Man of Steel: Morality Gone Wrong

If you haven’t seen Man of Steel yet, and you don’t want certain things about the film to be revealed to you, you should walk away now. In other words: Spoiler Alert.

There’s a lot to be said about Man of Steel, whether we’re judging Snyder’s directorial imprint on the iconic superhero or Henry Cavill’s (nearly perfect) attempt to portray Superman himself. The actors are all exceptional, with no exceptions. I’d be hard pressed to rain on their parade.

But this isn’t a review, so I won’t explain how neat the special effects were, or how gritty the punches felt, or what I thought about the use of flashbacks to tell a large piece of the story. Instead, there’s one bit of the film that drives me nuts: when Clark Kent’s father dies.

Kevin Costner does an excellent job playing Clark’s dad, Jonathan Kent. There’s weight to every line he gives us: this is a man who has clearly thought long and hard about the realities of raising a boy who would one day be Superman. While his lines make this incredibly obvious (“You’re going to change the world, son, for good or for evil,” paraphrased), it is more subtle than that: we see the trappings of a man who has thought so long about this that he can’t see new thoughts. He doesn’t leave room for his son to argue because Clark is still the young boy, even as he grows older.

Here’s the moment of frustration, the moment of alleged morality: Jonathan allows himself to be killed in order to prevent Clark from revealing his true power. This line of thinking (namely: preventing the world from knowing about this boy with superhuman strength and senses was more important than saving lives) is introduced earlier in the film. When Clark is still a kid, his school bus drives off a bridge, into the river below. In order to save the lives of the children on the bus, Clark gets out and pushes the bus to the shore. A few of the kids see him do this, and their parents confront the Kents.

When Jonathan goes out to talk with him, he explains that they have already talked about this; it is vital that the world not yet know about Clark’s powers. But Clark is having nothing to do with this, and makes the most obvious and powerful counterargument: “What was I supposed to do, let them all die?”

For some reason, Clark’s dad says “Maybe.”

He goes on to explain that the world isn’t ready for him, that many more lives could be lost if the government found out about him, and other similar arguments. This is where Jonathan’s moral views have failed him. He has spent so much of his life considering the consequences of this child’s identity that he no longer sees the immediate good. He was able to seriously consider sacrificing the lives of a dozen children in order to protect the identity of his own. It doesn’t help that the reason for protecting the identity of Clark is based on speculation and potential danger, not confirmed danger. If you’ve reached the point where you’re willing to let a dozen kids die for a perceived possible threat, your moral compass needs a new magnet.

Jonathan’s views end up leading to his own death. During a tornado, he rushes out to save a dog, risking his own life. When he gets stuck in a car, and eventually steps out, he makes eye contact with his son, Clark. With a slight shake of his head, Jonathan tells Clark to stay put. It would have been trivial for Clark to save Jonathan, but the risk involved–that is, the risk of allowing some relatively small number of people see him perform the task–was apparently too great. No, Clark couldn’t be allowed to save a life, just yet.

Throughout the film, many characters consider the weight of revealing to the world the story of Superman. Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) makes the same comment to Lois Lane (Amy Adams), when she comes to him about the story. Even if the story were completely true, he remarks, imagine what the world would do, how the world would react. There’s some validity here, even in the confines of the world we’re witnessing: when Superman is revealed, he spends some time as a target of the military. Even once he proves himself, the government is actively trying to learn more about him, when he’s asked them to simply trust him. It seems that everyone agrees that public knowledge regarding Superman’s abilities is dangerous. Lois Lane goes so far as to say she wouldn’t turn Superman in, even as Zod threatens to destroy the world.

One thing I hope we can all agree on: lives are valuable. I really hope I wouldn’t be the sort of person who would sacrifice a life in order to avoid a difficult situation.

Just Let Them Think You’re Stupid: Choosing Humility

By a quirk of our schooling, report cards and grades catechize us into perfect certainty of (at least) one thoroughly false lesson: that our ability to demonstrate understanding of something is more important than the understanding or the thing itself. Mixed with our natural inclination toward that frightened state called selfishness, this lesson curves back our conversations toward ourselves for the rest of our lives.

Because of long exposure to this lesson, an insufferable sickness dominates (especially among the well-educated): the need to demonstrate our value and knowledge. Like any good behaviorist can tell you, rewarded behavior tends to become thoughtless habit. Thoughtless habit, of course, tends to become vice.

