Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Sharing the Problem

Focus - we could “fix” the world if we had it.  We know that when we put our minds to something, it’s amazing what we could achieve.  That’s what is said about us on an individual level.  It’s even truer at a collective level.  When we team up, we are more than just the sum of our individual energy.  Two people can get a job done more than twice as fast as a single person.

If the world focused on “big picture” problems like global hunger and poverty, then we could solve them.  The world has enough wealth and resources in it to do so.

I would like to bring to the foreground some of the highest paid members of our society:  professional athletes.  It’s not unusual for them to make millions of dollars in a year, essentially just to play a game.  I recognize the amount of effort and work that needs to be put into achieving and maintaining that career, but what purpose does this work have other than to have fun and to entertain?  There are a lot cheaper (and free) ways to have fun and to entertain others.

Essentially, we need to ask ourselves how much the achievement of our self-realization and goals are worth.  Capitalization is based on competition and on individuals looking out for themselves.  But is the elevated state of comfort we achieve worth the pain and death of others due to their poverty?

But why should you care about others?  Just because a better state of the world is possible with co-operation, why should you care?  It may seem like a selfish question, but it’s a legitimate one, and it reflects the attitude of a great deal of people.  I’ll answer that question in a bit.

This year Ft. McMurray was devastated by a fire.  Many people lost their homes and their jobs, escaping the fire with little more than the clothes they wore.  An entire city evacuated.  The rest of the province rushed to their support.  We had people driving up water, gasoline, and supplies to give away.  There were so much goods donated that the aid organizations said to stop giving stuff because the time it took to organize all the donations was taking time away from doing other things to help the city’s refugees.  People opened up their homes.  Businesses gave discounts to Ft. McMurray residents.  During a time when we were debating how we should respond to Syrian refugees, there was no question what we should do to help out our closer neighbours.  We needed to do everything we could to take care of them.

Was it our responsibility to help out the victims of the Ft. McMurray fire?  Did the people donating cash, goods, and time need to do this?  After all, people needed to take a break from achieving their individual goals to take care of others in this way.

I don’t think that it’s wrong that we are better at focusing on the problems around us than the distant ones.  After all, the ones near us are the ones that we are better equipped to do something about.  I do think we tend to draw the line in the wrong spot.  Instead of drawing the line where our ability to help draws short, we tend to draw it on our borders, or through divisions in class, ethnicity, and ideological beliefs.  We let our proximity to the problem determine how much of a problem it really is.

Three days ago, on Christmas Day, a plane carrying 92 people crashed, and it is believed that there were no survivors.  I didn’t see this mentioned a single time in my Facebook feed.  Yes, it was a Russian plane that went down, not a Canadian or American one, but that still doesn’t lessen the absolute tragedy of it.  Yesterday, Carrie Fisher, an American actor, died at the age of 60.  Half of the posts that I saw on Facebook immediately after that were about her.  I’m not saying that it was wrong for my friends and media to grieve the loss of Carrie, but I do want to use the contrast between the two stories to show what we as North Americans are more focused on.

YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, all use algorithms to allow their users to view what they wish to view.  However, that means that in an age where the entire world is more open and connected as it ever has been thanks to technology, its residents have been having their viewpoints narrowed by viewing and focusing only on the things that they wish to.

What’s wrong with that?  Why should our responsibility extend beyond taking care of ourselves?  The question isn’t hypothetical or ridiculous.  There is more than one way to answer it, and it depends on the way one sees the world.

If we believe that humans are merely evolved animals, then the only reasons we should take care of others would be for reasons of our own construct.  Helping and working in unity with others is beneficial for the human race and its survival.  But the universe doesn’t care whether we survive or not.  The known universe has an expiration date anyway:  when it reaches its heat death.  If a person only gets one life to live and nothing happens after they die, then it would make perfect sense for them to want to get the most out of life; if this life is all there is then behaving selfishly is no more wrong or right than working together with others.

If God put us on this planet and designed our purpose, then it would be up to him to decide how much we should take responsibility of the welfare of others.  We learn from reading the Bible how God sets himself apart from the secular world view.  Since God created us, our value doesn’t depend on how much we can contribute to society.  We are valuable because we were created in his image, and the ones in need around us have just as much value as us.  God commands us to take care of the less fortunate.

I live among people who fully intend on helping others, as they recognize the need, but they wish to spend time achieving their own goals first.  I find myself having a similar mindset at times.

But the second commandment tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).  As ourselves, not after ourselves.  In fact, the Bible tells us honor each other above ourselves (Romans 12:10).

I’ll tell you what living like that means for me.  It’s not my intention to boast.  Rather, I want to give some explanation of the way I do things.  I’m not better than anyone else, but I do have my strengths.

