Monthly Archives: April 2012

Enfleshed icons of God’s image

Sarah Breuer has an interesting comment about our mission in this world. She writes,

As enfleshed icons of God’s image, as Christ’s body present on earth, we are called to participate in God’s mission, God’s victory over every oppressive power.

Many in biblical studies take the notion of the image of God to mean a given set of qualities imparted upon man. These qualities might be attributes such as a moral aptitude not given to other animals of creation. In this thinking, mankind, by being created in the image of God, has a moral capacity to know and to engage in moral behavior that is not expected of other animals. While I agree that man has been imbued with a moral capacity, it may have been a characteristic present in the human species itself. We simply don’t know. What we do know is the that the notion of being created in the image of God would have carried more than just a moral quality. In the ancient Near East, bearing the image of a person in power, signified the right to represent that powerful person to all one encountered. A modern day version of this idea would be the large posters on Saddam Hussein plastered to buildings and roadside signs throughout Iraq prior to the Gulf War. Another version would be the large Soviet Union crests and pictures of Joseph Stalin throughout the former Soviet Union until the late 1980’s. What role did these images play in the residents of these two counties? The icons reminded them who was in charge and the character of that person. The posters and crests were icons that represented the actual power (person) that stood behind them. As creatures created in the image of God, regenerated, and now part of Christ’s body, we are called to represent God’s mission in this world. More than the posters that adorned buildings or crests that perched on buildings, we are live representatives of God’s character in this world. Further, the aforementioned icons represented the fearful repercussions that extended from the flawed character of those rulers. In contrast, Christ-followers are called as Sarah puts it, to participate in “God’s victory over every oppressive power.” As God’s image-bearers, we represent, the restoration available to all through Christ. However, it doesn’t stop there; for we are called to act as God acts: to represent his righteous and just character. This means we must be proactive in issues of peacemaking, relief of oppression, and bearing of justice in our world. Our mission is to proclaim the freedom offered by our King and to cry out for justice and relief for the helpless and downtrodden: To be enfleshed icons of God’s image.

(Sarah Dylan Breuer. The Justice Project (emersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith) (p. 36). Kindle Edition.)



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God’s Call to Do Justice

This quote made me stop and think today:

The practice of justice is at the center of God’s purpose for human life. It is so closely related to the worship of the living God as the only true God that no act of worship is acceptable to him unless it is accompanied by concrete acts of justice on the human level. Micah 6:8, which may be regarded as a synthesis of Old Testament ethics, points in this direction: “He has told you, 0 mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly before your God.” -C. Rene Padilla

In The Justice Project (emersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith) (p. 23). Kindle Edition.

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Moral Sentiments of our capitalist friend Adam Smith

In an earlier post, I referred to Adam Smith’s work, Theory of Moral Sentiments. It was suggested that Scottish philosopher would not be happy with the current state of his capitalist experiment in the new world. Smith wrote of the gluttony of the rich producing products domestically which creates an excess for the peasant to acquire thereby fulfilling the needs of a given community. According to Smith, the rich are,

“They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species” (IV.I.10).

However this “gluttony of the rich” to which Smith refers does not operate in a vacuum. Those in this community, rich or peasant, should model proper moral sentiment. Adam Smith saw the “invisible hand” of capitalism intrinsically connected to proper moral behavior. Moral behavior that has regard for others in his community. He writes,

Proper resentment for injustice attempted, or actually committed, is the only motive which, in the eyes of the impartial spectator, can justify our hurting or disturbing in any respect the happiness of our neighbour. To do so from any other motive is itself a violation of the laws of justice, which force ought to be employed either to restrain or to punish. The wisdom of every state or commonwealth endeavours, as well as it can, to employ the force of the society to restrain those who are subject to its authority, from hurting or disturbing the happiness of one another….A sacred and religious regard not to hurt or disturb in any respect the happiness of our neighbour, even in those cases where no law can properly protect him, constitutes the character of the perfectly innocent and just man; a character which, when carried to a certain delicacy of attention, is always highly respectable and even venerable for its own sake, and can scarce ever fail to be accompanied with many other virtues, with great feeling for other people, with great humanity and great benevolence. It is a character sufficiently understood, and requires no further explanation. (Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part V- Of the Character of Virtue, Section II.- Of the character of the individual, so far as it can affect the happiness of other people)

It is clear from Moral Sentiments that the current status of capitalism was not the capitalism envisioned by Adam Smith. It seems that capitalism of the twenty-first century, particularly in U.S., has a virus. Ironically, the virus of capitalism finds its origins in something Americans proudly embrace: “rugged individualism.” However, now “rugged individualism” has shed virtue and become “everyman for himself.”

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Where are the morals in business? Adam Smith would not be happy!

Early economist assumed all had moral compass

“People suggest that Smith was all about self-interest and, therefore, a wholly unfettered, laissez-faire economy, consisting perhaps of “Rambo” capitalists….This version of Smith originates from his famous “Wealth of Nations,” which was published in 1776, 19 years after his first book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.””

