Is True Blood Season 2 Fair to Christians?

With the ongoing romantic vampire trend, I will admit I have become a fan of the True Blood series. As for Twilight, I kept getting bored but then I only bothered to watch the first movie and it seemed silly (vampires sparkle?). I will force myself to watch the sequels at some point, maybe it gets better. I’m not sure how a Mormon author justifies writing about such ungodly creatures, but then Mormonism never made sense anyways.

I just finished up Season 2 of True Blood on DVD and if you haven’t watched it (well, don’t read on, spoilers included) one of the major storylines focuses on The Fellowship of the Sun. In this new world of vampires coming out of the closet to get along with humans, it is inevitable that there would be prejudice and a clash of beliefs. The Fellowship of the Sun is similar to a fundamentalist Christian church with a twist–they want to kill vampires in God’s name. This is because vampires are an abomination, much like homosexuals and probably atheists and Unitarians.

Now wanting to be fair, while watching this particular storyline, I wondered if the stereotyping went too far? It wasn’t just that these Christians–which let’s face it are a satire of mainstream activist ministries–were bigoted, but that they took the next step into violence as well as the usual hypocrisy. Being that I have a past with fringe Christianity, I figure I’m a pretty good judge of how believable this scenario would be if vampires did exist. I think the existence of The Fellowship of The Sun makes perfect sense. With interspecies relationships like Bill and Sookie, there certainly would be Biblical objections. Vampires would be considered walking demons, souless and in defiance of God who is the author of life and death. By cheating death and drinking blood to do it, vampires are cheating God. The irony is that Christians pretend to drink blood at least one Sunday each month.

So realistically, I think as humorous as The Fellowship of The Sun is, we would see something of its type appear on the church network and in particular the media (I’m sure James Dobson would be against vampires). However, did the True Blood writers go too far? Does having these Christians use violence to fulfill their gospel mission go over the top?

Anti-abortion groups are the best comparison here in that their violence is well documented and they purport to be Christians.  The fact is, the more literal you are about insisting on conception being the start of sanctified life, the more you have to concede that violence is justifiable homocide in defense of lives. Those pro-life groups who insist on nonviolence are borrowing more from Ghandi and hippies than the Bible. Jesus was a willing martyr with a self-glorifying motive, but remember he is still the same God who committed genocide in the Old Testament. The Fellowship of The Sun, I think, could easily be compared to a fringe anti-abortion group, many of whom brandished guns for the day when they would be called on to shoot an abortion doctor. I know, I saw one such gun on the hip of a pro-life leader on a regular basis.

So I do not think it too far-fetched to depict fundamentalist Christians staking vampires. Where the series goes too far is the suicide bomber. It didn’t seem to fit in as we think of the Muslim religion and not the Christian religion with such incidents. We can argue of course that the suicide bomber is a Muslim stereotype and therefore should not be reinforced. Unfortunately for Muslims, there’s plenty of evidence to back that stereotype up. Suicide bombings are a regular occurrence in the Middle East…but not in the United States. I was surprised to see Jason Stackhouse’s competitive rival within The Fellowship of the Sun walk into a room of vampires and blow himself up. It’s not an American thing to do and it’s really not a Christian thing to do. Christians, even when advocating or using violence, do not advocate killing oneself. Peaceful martyrdom could be considered a form of suicide, but I am not aware of any famous incidents where Christians have blown themselves up (feel free to correct me if you have some examples).

And as much fun as True Blood is, the Christian suicide bomber depiction I think could have been left out. It did feel over the top and wasn’t in keeping with how such fringe ministries might react. I would agree that suicide bombing is an act done in the face of  overwhelming power and I guess vampires would fit the bill, but still it seems to be lumping in Islamic fanaticism with Christian fanaticism and they don’t really mix well. The two groups act quite differently when it comes to violence. Freethinkers can still enjoy a guilty pleasure in this storyline, I’m merely making an observation to be geeky. Overall True Blood is an addictive show, though I have to say I hated the way Season 2 ended.

SIDENOTE: The DVD set does contain some funny extras with The Fellowship of the Sun ministry leaders teaching us how to be godly. Check out the last disc in the set.

