A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Writing movie reviews is, for a journalism student interested in politics, like dying; you have to deal with it eventually, but you just don’t look forward to it. That said, I saw a political documentary called The Peacekeepers that captivated my interest.

The Peacekeepers is one of those films that coerce us into second guessing some of the beliefs we may have held for a long time.

For instance, what do we think about when we think of the United Nations? To be honest, I used to think the same thing that is the prevailing opinion now. I used to think the United Nations is a defunct organization, and that it outlasted its usefulness sometime between World War 2 and the end of the Cold War. That’s what I used to think until I learned why it’s a defunct organization, and that it is actually the fault of member states, not the organization itself.

Packed into 83 minutes, The Peacekeepers offers us insight on why people in the U.S. would think the UN is defunct, and also how the U.S. helps make the organization defunct. The story behind it is also gripping enough to keep a person interested.

What the movie does is give insight as to how the UN Peacekeepers operate, specifically in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and their UN mission there called MONUC. Told from the UN’s perspective, we get the impression that no one really wants to help the Congo, but when people do, great things can happen.

What is also evident is the reluctance of First World countries to help out in what is deemed a “failed country”. The US is reluctant to give even financial support to help out a people in a “developing country”, mainly because there will be no return or benefit to the U.S.

France volunteers their services, but only for three months, and declared that the warlords have been “disarmed” just as they leave. They weren’t, but the French said it anyway.

Instead, UN peacekeeping in the Congo is done by other Third World countries like Uraguay, India, and Pakistan.

I think what the film is insinuating is that it’s really the fault of member states that the UN mission could fail. After all, member states are the ones who provide financial and military assistance for these missions. If there is no cooperation, then there will be no success.

The after effects of the massacres, while saddening, drive home the point of what not helping does. It’s like when someone sees an accident on the freeway, but just drives by thinking someone else will help.

At the same time, I think it shows some naivety on the parts of the UN and the western world. We tend to live in a bubble that says the way of the world is supposed to work in a certain way. Take, for example, the way warring tribes in that section of the world do battle. Actually, they fight like all primitive cultures, from ancient Europe to Africa to the Americas. The fighting is opportunistic, involving killing and/or enslaving helpless villagers and lots of evading other people who are armed.

And when you come across another force that is well-armed, depending on the sophistication of the forces, they just simply run to the hills and hide until they can come out again. Really, the whole goal is to make money, not necessarily for some higher cause like nationalism.

In the mid-1880’s, European colonizers all the way in Berlin carved Africa up into neat regions called the Congo and Angola, etc. The problem is that these Europeans didn’t take into account the hundreds of tribes consisting of millions of people that often intersected with each other.

This is part of the reason why Ugandan troops and other troops from neighboring countries were to be found right there in the heart of the Congo, fighting the way they probably always have done, and to try to find ways to profit. Seeing the film, you’d notice that money and profit is the driving force for the fighting around the region of Irunduti, which has a number of natural resources like gold and mines.

It is too bad that the history of the Congo was not taken into account, as I think it would’ve added more perspective to an already engaging story, which is one of misunderstanding, apathy, and politics.

Friday, November 18, 2005

In the first Matrix, there seems to be a running consensus that Neo is supposed to be like Jesus Christ; He is going to save the world. I would have to disagree with that theory. Neo differs from the legend of Jesus in that he starts off as a criminal, becomes enlightened, and then seeks to enlighten everyone else. Jesus starts off perfect, remains perfect, and then dies to save everyone. Rather, I’d like to suggest that the movie represents something much larger in scope.

First, let me describe some of the similarities between Jesus and Neo. Jesus was supposed to have been prophesied, as Neo was too. Jesus was a catalyst in human history, as is Neo. People look to Jesus as a great hope. As is apparent by the reactions of people Neo encounters, the same for is true for him. And of course there is Trinity, of which Christianity is known for. Note here that Trinity is not Neo.

Neo isn’t like Jesus because from the beginning, Neo is something of an outlaw. He hacks into computers, searching for someone named Morpheus and learns of the Matrix. He later learns that the world he has come to know is false, and now he seeks to “free people’s minds”.
I think the Matrix itself represents the whole of human society, and the agents are the governments, corporations, or other power brokers of the world who wish to keep the status quo intact, they are the ones that serve to benefit from a population that doesn’t know there’s another world. I am also going to suggest that the characters on board the hover ship Nebuchadnezzar represent various religions and philosophies of the world.
Mouse, for example, represents ethical egoism and perhaps nihilism. In response to jokes about him being a digital pimp, Mouse says, “To deny our own impulses, is to deny the very thing that makes us human.”

Mouse is the first main character to die in the film and I think this is representative of weaknesses in both ethical egoism and nihilism. Obviously, denying one’s impulses is probably what separates us from the animals and defines us as humans. His death is interesting, too. A wall forms around him and he is trapped, caught by surprise as he is gazing at the woman in the red dress (his own creation, by the way) and is systematically blown away by the police. A fitting death for a nihilist, perhaps even a likely one. It can possibly be seen as a symbolic statement against philosophies like nihilism; even with a wall around you the world (even if it is a fake one) will do you in.

