Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Neo, the Superman and the Christ

In the summer of 1999 I was sixteen years old and decided I would like to see R-rated films in theaters. R-rated films are restricted to anyone under the age of seventeen. So I decided it would probably be easier to get into an R-rated film without being carded in the afternoon of a weekday, and I was correct. I even had a nice conversation with one of the theater employees about the movie I was going to see: The Matrix. I asked him how it was. He said it was "slow," and I wasn't carded.

I had the theater almost to myself. There were two people behind me but they left about halfway through. I believe another person came in later as well, but because I was closer to the screen I had the impression of watching the movie in its entirety completely alone. Therefore I have no witnesses able to confirm whether or not my dropped jaw lasted the entire movie or not. Perhaps there were moments when it was closed. I cannot tell you. I was completely absorbed.

When I went home I immediately sat down and wrote two or three pages on how the movie correlated with Christianity. From here on out I will simply assume the reader has seen the movie. I don't have the time to give a rundown. First, there is the theme of conversion. An entire world of people living without knowledge of the Truth. In order to be saved from this world which is dominated by a malevolent power, they must hold the Truth as their highest goal despite the consequences and reject the world they are living in as a lie and accept the reality of a second realm, wherein lies the real enemy. Secondly there is the theme of faith. This is most evident in the character of Morpheus, who believes in a prophecy by the Oracle that someone called "The One" will be born inside the Matrix who will lead the human resistance to victory over the machines who enslave humans within it. Neo himself, who turns out to be The One, never seems all that interested in the prophecy, not believing in fate. But Neo ends up believing in himself at the end of the movie, and Trinity also believes in him for an entirely different reason even when he dies. Then he rises again. Third, there is the theme of free will being the fundamental difference between man and machine which I wrote about in chapter 7 of the book. The theme invades the entire story of all three movies. Neo seems to understand that his primary advantage is the ability to make choices while machines can only follow their programming. Here he is in perfect agreement with Morpheus who tells him in the first movie: "Their strength and their speed are based in a world built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong or as fast as you can be." One of the key attractive points of the movie is the homage paid to Asian martial arts movies, whose main problem is they simply assume human beings can do impossible things through the power of the mind. The Matrix provides a plausible environment, a computer simulation, within which these physically impossible feats become possible because in a computer simulation the mind is all that matters. Unlike the physical world, in the Matrix some rules can bent and others can be broken by The One, not unlike Jesus' miracles. All three of these themes correlate well with the Christian story, and there are many more minor correlations, such as sacrificial death, a betrayer and opposition to the faith from one's own people, as well as explicit Christian and Biblical allusions.


It is fairly clear that the idea behind the story was to present the Christian story in a different light. I have stayed a fan of the movie, which turned into a trilogy, but I soon realized that the authors, the Wachowski brothers, were not Christians despite the overtly Christian theme. Apparently one of the rules they believed ought to be bent or broken were Christian sexual mores. Larry Wachowski apparently enjoys BDSM and Neo actually meets Trinity, later his romantic interest, for the first time in a BDSM club, and the fashion of all the characters is dominated by black leather. There is even a very long and graphic sex scene in the second film. I realized there must be a fundamental difference between Neo and Christ, and it didn't take long to figure out.

The third movie in the trilogy fell far short of expectations, but the entire movie is redeemed by a single scene: the final fight between Neo and Agent Smith inside the Matrix. Agent Smith is winning and says so:

Agent Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why, why do you do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you're fighting for something, for more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is, do you even know? Is it freedom or truth, perhaps peace - could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself. Although, only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson, you must know it by now! You can't win, it's pointless to keep fighting! Why, Mr. Anderson, why, why do you persist?

Neo: Because I choose to.

This is Neo's death sentence, and it is given by his own will for his own reasons. In this scene we are meant to understand that his self sacrifice was his own choice and nothing else. Neo feels no need to ascribe this turn of events to anyone but himself, and cites his ability to make choices as the final justification for his course of action and also the one thing Agent Smith cannot do, can never understand and never defeat. Contrast this with the similar scene in Luke 22:41-44:

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

This is Jesus Christ's death sentence, and it is given to him by God's will, not his own. Yet according to the doctrine of the Trinity isn't Jesus divine? Of course, but God the Father is representative of the decision making faculty of the Trinity, that is the Will. I discuss this in chapter 19 of the book.