Celebrity Leprechaun Stories

I drew this cartoon on a whim after being annoyed by the show Celebrity Ghost Stories. Yes, my wife watches the stupid show because she likes the “stories.” I actually like ghost stories too, as long as they are fiction or legend and not some ailing star from a long lost sitcom trying to recover fame by telling a lame haunting story. “Real” ghost stories are boring and obnoxious because it is based on personal experience and hearsay that are no better than waking dreams or gossip. Did you really see a ghost? Or are you just making shit up? Or are you even remembering what you saw?

I have always contended that if you believe you see ghosts than stop using the word “ghost.” They are something else found in the natural world. Ghosts are supernatural. What makes you think you can even perceive the supernatural with your plain ol’ natural eyes or physical equipment? Everything we measure using science is natural and there is no way to weasel around the definitions. If it is the supernatural, you have no way of knowing it or studying it while you are alive and restrained by nature. And if a ghost is part of the natural world or becomes part of the natural world than it isn’t supernatural? Cryptozoology would be a better field for trying to explain vaporous creatures who like to make doors shut and tip over chairs. It’s doubtful the unexplained cold draft in the room is your Auntie Edna. And by the way, weird shit just means it’s weird shit. Doors do close by themselves–happens in my upstairs bedroom all the time. Must it be a ghost? Is your life that dull?

If we’re going to do ghost stories, why not leprechauns? The reason is they are not fashionable. At one time people claimed to see all kinds of creatures from fairies to ghosts to witches. Ghosts seemed to have survived the ridicule but it’s time to roll our eyes again. Did you see a ghost? Really? Did your publicist advise you to dramatically retell it on national TV? Good for you, but you’re still not getting that part on Two and a Half Men

Where are the celebrities who will just come on camera and say it’s all just a bunch of horseshit? If you want to create some excitement in your life at least focus on aliens–in theory they’re tangible. We might actually considering believing you if you’ll present some real evidence of an abduction.

Three’s Company – Reverend Takes a Bribe

The elderly church patron feeling welcomed at Jack's Bistro

If you start reading my articles regularly you will realize I have an eclectic combination of bad taste and highbrow sensibilities. In the same evening I might watch an absorbing PBS documentary on evolution and then settle down to relax with a collection of poorly scripted sitcom reruns.

Which is why I have Three’s Company in my DVD collection. Being a fan of old vaudeville routines and slapstick, I appreciate the nonsense of this series as lighthearted and without malice–even when it is offensive it still feels inoffensive. The sexual innuendo that some conservative viewers might have a problem with I view as really charming in contrast to the blunt fashion of sexual humor in many other movies and series in the recent past. I would say Three’s Company with all of its blunders is appropriate for kids in general and should be watched as a family so Mom and Dad can either explain the jokes or just laugh at them as the kids trying to figure out what is so funny. Lucille Ball, the queen of classic blunder comedy and wholesome entertainment loved the show so much she guest hosted a best-of special of all the classic moments.

The reason I bring up Three’s Companyon this site is that the show got away with satirizing the more prude elements of American Society without being meanspirited. To give due credit to the premise, the show was originally based on a British sitcom Man About the House and then turned into an American hit quite by accident (nobody thought the show would do as well as it did. Even if you haven’t watched the show, you are probably aware that it starred the late John Ritter as Jack, who lives with two other girls in the same apartment–and they never “get it on.” A very innocent, but naughty show that tweaked what was polite and then seemed to apologize for going too far with a sheepish smile, only to do it again and again on each episode.

One episode I’d like to draw your attention to is called “The Brunch,” collected on the DVD set  for Season 7 where Jack has started his own restaurant called “Jack’s Bistro.” He is about to lose his liquor license because a certain Reverend Gilmore shut down the previous restaurant in the same building. The offending establishment was a tavern of sorts that attracted hookers. Jack has to prove he runs a clean joint suitable for the church public (hookers are a big no-no with the church unless it is behind closed doors). In that manner he will be allowed to serve wine.

SIDENOTE: How ridiculous it is that we are still under religious constraints on alcohol. Moderation in all things, is definitely my motto, but why is Sunday off limits for selling liquor? Because of the Christian religion! Of course wine can still be bought at any grocery store because I guess it is acceptable due to Jesus turning water into wine?

