Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mass We Pray: The Video Game

EA Games is at it again with another viral marketing campaign to promote their upcoming game Dante's Inferno.

I couldn't help myself from visiting their website after viewing this video. It's obviously fake, and when you click to pre-order the game a message pops up condemning you as a heretic.
He who betrays the beliefs of the Church blackens his soul with the sin of Heresy. A Mass not celebrated by ordained priests or on consecrated soil is naught but false ritual condemned by clergy. Thou hast befouled thine eyes with the filth of profane works and betrayed all things sacred. For thy punishment, thou shalt be damned to burn in flaming tombs and hanged from enflamed crosses. An eternity of infernal fire will not cleanse thee.
Entering your date of birth will allow you to watch an exclusive Dante's Inferno trailer. The trailer isn't all that different from the last one I posted earlier this month, but EA Games has pulled in over half a million views from this We Pray mock video. Unfortunately, Dante's Inferno is not being released for the Wii which wouldn't be able to handle the graphics and EA would have to design the game to be compatible with the Wii. Seems like a tongue-in-cheek jab at the Wii (only heretics would own a Wii) and at the Church to promote the game. EA also faked a protest at E3 2009 (the fake protest group, S.A.V.E.D, also set up a website) and ignited a bit of controversy with their "Sin-to-Win" Twitter contest by asking people to commit an act of lust. I have yet to hear of any official response from a religious leader or church condemning the game which would only result in throwing more fuel on the fire. The church's best course of action would be to ignore the game altogether, but then again how can you ignore two kids pretending to celebrate Mass.

"Quick! Baptize the sinners!"

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Fountain Revisited- Part 1: Paradise Lost

The Fountain is by far my favorite film of all time (and it's the only movie I allow myself to cry in front of my wife). I even wrote a paper on the religious and spiritual themes of the film for my Religion in Popular Media class. When it was released in 2006 it got a few bad reviews mainly because of the vague and confusing ending which is why I recommend watching it twice. I thought it was a beautiful film the first time through but the second round just blew my mind. The film is vague in it's meaning and ending leaving the audience to come up with their own conclusions. This series will take a second look into my revised thoughts on the film's spiritual and religious themes.

[Promotional poster for The Fountain, Copyright Warner Bros. 2006.]

Warning: Spoilers there be!

This film can get quite complicated and highly confusing to a first-time viewer, especially the ending. Yet, it is in this confusion that each viewer can carve out his or her own interpretation and meaning from the film. The film revolves around the core theme of life from death. Each of the characters wrestle with the fear of death in hopes of escaping the inevitable yet it is only when they accept death as an intricate part of the human experience are they freed from their mortal cages and earn true immortality. Most Westerners envision immortality as a prolonged existence in this life wherein we decide our moment of death. We struggle all our lives in avoiding that specific experience as we overlook the joys of the present.

You can read my synopsis here but to quickly summarize our main characters, Tommy and Izzi Creo, battle with death in all three ages: the 16th, 21st, and 26th centuries. The film is set in the 21st century where Tommy, a research oncologist, races against time to cure his wife's brain tumor. Meanwhile, Izzi is writing a book set in 16th century Spain where the two main characters, Tomas and Queen Elizabeth, race to find the Tree of Life in the new world. The film flashes back and forth between these two centuries and one set in the distant future. In the 26th century Tom, the space traveling monk, is headed towards a distant dying nebula traveling with an aging tree in an ecospheric spaceship. He is traveling with a Tree of Life, which is carrying Izzi's essence (or soul), to Xibalba, the dying nebula representing the Mayan underworld. Although the main plot of the film is set in the 21st century, the story is told through the eyes of the space traveling Tom recalling the events which set him on this journey.

Unfortunately, although 21st century Tom discovers a cure it is too late and the viewer learns that it is Izzi's tragic death which causes Tom to travel to Xibalba, the Mayan underworld where souls go to be reborn.