Neo cites his own will; Christ cites the will of God the Father, even though He has more right than anyone to call that will His own. The will decides the course of the individual through its decision-making capability, but before a decision can be made it must be presented. Before a choice can be made there must be available options. Nietzsche made the error of believing the will could choose a path without there first being one. Neo is explicitly compared to Superman in the Matrix movies, and as every comic book fan should know, Superman was based on Nietzsche's √úbermensch.

Nietzsche's Superman, introduced in his famous book Thus Spake Zarathustra and inspiring the superhero, was an imagined race of men who had left Christian morality behind and forged their own way by their own will. Nietzsche famously proclaimed that God is dead. Funny story: A student of mine once wrote a paper on this believing Nietzsche meant that God had literally been alive and had now died. Of course Nietzsche meant that God had never existed, that he was an invention of man and man had decided to put the myth to rest. The question remained what worldview would replace not just Christianity in Europe, but all religion. Nietzsche's answer was the Superman. Under our Superman rulers there would be no more arguments, no more religious texts, no more debates. The will of the Superman would decide right and wrong by virtue of his own ascension beyond other men. He would decide humanity's course and would execute it simply on the strength of his own will. What he decided was right and wrong. He was god made flesh, a replacement for Jesus Christ. It is worth recalling that the comic book hero Superman was originally presented as a villain in the early 1930s. It is easy to understand why. Nietzsche's Superman was the ultimate atheist and the ultimate tyrant. But strangely he was not accepted as a villain. It was only after reinventing Superman as a hero that he became a popular character later in the 30s.

The 1930s were the most progressive decade in American history under FDR's New Deal. Conservatives had been shoved almost completely out of society's hierarchy of academia, the press, law and the arts by the 1920s. The only barrier had been political resistance manifested by the administrations of Harding and Coolidge, reactions to the progressive Wilson. FDR and his new political elite waged a decade long war against conservatives. As now with Obamacare, the Supreme Court was put into the awkward position of being forced to decide political questions, and for several years struck down significant portions of New Deal legislation. As now with Obamacare, a conservative justice, as now also named Roberts, unexpectedly switched sides and voted to uphold another controversial New Deal law. This was deemed by the now progressive dominated press as "the switch in time that saved nine." In the progressive mindset, the Supreme Court is only legitimate if it rubber stamps the progressive agenda. FDR had tried to increase the Supreme Court's membership to 15 which meant that he would immediately appoint six new judges, virtually ensuring the Supreme Court would never again be a check to his power. Like Superman, the American public did not see FDR as a villain. After having initially been presented as a villain in 1933 and failing to generate interest, the reinvented heroic Superman first appeared in 1938 and became a monumental success. The court-packing bill and the "switch in time that saved nine" both occurred in 1937, as did FDR's first appointment to the Supreme Court, Hugo Black. Black was an Alabama Senator who had voted for every piece of New Deal legislation and was appointed to the Supreme Court despite being a member of the Ku Klux Klan. (Incidentally, it was Black who authored the famous "separation of church and state" opinion in 1947 that fundamentally altered the legal interpretation of the establishment clause in the First Amendment.) FDR's attempt to pack the Supreme Court failed and hurt FDR politically, but by the end of his four term presidency he had appointed eight of the nine Supreme Court Justices and the Supreme Court was no longer an obstacle to his power. FDR's will had overridden the rational deliberations of the Court. In my book I compare the role of the Supreme Court to the role of Reason in the government and the executive branch to the Will, and under FDR the executive will prevailed over judicial reason, unbalancing the system. The people continued to vote for FDR despite breaking Washington's tradition of the two term limit on the presidency which allowed him to appoint so many justices. After FDR died, the two term limit was made into law. For one hundred and forty years every president had honored it despite not being required to by law. FDR is still the only president to have broken it in the two hundred and twenty year history of the republic. In the end the office was only pried from his cold dead fingers, as he died shortly into his fourth term. Like Superman FDR was a villain and a tyrant transformed into a hero. He led us into destruction, leading us in the Great Depression and in World War II, the most destructive war mankind has ever known. Ever since he has been a symbol to the progressive movement of the ultimate elitist, the Superman capable of dominating humanity and molding it to his will.