It is everywhere. Who hasn’t watched those two terrible words flounce unbidden off her own tongue, dragging behind them some “demonstration” of knowledge? Those two little words that stifle further learning, further companionship, and further humility – “I know.” (Furthermore, who hasn’t been injured by them?) “I know that already; I’ve read War and Peace three times.” Or, “I know: I’ve been going to church since before I was born.” Or, in some other way, “I know, already, what you’re trying to teach me. I’m, in fact, better than you think I am.”

Finding ourselves in a museum with the painting of an artist we studied in Art History I as college freshmen, we appreciate getting to tell whoever is with us that we’ve studied this artist. I always find this inclination strongest with artists I know a little, but don’t really, deeply know. Famous and posh artists that “I know” are the ones I’m likeliest to “demonstrate.” We tend to turn conversations about half-known works of art into conversations about ourselves, via our demonstrable knowledge. We tend to be the least likely to defer to their merits, exalting our own (necessarily limited) knowledge of them as the highest merit.

On the other hand, artists that I know enough to love are the ones about which I’m least likely to say “I know.” Less drawn to demonstrate myself through them, I genuinely want to demonstrate their work and beauty and greatness. I don’t want to brag about Dante; I want to talk about Dante, because the most amazing thing about Dante is not my knowledge of Dante, but Dante, himself. When talking about Dante, I would be grieved to hear someone say, “Wow, Alicia, you know a lot.” I’d much rather hear, “Wow, Dante knew a lot.” The irony is clear – the artists about which I could demonstrate the most knowledge are the artists about whom I wish to demonstrate the least. When we try to demonstrate intelligence, then, we tend to demonstrate ignorance. Further, by loving Dante, I find myself less prone to demonstrate about other artists, for fear that it will change the way my conversations about Dante will go. Love is a matter of stepping aside so that your shadow can’t obscure anyone’s view of the beloved.

The lingering sense of a G.P.A., I’m afraid, obscures the view of the beloved. The G.P.A., which dominates our dominant instructional setting from ages 6 to 16 (or 26), teaches us nothing about love and humility. It teaches us about demonstration; getting an A on a geometric proof teaches us less about proving a mathematical concept than it teaches us about how to prove ourselves. After all, chronologically and logically, the student knew the concept before the grade existed.

The ripples of our grade-induced lessons flavor our conversations, making us believe that conversations about things studied or known are primarily about ourselves, instead of about the thing known. You will hear, in a college cafeteria, genuine conversations that express interest in the subject of conversation, proving love for the people conversing. But, you’ll also hear conversations of demonstration, wherein the conversationalists are simply making use of the conversation’s object to “one up” one another.

The cure for demonstration will not be easily effected. Our educational conditioning trained us that demonstration is vital to our value; our fallen state combined this with our deep-seated, natural pride. The roots are deep.

Yet, the cure is logically simple: let people think less of you.

What if, when someone began to tell you something you already knew, you didn’t counter with a demonstration? What if you allowed them to teach you, trusting that they may have more to say about it than you know? Expelling “I know” from our vocabulary allows people to think we know nothing, which – paradoxically – opens us to the possibility of knowing more. To cut off someone with “I know” guarantees that you exit the conversation in the same state in which you entered it. For the lover of the subject, this is a tragedy; why would we ever dismiss the slightest chance to learn about the beloved? No, employing the fast-lipped “I know” serves a single function: preserving the self at the expense of the subject.

But, it does us no harm to accept the seat of lowest honor at the table. From there, we have everything to gain.

A coworker asked what grade I’d received in statistics. I shrugged, “Grades distract me, so I don’t look at them. I learned a lot from the course, though.”

Instantly, I saw it on her face. I read it in a smugness of her tone as she responded: she thought I was getting bad grades and didn’t want to look at them.

How could she?! I wanted to find the grade out right then. I wanted the old, familiar, demonstrable proof of myself. My heart groaned, and I yearned to explain, “No, no, I’m not getting poor grades! I’m probably getting good grades. I’m submitting every assignment and studying hard.”

