Friday, July 3, 2020

The Declaration of Independence: 244 Years Ago Today

(most of the text below is a repost from last year)
File:Writing the Declaration of Independence 1776 cph.3g09904.jpg

Below is the entire text of the Declaration of Independence.  I believe it to be one of the most
audacious and revolutionary documents in history (pun in intended).

I have always loved my country.  But as a philosopher one of the things that I marvel 
at is that  the United States is a country built on an idea.

 Ideas matter.

Freedom is in our nature.  No tyrant, no government can take that away.

I encourage you to read the entire text below on this birthday of our nation.  Particularly, I am struck by the last line:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence,  we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Those who wrote their names on that document held up as collateral for the investment in our freedom:

1.  Their Lives.  I am humbled when I remember that so many gave much more than I will
ever give so that people like me could live free.  The only way we can hold onto our freedom is if men and women are willing to pay the ultimate price.  Too often tyrants, both fearsome and soft-spoken, try to snatch away our freedom.  They depend on us to lay down our resistance and give in.  We must never do so.  The Founding Fathers gave us that pledge.

2.  Their Fortunes.  I will likely never see combat.  But how do I spend my money to
ensure freedom?  Do I take care of our wounded warriors?  Do I support laws and
representatives I believe in with my capital?  And do I take payments from those who
would make me dependent?  This pervasive bribery must lead inexorably to subtle slavery.

3.  Their Sacred Honor.  Do we even believe in honor anymore today?  Does our name mean anything?  In A Man for All Seasons, when asked why he would not take an oath of
loyalty to Henry VIII, Thomas More said, "When a man takes an oath, 
he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water.  And if he 
opens his fingers then — he needn’t hope to find himself again." 
 We are free and we must stand by our commitments. 
 Otherwise who we are, our name, means nothing.  

These great men signed their names to this document. 
 For each of them it may have been a death sentence.
  But they signed it nevertheless.  They their day they
 took a stand against tyranny and stood for freedom.

In their day they stood as men.

Today they stand as giants.

And the challenge of today is this: could we stand with them?

Do we have what it takes to be the patriots at Valley Forge or the resistance at Boston Harbor?  Does that same noble spirit of freedom stir in us?

Or do we stand with those who try to tear down their memory to only have us remember their faults and failings and not the fact that they gave us the greatest nation that the world has ever known?

Perhaps reading this document again will renew and refresh the spirit of liberty.

File:United States Declaration of Independence.jpg

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton
Column 2
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton
Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Column 4
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean
Column 5
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark
Column 6
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton

Film Flash: Hamilton

Hamilton Disney+ poster 2020.jpg

15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

If you've never seen Hamilton (like me) believe the hype.  One of the greatest musicals.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pop Culture Needs a Common Space

It would be very difficult to argue that we live in polarized times.  Our politics feel more diametrically opposed than I can remember in my lifetime.  As the divide widens, it becomes more and more difficult to find common ground to talk to each other.  

And we need to talk to each other.  We need to be able to dialogue with people who are different than us, who think differently than us.  I'm not saying that we should abandon our deeply held convictions to all meet in mushy middle of muddled ideas.  But there must be a place where we can make contact.

One of my favorite moments in the movie City Slickers is where a character talks about his dad and baseball.  He said that no matter what was going on between them, they could always talk about baseball.  Baseball became that common space where they could talk.

In my own family, that common place has always been movies.  My siblings and I grew up in the age of the VHS and HBO.  Between us we have thousands of hours of movie watching hours between us.  And over the years my siblings and I have grown up and found lives of our own, which we all must do.  But normally, no matter how far apart we became physically or philosophically, we could always talk about movies.

I mentioned before on this blog how I am a "slow-to-warm-up" personality type.  In new social settings, I have a difficult time initiating conversation.  But once I feel comfortable, you can't shut me up.  The exception to this is when I go to the comic book store.  There, I can strike up a conversation with total strangers, because we all know we are there because we love the medium the store is built around.  