I’m far from perfect, but I generally try to spend my money wisely.  I try to buy only things that I need.  I don’t give all my money to the poor, but I don’t see my money as mine to spend on myself, either.  I do save up money, but only because maintaining a certain level of wealth allows me to more efficiently help others, such as taking advantage of the ability my vehicle allows me to be of service to others.  At the same time, I try to make sure that much of my money is active right now.  While I save, I also give.  Money doesn’t do much just sitting in the bank.  Yes, it accrues interest, but that small amount of interest doesn’t compare to the immediate results of being invested in someone’s life.

I am very hesitant to take an extended vacation.  Maybe eventually I’ll need the rest and refreshment a vacation will provide.  For now, the rest I get within a single week is sufficient enough to not take time off.  Even though it goes against my adventurous side, I’m currently not saving up for any luxurious cruise or trip across the world.

I do have a goal of becoming an accomplished author.  However, I made myself and God a promise that in the process of doing that, I would not let my desire to get writing done stand in the way of me building relationships with others and being there for the people who need me most.

I may be strong in the use of my money, but I’m weak in the use of my time.  I still find myself wasting too much time doing activities that have no productive purpose.

Another area that I wish to grow in is recognizing the needs of the people who I am most suitable to help, and figuring out the best way to give that help.

I see it as my responsibility to help others, and that shapes every aspect of the way that I live.  What about you?

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Heroic Doubts Part II: Lessons From Lex

“The oldest lie in America is that power can be innocent.”

Lex Luthor grew up under an abusive father, so it would make sense that he would hold to such a mantra.  It is clear by continuing to listen to Lex Luthor that the ultimate power, God, was the least innocent.  We can infer that Lex was brought up in a household open to the suggestion that the supernatural exists by his father’s painting which depicted a clash between angels and demons.  However, the most informative look at Lex’s belief about the divine comes from his monologue to Superman.

“Boy do we have problems here.  The problem of evil in the world.  The problem of absolute virtue.  The problem of you on top of everything else.  You above all.  Because that’s what God is […]  What we call ‘god’ depends on your tribe.  Because god is tribal, god takes sides.  No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from Daddy’s fist and abominations.  I figured out way back that if god is all powerful, he cannot be all good.  And if he is all good, then he cannot be all powerful, and neither can you be […]  The Almighty comes clean about how dirty he is when it counts.”

Lex Luthor may not have clung to a solid view of God or a god, but that didn’t stop him from resenting a higher power.  His obsessive comparison between Superman and God makes that much obvious.  He wanted to make a point.  Who was his audience?  There were no camera bearing helicopters following Superman to his fight with Batman, or even his monologue with Superman.  There were only two besides himself that could have witnessed that:  Superman and God.  Since Lex had no way of knowing for sure who would come out on top in the ultimate showdown, he didn’t know that Superman was going to win, and so some part of him was trying to prove a point to the higher power that he hated.  We see more of that exact hate when Superman approaches him next.

“I do not hate the sinner.  I hate the sin.  And yours, my friend, is existing.”

This statement by Lex to Superman is somewhat self-contradicting.  But when we realize that Lex’s hate is more than just for Superman, but towards God, it makes sense.  Superman hadn’t done anything personal against Lex to start the rich young man’s crusade against him.  But God had.  When he fought against Superman, he was really fighting against the higher power that he represented.

“Now God is good as dead.”

By those words Lex isn’t just saying that Superman has a slim chance of surviving.  He is also answering his previous statement of God’s existence being a sin.  To Lex, the most “good” God could do was to not exist, to be dead.

So who should mankind put their trust in if the best of them can be manipulated to do evil?

“No one stays good in this world.” ~ Clark Kent.

“Men made a world where standing together isn’t possible.” ~ Wonder Woman

Who should mankind put their faith in if the true higher power is as untrustworthy as Lex Luthor makes him out to be?

Can one have ultimate power and control and still remain innocent?  The question is one of the hardest and most troubling common questions we ask ourselves.  After all, if God truly has the power to save everyone why doesn’t he just do it?

A common answer to that question is that God gave us freewill to make our own decisions, and that much of the bad things that happen in this world are a result of our actions, and not God’s refrain from action.  After all, the amount of control and intervention God would need to exert on us to keep anything evil or negative from happening would make us little better than robots with basically no free will.  That answer very useful, but it doesn’t answer every question.

Why should people choose to follow God?  After all, we are not born knowing about his existence.  In fact, there are many convincing arguments that speak against his existence.  Can mankind really be blamed for doing their own thing with their freewill?

Lois Lane was told in the movie that “ignorance is not the same as innocence.”