Purposefully and uncharacteristically choosing humility, I managed to bite my tongue. It does me no harm, after all, to let her think I failed statistics. Her misunderstanding will probably make her feel more comfortable offering me aid in the future than if I demonstrated my abilities with some arbitrary letter grade. And, I’ll never know enough about statistics for me to be in a place to reject any aid.

Often, when I manage to bite back that insufferable “I know,” I learn something. When I let someone go through five sentences of familiar information, the sixth usually blesses me with some new insight. The more frequently I let the conversation be about the subject at hand, without trying to commander it to being about me, the more I can love the subject at hand and the more I love the person who taught me about it.

Why Are You Persecuted?

As Christians, we expect to be persecuted. Our expectation for hardships in this life comes directly from the words of Jesus, who told us that people would hate us for his name’s sake (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, and John 15:21).

But not all hardship occurs because of Jesus’ name. Some hardships do come because of our faith in Christ, either directly or indirectly. Whether a direct result from the name of Christ or a proclamation of faith, or from the persecution that sometimes accompanies holding to a moral standard higher than one’s self, the Christian lifestyle is and should be filled with persecutions. Continue reading Why Are You Persecuted?


I hate it when I check my food order after I pull out of the drive through, and I have to walk inside to ask them to fix it.

How does that complaint strike you?  Mildly amusing?  Ironic?  Or are you offended at my callousness toward those who are actually suffering?

The Twitter hashtag #FirstWorldProblems is a popular one.  It typically follows a comment like the one I just wrote.  As you can imagine, then, it is used primarily to highlight the irony of such a statement, to point out that it is not in fact a real problem.

A recent ad campaign from the organization Water Is Life uses this Twitter meme to great effect.  Here is the video:

The ad is generating a small bit of controversy.  I think we need to keep a few things in mind before rushing to one conclusion or another.  First, as Time notes, even the Haitians featured in the ad understood the joke, even laughing at some of the tweets.  As I said, it is supposed to be ironic.  Whenever this hashtag is used, the person sending the tweet is acknowledging that their problem is not really a problem, all things considered.  Phone charger won’t reach?  Be grateful you have a cell phone.  They gave you pickles?  Be thankful you can afford fast food whenever you want it.  In essence, this is the sort of moral exhortation that the hashtag is implicitly giving to us.  Water Is Life is merely taking that exhortation and expanding it, and then providing you with an immediate and tangible way to help people.

Second, to push back, we do need to be careful that our amusing irony doesn’t simply become callous and unthinking.  There may be nothing wrong with the meme in itself, but a person who tweets 5 of their first world problems every day should probably find something more constructive to do.  Not unlike people who post pictures of every meal.

There is a time and a place for ironic self-deprecation, but note that Twitter effectively abolishes any notion of “place.”  Our tweets potentially reach anyone with an internet connection.  When you cannot control your audience, you need to take even more care with the words you use.  Moreover, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of letting a hashtag justify anything we feel like saying.  Acknowledging beforehand that we’re about to be petty and shallow does not in fact give us permission to be petty and shallow.

Third, we should also remember that people in the so-called first world do in fact experience genuine suffering.  We don’t want to be callous in either direction.  Cancer, mental illness, unexpected deaths and poverty are all realities in America as much as they are in the third world.  Exhibiting too much high-minded irony towards the problems of first worlders actually betrays one of the major problems of the first world, that we are materialists.  We consume and consume, hoping in vain that the next iPhone will finally make us happy.  Compared to someone who does not have an iPhone, how could we possibly experience real suffering (which is defined, of course, as not having an iPhone).

In the end, this ad is just smart marketing.  It really shouldn’t offend anyone, because if you’ve ever used #FirstWorldProblems in a tweet, this should have been the very point you were trying to make.  Now when you forget your Dr. Dre Beats at home and are forced to suffer the indignity of using the standard earbuds that came with your iPhone 5, you can use this meme to give your followers a chuckle and actually help contribute to a worthy cause at the same time.

All For One, Not One For All: Thoughts on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy

“It is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”

This age-old attitude is at the heart of the drama in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, which begins with the international best-seller, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

A confession: these are not the sort of books I usually read. I’m not fond of mysteries, and the phrase “international best-seller” usually puts my guard up. But after reading Lars Walker’s reviews of two of the books at Brandywine Books, I became intrigued.