Now, these pop culture conversations are not the end all be all of a relationship.  If I had relationships with friends and family where movies, comics, or sports were the ONLY topic of conversations allowed between us, then those relationships would lack all depth.  But those pop culture topics can become part of the conversational stew that mixes our lives together with greater ease and flavor.  Some people can just jump right into the big issues.  But for many of us, we need to be able feel comfortable enough before we dig deeper.

In addition to this, pop culture talk is fun.  We get to speak about our passions and there is a double of enjoyment when they are shared.  A friend of mine once said that everyone is an expert on something and we love to share our expertise.  I remember when I was a teenager, I was at a party where someone asked me about what was going on in X-Men comic books.  I talked his ear off for at least an hour.  Strangely, he was fascinated by what I said and his fascination made my sharing all the more gratifying.  

Another thing that this pop culture space gives us is the thrill of intense emotions with little consequence.  Watch how emotionally invested we get in sports.  When my home team won a national championship, I was over the moon.  When one my favorite character was killed on a show I watch, I raged.  And we can get into merry little wars over our pop culture tastes.  Unlike arguing about politics, where families and friendships have a greater chance of fracturing, pop culture arguments can be invigorating verbal jousts.

I have gotten into heated arguments with some of my dearest friends over things from the Star Wars saga to Caddyshack.  In fact, regarding the latter, my friends staged a sort of intervention for me because I said that Caddyshack II is better than Cadyshack I.  They gathered and made me watch the first one with them.  When I did not acquiesce, they were happily enraged and we went round and round, shadowboxing on the topic.  We could argue and rail and filibuster and shout, but no relationships were hurt.  In fact, they are strengthened by our shared history.  The verbal sparring does not damage because the arena is a common space.  We get all the thrill of fighting without any emotional bruises.

I should mention that this can at times go too far.  I once didn't speak to a friend of mine for an entire summer over an argument about Alien 3.  But this is the exception, not the rule.

Or at least, that is the way it used to be.

One of the most toxic things to enter into the pop culture was its politicization.  I don't mean that it has politics in it.  Pop culture has had movies, TV shows, and comics that have dealt with political issues for ages.  What I mean is that a particular pop culture medium becomes a area that is staked out to push a particular perspective.

There has been a push in the last few years to look at popular culture as a means of changing the culture.  There is truth to this assessment.  The popular culture affects how the culture behaves.  These can result in fashion fads like wearing your clothes backwards or checkered shoes.  But they can also affect deeper societal issues.  Abraham Lincoln famously pointed to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin for awakening the North's outrage at slavery.  When he met the author, Lincoln said, "So this is the little lady who made this big war."

Because of this, popular culture is looked at as a tool in the culture war.  I'm not here to argue about how successful or not these attempts to move the culture have been.  But I am here to lament the effect, which is that it pushes out the common space.

The primary purpose of any art is to captivate.  

Great art also should elevate and touch upon transcendent truth and beauty.  But it's first job is to take hold of our attention and cause entertain.  As I teacher, I have found that students learn better when they are more entertained.  This is why edu-tainment like Sesame Street has such and enduring impact.  

The problem is that there are many who think that the primary goal of art is to teach.

This is one of the reason why most Christian movies are terrible.  As earnest as the cast and crew are, they are overly concerned with making sure that the lesson is learned rather than focusing on proper directing, acting, story structure, etc.  The greatest Christian movie ever is The Passion of the Christ (it also happens to be tied with Schindler's List with the greatest movie ever made).  Notice that while there are sermons in it, the movie is not a sermon.  It is an experience of Christ's love by telling the story of His passion.  Mel Gibson, of course, wanted to move people towards devotion to God.  But he understood that he had to first and foremost make a movie that was beautifully directed, acted, structured, etc.  

Now, look at what has happened in the last few years with pop culture brands like Star Wars, GhostbustersDoctor Who, Terminator, and The Last of Us.  There has been a great deal of ideological battle over this content.

The Last Jedi is the most polarizing Star Wars film ever made.  And this controversy is so needless.  Rian Johnson not only got it into his head that he wanted to subvert all expectations, but the film makers decided to push a post-modern socioeconomic perspective (especially in the scenes on Canto Bigt) that made the move feel so odd.  You can read my analysis of the philosophy of that movie here.  

