Monday, September 26, 2011

Under the Banner of Heaven

Under the Banner of Heaven is another excellent piece of non-fiction from Jon Krakauer, author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild. The book is subtitled "A Story of Violent Faith." Woven throughout this expose of the troubling history of Mormonism is the story of the murder of a mother and her infant child by Ron and Dan Lafferty, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.

Warning: it's sickening at times to read this book. Krakauer does not sensationalize; he merely reports. But what he reports is gruesome. It's also terribly, terribly sad that human beings can be so deceived by false religion that they do the kind of things to other people that are detailed in this book (rape, incest, polygamy, deceit, abuse, brainwashing, revenge, etc.).

Besides telling us about the Lafferty crimes of 1984, Krakauer's larger aims are twofold: first, to peel away the mystique around the roots and growth of the Mormon faith and its offshoot versions; and second, to throw religion as a whole under the bus. As to the first aim, I learned a lot about Mormonism - especially Joseph Smith and Brigham Young - that I did not know. Krakauer's research appears thorough, although Mormon spokesmen have attacked it as biased and incomplete.

As to throwing religion as a whole under the bus, it's apparent that Jon Krakauer has heard bits and pieces of the gospel but hasn't heard or understood the full or balanced picture. He's obviously learned about enough junk done in the name of God ("under the banner of heaven") that it's no wonder he's skeptical of all religions. Have Christians (like Mormons) messed up in the past? Absolutely. Do we need to own up to our failures just as Mormons need to own up to theirs? Absolutely. But sooner or later every human being comes back to the age-old questions: Why are we here rather than not here? What's the meaning of our lives? What will be the basis of hope when we're looking death in the face? If God does not exist, why do we bother to wake up tomorrow morning?

May these questions lead Jon to Christ, who will one day wipe every tear from our eyes and recreate this messed-up world in justice and peace.


As if we needed something else to worry about, now there's the movie Contagion.

Suzy and I saw this movie last night. It's a well-made flick about germs, infectious disease, death, mayhem, compassion for the suffering, commitment to family and friends, and greed. The cast is a roll call of great actors: Paltrow, Damon, Fishburne, Law, Winslet, Gould, and (my favorite actress) Marion Cotillard. Even the stand-up comic Demetri Martin makes a serious appearance as a lab technician. The famed neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta shows up as well. So lots of familiar faces in this one. Kinda like those disaster movies of the 1970s (Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure, etc.).

The action gets going right away. From your first bite of popcorn, you're watching scenes of people throughout the world as they touch door knobs, elevator buttons, drink glasses, and each other, transferring whatever germs they happen to be carrying to everyone else on the planet. Soon people are dying right and left. Some of the death scenes are disturbing. It's a contagion. It seems no country is spared. The body count grows quickly. Scientists and government experts are befuddled. They've never seen anything like it. A cure, if it exists at all, is elusive and expensive.

The movie does a great job of creating several sub-plots that catch you up and make you curious, but they prove to be minor distractions from the main questions: Who is to blame? What did Beth do, or not do? Is the fictitious homeopathic medicine Forsythia a cure, or a sham? There was just enough pathos, intrigue, and suspense that I was totally engaged in the film the whole 106 minutes. I also got an education from watching this movie. I didn't know the average person touches his or her face 2,000 times a day!

(If there's any doubt about the educational benefit of this movie, I can tell you that afterwards I immediately went to the men's room and washed my hands thoroughly!)

As a Christian watching Contagion, I found two things noteworthy. One was the contrast between those who helped others and those who helped only themselves. I had to ask myself the question, "If people around me were dying from an infectious disease, would I reach out and help them? Or would I retreat into the safety of my own home and ignore the need of my fellow man?" Marion Cotillard's character is an honorable example of people like Mother Teresa who choose to move toward the sick rather than away from them. God, grant me the grace to do likewise.

The other thing that's hard for someone with a Biblical worldview to miss, is the way this movie illustrates the transmission of original sin throughout the human race. In the paragraph above I posed the question, "If people around me were dying from an infectious disease...." The truth is, they are dying from an infectious disease. It's called sin. We've all been touched by Adam and are sinners by nature. Isaiah 64:5b-6a says, "...we are not godly. We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved? We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags" (NLT).

The Bible says we were conceived in sin. That doesn't mean sexual intercourse is bad. It means that the moment egg and sperm unite in the womb, another sinner is born. Through natural generation we inherit Adam's fallen sin nature. You don't have to teach a kid to sin; he sins because he's a sinner.

The good news is that Jesus Christ came sinlessly into our world, exposed himself to our disease, and provided the one and only cure for sin: his death and resurrection. He "became our sin" on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21) and rose again to newness of life. Through faith in Jesus, you can be forgiven, cleansed, made new, considered righteous (i.e., acceptable) by God, and empowered to live with hope and holiness. You'll still mess up, but you won't be condemned, because you are "in Christ," no longer "in Adam."

That's the vaccine that will both heal you and empower you to be an agent of healing for others.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Ten things I am tired of

I could do without one more instance of the following:
  • The word "awwwwww" in responses to my Facebook status updates
  • Advertising slogans that string together three words divided by periods (examples:, blah.blah.blah)
  • TV commercials for Progressive car insurance
  • Songs by Bread
  • TV commercials for Free Credit Report
  • Anything Kardashian
  • "I Can Only Imagine"
  • The word "app"
  • The word "woot"
  • Dog throw-up
There are more, but those are the big ones.