To be sophisticated you have to wear glasses

In order to prove he is an upright restaurant owner, Jack rigs the place with Janet and Terri dressed in their Sunday best as well as Larry bringing a sophisticated date(which means a hot blonde wearing glasses, see the picture on the left). As usual the situation is controlled until an unforeseen element is introduced. In this case, newlyweds. The good Reverend is seated and served and eventually warms up to the bistro as being godly enough to “allow” it to do business. Off to the side, one of his church patrons, an elderly woman is seated with Janet and Terri who do their best to make her feel welcome–which as an apparent widow she appreciates.

But damn those newlyweds, they start going at it and Jack has his hands full trying to keep Reverend Gilmore’s judgmental eyes away from their passionate kissing (aw hell, they’re married anyways). Add to that Mr. Furley, played by the hilarious Don Knotts, who starts drinking the champagne he’s serving and Larry’s date who likes to seductively dance once she has a couple sips of champagne herself and Jack’s Bistro is a sexy, happening spot. The Reverend finally turns around to see all the inappropriate behavior, which is none of Jack’s fault, and his wrath is restored. Fortunately, the elderly church patron steps in and defends Jack because he made her feel welcome and accepted. The Reverend is not swayed until she reminds him of her upcoming contribution to the church and then he suddenly kowtows like all good politicians–because churches are more political than holy, aren’t they? They have to meet the demands of their “paying’ pew members and can’t stand on principal alone, which is one of the reasons I got fed up with the mainstream church.  Three’s Company gets away with exposing this hypocrisy using a neatly wrapped ending to a series of sight gags. This is one of the better episodes from Season 7, not to mention Terri appearing in a bikini (yowza).

The uptight Reverend Gilmore wants no nonsense from Jack

With Freethunk, I probably am reading too much into this episode, but again the idea is to find these tidbits and give them notice as a nice escape from religious sensitivities. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with friends like Jack, Janet and Terri and yet they certainly don’t seem to be church attending Christians–far from it. They’re just good people, much like many Americans who find it is better to sleep in on Sundays than to be stressed out by a guilt-filled sermon followed by a gluttonous afternoon potluck (bad for the heart).

With services like Netflix, you can use your que to build a playlist similar to your music, and therefore I’m hoping some of my recommendations will get into the mix. I don’t believe Netflix allows for user playlists yet because they are probably scared of categories like “Best Atheist Movies” or “Best Skeptical TV Episodes.” I think it may come about somehow though.

Dragonwyck – Vincent Price as a Drug-Addicted Atheist

*** Stars

I am not one to malign a movie simply because it depicts an atheist as something other than a good moral citizen. I don’t think that is a befitting criteria to judge an overall film. It may be necessary to criticize a blatant Christian propaganda film generalizing atheists and other nonbelievers as being responsible for all of society’s ills (something Pat Robertson might do). This type of depiction has to do with prejudice, unless it is an excusable satire in which stereotypes are required for laughs. One bad atheist doesn’t spoil the whole lot just as one smelly Christian shouldn’t mean that the entire church stinks (a very odd way of putting it but I’m sure you are now imagining a smelly Christian).

