Ben Stein: Expelled

We don’t need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2

The opening montage of Ben Stein’s new documentary, Expelled: No Intellegence Allowed (opening in theaters today), contains an orchestral violin rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.” An instrumental piece, the words are not there, but it sets the stage well for an entertaining and engaging look at how “free inquiry” can be anything but in today’s scientific community.

The film’s focus how intelligent design theory (ID) is being excluded from scientific discussions of the origins of life. I watched a screening and presentation by Ben Stein and the producers about a month ago at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, and was duly impressed. To be honest, I had low expectations — thinking that the savvy marketing of the film would outweigh the documentary’s content. I was wrong. Expelled is intelligently designed, allowing proponents of both sides to speak for themselves.

Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins, of The God Delusion fame, makes an appearance that’s almost painful to watch. In his interview with Stein, Dawkins more or less admits that a sort intelligent design is possible — but it must be from space aliens, rather than a loving Creator. And no, I’m not making this up.

Dawkins has reportedly charged the producers with deceiving him at the interview, but the charge seems to be nothing more than sour grapes. I attended a press conference for bloggers Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation where Stein was asked about this. Stein noted that Dawkins was actually paid for the interview in question — not to mention the fact that it’s him, unscripted, speaking on camera.

If you’re a Darwinist, I wouldn’t expect this film to cause you to renounce Darwinian evolution. It’s not so much an argument for ID as it is a case that the suppression of ideas by dogmatic Darwinists is based on something other than science. What the film will hopefully do — if Darwinists can contain their anger — is put the issue back on the table. These days, questioning Darwinism is verboten. This likely has much to do with the fact that to Darwinists, Darwinian naturalism is neutral. How can one question neutrality?

After viewing Expelled, will Darwinists repent en masse and allow ID’ers into their fraternal brotherhood? Doubtful, but perhaps the film will make it a little more difficult to expel their colleagues.

[7 out of 10]

Parade of the also-rans: Mike Gravel

What do you do when you get trounced by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries? If you’re Senator Mike Gravel, you see if you can beat them as an independent.

What’s that you say? You forgot that the former senator from Alaska even ran as a Democrat? The next thing you’ll be telling me is that you didn’t even know that Alaska had a former senator named Mike Gravel.

What’s unique about Gravel? He’s the only candidate (that I know of) with the boldness to sport an upside-down apostrophe in his logo:

Mike Gravel's upside-down apostrophe

Hovering under the radar as a stealth candidate (he wasn’t even invited to many of the Democratic debates), Gravel apparently wanted a party with a winning tradition — so naturally, he switched last month and threw in his hat with the Libertarians.

Who knows? The man who starred in what can only be called the most bizarre campaign ad ever made could be the last man standing in November…

[This post is third in a series on the other 2008 presidential candidates called “Parade of the also-rans.” See the whole series here.]

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the best western film of the 21st century, but there’s a catch. It’s three hours long. But, if you do like I did and take three days to view the DVD, you’ll see its worth without giving up the better part of a day.

The cinematography is stunning (the use of the blurred-edge old-style glass of the period as “lens” for the story is brilliant), but the story is even better. It’s a story of hubris, betrayal, and glory — and how a man obtains glory affects the way he enjoys it.

Though he’s billed second, Casey Affleck steals the show. He is by far a better actor than his overtheatric brother Ben. He expertly plays the star-struck Robert Ford, whose youthful exuberance is matched only by his ominous sense of inadequacy.

Only slightly outdone by Affleck, Brad Pitt does a remarkable job with Jesse James. Pitt, like his character, fades into the background for the first half of the film. He then comes alive with a muted, knowing paranoia. Jesse James knows what’s coming, but nevertheless keeps company with Robert Ford.

The thematic elements that pair an outlaw with the instrument of his doom are irresistible, and biblical motifs abound. Robert Ford is Judas to his flawed savior Jesse James, who is a wolf led to slaughter.

[8 out of 10]

God as commodity

Several years ago, I accompanied two friends — Eastern European university students who were visiting the U.S. for the summer — into a Christian bookstore. One of the two, Andrei, was a Christian who wanted to visit the store while in America to purchase some Christian music. The other student, Sasha, was an admitted atheist who was merely along for the ride. While Andrei went to a “listening station” to preview the latest contemporary Christian music album, Sasha and I walked around the store, looking at the vast assortment of such products as “Bibleman” videos and “Testamints” candy.

It was then that the atheist Sasha made an observation that is particularly damning to the contemporary evangelical subculture. He said, “Christians in America market God just like everything else. In my country, Christians take God more seriously.” I couldn’t help but sadly agree, and I could offer no defense.

This was at a time when books constituted roughly a third of a given Christian “book” store’s inventory — the remainder of the stores were usually filled to the brim with cards, music and kitsch, all branded with the name of God. I have no recent statistics, but that ratio is likely even less today, as many chain stores have dropped the word “book” from their names altogether. Don’t get me wrong, such merchandise isn’t necessarily wrong in and of itself (more on that in a later post…), but it too often makes God out to be more commodity than Creator.

Of course, the merchandising of God is not limited to trinkets. Even books, Bible studies, and academic programs can lead us to this folly if we’re not careful. Eugene Peterson captures this well:

It isn’t long before we are standing in line to buy whatever is being offered. And because none of the purchases does what we had hoped for, or at least not for long, we are soon back to buy another, and then another. The process is addictive. We have become consumers of packaged spiritualities.

This is also idolatry. We never think of using this term for it since everything we are buying or paying for is defined by the adjective “Christian.” But idolatry it is nevertheless: God packaged as a product; God depersonalized and made available as a technique or program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative.

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, p. 125

How dangerously ironic it is that we humans seek to control, manage, and market spirituality when our spirituality should be managing us.

How to name a subdivision

Last week, we looked at how to name a church. This week, let’s take a brief look at how to name an American staple: that compound of suburban bliss — the subdivision.

The trick in naming a subdivision is pretty simple: think opposite.  For example, if the subdivision consists of quarter-acre lots within the city limits, you call it “Country Acres.”  If you have garden homes in a valley, you call it something like “Hillside Estates.”

You must be very careful in naming your subdivision, lest you cross the line too far and end up with a funeral home name — a system that is frighteningly similar.  If your neighborhood’s name is “Sunset Gardens,” you know someone has gone too far.

Now that you know the rules, go have some fun with it at this random subdivision name generator that I found.

Time really is money

As I was reading from Proverbs today, it dawned on me just how similar money is to time:

Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.
When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
for suddenly it sprouts wings,
flying like an eagle toward heaven.

Proverbs 23:4-5, ESV

This reminded me one of my favorite sections of St. Augustine’s Confessions, where he discusses the nature of time:

[…] What then, is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know. But I confidently affirm to myself that if nothing passes away, there is no past time, and if nothing arrives, there is no future time, and if nothing existed, there would be no present time. Take the two tenses, past and future. How can they ‘be’ when the past is not now present and the future is not now present? Yet if the present were always present, it would not pass into the past: it would not be time but eternity. If, then, in order to be time at all, the present is so made that it passes into the past, how can we say that this present also ‘is’? The cause of its being is that it will cease to be. So indeed we cannot truly say that time exists except in the sense that it tends towards non-existence.

Confessions, xi (16), p. 230-231

Like time, money — once grasped — tends towards non-existence.