But can the will really be king? In my book I say Reason cannot be king, and the Will rules every individual by necessity. Why should I vilify Nietzsche, FDR and Superman? They are famous for elevating the Will to supremacy over Reason, and I have argued not so much that this is desirable but that it is the only way to understand a man or a government. The key, the difference between myself and Nietzsche's Superman, is the difference between Christ and Neo. The will can only make a choice that is first presented to it. A choice between two options requires those options to first exist. God has created the options. This is the Act of Judgment in chapter 7 of my book. "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." (Matt 12:30) A man either chooses to follow God or something else, and that something else could lead in many different directions which do not matter except that they are not in accordance with God's will. The difference between Neo and the Superman measured against Jesus Christ is simple: Neo and the Superman appeal to their own will and became slaves to all manner of various causes and beliefs. Christ submitted to God's will. Following Christ's example, Christians are to become slaves to the will of God.

Both Neo and Nietzsche believed their own will to be supreme, but neither escaped the logical requirement of choosing a path of principle. God always has the last laugh. If man does not utilize his will to serve God he will choose to serve something else. Whether or not he believes himself to be a servant is irrelevant. He is. Neo's ultimate choice was, in the end, a plan to end the war between man and machine. He was a servant of peace, not the supremacy of his own will over everything else. He merely cited his ability to choose his own course out of available options after rejecting the options others tried to choose for him. But the option was still available. Nietzsche is more complicated. Nietzsche did not believe himself to be a member of the super race. He was merely theorizing about what sort of society would come after Christendom had completely failed. Much like Hitler, his theory was based almost totally on Darwinian evolution. Nietzsche and Hitler, the great champions of the supremacy of the will over Reason, ultimately depended upon Science, what all modernists have believed to be the supreme embodiment of human reason. Therein lies the rub. Paths are always the realm of Reason, but more than that, this particular path, the path of Science, was always claimed to be the sole rational path. Those who followed it always claimed any other path was irrational. Nietzsche's belief was that there are two different kinds of human beings: Man and Superman. How did he come to this belief? How did he justify it? By citing nature, specifically the natural animal relationship between predator and prey. Why was Nietzsche so comfortable juxtaposing human and animal behavior? In the words of G.K. Chesterton: "Evolution ... does not especially deny the existence of God; what it does deny is the existence of man." Nietzsche was fifteen when Darwin published The Origin of Species. He was an important pioneer in the new philosophical paradigm surrounding Darwinism, a particular scientific understanding of human history that finds no defining line between man and animal. This view was a complete rejection of the Biblical world view from Genesis of the imago dei. Nietzsche's Wiki page puts it this way:

In 1866 he read Friedrich Albert Lange's History of Materialism. Lange's descriptions of Kant's anti-materialistic philosophy, the rise of European Materialism, Europe's increased concern with science, Darwin's theory, and the general rebellion against tradition and authority greatly intrigued Nietzsche. The cultural environment encouraged him to expand his horizons beyond philology and to continue his study of philosophy. 

A reader won't find a whole lot of references to Darwin in Nietzsche's writing, just as one wouldn't find a whole lot in Hitler's limited writings. Both of them however took Darwinian evolution for granted as a settled scientific fact. The entire Western culture had completely accepted it. What is assumed and believed by all is not a hot topic of discussion. What Nieztsche and Hitler both had that they felt others did not have was the courage of their conviction. If Darwinian evolution was really true, what are the consequences? What ought we to believe? We should believe that there is no free will, there is no difference between man and animal and there is no moral law governing our behavior. Our behavior is governed only by animal impulses, and there is nothing wrong with that because we are animals. And the possibility arises that even within the human race there is a natural, acceptable, racial hierarchy of predator and prey, of Man and Superman. 