Hours before her death Izzi shares a story with Tom about Moses Morales, Izzi's Mayan guide on a trip she took to research her book, and the death of his father. Moses said that if they dug his body up he would be gone. They had planted a seed over his grave and that his father became part of the tree. "He grew into the wood, into the bloom. And when a sparrow ate the tree's fruit, his father flew with the birds. He said, death was his father road to awe." At the end of the film you see Tommy planting a seed over Izzi's grave then look up into the sky at Xibalba. The tree in the ship is the same which Tommy planted 500 years prior. This was my original interpretation and understanding of the film: Tommy loses Izzi and then travels through space to be reborn together in Xibalba. I had interpreted the film with a "literal lens" and lost the meaning the film was desperately trying to present.

I knew that Tomas and Elizabeth were fictional characters in a book, yet I interpreted the trip through space as literal when it is a symbolic representation of Tom's inner journey from pain and suffering towards peace and acceptance. And it is through this acceptance that we begin to see, hear, and experience life more fully. The fear of death governs our lives, and as it inches closer we wrestle, claw, and fight tooth and nail with the mortal and immortal powers which have kept us alive thus far. We demand for more time calling God unjust for creating us mortal. Why can't we just live forever? Maybe we can although not in the literal sense. All we can do is try to enjoy the eternal moments we have NOW instead of worrying about the lost moments we won't have later. If we truly enjoyed the NOW then the it won't matter if we lived 20 years or 70, what is important is that we lived, loved, and connected with one another.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Elementary Penguins...

I was late for class. [Expletive Deleted] I finished printing my homework, shoved it into my bulging backpack and started my trek across campus. As I exited the library the only thoughts on my mind was on the quality of the project I threw together last night in the recording studio. At this point I was too tired to care, I just wanted a passing grade.

It seemed everyone else was in the same state I was in, dazed from lack of sleep worried about their GPA as finals inch closer by the minute. We all buzzed by each other solely focused on our own issues unaware that we are all in the same boat. I passed a Rabbi to my left on his cell phone as he chatted away with an expression of surprise reacting to the words transmitted through the air and into his phone. To my right, smokers were inhaling their last few moments of sweet nectar before diving into the massive 4 story library. Ugh, it was cold, wet and I wished I had a bike, but then I wouldn't have met the monk on my way to class. At first I thought he was a former classmate who had recognized me until he pulled out the Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is, a commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I recognized the text as Hindu as he proceeded to show me a copy. He did ask for a small donation (which I hope wasn't his main concern for passing out copies of the Gita) and I informed him I couldn't at the time (I rarely carry cash). I told him I was late for class and gave him my email so that we may discuss these matters at a later time. The whole exchange took a matter of minutes but I left with more than just a pamphlet.

He seemed to emanate a genuine friendly and kind personality which is rare to find. And his approach to distributing religious literature was far more affective than the preachers from Pinpoint Ministries spouting wrath and hate from their lips. He seemed focused, centered, and showed more attention to another person than anyone else on campus. We all have busy lives but it is refreshing to come across those who will take the time out of their day to even speak to you. I did not catch his name but I hope he will contact me in hopes of dialoguing and developing a lasting friendship. So to my Hare Krishna friend I say peace and blessings be upon you brother, may we meet again.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Why We Suffer: Introducting Job and How We Respond to Suffering

I've been meaning to read, analyze, and ponder the issue of justice in the book of Job but only until I've read it at least twice in its entirety. Until then I've been reading Rabbi Harold Kushner's When Bad Thins Happen to Good People as an introduction to the theme of God's role in our lives when disaster strikes. In the Book of Job, the protagonist, Job, faces all sorts of horrors and yet remains a righteous man. Job the innocent cries out to God, and God enters in all his glory. God does not give a reason for Job's woes yet only responds by displaying his power over creation. How then do we deal with life's troubles when we're comforted by half-baked unreasonable answers? If we were to lose someone close to us is "it's all a part of God's Plan" a reasonable enough answer? Does that really brings us any comfort whatsoever? Can we find any love ringing from such a cold and distant response?