With that said, I do like to examine movies that are morality plays focusing on good religion versus evil no-religion and Dragonwyck, an admittedly enjoyable gothic soap opera, does just that. It features Gene Tierney as the innocent Miranda Wells (the movie poster to the left doesn’t do her justice) and one of my all time favorites Vincent Price as the suffering but scheming Nicholas Van Ryn.
The movie opens with what feels to me as a suffocating existence of holier than thou farm living. Miranda’s father Ephraim, played by Walter Huston, emphasizes prayer and the Bible in all things. When the household receives an invite from Nicholas Van Ryn to allow for one of their daughters to stay at Dragonwyck, a mansion filled with servants and luxury, Ephraim is quick to dismiss it–but Miranda knows how to speak Christianese and says God has talked to her spirit, telling her to go. The whole matter is left up to random scripture picking, which if you don’t know is where you flip through the Bible with your eyes closed and put your finger on a verse (kind of like fortune telling). Whatever verse you pick you attempt to interpret how it relates to your situation. It sounds silly but I saw it done on occasion and I believe I even tried it as a kid. Miranda picks out a verse about Hagar going off into the desert which suggests that Miranda should go to Dragonwyck.
Once Miranda arrives at the mansion she is overwhelmed by it all. It is the life of the rich elite and yet, as the story unfolds, it is the telling of how serfdom was coming to an end, a favoring of the “peasants”. The farmers on Van Ryn’s land are refusing to pay tribute and demand that they own the land they have worked for decades. To make matters worse, Van Ryn has been unable to father an heir and he despises his gluttonous wife who loves sweets more than her own child Katrine. Then there is the ghostly sounds coming from a room with an antiquated harpsichord dwells with a painting overhead of a deceased woman who may or may not be haunting Dragonwyck. The movie does not make it clear if it is only certain characters that hear the noise or if there is actually a ghost, an ambiguity I appreciate and I prefer to think of the family members going mad because of their unhappy lives.
The entire picture of Dragonwyck is meant as a contrast to the hard-working, Bible believing farmers. While I felt Miranda’s family was too stern and judgmental the movie seems to favor them as well as the tenants of Van Ryn. Certainly, I don’t care for the stuffy rich either, but the family of Dragonwych is painted as utterly unhappy with misery around every corner. Van Ryn himself, though the word is not used, is explicitly described as an atheist. Later we find out he is truly a despicable person, almost to be pitied, and it is suggested because of his lack of belief that his only hope lies in power, money, and an heir. When he can’t have them there is no where for him to turn to but drugs.
Oh, and did I mention the murder? I always hate giving away too much, but someone dies within Dragonwyck. At the end of the film, you will be able to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and see how truly miserable the rich are.
This film was based on a book by Anya Seton and deviates somewhat from the Wiki article I read. I would be curious to read it to see if Van Ryn is depicted in the same manner as the film. Well, if we have to have a miserably unhappy atheist, at least it is Vincent Price in the role.

Inception – Wrap Your Mind Around This Movie

**** Stars

I don’t even know where to begin. Inception is a wonderful action thinker that manipulates time and dreams and spins the viewer in so many directions that after the popcorn is consumed and you leave the theater you are still trying to sort through all of the events leading to the end. That is a sign of a good movie.

For the skeptic, we could easily tear apart the fictional element of sharing dreams and director Christopher Nolan does not even bother with trying to create hard science. He simply assumes we can stretch our imaginations to a future when science is able to accomplish such a feat. Therefore we have a chemist who formulates unknown concoctions that put the participants into dream states combined with a box of electronics and wires attached to each person as they sleep. Within the dream there is an architect who builds the illusion, but it is the dreamer’s subconscious that populates the landscape. While it is interesting to speculate on the ability to be able to see what a person is dreaming we know it is currently not possible and at the very least Nolan didn’t resort to lazy writing and bring in psychics. He treats the ability to enter dream states as advanced technology and avoids mysticism…refreshing.

The plot could be ripped from numerous spy novels. Dom Cobb played by Leonardo DiCaprio assembles literal “dream” teams to steal valuable information from important individuals–new technology, business plans, stock market tips, etc. Because they are stealing the information from inside the sleeping mind they call it “extraction”. The question is, can they do the reverse? Can they plant an idea, one that won’t be rejected by the dreamer and one that will change the course of that person’s life (as well as the world)–forever!
What makes Inception work is that each event pulls you in as you try to understand how you got there and how it may relate to a past event or the opening event which was revealed to us. Time within dreams slows compared to time constrained by reality (which truly reminds us of the dream state) and there are dreams within dreams which bring up questions of how the mind can be manipulated into thinking a dream is real enough to cause another dream. Have you ever woken up from a deep dream only to find you are in a shallow dream until you finally wake up? Freud would love this movie if he could get past the loud sound effects and well directed action scenes.

I’m not even sure how to recommend this film. It is espionage combined with guilt combined with a lost love. It is people controlling a domain where we feel loss of control–a feeling that makes dreams feel so real because reality can often have the illusion of control. If dreams can be controlled  then it may be humanity’s last conquest over the mind. We use drugs and stimulants to alter our moods but dreams are elusive, otherwise most of us would engage in love and lust every night and avoid the nightmares.

I recently watched a Nova special on what dreams are. There is still not a definitive answer but one of the prevailing thoughts is that dreams are a testing ground, similar to child’s play. We experience nightmares so as to emotionally and possibly even physically prepare ourselves for some challenge. Whether it be something as simple as finding the room where you are to interview for a new job amongst a maze of office spaces or tackling the rapist that comes for your family. The evolutionary reasoning suggests something similar to interactive fiction for the sake of preparation–one of the reasons we also watch violent horror films.