Ghostbusters 2016 actively attacked the franchises fanbase in the advertising campaign.  Criticism of the film was perceived as some kind of political attack and was returned with that level of aggressiveness.  We saw this same thing happen to the latest Terminator film where the director labeled the movies detractors as misogynists.  Chris Chibnall, the show runner for the latest incarnation of Doctor Who, specifically mentioned making the show more "educational."  What this translates to is a stronger focus on teaching lessons rather than entertaining.  In addition, Chibnall has retconned the decades-long Doctor Who cannon in a move that appears to tear away the primacy of William Hartnell's incarnation as the Doctor.

Whether I agree or disagree with the the politics is irrelevant.  The point is that people are being pushed out of the common space.  It is also creating art that is less likely to transcend their own time.  The more specifically and politically pointed a piece of art is, the more dated is likely to become.  

When Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, many people thought that the destructive power of the one ring was an allegory to nuclear weapons.  Tolkien strenuously rejected this idea.  Allegory, particularly political allegory, limits the effect and the reach of the art.  Tolkien instead focused on making the symbolism of the ring strong in its applicability.  This means that the symbol touches on something so pervasive and universal that it can be applied to a plethora of things.  The one ring embodies the archetype of evils found in fascism, communism, capitalism, etc.  

I am convinced that one of the reasons that the original Star Wars was such a big hit was because where it found itself in the pop culture.  America had just been through the Vietnam War and Watergate.  The country was polarized politically much like today.  But in Star Wars people from all different political perspectives, cultures, and ages were able to find something captivating and enjoyable.  And we could talk to each other about that galaxy far, far away and be brought closer to each other.

The first Hunger Games was such a big hit because the decadence of the evil Capitol could be applied to an out of control central government or to a runaway consumeristic materialism.  We could all see ourselves in that story and then argue about its merits.

Critics often lambast the Marvel films for being bland.  But they overlook that this "blandness" is part of the reason why it is successful.  Most of the Marvel films have an easy point of entry and identification for their characters.  And because of that, people are drawn to them.  Like the old Star Wars, I have been able to talk, debate, and enjoy the Marvel films with people from all political perspectives, cultures, and ages.  Marvel created a common space for us to meet.

That doesn't like it will last.  Captain Marvel became a flashpoint of political perspectives.  And The Eternals looks like it will try to "push the envelope," which usually means that it will try to push a politicized point of view in and push those who do not share this vision out.

Marvel is, of course, free tell their stories however they choose.  But it would be a shame to lose one of the few unifying pop culture spaces.

And when they are all gone, I do not know what shall happen.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday Best - 4th of July Movies 2020

(repost and update.)

On this weekend before Independence Day, I thought we'd take a moment to look at movies that instill in us a sense of patriotism.

Right now in current year 2020, there is a great deal of strife that divides us.  But we are Americans and united we stand, divided we fall.  No nation is without sin.  But Independence Day should be a time to focus on what brings us all together and the ideals to which we strive.

These films are not necessarily about valor on the battlefield.  They are movies that remind us of American exceptionalism and how we live in the greatest country in the history of the world.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Some say that this movie is cheesy.  I say it captures a less cynical time in our culture.  Steve Rogers is the perfect embodiment of America.  He doesn't see himself as above anyone (I'm just a kid from Brooklyn), he always seeks to do more, and he lays down his life for the freedom of others.  I still get excited when I hear that Captain America theme as he and the soldiers he rescues come over the hill.


Yes, there are a lot of fictionalized characterizations in this musical.  But you will be struck by the vision and genius of our founding fathers and how they put into words the necessity of a new nation.