In chapter one, "Why do the Righteous Suffer?", Kushner introduces five main responses (or excuses, for the truly cynical) given by those who attempt to explain why good people suffer in order to make since of life. I will briefly touch on each response and expand on it later in the series.
  • We deserve it
  • God has his reasons
  • Educational
  • Test of Faith and Spiritual Strength
  • Liberate us from our mortal coil

We deserve it
Let's face it, we are sinful people and if we fail (even once) to please God in any way we could pay for it, eventually. But why good people? Of course we believe that bad people deserve what's coming to them, except we call it justice. Yet, if good people are trying as hard as humanly possible to follow God's will then we can't be punished for our fallibility, can we? Would it be Just to punish the good in the same manner as the bad? I don't punish my toddlers for using bad words that I myself accidentally let slip out (and believe me my son has been building a very colorful vocabulary). If people are truly trying to be as good as humanly possible then God's standards are too high for mortals, God is unjust (gasp!), or maybe God is not punishing us for our sins (gasp again!). If God is not punishing the good, what then is causing bad things to happen to good people (including faithful Christians)?

God has his reasons
"God works in mysterious ways" is the most common response I hear when it comes to events we can not explain. There is a reason but we live finite lives with limited brain power so we could never understand God's intricate tapestry. But when something disastrous as the loss of a child is used by God to further his will, this reeks of injustice. Why would God cut a new life just to further his will? Is it right for you to suffer to further the will of a God who sprinkles suffering on the good and the bad? Why can't we accept that these things just happen instead of tying every single event to God? If a hurricane wipes out a "sinful city" some may call it Justice. But if an earthquake were to take out the Vatican, what then? How can a loving creator God justify destruction of life as Good? Sure we can always look back after the horrendous event and say that people were brought together because of destruction, but this lacks compassion and love. The ends do not justify the means, even if we can not comprehend the end game.

Compared to the monotheistic, sittin' on a cloud God, us mere mortals have no greater intellect than a turnip. So a third response is that these bad things happen to good people to teach us something important about life. God gives a couple a baby with down syndrome to teach them and others to be kinder and more compassionate to people born with disabilities. But what about the kid? He's done absolutely nothing wrong (he never had a chance to sin) and already he will experience his life on earth in pain and torment. Kushner states that both the Educational response and the response on God's mysterious Will both have a bright side: the good will go to heaven in the afterlife, so it's all good. The sad fact is that we don't know that there is a heaven we just hope there is one and our energy is better spent in attempting to build a heaven on Earth instead of focusing on the one that might not be there after we pass on. And like the response on God's mysterious Will, this response also sounds downright monstrous.

Test of Faith and Spiritual Strength
Abraham is probably the most quoted Bible character when it comes to the topic of testing our Faith. Abraham having to sacrifice (God wanted a human sacrifice) his only son was a major test of faith. But what about Isaac? How is being sacrificed to a God his father speaks to a test of Isaac's faith? Poor Isaac didn't even know he was being sacrificed until the last minute. There is a Jewish Midrash that puts a twist on the story with Isaac running off to join his brother Ishmael after his crazy father tried to turn him into barbecue.

We use this response because 1) we believe God is in total control and 2) we believe he knows what's best for us. Yet the last thing ANYONE wants to hear after the loss of a child or news of terminal illness is that their faith is being tested. Again, it is simply monstrous that our pain and suffering is simply a way to test our allegiance. Rest assured that if I tried to "test" my family's allegiance in anyway similar to that of God in the Bible I would end up in prison or in the loony bin.

Liberate us from our Mortal Coil
The fifth reason is that if we're good anyway there's no reason to complain over earthly suffering when Heaven awaits us in the afterlife. As I stated earlier, anything that happens to bad people is justified by the belief that the good will get their reward after death. But the sad fact is that we don't know that there is an afterlife, we hope. Kushner calls this wishful thinking, and can you blame him? We want a reward, a reason for our suffering. Suffering in vain is too depressing to be an option so we have Heaven and Hell. Those who didn't learn from their suffering, did not pass their faith test, or those who questioned God's Master Plan will be sent into the hellfire. Everyone else will go to a lovely place and live forever with their loved ones. Sounds nice and reassuring, doesn't it? So why then do we cry at the loss of a child to a terminal disease, or mourn those who were killed in a terrorist attack? I believe it is because even though we may try to comfort ourselves with the notion of Heaven we are still human, with human emotions and we fear that death may be it.