You would think with an action movie about dreams that the movie itself would take on a surreal quality and it does to some extent–but for the most part it felt real throughout the film. Nolan did not abuse the dream world by going too far into the realm of the fantastic. Dreams try to associate random events from our lives, often boring events and scenes, and he does this well by having a loved one appear from a painful memory or a train come out of nowhere because the main character cannot control his guilt. There are no people flying because they wish to be superheroes or extraordinary powers such as dream realization. At best, one character can trick the mind into thinking he is someone else and dream a bigger weapon than another character. It is a careful balance that could easily have been toppled by the ridiculous.

To me the results are satisfying and yet unsatisfying as you would like to probe Nolan for answers to what actually happened to get the main character from point A to point B and did we miss some clue that would have revealed the overall mystery? I don’t believe a review can even describe the film, it has to be seen and reflected upon. Some viewers will be lost and others will be frustrated, but I believe those viewers with patience will appreciate what Nolan has built.

Incredulity Cartoon

In some way, we’re all guilty of incredulity at some level but it becomes bothersome when someone says, “You can’t know for sure such and such event didn’t happen.” Well of course, but then is there any reason to believe it did?

I think we can reasonably rule out the Biblical story of Noah’s flood for example, either by simply contemplating how logical it would be for animals to line up in pairs (putting aside the ones that reproduce asexually) and march onto a boat like something out of a quaint Disney animated cartoon. The counter argument is always, God is all powerful–he can do anything! Then why didn’t God just make all of the innocent animals and people disappear while the flood was happening and return them when he was done drowning the wicked? Better yet, why didn’t God simply snap his fingers and make all the wicked drop dead. How come it was necessary to kill seemingly innocent animals (I don’t know, maybe animals do commit sins) to punish wicked men and women. The more logical explanation of the flood story is that the people of that era were simply trying to explain a disasterous event. After all, they weren’t scientists.

Lest you think I’m close-minded, I once was a literalist. I did believe in Noah’s Flood as a young ardent creationist. Creationists regularly defend the flood myth by trying to come up with logical answers versus miraculous ones. Answers to problematic questions of large dinosaurs fitting onto the Ark. Their retort is that maybe God allowed for baby dinos to be saved which are small–which brings up even more questions. First of all, it doesn’t state anything about baby dinos in the Bible and second of all, how are these babies marching in pairs to get to the Ark when they may need the support of their parents. The better reply would be, “God shrank the animals to fit inside the Ark.” You know why Creationists (well, most creationists) won’t say that? Because it sounds ridiculous.

And yet a defense of a miraculous story should contain more miraculous suggestions, not logical-sounding ones or scientific-sounding ones. Why do creationists and Christians in general feel the need to sound scientific? Because in a time of modern media and technology their stories are embarrassing when you take them literally, they equal the imagination of fairy tales.

The end result of evolution can be incredible, but it is a natural process that can be traced and researched. And as always, what is incredible is relative. From our small human vantage point we may not understand that a creature as complicated as say a giraffe is but one of many creatures designed over time by natural selection. If nature were personified she might say, “What’s all the fuss? I make and destroy animals all the time. ”

While atheists may use incredulity to mock religion because the stories have no basis in reality, literalist Christians use incredulity to avoid looking at the science. I know I did. When I was a creationist, one of the favorite arguments was to find a complex organ like an eye and say it is too complex for natural selection. Now that I have come back around to discovering evolution (feels like it has taken a life time to begin to grasp how powerful natural selection is) I keep finding a multitude of explanations by qualified scientists for how eyes developed or other structures that may have taken research and reflection to understand. It is lazy thinking to gasp in incredulity and then be so arrogant as to think there is no explanation for it based on natural processes. The unexplained is not the domain of the gods, it is simply a holding pattern until the “aha” moment of a scientific mind grasps what happened.

Dare I make this statement: Atheists are justified in their incredulity while Christians are not. I don’t know if it is fair, but it is hard for me not to suggest it because the claims of miracles aren’t falsifiable–you either believe or you don’t. With evolution, you at least have a concrete subject matter that you can test and debate and new information is ever forthcoming. Even as it is an established Scientific Fact, Christians can still challenge the evidence. Noah’s Ark is a story with no evidence–an incredibly ridiculous, but entertaining bedtime story.