The books deal with the story of Lisbeth Salander, a socially awkward (to put it mildly) young woman with a history of trauma. Over the course of the three books, the reader discovers that not only has Lisbeth been harmed by the very people who were put in place to protect her, but that the Swedish government decided that she was expendable to protect a certain State secret.

Fortunately, Lisbeth is not as alone as she seems. Idealistic journalist Mikael Blomkvist, having met Lisbeth in the first book, determines to expose the evil that Lisbeth has suffered, no matter the cost. Blomkvist is joined in his crusade by the staff of his magazine, Millennium, as well as several others. Over the course of the books, the lines are drawn between those willing to expose the truth and those who want to cover it up.

This is why, I suspect, so much of the story is spent with characters in the police force and the world of journalism. While these occupations often find themselves at odds, they are both fundamentally dedicated to discovering the truth and revealing evil.

This aspect of the story is slow to build, taking a backseat to a dramatic missing-person story and a double murder in the first two books. But Larsson never lets the theme be lost or obscured: by the end of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the reader can see plainly the horror of allowing a single innocent woman’s rights be trampled in the name of expedience, or national security, or any other lofty-sounding goal.

The main sense of horror in the trilogy comes not from  violence (though there is plenty of that), but from the slow realization that the organs of truth-telling, namely the police and the press, have utterly failed. In Salander’s case, they have even colluded to keep her story under wraps, to discredit her as a witness to crimes, and to keep her under federal supervision. Lisbeth refuses to speak to psychiatrists and police officers, because when she did so as a child, she was locked away in an institution to keep her from revealing a scandal. For 15 years, no-one digs deeper into her story, assuming her to be mentally retarded and incapable of interaction. Lisbeth allows the world to continue thinking of her that way because it is the only way that she will simply be left alone.

The climactic moment of the story comes, not when the murders are finally solved, but when Lisbeth Salander’s story is proven true in a public forum and all those who used her as a sacrifice on the altar of expediency are revealed.

There are problems with these books: the sexual morality, for instance, leaves much to be desired. But in the end, Larsson seems to want nothing more than to praise the costly telling of truth in the face of easy silence. And on that, we can agree.

(Note: there are sexual and violent situations in these books that may make them unsuitable for young readers. I don’t recall thinking that any of the sex or violence was purely titillating, though that is a very subjective judgement. Even with that caveat, I highly recommend these books.)

Convenience and Reducing a Pregnancy

I stand resolute on my position on abortion: I do not believe abortion is a viable option. The sanctity of the life of the child is tantamount to making any health-related decision. There may be extreme cases where there is a certainty that a pregnancy will lead to the death of both the child and the mother (though I express my reservations about the possibility of ‘certainty’ in this situation). But the primary push ought to be for life itself. Continue reading Convenience and Reducing a Pregnancy

Freedom Sunday 2011

March 13 was Freedom Sunday, an international effort by congregations around the world to raise awareness about the problem of human trafficking and organize efforts to oppose it around the world. Freedom Sunday coincides with the first Sunday of Lent in the western calendar for a reason. It was for freedom that Christ set us free, when we were slaves to sin and death, and our mighty Savior calls us to follow Him in pursuit of freedom for all.

At Saint Ann Chapel in Palo Alto, California, guest blogger Father Robert Kemp gave the following sermon:

2008 was a bad year for Berkeley, California.  First, the City Council told Army Recruiters they were “unwelcome intruders” in a motion expelling the recruiters from the city.  After 140 businesses threatened to leave the city and the Federal and State Legislative bodies took up measures revoking all Federal and State aid to the city, the City Counsel had to recant and publically admit that money is more precious than ideology.  After that embarrassing debacle, Lakireddy Bali Reddy, the largest and wealthiest landlord in Berkeley, was released from prison.  Lakireddy was caught in 2001 operating a sophisticated slave ring in the heart of Berkeley.  Between 1986 and 2000 he smuggled between 25 and 100 Indians into the United States.  Many of those imported were young women who were forced to work in Reddy’s prominent and well-liked restaurant Pasand Madaras Indian Cuisine for no pay while many others were forced to work as his concubines.  Some of the biggest and loudest proponents of fair trade, equality and work-force liberation were served by slaves. Sadly, slavery is not extinct.  Slavery did not end when English Parliament adopted the Slavery Abolition Act in August of 1833.  Slavery did not end on January 1, 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.  Nor did slavery end on December 18th, 1865 when the 13th amendment prohibiting slavery was enacted.  Slavery still exists, it exists in the United States, it exists in California and it exists in the Bay Area.

