Month: May 2007

Spiderman 3 and Sentimentality

I have posted several times on the Schaeffer disciple and author, Dick Keyes, particularly in reference to his recent book Seeing Through Cynicism. In his quarterly letter, Keyes shares some thoughts on sentimentality:

“There are three parts to a sentimental way of understanding and living in the world: sentimentality denies or trivializes evil, it centers on self-referential emotion and it resists any costly but appropriate action into the world. These three form a certain coherence.

Second, self-referential emotion is a little harder to grasp. An example would be centering my life not around loving another person for who they are, but loving the way that person makes me feel about myself. There is quite a difference. Injustice may be the occasion for my anger, but the anger may actually be driven more by my self-satisfaction in feeling this appropriate indignation than it is by my actual care or concern for the victims of the injustice. Tennyson s fifty page poem,  In Memoriam about the death of his friend is all about Tennyson s emotions in crisis, telling us almost nothing about the man who died. It is possible to feel passionately, but with little  sense of other.”

After seeing Spiderman 3, I was struck by the sentimentality as a motivation for good and evil. The Sandman was driven by his thoughts of an abandoned daughter, whose picture he keeps in a locket. Whenever he needed strength to wreak havoc, steal from a bank, or destroy a city he just thought of his daugher, looked at the locket and then spewed his anger in a sandy display of destruction. Similarly, the black Spiderman was driven by sentimental anger over the loss of his grandfather, and lashed out at others in an effort to satifsy his self-centered vengeful desires.

On the other hand, good was the goal of Harry/the Green Goblin offspring thing, was moved by sentimentality over his friendships to come to his friends rescue, eventually sacrificing his life for Spiderman/Peter Parker. Those moved by sentimentality to do evil were certainly operating out of Keyes’ second categorty–“self-referential emotion.”

Keyes continues:

“Given that sentimentality understood in this way jars very hard against Biblical Christian faith, we might expect the Christian community to be an oasis or shelter from sentimentality. The sad thing is to have to say that Christians with the message to confront sentimentality have too often been seduced by it instead. It struck me that many of the themes that we emphasize so hard in L Abri are correctives to sentimental consciousness. We challenge the cynicism that comes from sentimentality disillusioned. We talk of the radical fallenness and brokenness of the world to people who seem to have never taken its measure except as theory. We talk of both looking for and living out not just what is comfortable, nice and builds self-esteem, but what is true — and we get blank stares. The idea of God can be co-opted to serve the full sentimental agenda in such a way that his actual word is not heard — but this is not new news. The irony of it all is that sentimentality does not deliver the comfort, peace and niceness that it promises.”

Sentimentality did not bring Spiderman and Sandman to peace; forgiveness did. In fact, forgiveness in the central theme of the movie, displayed in the climactic scene where Spiderman/Peter Parker faces his enemy and murderer of his grandfather, Sandman. In a moment of honesty, these two superheroes become truly human. The face thier anger in vulnerable conversation and regret over losses. After explaining that his fatal gunshot to Peter’s grandfather was an accident, in part motivated by a desire to get money for his daughter’s health condition, Sandman says to Peter, “I don’t expect you to forgive me; I just wanted you to understand.” The camera lingres on the beaten and bruised superhero, with half of his mask torn off…eventually Peter says, “I forgive you.”

Honesty and truth cut through the bent actions motivated by sentimentality in both Sandman and Spiderman. Reconciliation was possible when truth trumped sentiment. Sentiment operates on emotion, often selfish emotion, blurring our perception of right and wrong, good and evil. As good and evil heroes stood face to face, humility prompted forgiveness and the superheroes became truly human, fallible and in need of forgiveness. They also became like God, like Jesus who cut through our cyncism, sentimentality, and sin with his first sentence from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Yet, there is a main difference here, between Spiderman and Jesus. Jesus has a fundamental, cosmic basis for offering forgiveness because he holds a universal right and wrong grounded in himself. In eternal existence with the Trinity, Jesus has determined that is wrong to murder, intentionally and unintentionally, but Spiderman only holds a social ethic, one which dissolves in other cannabilistic and tribal socieites. In those socieites, Spiderman is a loser, who fails to crush his enemy and claim victory for himself. Forgiveness is greatest when it is offered in the context of truth, a truth that recongnizes evil absolutely not just socially. Socially constructed forgiveness can be as weak as sentimentally motivated justice. The only true hero, is the one that knows our injustice and prescribes forgiveness from a cross–the perfect human and uberhero, Godman.

Religious Illiteracy: So What?

Most Americans can’t name the world’s five major religions, much less, tell you the tenents of thier faith. Christians aren’t excluded: “Christians in the United States are pretty abysmally ignorant about the religious traditions of the rest of the world” wrote Harvard religious studies professor Diana Eck. In 2004 , a study was done among high school students. Evangelicals were not able to identify “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” as a quote form the Sermon on the Mount. Religious illiteracy is rampant.

Religous ignorace led to an Indian sikh being shot in Arizon, just after 9/11. Religion has been banished from the public square, yet our country and citizens are overwhelmingly religious in practice. The American religious knowledge gap is not a stand alone problem; it has had a profound affect on political, social, and ethical issues in the US. In his book, Religious Illiteracy, Prothero argues that religious knowledge is necessary in order to be a good citizen.

Are you a “good citizen”?

Famine and Global Warming?

Read this insightful article on cyclical famine in places like Africa. Consider Greg Easterbrook’s recent article in Atlantic Monthly about the poverty-sustaining nature of global warming, where he argues the poorest countries are the hardest hit. Consider alongside this fact that China has now succeeded the US in harmful emmissions.

How do we respond? Do you think that Easterbrook is correct in his analysis of Global Warming and poverty-ridden countries? Could it be that politically liberal issues should be more central for political conservatives?