There are some movies that seem more patriotic than they are (Rocky IV) and there are others that are more patriotic than they seem.  Glory is the latter.  It seems like its about how horribly treated the first black regiment in the Union army was treated.  There is even a long dialogue about one of the main characters is so disgusted with America that he doesn't want to carry the flag.  But all of that is overwhelmed by watching the flag raised and rally the soldiers to battle.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939 poster).jpg

There is a lot of genius in this film.  Some look at it as too simplistic.  But watch it again and you will see the corruption and cynicism surrounding Jefferson Smith, even by his "friends."  And yet this movie is about standing up for what is right and making a difference and show what real statesmanship looks like.

American Sniper

Not only is this a harrowing account of war and valor, but it is a movie that will remind you that in the modern age, America is still a country worth fighting for.  Though we have our problems and our soldiers are not saints, there is an unsleeping evil in the world from which we are only protected by our soldiers.  It is a reminder that we have a debt to those who fight to keep us safe.

Apollo 13

I can understand people being cynical about the moon race in retrospect.  And just when that cynicism was sinking in, NASA had to deal with their greatest space crisis.  It is a movie about American ingenuity, determination, and ambition.  It will make you feel pride in what we are able to do.

(TV version edited for content)

I dare anyone to listen to that theme and not feel more American.  Yes, in the post-Vietnam era there is a lot of humor directed at the military, but ultimately the movie is a love letter to our soldiers.  And I love Bill Murray's amazing performance as he delivers his "America" speech.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

This movie makes you appreciate the safety and freedom we enjoy in America and appreciate them those who put themselves into harm's way for

Hacksaw Ridge

One of the great things about this movie is the unquestioning patriotism of its characters.  Desmond Doss does not deny the righteousness of his country's cause.  And he wants to serve as best as his conscience will allow him.  Mel Gibson does a fantastic job of showing the horror of war without any romance or glamour while at the same time showing the soldiers with all of their righteousness and valor.  It also has a great intersection of faith an patriotism that doesn't equate the two but shows how each can benefit from the other.


Lincoln 2012 Teaser Poster.jpg

I dare anyone to watch this movie and not be in awe of this great man.  Here we see the battle over slavery fought not only on the battlefield and in the political arena, but in the hearts and minds of men and women.  This is one of Spielberg's best movie in years with a performance by Daniel Day-Lewis that is for the ages.  There is something so quintessentially American about how Lincoln is portrayed.  There is no attempt to deconstruct him, but the is show with all of his flaws.  And through this, he pushes against seemingly impossible odds to remind us that in this land of freedom and opportunity, we are called to guarantee the same to all of its people.  That is the promise of America.


Saturday, June 27, 2020

Film Flash: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga


15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

McAdams elevates a mediocre Ferrell movie into an enjoyable, silly romp.  Though weirdly anti-American.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Film Review: Uncut Gems

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

From the opening minutes of Uncut Gems, you can feel the power and talent that went into making this film.  The Safdie Brothers and co-writer Ronald Bronstein craft a sharp, frenetic, and raw movie with its center being an electric Adam Sandler.  It is very obvious that this movie was created by people using the height of their storytelling skills.

Too bad it isn't a story worth telling.

Uncut Gems is the story of Howard Ratner (Sandler), a New York City jeweler who is as shifty as he is sleazy.  He hustles and struggles to pay off his gambling debts.  The problem is that as soon as he gets any kind of capital, he immediately lays it all on a shakey bet.  His marriage to his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) is disintegrating completely even as he continues his affair with his employee Julia (Julia Fox).  To make matters worse, he owes over $100,000 to Dinah's brother Arno (Eric Bogosian).  This is the world in which Howard begins.  But he receives a smuggled in rare black opal that he believes will be the solution to all of his problems.  Complications occur when NBA star Kevin Garnett (playing himself), wants the opal and superstitiously wants to hold on to it.  From there things continue to spiral out of control.

Sandler has been getting an incredible amount of praise for this role and he should.  He completely sheds his likability and instead dons the snake skin of a villain.  Howard is so incredibly unlikeable and Sandler does not rely on his usual comedic charm to get you on his side.  Howard is a sleaze that will constantly frustrate you with every imprudent and immoral decision.  Sandler reigns in all of the twinkle in his eye and instead you have this man who looks at everyone and everything like a predator stalking his prey.  The only thing that holds you to Howard is Sandler's dark charisma.  The other performances are also wonderfully unpolished.  There is an edge to what everyone says and does in the film that scratches.  If Quentin Tarantino's dialogue is smooth like silk, all of the characters here are rough like sandpaper.