I have been contemplating the notion that capitalism is fatally flawed without an ethical underpinning. Adam Smith presumed that this would always be present in his system outlined in Wealth of Nations. The absence of a moral sentiment [as outlined in The Theory of Moral Sentiments] creates an environment that we see emerging today. Perhaps the Enron scandal should have been “the shot heard round the world” in the world of political philosophy. In this scandal, a divorce between Adam Smith two essays took place. A new post Enron landscape emerged that valued pure capitalism without any ethical restraint. The latest reflection of this economic mutant thinking is the financial meltdown of 2006. The result is the same in both cases. Greed overtook an moral obligation to show restraint even in the face of extra profits. Without a moral compass, the gap between the oppressed and the powerful will continue to grow.


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Imaging the fallen: What the pictures of the war dead should tell us


Trumbull's “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” (1786)

Essay: We’ve seen photos before like ones of U.S. soldiers with Afghan corpses

“The impulse of soldiers to photograph their dead enemies is driven by a number of factors, says Nancy Sherman, author of “The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers” and a professor of philosophy at Georgetown specializing in the ethics of war.

“There’s relief that they’re alive and not dead. There’s also top-dog exuberance and pent-up revenge,” she says. Another factor, especially in places such as Afghanistan, is when these incidents take place among units that are operating in remote locations, she says.”

Many have expressed outrage toward the U.S. troops that photographed the dead insurgents in Afghanistan. Heim’s article is a good reminder that this act is not new to war. In fact it is a mainstay of war. I certainly do do not like seeing the dead corpses and I am sure the families would not (and should not) like to see their beloved photographed like a trophy from a hunting trip. However it might be profitable for us to see these images and more.

The U.S. has carefully managed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, shielding the American public from disturbing images that characterize the reality of war. For example, the first seven years of the war, Americans saw no soldier’s coffins carried off of airplanes. Finally in 2009, the ban was lifted, but still we know little about the grind our soldiers daily endure.

Images remind us of a price paid, on both sides of war. If anything, it illustrates that there is a cost to decisions that are made in palaces, oval offices, and caves. Those costs are many times calculated in human life. We have forgotten, that people that were our neighbors, postmen, hedgetrimmer, server, and auto mechanic are now fighting a war. Everyday they are fighting for the opportunity to return home to resume a “normal life” (as if life will ever be the same). These pictures remind us of the cost. These pictures remind us that in a democratic republic, we the people, to some measure are responsible for a soldier’s presence on foreign soil. These images remind us that this is part of the cost of our action or inaction.

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Electronic Murder? First person shooter video games

Admitted Norway killer Breivik says he trained on video games

Anders Behring Breivik, who admits killing 77 people in Norway last summer, used a video game as training for his shooting spree, he testified Thursday at his trial for homicide and terrorism. He played the game “Modern Warfare 2” for practice, he said. Breivik, who boasts of being an ultranationalist who killed his victims to fight multiculturalism in Norway, also went through a period of playing the game “World of Warcraft” up to 16 hours a day, he testified.

This is not the first time that we have seen this happen. I remain amazed at the lack of concern particularly among those claiming to be Christ followers about what kind of video games their children play. Many will claim that Breivik’s case is an extreme isolated incident. Is that the point? Most Christians would be appalled if they walked in their child’s room and found them looking at a pornographic video on the internet. However, that same parent can walk in their child’s room and witness them killing another person (electronically) and declare, “Nice shot son!” Is electronic murder/killing different than electronic adultery/fornication? The general consensus seems to be that there is a difference. Parents don’t entertain the possibility of the destructive training that could be taking place.  Hauntingly, one parent reviewer wrote:

I find the ESRB ratings to be a bit overboard, but I guess they have to since there are some immature kids who would see a guy get shot in a video game and then go decide to shoot someone them self.

Yet another parent on the same review site asserts:

It’s all a matter of whether you trust your kid not to curse or kill people. (honestly, do you think your kids gonna wake up in the morning going, “mommy! I just played mw2 and it inspired me to kill people! bye!”)

What words would these forum posters have for the family of Breivik’s victims? What about to Breivik’s parents? Most in our society cannot see their way through this issue. Is it because they don’t want their children embarrassed at school when they can’t join conversations about these games, or is it parents that have to admit to other parents that they don’t allow these games? Either way, it is time to start parenting again. We can’t allow intimidating comments such as, “If your not an aggressive parent like the ones who won’t even let there kids watch Bambi, then this game is ok for your kids” to deter us from rearing virtuous citizens.  First person shooter games desensitize our children to violence.


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Tudor Morality Plays and Modern Cinema: Forgiveness, Repentance, and the Four Last Things

Morality Figures

This is a series of posts on Tudor Morality Plays and Modern Cinema (Set, Costumes, and Dance of Death; Central Character, Ritual in morality plays and Repo Men; Forgiveness of Sins). It might benefit one to read the previous posts prior to this one.