But why should we care?  Why should we care when Albanian parents sell their 3 year old to buy a color television?[1] Why should we care when 9 year old girls in Lima, Peru are bought by pimps and sold to highest bidder?  Why should we care when 12 year old Cambodian girls are sold to businessmen who want to bring good luck on their new economic quests by having sex with a virgin? Why should we care when thousands of children in the Ivory Coast are forced to work in the cocoa fields to drive down production cost so that we can buy cheap chocolate?[2] Why should we care when Cargill, a major cocoa importer, admitted it did not eliminate child slavery in its cocoa supply line because they did not have enough, and I quote ‘market incentive’ to do so? Why should I care when Nike pays a 10 year old pennies a day to make shoes, when it means that I can get a great deal on a new pair of running shoes? Why should I care when Nike admits to using child labor, but then says the problem is too difficult to stop.[3] Why should we care that there are roughly 27 million slaves in the world today and that there are approximately 218 million exploited child laborers?

In the days of Isaiah, the Israelites did not care about the plight of the widow, the weak and the helpless, they did not care that slavery and prostitution were all too common; they did not care about justice.  What is shocking is that while Israel turned a blind eye to injustice, they turned a microscope to worship.  They became deeply concerned with getting worship right, with saying the right things at the right time, doing the appropriate actions at the appropriate time and offering the correct sacrifice in liturgical precision.  In other words, they were just like the Pharisees who were so religious they forgot to love.  In the midst of this religious lovelessness, Isaiah proclaimed that fasting was pointless if not accompanied by love that was actively seen in feeding the poor and weak.  He told them worship was a waste of time if worship did not transform their hearts to love by breaking the chains of injustice.  He told them sacrifices were bloody abominations if they did not out of love set the oppressed and enslaved free.  Nor was Isaiah alone in this proclamation.  Years earlier God told the Israelites through the prophet Amos

I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

If we do not care about the 27 million slaves in the world, if our hearts are immune to love, then our worship is at best a waste of time and at worst, an abomination. We should care, because love demands it.

Does that make the church a mere social club for good works?  Does that make the Christian a religiousified social worker? No, may it never be for those who champion the church as a social club for good works have a fundamental theological error, they believe God operates on a quid pro quo, if I do this, then God will do that.  However, God, the one true God: Father, Son and Spirit, does not operate on a Quid pro Quo, he operates on a Quid pro Amor – This for Love. Everything that we do is originates from love.  That is why St. Paul said

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

The point of worship is not to appease God, but become more like him through love, as St. John said,

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (I John 4: 7)

The point of worship is not entertainment, but the transformation of a loveless heart to a love giving heart.  The point of breaking the yokes of the oppressed, the point of setting the captive free is not to simply do good deeds, it is to love others just as God the Father has loved us.

For we were once slaves; we were slaves to sin and the wages our slave master paid was death.  Jesus, however, took our wage upon himself and purchased our freedom with his blood and through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have been set free and given the gift of life. Thus, a failure to love those who are now enslaved is a failure to understand to love of Jesus that accomplished our own salvation.  A failure to lovingly take upon ourselves the cost to free those who are now enslaved is a failure to understand how much our freedom cost the Son of God. In other words, a failure to love in thought, word and deed the least of all people is a failure to love the greatest of all persons, Jesus Christ.  Why should we care about the 27 million slaves in the world today? Because once we too were enslaved and while we were still enslaved, God loved us and sent his Son to purchase our freedom and now that we have been loved by God we are to shower this love upon others.

My dear Sisters and Brothers, there are two religious roads in life.  One road is wide and smooth.  It is the Quid pro quo road and it is the road of mere religious duty that demands nothing more than occasional piety and liturgical observance.  It is the road that Isaiah and others warned not to take for it leads nowhere.  The other road is narrow with steep switchbacks up to the pinnacles of life, but it also plunges into the darkest valleys.  It is the road of love and it demands our life, our soul and our all, but in end it leads us into the presence of God.  All those who walk on this road through faith are not alone, for they walk hand in hand with Jesus.  It is not a road we can walk through our own strength, but the flesh and blood of Jesus will sustain our weary legs, his grace will upload our tired heads and his love will maintain our beating heart.  Therefore, let us pray that through the grace of Jesus Christ, we will walk on this road of love and break the yokes of oppression that are enslaving our fellow brothers and sisters.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast created man in thine own image; Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.