You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals, so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.
~The Bloodhound Gang

That is the conclusion of modern rationalism, the worship of Science and slavery to Reason.

Now that's whack.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lessons in the Failures of Central Planning from the Annals of College Football

My beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers play their first game of the season in a few hours. I am a native of Lincoln, Nebraska and lived there for twenty seven years. I grew up watching the Huskers and have been a fan as long as I can remember. I still remember my mom jumping up and down on a trampoline in our basement to expend her excitement. For years she has refused to watch games because she gets too excited. She likes to recall that on gamedays even feminine stores would have the game on TV or radio, and everyone is wearing red. It's difficult to explain what Husker football means to the state of Nebraska and the city of Lincoln if you haven't experienced it. New York has Wall Street and is the media capital of the world. Los Angeles has Hollywood. Washington, D.C. is the nation's capital. Lincoln has the Huskers. When I was a boy I used to cry when they lost big games. I still remember losing the Orange Bowl in '93 when Byron Bennett, cursed be his name forever and ever, missed a last second field goal to lose a national championship game against Florida State. I still hate Florida teams with a passion. Every year the Huskers would win the Big Eight and by contract go to the Orange Bowl and lose to a team from Florida, usually Miami or Florida State. Thus the '94 Orange Bowl is still my favorite game. We beat Miami 24-17 in classic Husker style with two fourth quarter touchdowns off simple fullback traps. The massively talented Miami defense, including NFL star Warren Sapp, found out in the fourth quarter they didn't work quite as hard in offseason conditioning as a bunch of country corn-fed walk-ons. It was legendary coach Tom Osborne's first of three national championships. Boyd Epley, the Husker strength and conditioning coach for decades, eventually went on to be the president of a national association of strength and conditioning coaches as every college athletics program began to copy his Husker Power program.Year after year Osborne and Epley would take walk-ons and overlooked underdog recruits and turn them into the nation's best conditioned athletes. The entire Husker football team was Rudy, and we were good.

I've been to a lot of Husker games in my life, usually at least two a season and of course I went to every one when I had student tickets. The Nebraska Cornhuskers have by far the nation's longest home sell-out streak. All Husker home games have been sold out since 1962. Consequently home games have a lot of tradition. The best gameday tradition is the tunnel walk, when the players come out on the field. The second best gameday tradition is the releasing of helium-filled balloons when the Huskers score their first touchdown. You could tell when we had bad teams if the crowd decided to let them go on the first field goal instead.  The sky fills with red balloons and for several minutes it's quite a sight as they slowly drift up and away. Memorial Stadium is the third largest city in the state on gamedays, and half the crowd used to buy balloons. But not this year.

This year it was announced that there would be no helium-filled balloons because of a worldwide helium shortage. Not a huge deal, but it would be kind of disappointing if I were at a game. So this morning I decided to look up what happened with the helium supply. I know that helium is an important commodity for all kinds of things besides balloons, especially for scientific instrumentation which I have personally used in many laboratories, so it struck me as odd there was a shortage. After some quick reading, I no longer see it as odd there is a helium shortage. It's the same thing that caused the fall of the Soviet Union and the Great Depression: the failure of economic central planning. Again no surprise, the problem traces back to 1925 when the government decided helium was too important to be left in the hands of the private sector. The U.S. government now directly owns, manages and sells 30% of the entire world's helium supply and since 75% of the world's supply comes from the U.S., the federal government also controls the price of 75% of the world's helium. In all my days I couldn't dream up a better fictional story illustrating the failure of government central planning, and this story isn't fiction. Just a couple weeks ago I remarked to my dad that virtually everything that is wrong with the governance of the United States seems to trace back to the progressive era of the 1920s, plus or minus a decade, and today I find out there is a shortage of the second most abundant molecule in the entire universe because the government decided almost a century ago that it knew best.

Now that's whack.