Forgiveness sins are a vital component of the morality play. Potter suggests, “In demonstrating first the necessity for repentance, and then the fact of its efficacy, the morality playwright seeks the participation of his audience in a ritual verification of the whole concept of the forgiveness of sins.”[1] The forgiveness of sins must first begin with the introduction of mankind into the state of sin. In the plays man found immediate pleasure in sin and the act of sinning is virtually unavoidable. Therefore the state of innocence previous to sin understated or portrayed as theoretical.[2] During the fall from innocence, “the sexual seduction of Mankind into sin is dramatized, either in a literal seduction scene (as with Mankind and Lechery in Perseverance) or by inference, with lemans, wenches, and brothels indicated just offstage.”[3]

Repo Man also delivered the vice of greed sensually. The immediate pleasure of sin revealed itself in the acts of greed. For Remy, the pleasures were found in a dream of house in the suburbs, wife, and child. Remy initially and Jake throughout the film, find pleasure in identification with their profession. Both liked being respected and feared as repo men. A scene where they scan a large man (which enables them to identify transplanted part information) and bet if he is overdue best illustrates this. When the scan reveals the man has two days left, they let him know they will be calling on him in two days.[4] Throughout the film, both choose to enter through the front door of the Union building, at which time Frank admonished them because they are scaring the customers.[5] Literally, Repo Men has it share of sexuality throughout the film that supports the vice of greed. The first customer encountered by Remy in the film has brought home a prostitute for the night.[6] This suggests his greed for all of life overrules responsibility in paying his debts. Remy’s paperwork contract for his heart is delivered to him in the workplace by an exotic dancer.[7] Throughout film the job and the life that the job provides identified with sensual pleasures.

Once man has sinned in the play there comes a call to repentance. No two calls to repentance in morality plays are identical however in all of them repentance is the climatic theatrical event. In most of the medieval plays an attempt is made to dramatize this transformation in the specific terms of the sacrament of penance.[8] Potter concludes, “Thus the traditional morality play is not a battle between virtues and vices, but a didactic ritual drama about the forgiveness of sins. Its theatrical intentions are to imitate and evoke that forgiveness.”[9]

Remy explicitly claimed in narration that he was not seeking forgiveness for all the wrongs he had done. However when contemplating his role with Beth, he mused that he is saving himself along with her. In a sense when he reclaimed all the organs, from Beth and himself he was getting forgiveness for his actions. The question might remain, who is granting the forgiveness. On one hand, it could be Union as it scanned the parts back into inventory. However, on the other hand, it could be Jake. Since the pink door scene is a neural implant and not reality, it is Jake granting forgiveness to Remy by allowing the neural memory to exist.

Highlight on forgiveness does not suggest the vices and virtues are not significant in morality plays. In a real sense virtues and vices play a role in bring mankind to the point of repentance. This contest between Virtue and Vice is ultimately for the possession of man’s soul. Because it battled for man’s soul, it focused on what Holzknecht calls “the Four Last Things.” He suggests that, “Death, Judgment, the pains of Purgatory or Hell, and, alternately, the joys of Heaven, which were to be had if a man remembered the first three and refrained from sin or repented in time.”[10] In interacting with the virtues and vices the audience is presented with the choice of life in repentance or death in rejection of faith.

This focus on the four last things was a common topic outside morality plays which allowed for an easy transition into the plays. The cult of death was prominent in England and “traditional literary forms were the treatise on the ‘art of dying well,’ including detailed instructions and formulas for preparing for the inevitable hour; and ‘the four last things,’ a sounding of the meaning of death, judgment, heaven, and hell.”[11]

The entire story of Repo Men reacted to the art of dying well. Clients came to the Union company for organs and are willing to giving anything to avoid death. However, for those who financed their organs, it will still lead to death as they can never afford the financial terms. Neither Frank nor Jake have prepared for the “inevitable hour.” Frank, who is without any compassion whatsoever, dies in Remy’s neural dream without redemption. In reality, he continued to exist as a cold-hearted manager looking to keep sales up for Union company.  Jake found complete redemption and is ready for the inevitable hour, at least in Remy’s neural dream. However, even reality, it appeared he has made progress toward that goal. He paid the cost Remy’s transplant debt and provided for Remy’s future well being. These acts signified that, at some level, he gained awareness that greed must be restrained. At the end of the movie, Beth remained alive, with her fate in the hands of Jake. He must make of choice to recover her overdue organs or set her free. Jake’s decision is not revealed in the movie. To Beth, in the end it does not appear to matter, she has found redemption through her relationship with Remy. Throughout the film Remy took care of her in spite of her faults, caring for her over himself. Beth too gave of herself to Remy. Both had freed themselves from greed ready to give their lives for each other. Remy, in both reality and neurologically though the implant, found redemption and clearly prepared for the final hour. In doing so, he avoided (at least temporarily) death and gained heaven (neurologically).

[1] Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition, 47-48.

[2] Ibid.,  48.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sapochnik, “Repo Man,” 12:56.

[5] Ibid.,  9:45.

[6] Ibid.,  2:21.

[7] Ibid.,  38:40.

[8] Potter, The English Morality Play: Origins, History, and Influence of a Dramatic Tradition, 49.

[9] Ibid.,  57.

[10] Karl J. Holzknecht, The Backgrounds of Shakespeare’s Plays (New York: American Book Co., 1950), 322-323.

[11] Williams, The Drama of Medieval England, 147.

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