Kushner brings up the most challenging, yet truthful common theme that underlies all of these responses to human suffering: "they all assume that God is the cause of our suffering, and they try to understand why God would want us to suffer, " (Kushner, pg. 29). This is not an attack on God but an honest questioning that millions, if not billions of people echo throughout history, "why?" If God is in total control why would he want us to suffer? Maybe we are just asking the wrong question. Instead of asking why do good people (or anyone) suffer, maybe we should be asking ourselves what do we do now that we have suffered? Where do we go? Suffering is a part of being human, instead of looking for a reason or someone to blame, maybe we should look forward with a new understanding of our humanity and see if there is something we can do to alleviate someone else's pain.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dante's Inferno Update

Back in March I wrote about a new game being developed by EA Games loosely based on Dante Alighieri's, Inferno. You play as Dante, a veteran of the crusades, seeking to rescue your lover Beatrice from the Devil. You have to travel down through the 9 circles of Hell battling all sorts of demons, monsters, and damned souls to save the woman you love. The following trailer is rated 18+ (it gets a bit graphic).

I guessed right on a few of the level bosses that have been confirmed so far: Cleopatra, 2nd Circle (Lust), and Cerberus, 3rd circle (gluttony), and of course Satan himself in the 9th circle.
It is set for release on February 9, 2010.

The graphics look great, although all I have is a Nintendo Wii so just about anything on XBox 360 or PS3 is going to look great to me. But all the graphics, action, and intense gameplay in the world is not going to spare EA Games from controversy when they include demon babies with razor blades for arms. When it comes to video games and matters of faith, religion, and morality there will always be controversy. Although I thought it was clever for EA Games to fake a protest rally outside of E3 2009 earlier this summer.

"If you're going to kill a baby, you better make sure it's baptized first."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adoption Update!

Back in April I wrote about a poor Indonesian boy, Fiki, who I stumbled across on a Christian child sponsorship program, Compassion. I visited their site again today and to my surprise Fiki was nowhere to be found. I wanted to sponsor him myself, but my American life kept me busy with more "important tasks".

Fiki, wherever you are I hope you are all right. I pray that you have a roof over your head, and food in your stomach. Although I never met, nor will ever meet, you in person I wish you a full and joyous life regardless of your beliefs. You will probably never come across these words, but know that I meant every word. May you find all which you seek in this life and the next.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A God-Sized Puzzle: Year One

A year ago today I began my journey here on A God-Sized Puzzle. My personal journey exploring my own faith began years before I started this blog, but I feel that it wasn't until I started blogging that I really began to push myself to question, to seek, to search. I started out with a mission statement: to learn from the wide variety of religious beliefs in seeking to find common grounds, common goals, and common love. The highlighted texts below link to previous posts are snapshots of my spiritual growth so far.

[A Jigsaw cake made by Hope over at A Little Imagination. She makes some really cool looking cakes like this one!]

I began this blog after taking the Religion in Popular Media class in the fall of 2008 by the inspirational Rabbi Rami (check out his blog here). The class inspired me to relentlessly question and search into all areas of the sacred, the secular, and places where the two converge. I soon realized that these two spheres cross A LOT more than we realize in film, literature, society, and in our everyday lives. My journey had a rocky start, and it has been difficult trying to communicate to others what I believe. I soon understood that even if we don't initially see the secular and the sacred as compatible they are interconnected and weaved throughout every aspect of the human experience. Some may be blinded by hatred, others by fear, to see the bonds that tie us to one another. We are all brothers, equals, in this life and the next.

Here are a few interesting facts collected over the past year (well since April, so this might not be completely accurate).

