Monday, October 3, 2011

Batman vs. God?

     Some of you know that I am a nanny. Or a governess. I can't decide on which title I like better. Anyway, one of the perks of my job is the Theater Room, which my wonderful employers let me use whenever the kids are napping or I am off-duty. I love television. I just love it. Even television that is not 24, I love. I especially like crime shows. Like Law and Order! Ooh, I have the biggest crush on Detective Goren! … Ahem! But none of this is the point. The reason I brought this up was because I was going to tell you a story involving TV and my love for it. My boss, you see, recommended that I watch a show he has on Netflix called Mad Men. He warned me, however, that the characters have highly questionable morals. “Oh, that’s okay,” I replied dismissively. “I decided a long time ago that I love TV more than ethics.”

     I was joking, of course. To signify this, I laughed. I also said, “I’m kidding, I’m kidding.” My boss laughed too. But it kind of struck me as funny on a different level, because once upon a time, I meant it.

     I’m sure you can guess the time. It was during my family’s stay in an abusive church. Most of us in that church did not watch TV. In fact, many of us didn’t even own television sets. Movies were okay (if you had ClearPlay), but TV was from The World, and was therefore evil to the highest extent.

     Ahh, The World! It was our Mordor. Nothing from The World could be godly, and if you even exhibited a vague inclination towards what we called “the things of the world,” it would surely lead you straight down into the fires of Hell.
     Perhaps you would be interested in knowing what the phrase “the world” meant for us. Basically, although I would have denied this at the time, the world was any philosophy or thing, especially entertainment, that came from outside or was not sanctioned by our own organization. Not our denomination. Not even our movement as a whole. Our particular church. Everything that was from the world was evil, tools used by the devil to ensnare us and lead our wandering feet down the paths of darkness. Movies, television, books, music, all of it was wickedness. If it was something that “looked okay,” that was particularly dangerous. I had this vague idea that things like television and books without an overtly Christian theme had this subtle, hypnotic power, and they would turn you into an atheist without your knowledge or permission.

     To illustrate just how far this phobic loathing of the world went, I will tell you that our pastor once condemned Nancy Drew from the pulpit. I will say that again, as you have no doubt convinced yourself that surely you read that wrong. He. Condemned. Nancy. Drew. Nancy Drew. I am proud to say that I completely ignored this one, but really, pastor? Nancy Drew? Please. Does it get more harmless than Nancy Drew? She did go to church, so that was one thing she had going for her, but still! Even if she hadn’t, Nancy Drew was not written by Satan in order to trick us into being Bible- and/or bra-burning feminists or whatever it is we were afraid of. But she was from the outside, from the world. And that was inexcusable.

     Here’s the thing, though. Nothing would have persuaded me to give up Batman. Nothing. And the pastor actually did half a sermon on the evils of The Dark Knight, which I went to see in the theater three times and which I loved with my whole soul (this was before I had been introduced to Jack Bauer and there was still room in my heart for other heroes). His reasoning was that humanity, disgustingly sinful as we were, got a thrill from seeing the pure, undiluted evil in the Joker’s character, and feeding that dark side was dangerous. I believe he used the word “wallowing.” I had really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I loved God. But on the other hand, I also had a very strong attachment to Batman. I just couldn’t give it up. There were many things like that. I love to read, so there were fiction novels lying all around the house. Fun books without any deep meaning, you know. And there was my music. I’m not the biggest fan of Christian music for its own sake. I don’t have hymns on my iPod. I have movie soundtracks and Driftless Pony Club and Fort Minor. My taste is pretty tame and it doesn’t lean toward anything that would have gotten me excommunicated, but still, it all had elements of the world in it. And that was bad, wasn’t it? We were constantly told that we had a choice to make: was it going to be God or the world? There was no coexistence, no harmony, no "in and not of." It was all so black and white. Which do you love, Andrea? Batman or God?