This is completely intentional on the part of the filmmakers.  The Safdie brothers walk you into a world that is bleak and gritty.  Their New York City feels like it was filmed in the middle of the 1970's, full of wanton sex, drugs, and general grime.  They move the camera around in a very loose, documentary style while framing everything in an incredibly claustrophobic way.  As Howard feels the walls closing in, the visuals make you feel like there is no escape.  Even the nicer areas like Howard's family's luxury apartment feel cold in their opulence, lacking all the warmth and heart of a family home.  Everything in this film screams that this a movie about terrible things happening to a terrible person.

And while this can be skillfully done, it makes for a thoroughly unpleasant movie experience.  While I was interested in Howard's journey, I could never become invested in it.  His character was so flawed that I knew that any victory he achieved would be thrown away.  I don't know that I would say that the character was irredeemable.  There are moments when he seems to reach out for a lifeline to his wife or his girlfriend.  He knows that there is something horribly wrong with his heart.  In one of Sandler's best scenes, Howard is struggling with the reality of his own ugliness, crying uncomprehendingly as to why his girlfriend would love someone as unloveable as him.

The movie doesn't go for easy answers, and I applaud that.  Howard's self-hatred is not enough to redeem him.  But like Claudius in Hamlet, Howard cannot truly repent because he cannot give up the horrible life he is living.  The truth is that Howard likes the filth in which he is wallowing.  He wants all of the sinful pleasures without any of the sinful consequences.  He is a loser in the truest sense of the word.  You know that even if all of his plans come to fruition, he will doom himself after the credits roll.

There is an argument to be made that this in itself is a morality tale, a warning to stay on the straight and narrow.  And to be sure I am not opposed to movies that show horrible people doing things as long as it shows that they are bad.  The Godfather and the TV show Breaking Bad did this masterfully.  

The difference here is that in both of the above cases you had men (Michael Corleone and Walter White) who were flawed but basically decent men who slowly made choices that damned them.  And each choice they made was understandable, if not acceptable, until they fell off the moral cliff.  In Uncut Gems, Howard is already at the bottom of the cliff and he is only looking to climb high enough not to be devoured by the wolves.

When you start with a character this vile, the film makers take a big gamble as to whether or not their skill is strong enough to make the audience find their protagonist compelling enough to take the movie's journey.  It is a big gamble, like the kind Howard would take.

In the case of Uncut Gems, the gamble does not pay off.

File:Star rating 1 of 5.png

Monday, June 22, 2020

New Evangelizers Post: They Want You To Feel Alone

I have a new article up at  

Have you ever felt like the world no longer makes sense to you?

Do you look at the chaos on the news and the general breakdown of all of the moral pillars on which you were raised and think “I don’t recognize this world anymore?” On top of that, things that you used to believe seem completely out of the mainstream, so that you feel like you are the only one who is out of touch with the modern world. You feel like civilization is passing you by and that you alone are holding to traditional beliefs. And it gets to the point where you start to think that maybe it is YOU who are the problem. Perhaps you really are the closed-minded anachronism that the popular media calls you out to be.

When these thoughts come to you, remember:

They want you to feel alone.

By “they,” I mean those forces that attack our Christian faith. The gates of hell have always been at war with the Church. And make no mistake, psychological warfare is an important part of the evil one’s campaign.

People who feel alone are more likely to give in to despair and they are easier to manipulate. It is always the case in abusive relationships that the abuser isolates their victim from friends and family. Even though the victim may have a powerful support system, they are led to believe that they are alone and dependent on their abuser. The same is true of those who attack the faith. You are meant to think that there is nowhere for you to turn. You are told that the Church is shrinking because it is dying and that their victory over our culture is inevitable.

So with this overwhelming sense of loss as the world continues its seeming march towards oblivion, how are we to respond?