Steve Jobs, Porn, and Corporate Moral Responsibility

When it comes to corporate moral responsibility, the media is consistently double minded.

Steve Jobs, one of the most inspired visionaries of our time, is more than just a businessman–and Apple is more than just a business.  From an early age Steve Jobs set out to run his own company and build products with a culture infused into them.  Jobs’ culture appreciates beauty, embraces creativity, and challenges its users to live a life of simplicity.  It’s the culture as much as the product that Jobs is selling.

If you want what he’s selling, you play in his world under his terms.  He is king of the empire he created, an empire in which most people happily participate.  The numbers are staggering. Apple’s iTunes marketplace, which supplies apps, music, movies, books and other media to Apple’s line-up of blockbuster media products, such as the iPod and iPhone, has over 125 million users and in the last ten years Apple’s market cap value has soared from $4.8 billion to $231 billion (an increase of 4,700%).  Today it has overtaken Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company.

But Apple is more than just a technology company, Apple is a culture all its own.  Jobs shapes Apple’s culture of simplicity, cleanliness, and liberation.  He considers the entire process from product conception to launch.  His goal is to keep the culture of his product pure, clean from the clutter that slows down traditional PCs, and to ensure that Apple’s brand remains strong.  Not only does he oversee the development of the product, but he also sets the terms by which others can interact with and develop for Apple technology.

And Steve Jobs hates porn.

Jobs sees porn as enslaving and thus anathema to the culture of liberation built into Apple and its products.  As he said in an e-mail to Ryan Tate at Gawker, his goal is “freedom from programs that steal your private data.  Freedom from programs that trash your battery.  Freedom from porn.  Yep, freedom.  Times are a changin’ and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away.  It is.”

Jobs anti-porn crusade is incidental to his goal of spreading (or selling) Apple’s culture.  When Jobs sat down with his team to launch the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and the myriad of other technologies for which the company is renowned, he likely did not build them in order to build technological walled gardens to block out porn.   In other words, ridding the world from porn was not his ultimate goal.  Rather, Jobs saw an opportunity for a future market filled by a new kind of revolutionary technology, he went forth, and he created.  The popularity of his creations proved Jobs right again, and again, and again.

Jobs’ crusade against porn has raised the ire of porn consumers who feel his “imposition of morality” entirely unfair and unjust.  Style magazine Dazed and Confused goes so far as to scornfully call their iPad version the “Iran edition,” making a comparison to the Muslim theocracy and the rules of the iTunes store.    The “Apple chilling effect,” as it is becoming known, required the magazine to remove nipples and other body parts from their content.

Dazed and Confused isn’t the only publication to fall victim to Apple’s decency policies. The app “Gay New York: 101 Can’t-Miss Places” has been rejected several times due inappropriate content.  As one journalist put it, “the problem here is that it’s awfully hard to assemble an authentic guide to ‘Gay New York’ when Apple objects to content as innocuous as a well-muscled guy in a thong…”  The obvious conclusion here is that Jobs is to blame because he feels Apple has a moral responsibility to keep indecent content off its technology.

I think it is more condemning of gay culture than Steve Jobs that a New York gay hotspot app cannot pass a basic decency test.

Here’s some hard truth: if you don’t like Jobs’ standards, don’t use his stuff.  If you’ve got to have your porn or you must have unseemly pictures in your New York gay hotspots app,  use another product.  Droid does apps.  When you’re shopping at the iTunes marketplace, you’re shopping in Steve’s world where Steve is king.  You’ve chosen to shop there; you’ve chosen to subject yourself to his rules.  Rex Lex, the king is the law.  Comparisons between Apple and Iran’s theocracy are intellectually dishonest.  The Iranian people do not have the choice of opting out of the Mullah’s edicts.  You don’t have to shop at the iTunes store.  Ever.  Not once.  Steve Jobs cannot stop you from porn consumption – he just won’t let porn into his marketplace.

