is not difficult to discern. It is like a hurricane: massive, beyond control. Like a roller coaster, but you can’t really be certain that it is going to stay on the tracks. Real contact with God is total loss of sense of self, a total absorbtion into something so huge and so other that it can’t be described.

But like I said, that kind of thing is rare and unpredictable, and so it doesn’t really do a good job of fulfilling Mormonism’s promises about the availability of personal revelation. So, to make up for God’s failure to deliver on Mormonism’s promises (which can’t possibly be true because then Mormonism would be false, and Mormons assume that cannot be the case), Mormons recast completely mundane experiences as “personal revelation,” and thus save themselves from having to face the unfortunate disconnect between Mormon theology and the real experience of God.

What follows is a list of things that do not count as spiritual or mystical experiences, but that are often characterized as such in Mormon testimonies. They are in no particular order.

1. Negative Confirmations: These happen when I either want to do something or thought I should do something, and so I prayed for guidance, and God did not definitely tell me “no,” and afterward I felt an increased desire and/or obligation (as the case may be) to do the thing. But that’s not personal revelation; it’s what I wanted to do anyway. Silence from God can’t possibly be evidence of God’s influence in my life. The increased motivation post-prayer is just excitement or resignation in the absence of a contrary instruction from God, along the lines of “God didn’t say ‘no,’ so it is definitely the right thing to do, and it’s coincidentally what I wanted to do anyway! Hooray!

2. A Burning In The Bosom: Mormon scriptures describe prayers being answered by personal revelation in the form of a “burning in the bosom”: a warm sensation in the chest. This happens to Mormons, and it shouldn’t be a surprise at all, because it is basic Classical Conditioning at work. Let’s say that for my whole life I am told that I will feel a warm sensation when certain triggers happen (when I pray, when I read the scriptures, when I go to church, when I am with my family, whatever) and that this warm feeling is the Holy Ghost. When this warm feeling inevitably results, it is not the Holy Ghost at all. I have conditioned myself. I have spent my life looking for a particular sensation whenever the appropriate trigger is present, and eventually my body obliges my mind by producing said sensation. This makes me happy because it confirms my religion to me, and it is the thing I have been wanting to happen. Thus, my body learns that producing a warm feeling in response to certain triggers makes me happy. This is not called God. This is called Pavlov’s dog.

3. Intense Emotional Responses: When I watch a Church movie, I may indeed get choked up and emotional when something poignant and magical happens. But this isn’t personal revelation of the gospel truth being presented in the movie; this is my emotions being manipulated. TV shows and movies do this all the time. Filmmakers, directors, artists, composers, musicians, and writers can and do purposely arrange this stuff to tug at your heartstrings and make you feel certain emotions. And it happens in other situations, too (the kinds of legitimately emotional situations that these filmmakers are trying to artificially provoke): when I bear my testimony I might cry because I am sharing something deeply personal and emotional, so I have emotions when I talk about it. But that’s not the presence of God; that’s just having feelings.

4. Contentment And Happiness: Feeling generally happy and content about the spiritual tradition and related community that I have been brought up in is just normal. It’s a classic case of the grass looking greener on this side of the fence, and it results from a basic human complacency with the status quo. People are comfortable with what they know, and being comfortable feels pleasant. On the other side of the coin, converts to Mormonism may feel happy and content with their adopted faith tradition, but again, this comes from natural and expected feelings of gratitude and newfound belonging. Belonging feels good, whether it’s a church or a street gang. Being happy with your religion is a perfectly good reason to stick with your religion. But is isn’t a mystical message from God that your religion is the one true path, because pretty much everyone feels that way about their own religion.

5. “Impressions”: When I suddenly feel impressed to knock on a door, to approach someone on the street or a train, or to get up and bear my testimony, I may think something along the lines of the following: “hey, I just had a thought about doing that–I wonder if it was God telling me to do it. No, it was just a thought. Bt wait, what if I am talking myself into ignoring the Spirit? Is the Holy Ghost telling me to do this and I am just brushing it off? Why would I do that? Of course this was an impression; of course this was the Holy Ghost!” That is not personal revelation from God; that is a hilarious mind game you are playing with yourself.

6. Good Ideas: Sometimes, I suddenly have a great idea, out of nowhere. I might therefore want to attribute it to God, especially if it is related to church, religion, or my calling. But here’s the thing: people just have good ideas all the time.