We have a responsibility as living beings to try to discover why we live.  In order to determine if our lives have meaning or if we are doing it right, we must seek out our purpose in life.  We only remain guilt free if we seek out the answers and find that the things/One that condemns us do not exist; if with our honest searching we discover that there is no higher power, than such guilt would not be able to bind us.  But will the search for our ultimate origin and meaning lead us to God?  The answer lies with Superman’s coffin.

“If you seek his monument, look around you.”

The people who wrote this are saying that proof of Superman’s existence and contribution is readily apparent.  The fact that people are still alive and living with hope is testament to Superman’s saving acts.

God makes an even more grandiose claim.

Romans 1:20 – For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The more we can understand, the more responsibility we have to use this understanding to get to the correct answers.  Being able to understand, having knowledge, gives us a degree of power.  We have the power to make decisions based on that knowledge. 

As Lex Luthor said during a speech, “Books are knowledge and knowledge is power and I am… no.  Um, no.  What am I?  What was I saying? The bittersweet pain among men is having knowledge with no power because. . . because that is paradoxical and, um. . . thank you for coming.”

The confusion in Lex Luthor during his speech shows that although he is readily able to apply harsh criticisms and logical claims about a higher power, be it God or Superman, he has a harder time applying the same lines of reasoning to himself.

What about you?

Will you stand and stutter like Lex Luthor, clinging to claims against God?

Would you be able to live in a reality in which absolutes like God don’t exist, having a forced hope in humanity like Batman?

Will you fight for good like Superman, even though your idea of good does not extend any further than the faith given to you by loved ones?

Will you search out the answers that is your responsibility to find, and accept the answers about reality once you find them?

Heroic Doubts Part I: Why Batman Had to Save Martha

(Not only are there spoilers here, but you will probably appreciate this post much more if you have already seen the movie)

I really liked the movie Batman v Superman:  Dawn of Justice.  I understand that many of you were not huge fans of it.  For a while I was right alongside you, laughing at the parts that I thought were silly, such as the fact that Batman and Superman having a mother with the same name ended up being the show stopper for the great showdown.

“You’re letting them kill Martha.” ~ Superman to Batman, who was standing above him poised to kill.

The second time I watched the movie, however, it was almost as if I was watching the movie for the first time.  That was because I watched it after writing down the first words spoken in the opening scene; it was through these lines that I watched the entirety of the movie once more:

“There was a time above
                A time before
There were perfect things
                diamond absolutes
Things fall,
things on earth
And what falls
is fallen.”

My re-evaluation of the movie showed it to be much more deep and intelligent than I originally thought.

Before I go on I would like to state that the truest meaning of any creation is what the creator intended it to have.  I do not know for certain what the creators of the film meant by the lines that they used.  I will instead be focusing on what lessons we can learn from the movie:  lessons that will likely deviate from the ones the writers of the script had in mind.

The opening poem (it sounded like a poem as listened to it, anyway) was spoken as we were introduced to Bruce Wayne’s history.  We see his parents die, but what does that have to do with the poem?

The close up to the gun with Martha’s pearl necklace gives us a clue.  “A time before,” to Bruce Wayne, was the time before his parents’ death, specifically his mother’s.  Her white pearl necklace symbolized the purity of Bruce’s world as a child (“there were perfect things”).  When the necklace broke, and the pearls fell (“things fall”).  Bruce’s own viewpoint of the world fell.  When he fell in the midst of the bats, he no longer saw the world as holding on to the “diamond absolutes” as it formally did.  The world no longer functioned in a way that made sense to Bruce, as it became unfair.  And so in order for him to uphold a sense of justice, he had to make up his own.  In a sense, he had his own “dawn of justice.”

When Bruce became Batman, how justified was he in pursuing righting wrongs in his own way?  Was he justified in his sense of justice?  The reason I ask this question was because of what was spoken by the narrator as a conclusion to the opening poem:

“And the dream
                It took to the light
                                A beautiful lie.”

What was the lie, and what made it beautiful?  There was nothing beautiful about the next scene – at least to Bruce Wayne.  The scene depicted the destruction of Metropolis.

I’m not sure if it makes me a bad person, but I enjoyed this scene as it was shown in Man of Steel.  I thought the skyscrapers being blown apart looked cool.

The perspective Bruce Wayne had of the event was a sobering one.  The buildings being torn apart in the battle between alien invaders held innocent people.  The fallen residents of Metropolis were innocent people, collateral damage.  The travesty cemented in Bruce’s mind the lesson that he had learned as a child.

“They [Bruce’s parents] taught me the world only makes sense if you force it to.”

What was the beautiful lie?  The fact that a sense of justice and fairness could be had, even if it was only a false one.  Bruce Wayne justified his actions as Batman through his belief that he was doing what was necessary to balance the scales by punishing the guilty.