Here’s where the media is double minded: if it were global warming against which Jobs was on a moral crusade, he would be a hero.  Nobody would care if Jobs prohibited apps that promoted the despoiling of wildlife habitats.  Likewise, journalists wouldn’t complain if Jobs prohibited apps helping people locate brothels in nations where sexual slavery was the norm.  Concern about global warming and sexual slavery arise from the same moral conscience as concern about porn addiction.  Hey media, let’s be honest, you don’t care that Jobs has a moral agenda or that his agenda influences his company and its products, you simply don’t approve of his moral agenda.  Please, for the sake of me, your reader, have the integrity to admit the point and the decency to make an intellectually honest argument.

*Image credit: Sigma Group*

Instructions for Living Gently in a Violent World

Books that promise to radically change the way I see the world make me skeptical. Living Gently in a Violent World was no different, except insofar as that it actually did.

Living Gently is a release by InterVarsity Press in their ongoing series “Resources for Reconciliation,” which addresses an areas of life in need for reconciliation between theologians and practitioners on the one hand, and the Christian and ‘secular’ worlds on the other. In order to begin this process, each book is authored by an academic and a ‘field’ voice. In the case of Living Gently, the authors are Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, and Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theology at Duke Divinity School. Living Gently focuses on the way society, especially Western society, views and treats weakness, particularly the weakness within the disabled community. Vanier and Hauerwas use the L’Arche community—a network of homes in which people both with and without disabilities live together—as an example of their theology in action.

Their basic premise is this: every human person, disabled or not, carries a deep wound of loneliness. Vanier and Hauerwas say the binding for that wound can be found in healthy community, but that we cannot form those communities in our society until we learn how to see pain, disability, and weakness in a drastically new way.

For Hauerwas and Vanier, how we interact with the disabled, including the hierarchy that places them at the bottom of social pyramids, is connected to people’s varying capacity to hide their loneliness and insecurity. Those who cannot hide dependency well are considered ‘lesser’ than those who can. These pyramids result in a ‘compassion’ for the ‘lessers’ that ultimately kills them, e.g. the growing practice of aborting fetuses that test positive for Down syndrome. This occurs because hierarchy turns caring into curing, and the incurable makes us uncomfortable. Our ‘solution’ is to eradicate the source of that discomfort rather than question our social premises. Our compassion has manifested itself as a war: a silent, slippery imposition of a vision of ‘peace and prosperity’ where everyone is autonomous and whole. Pax America, anyone?

As Vanier puts it, Christian community is called to make a body out of the pyramids, and an ecumenical one at that. We are to love the disabled neither because they affirm our own ideology, nor because we will gain something by it, nor because it is ‘unjust’ that they are disabled and we can make it ‘right’. Rather, we love them because of their humanity: we see clearly in them the wound that disables us all.

Vanier and Hauerwas suggest that all people are essentially like Adam and Eve in the Garden, who knew their nakedness, were ashamed, and hid. We too know the vulnerability of our loneliness and build concealing walls of power, possessions, or feigned stability. People with disabilities are usually stripped of the ability to cower behind these facades. Thus, they become “privileged witnesses” of our fundamental cry to be loved and accepted by a physical, living community.

Vanier and Hauerwas’ book is appropriately challenging:  Can we learn to ask a person with disabilities to bear their cross as a living sacrifice for us all? And after learning to love them with visible wounds, can we learn to see the universal wound of loneliness behind the masks that most of us hoist? Can we see beautiful, stitched-up humanity inherent in a community without hierarchy?

For Vanier, such a community is based on three things: eating together, praying together, and celebrating together.  And at the core of such a community are relationships founded on caring for, rather than curing, one another.  As Hauerwas points out, the flu can be cured while the infected ‘person’ is maintained. But we cannot cure Down’s (at least at this point in time) without destroying the person.  We are instead to care.  As Hauerwas puts it, “There is no triumphalism in gentleness.” There is foot washing instead. There is freedom to love the unpopular and ungreat. There is space to love a God who “does not promise things will always work out right” in this fractured world. There is creation of mutual respect and love.

Living Gently in a Violent World offers readers a vivid vision of this gentle and merciful way of life as a community of broken and still-becoming individuals. And it’s not stretching the truth to claim you will see the world differently by the last page. ‘