All of these things are normal, basic humanity stuff. They happen to everyone. So the only way they come from God is if everything comes from God, and then we have to invent a new word for the mystical peak experiences that seem to be something wholly other, and from which these normal human life experiences are qualitatively distinct. And even then, if I have to concede that these things do come from God, they definitely don’t come from God in a “personal revelation that proves that the Church is true,” because they happen to everybody.

Even if I take Mormonism at its word and accept that feeling the presence of the Holy Ghost (i.e. the presence of God) is conclusive and unimpeachable proof that all of the Church’s truth claims are true–which I most certainly do not–these six types of experiences just don’t count.

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Like I said in my last post, I’m extremely hesitant to just come out and say that I flat-out don’t believe in God in the typical atheist sense.  This isn’t hedging my bet; I absolutely don’t believe in hell, I’m skeptical about an afterlife anyway (and even if there is one, I doubt very strongly that the particulars can be known), and a quick scan of the state of the world tells me that it doesn’t look like people who believe in God are getting all the breaks.  Part of it is an agnostic approach to epistemology: I don’t see how humans can know anything for sure at all.  All our sensory input is filtered through the double-filter of sensation and perception, and there’s no particular reason to trust that either one of those filters feeds us objective data.  We can’t really be sure that we’re not in The Matrix, so we certainly can’t be sure of something as attenuated from our direct empirical experience as the existence or nonexistence of God.

As far as we know, there is a God who is simply cleverly making the universe look to us like there is no God (I call this “Fossil-Hiding God”).  How would we know?  If an omnipotent or even mostly-potent supernatural being with more or less total control over the universe wanted to cover his tracks completely, I imagine he could do it pretty well.  Either way, like I said in my last post, I’m not actually convinced by the logical arguments of atheists for the nonexistence of God.  Despite all out efforts to reason him out of existence, I think it possible that he nevertheless exists–C. S. Lewis’s fantastic novel, Till We Have Faces, had a proufound the way I thought about the existence of deity and made me extremely reluctant to flat-out deny that the divine exists, even if it is totally unlike the traditional Judeo-Christian conetption of Yahweh.

So in terms of the existence versus nonexistence of God, I’m really more of an agnostic with a theoretically rebuttable presumption God’s nonexistence, at least inasmuch as we’re talking about God as a distinct transcendant supernatural personal entity, with or without a flowing white beard.

That’s not the end of the story, though.  the word “God” can be stretched to fit an amazing diversity of theistic and quasi-theistic concepts, many of which aren’t anything at all like the traditional Judeo-Christian conception of the supreme being, and it turns out that I actually do believe in something that if pressed, I could call God (although I would be reluctant to do so because the label “God” would confuse most people by implying that there’s a beard in there somewhere).  I think it’s worth explaining what I mean by all of this, especially since I’m actually trying to get to a point eventually, but I’m not going to make this post more confusing than it already is.  So hold your horses a bit and wait for the next post.

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For the last few days, my beautiful and sexy wife and I have been watching Sabrina, an old Audrey Hepburn movie from the 1950’s.  In one scene, Hepburn’s character makes a failed soufflé at a cooking school in Paris.  The next day I woke up, filled with the urge to cook a soufflé myself.  In particular, chocolate.  In particular, to impress said beautiful and sexy wife, whoc like most beautiful and sexy wives, loves chocolate.

Unfortunately, it took me several days to gather the requisite ingredients and equipment (finding a soufflé dish is trickier than you might imagine, especially if you’re not interested in paying a bajillion dollars for one at a specialty cooking shop), but this morning I baked a lovely chocolate soufflé which we ate for brunch.  It was light, fluffy, and sinfully delicious.  I was so impressed with myself (and the product of my endeavors), that now I want to bake another one, perhaps cheese.  Thus, the title of this post.  It has bitten me.

Incidentally, I am a devoted Audrey Hepburn fan, and currently own twelve of her movies on DVD.  I intend to own them all.  We also have a large picture of her in our kitchen, which I got from a guy who was moving out of his apartment here in the building.  The picture belonged to his girlfriend, and he personally hated it, and when I commented on it, he proposed to give it to me and tell her that it was destroyed accidentally in the move.  I went home happy.

Also incidentally, the movie amuses me because of the obvious early 1950’s portrayal of capitalism and business as virtuous and beneficial, which is interesting to me because we have been discussing the Red Scare and its effect on Hollywood in one of my seminar classes at law school.

By the way, here’s the recipe I used.  It was easy; you should try it.

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