The top 3 visited posts.
  1. Sunday School Stories for Naughty Children-A post on the violence in the Bible and the cautions of teaching certain Bible stories to children (This is probably the most controversial and most visited post I've written).
  2. A Timeless Hero: Part 2- The Triforce- The second post in a series on the religious symbolism and spirituality found in the Legend of Zelda game series.
  3. Abraham's Test- A post on the "test" that Abraham and Isaac went through on Mount Moriah.
The top 4 countries with the most visits: USA, Canada, U.K, India.
The top 4 U.S. states with the most visits: Texas, California, New York, Virginia
The number 1 city with the most visits: Dallas, Texas (I wonder who that could be? *Cough* Don.)

It has been an interesting year and I have learned a lot. But I know I have only hit the surface and there is more to discover, learn from, and grow. Over the next year I hope to take the next step from studying religions to interacting with the practitioners. I have mentioned my timidness to visit other places of worship and I hope to overcome this and actively participate and interact with people of other faiths. Many thanks to those who've commented and dialogued with me on this blog. I hope to continue our talks and share in our spiritual travels.

Peace and blessings to you and yours.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Power of Choice

"This is Christianity. This is real true Biblical Christianity.

"Anyone who doesn't agree with me is actually giving Christianity a bad name."

"If my words are the Truth, they will offend."

-Kerrigan Skelly-

Last Tuesday, October the 27th, MTSU was visited by preachers from Pinpoint Ministries. I passed by these preachers as I was heading to my next class and did not have the time to stop and listen. Although I knew exactly what he was preaching: sinners must repent or face the hellfire. Who are sinners? Fornicators, immodest women, homosexuals, drunks, the list goes on and on. I've written on this type of evangelism before and prayed to Yahweh it wouldn't come to MTSU. Confrontational Evangelism is a method used by some evangelists to spread the gospel by grabbing their audience attention by intentionally being confrontational. I'm ashamed this happened at my school, and worse that they may even return in February.

[Photo by Kurt Lee Mullen]

You can read the full story here, and watch videos here and here. You can check out Pinpoint Evangelism's video at the campus of MTSU here. Here are some of the more interesting parts.

10:00 Immodest woman at fault for being raped
17:00 Restates his mission and beliefs on sinners (crowds begin to gather)
22:50 Argument over Shellfish being an abomination (Leviticus 11:10)
26:03 Skelly states he's fit to judge others
37:30 Varying levels of Sin and Sinners
46:50 Question on Evidence for Christianity
50:00 Explaining 'the peacemakers' from the Beatitudes
54:10 "I have Holy Sex"
58:50 Testimony of a Rape Victim
1:02:15 The crowd attempts to reason with Skelly
1:02:45 A person can not be a Christian and a Homosexual
1:03:30 Original Sin is a False Doctrine

The preachers say they came to spread the Good News but I can guarantee you that not only did they fail to win anyone over to Christianity with their gospel of hate, but they probably turned some Christians away from Christianity. One theme ran throughout Skelly's preaching and the events that resulted in the arrest of one student: the power of choice. Even if Skelly and McGlone had the right (and the permit) to preach on the campus of MTSU they chose to preach words of hate. The preachers see their ministry as words of truth not hate and there is nothing we can do to change their view. They believe they are preaching the damnation of God out of love, yet there is no love in saying that an immodestly dressed woman is partly responsible for being raped. Nor is it loving to say that the homosexual chooses to carry an "unrighteous" lifestyle because he/she loves to sin. I can't think of anyone who would willing choose to face a lifetime of discrimination (especially in Tennessee) because they love the lifestyle. Skelly made a similar argument stating that the early Christians would not have suffered and died for what they believed if they had not experienced the resurrection.

Regardless of what actually happened or what may have happened, both parties (Michaela Morales and the Preachers) were in the wrong that afternoon. Michaela for pushing the preacher (although she claimed she was defending herself) and the preachers for spouting hate. At the end of the clip, the video asks MTSU if we're ready to apologize for the lies and slander (about God, homosexuality, sin, the incident etc.) we have been spreading. A better question would be: are we willing to love others even when we're confronted by hatred?