Without wanting to get into further detail about other lesser characters, let me discuss the major ones instead and what they mean to each other. Morpheus, in Greek mythology, is the god of dreams and sleep. I think he represents just that, he is like a gateway to another world. Morpheus is the one who got Trinity to reach the real world, and of course Neo. Morpheus himself doesn’t represent a religion; he is more like a gateway. In the movie, the agents capture him and they try to hack into him because he holds the password keys to Zion, the last human city. What the agents did was akin to attacking a castle. They were trying to open the gateway to their enemy, the pesky folk who threaten the way of life they provided to the masses.

Trinity represents Christianity, a religion based on the belief that one man was God. Perhaps what the movie is suggesting is that Jesus Christ himself was enlightened, becoming aware of the real world, but the religion that followed him lost touch with that. This losing touch with Jesus’ enlightenment is the downfall of Christianity. In the second movie Trinity dies, but is resurrected, and then she dies again in the third one for a final time. Of course, her name itself is the give away, as the Trinity is one of the hallmarks of Christianity.

Finally, Neo represents a philosophy/religion that did not lose touch with what its founder came to realize; that the entirety of the world is One. I am speaking of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. True, later versions of Buddhism may have become slightly scrambled versions of what Siddhartha originally said, but they nonetheless remained true to the path of enlightenment. Perhaps that’s why Neo’s name can be unscrambled (or re-scrambled) to read One. It’s also important to note that Buddhism is considered both a philosophy and a religion.
I think the choice of Buddhism is significant, because Buddha represents the complete freedom of the mind, and that is why he is able to do so much in the Matrix. His death in the first Matrix symbolizes not Jesus’ resurrection, but Siddhartha’s own moment of enlightenment, being that they both discover that they are One.

I think the later movies in the Matrix series, and even his death, seek to prove Buddha’s view that everything is One, or that they are all part of one thing. We see that Neo can exercise his abilities in the real world, and that the agents are able to exist in the real world, too, albeit in the guise of another person. It appears that the Matrix and the real world are also one.
In conclusion, the Matrix is a movie about how various religions and philosophies duke it out in the battle to get “free minds”. We get glimpses of some of the major religions and philosophies in the characters of the movie, but for some reason the storywriter seems to prefer Buddhism.

Of course, I can’t deny the fact that there are many variations on how a movie like the Matrix can be interpreted.

Friday, November 04, 2005

An interview with Jacquie Sullivan, founder of In God We Trust - America, Inc.

Bakersfield has long been considered "the buckle of California's Bible Belt." Back in 2002, Bakerfield became the spearment of a movement to place the national motto "In God We Trust" in California city halls.

Jacquie Sullivan is a city councilmember for the city of Bakersfield, CA, and also founder of In God We Trust, - America, Inc. She received her inspiration to start this movement back in 2001, while listening to a Christian radio station's news report about people on the East Coast protesting the placement of religious symbols on government buidings. That's when it hit her. "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good," said Sullivan in an interview, quoting Genesis 50:20 of the Bible.

"If they're trying to remove God on the East Coast, I'm going to work to put God up on the West Coast," explained Sullivan in an interview. Her goal is to eventually have every city hall in place "In God We Trust" on their walls.

Sullivan said this mission was a patriotic duty. "It's good for our country ... I decided to take up the challenge."

After all city halls have been taken care of, Sullivan feels the next important step is public schools. Sullivan made reference to an older U.S. flag that also had the words "In God We Trust" on it, and suggested that putting this flag on school administrative buildings would be the next goal for IGWT-A. "It would promote patriotism in our schools," explained Sullivan.

Sullivan said that her group's effort is to "retain our country's identity ... the national motto is a symbol of patriotism, it shows that we are a country whose faith is very important to its citizens."

The national motto "In God We Trust" was adopted in 1956 during the infamous McCarthy Era as a reaction to communism. Many people incorrectly link atheism to communism, and so the decision was made to adopt "In God We Trust" as a national motto and also to place it on coinage. "In God We Trust" replaced "E Pluribus Unum", a Latin phrase meaning, "Out of many, one." On a side note, the phrase "Mind your business" was printed on coins around the time of the framing of the Constitution.

Sullivan also talked a little about IGWT's strategy on how they'll get city halls to place the motto. It's an approach that plays on the ease of passing resolutions at the local level.

First, just one city councilmember has to hear about it and bring it up as an agenda item. Second, because most people in the U.S. believe in God, and because the majority rules, it is almost guaranteed to be passed at the local level. And finally, all it tkaes at the local level is for themajority of city council members to agree. Unlike state or federal assemblies and senates, city councils have fewer people to act as an obstacle. City council range in numbers from five to nine; compare that to numbers in the state assembly, senate or the federal House of Representatives and Senate.

Sullivan didn't have much to say about opposing viewpoints, except that, "Those opposing are the most vocal. There are many more in favor then against ... 85 percent of Americans believe in God."

"The majority rules," Sullivan added, "we've lost ground but this is a nation of believers, it is important for our country to be bold about this issue."

Sullivan finished up with some remarks about the separation of church and state. "The separation is intended to keep the state out of the church; not the church out of the state ... the Constitution gives us freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Do you think that "In God We Trust" is appropriate for display on public buildings?