Here are a few points to keep in mind.

1.We have always been the remnant.

It is important to reflect on history and on Scripture in these times. When you look back at the Old Testament, it is the story of a world of faithful believers who are occasionally assailed by small pockets of revolutionaries who want to tear down the faith?


The Old Testament is the story of a world of violence, sin, and godlessness with one tiny Middle-Eastern people descended from nomads and slaves who are chosen as God’s own. They are a small remnant of humanity that keeps aflame the light of God’s Word. And these people are not perfect saints, but susceptible to the overwhelming corruption of the world around. Very often within this Chosen People there are only a remnant of faithful ones like the Prophets, who feel assailed even by God’s people. Read, for example, the indignities that the Prophet Jeremiah had to suffer from those he was sent to serve. How alone, he must have felt.

With the coming of Christ, we were still the remnant. There was a time when the number of faithful disciples included only those handful at the foot of the cross. After Christianity was legalized in 313 by Constantine, the Roman culture found a great influx of Christians who were not as devout. Even though our numbers increased, the intensely faithful still remained a remnant. Baptized Emperors would still commit murder and the select few holy bishops like St. Ambrose would stand up to them.

You are always going to find the truly faithful smaller in number than the general population of so-called believers. That is one of the reasons Christ said, “Narrow is the path to salvation and very few find it.” (Matthew 7:14)

2.Everyone Feels Out of Touch

You may feel more alone today because the outer signs of Christian culture seem to grow fainter than when you were young. That is actually fairly normal.

Since ancient times, people who get older have lamented the slide of civilization. Our childhood experiences, especially of our faith, are foundational to who we are. They seem to be a bedrock on which our lives are built. But when that bedrock seems to shift, it seems like a corruption. In the parish I grew up, the pastor constantly spoke about the evils of abortion. It is one of the reasons I am so strongly pro-life. Nowadays, it seems I almost never hear a homily on the subject. You can imagine that this might cause me to wonder if the Culture of Death is winning?

But as civilizations change, those who grew up in the earlier generations always begin to feel the backslide. Ecclesiastes says “Do not say ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For this is not wise to ask.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) There are many reasons why this is not wise, but one of them is that even in our day, the world was in the middle of spiritual war, but we may not have noticed because we were growing up in it and have now come through it. In the same way, the young do not see the spiritual war around them for their souls.

3.You Stand With The Past and The Present

Chesterton often appealed to what he called “The Democracy of the Dead.” This means that when surveying humanity, we must not just look to how humans live now but have always lived. And most humans who have ever walked the face of the earth believed in some Higher Power, believed that kindness was greater than cruelty, that civilization was better than anarchy, and held that tradition and history must be preserved or we can never grow beyond what we are.

When you stand for traditional virtues, even if they are no longer fashionable today, you stand with most people who have ever lived.

And when you look to the future, remember that our destiny is in Heaven. You are standing with the saints yet to be born, who will be your co-citizens in eternity. And perhaps they were able to stand strong in their future days because we were able to stand strong in the present.

4.Above All Else, You Stand With Christ

I remember I was teaching something controversial in class one day, I believe it was the Church’s teaching on contraception. This is an area where around 90% of Catholics admittedly disobey the Church. But my job as a teacher is to give my students the fullness of truth. One of my incredulous students heard what I had to say and replied, “No one believes that anymore.” The statement was clearly to make me feel out of touch with the modern world as it is. Rather than argue with him about how many people are faithful to the truth, I simply responded:

“I believe it. My wife believes it. And if we are the only ones who do, if the Church is reduced in size to only her and me, then so be it.”

I think of poor saints John Fischer and Thomas Moore, whose feast day is the day of this posting. King Henry VIII of England forced the clergy and public officials to swear allegiance to him as head of the Church. These two men were the only ones who refused and so were subjected to imprisonment and death. Can you imagine how alone they were made to feel when all their friends, their peers, and their leaders abandoned the Catholic Church and left them alone?

But they were not alone.

They were standing with Christ.

He gave them the strength to endure until the end.

You are not alone.

You can read the whole article here.