The mention of “Martha,” was enough to stop Bruce from slaying Superman not just because it was his mother’s name, but because what the name represented.  It represented a time when his mother was still alive, and that everything was still right and fair in his world.  It represented innocence:  his mother’s innocence, his innocence, the innocence of the world.  Bruce’s deepest desire was to return the world to the way it was when his mother Martha was still alive.  His choice to save Superman’s mother Martha wasn’t just one of convenience or an act of stereotypical heroism.  He needed to save Martha not just because he didn’t have the chance to save his own mother as a child, but because saving her would be his attempt to return “a time before,” when “there were perfect things.”

Why couldn’t Superman have joined Batman?  It was his mother, after all.  With the speed and ease that he saved Lois Lane in the desert, he probably could have easily done the task himself once Batman pointed him in the right direction.  He even would have gotten the task done before Lex’s timer ran out.  If what Lex was doing was really more pertinent than the rescue of his mother, it probably wouldn’t have taken him so long to reach the Kryptonian ship.

To answer the question, we need to look at what Martha meant to Superman, and to do that, we need to look at how Superman viewed the world.

Superman was too young to grow attached to his birth world of Krypton before it was destroyed.  Bruce Wayne may not have had a chance to save his own parents before he became Batman, but Clark Kent had a chance to save his adopted father before he became Superman.  Clark’s father dying in Man of Steel wasn’t an unlikely outcome given what killed him, so Clark didn’t learn the same lesson that Bruce did.  From Superman’s perspective, as broken as the world was, it still followed an order that made some sort of natural sense.  He became a hero, and people worshipped him as a god, for he was far more powerful than a human being.  His sense of morality was able to remain intact because he did what he believed was right and the results of his actions made sense.

Clark’s view of the world took a blow after he saved Lois Lane from the desert.  People died as an apparent result of his rescue mission to save Lois.  She told him afterwards that she didn’t know if it was possible for Clark to continue to love her and still be Superman.  After all, Superman was seen as a figure of virtue, and it would be hard for him to hold on to this kind of image if he “selfishly” chose building and keeping his relationship with Lois Lane over being a hero.

When criticism of Superman grew despite his continual heroic actions, his view of the world continued to deteriorate.  The final blow took place during the bomb blast at the congressional hearing that Superman showed up to.  He showed up believing he was doing the right thing, and the direct result was many deaths, along with the apparent death of his good standing with the American people.  This event was to him as the death of Mr. and Mrs. Wayne was to Bruce.  Superman saw firsthand how unfair the world could be.

When I first heard Superman tell Lois after the bombing that “my world doesn’t exist anymore,” I assumed he was referring to Krypton.  However, taking the events in the context of the opening poem, I saw the line in a completely new way.  Superman’s world was his viewpoint of his sense of morality and justice on Earth.  The bombing broke his very belief system.  That was why his visit with the ghost of his earthly father was necessary. 

His father then told him a story of his own heroic action that had the unintended consequence of causing harm to the neighbours’ farm.  He admitted he had nightmares of drowning horses until he met Clark’s mother, Martha.  The line that he used was, “she gave me faith that there’s good in this world.  She was my world.”

“This world,” and “my world.”  Two different worlds, one perspective.  But the thing that is the distinguishing mark of this viewpoint is the word “faith.”  Faith that there is good in the world isn’t as solid as known “diamond absolutes,” but it can be stronger.  Faith shows a trust in the unknown.

It is clear that Superman adopted his father’s view of the world when he tells Lois Lane that she is his world.  It is reasonable to say that Clark also gained faith that there was good in the world.  So even if Martha did not make it, Superman’s worldview had a chance of surviving.  He did not have to save the physical representation of a diamond absolute like Batman did.  He held on to a hope that despite what he could see, good could be achieved.  So while it may have made sense for Superman to join Batman in the quest to save Martha, they would be doing so for two different reasons, and Bruce’s reason was more immediately pertinent to the integrity of his world view.

After the apparent death of Superman, Bruce Wayne speaks a line to Wonder Woman that shows that he adopted some of the hope that Superman had into his own worldview.

“Man is still good.  We fight.  We kill.  We betray one another.  But we can rebuild.  We can do better.  We will.  We have to.”

By those words we can see that while Bruce adopted some of the hope that Superman had, he didn’t adopt Superman’s entire faith.  “We have to.”  Bruce added those last three words because he is still trying to force the world to make sense.

Is Batman right to place hope in humanity?  Is he right to maintain less faith than Superman had?  After all, Superman was the poster boy of virtue, and he ended up in a casket.  If that was the fate of the best mankind had to offer (if Superman could truly even be considered as lowly as part as mankind), what did that mean to any future attempts the species had to achieve greatness?  To get any kind of closure to that question, we will need to dig further than the film itself, and we can do so with the aid of the character of Lex Luthor.