     And I had this constant feeling of terrible defiance. I never really felt that Batman was evil. I could not convince myself of that. But at the same time, the pastor’s word was law. So I actually ended up making the conscious choice that I was going to choose Batman and ask forgiveness later. I truly couldn’t help it. I guess it’s just some weird quirk in my personality, but I get really attached to fiction and to fictional characters, and I lived in constant terror that something I loved would be taken away from me. Thankfully, my parents dismissed the Batman-is-evil thing with the same contempt I did, but still.

     Now, I just want to make it very clear that Batman was never and “idol” for me. Neither is Jack Bauer, believe it or not. I love those guys to death, but the idea of replacing God in my life with a fictional character (actually, anybody at all), no matter how awesome, is just laughable. And I’d know if I had. There was no subconscious idol-making.

     I see now that I never did choose Batman over God, because the god they showed me never really existed at all.

     We were taught that the path to Him was unclear, full of pitfalls and snares. Only the pastor, the elders, and the long-dead church fathers knew the way, and we were just darn lucky they decided to share their illumination with us poor simpletons. (Sidenote: I always had trouble trusting the church fathers because I love facial hair as much as the next person— probably more, actually — but these men took it too far. Really, John Calvin? An eighteen-inch beard? Who does that?) Especially with the things of the world— they knew how dangerous it was and we couldn’t spot it for the life of us. Everything that looked innocent was actually a demon in disguise, and we lived in constant fear of the outside world and what it would do to us if we did not remain firmly rooted in our church. Disney movies, secular music of any kind, every single TV show without exception, books without an overtly Christian theme or whose characters didn’t pray in every chapter; all of these things would send us straight into the waiting arms of the devil. And the pastor knew these things and we didn’t. Any of this sound familiar? That’s Catholicism. And it’s just a beautiful irony that they were so obsessed with the Reformation.

     I can see now just how screwed up all that was. That’s happening more and more lately. Of course TV isn’t evil. Of course it’s not. I’m not an idiot, and neither are you. I’m not denying that art has a powerful influence over the human mind, and of course I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as subtle manipulation. But come on. I think we’re smart enough to figure these things out for ourselves, don’t you? I’ve made up my mind that I shall watch Mad Men, and like it. They used to paint these pictures of the TV putting you in a trance and when you wake up you find out that you’ve absorbed all the philosophies and morals (and lack thereof) of the characters on the screen. But think for a moment. When has that actually happened to you? Never. You watch these movies. You process the things that happen, and you analyze. You discover the message and decide whether or not you agree. Or perhaps you are simply entertained and you walk away with a supply of stupid quotes to use in situations where they’re completely out of context (I don’t think you understand. These boys killed my dog.) Either way, you did not turn into a monster or an emissary of Satan by the simple act of watching TV or reading a book. That doesn’t happen, and telling you it does is just another way to scare you into doing what you’re told.

     I guess I have two points to make here: the “things of the world” are most emphatically not the two things that abusive churches make them out to be, namely a) possessing a strange and inexorable hypnotic power and b) hideously evil.

     Because if you think about it, Batman is not evil. Batman is AWESOME. I will go to my grave declaring this. It’s the same with Nancy Drew. That girl is adorable. And Law and Order, which I have no doubt the pastor would have condemned if he had thought of it. Sure, there are some things out there that really are shocking. But they aren’t nearly as plentiful as I was once led to believe.

      Basically, all I want to say is this: watching TV is not wallowing in evil. It’s not a Babylon Box, as I have actually heard it called. Don’t feel guilty for loving the “things of the world.” I think God likes for us to enjoy ourselves. Also, you are not an idiot. You do not need someone else to tell you what to watch and what to read and what to listen to. God created us with the ability to seek and find the truth here. Pastors are really not that much smarter than the rest of us. As long as you really do love God, you’re pretty much good to go.

     I do love God. I know that much. I also know that I love Batman. And Jack Bauer. And I am sure that soon I will also love the Mad Men. The world is not a place to fear. It is a place to understand and enjoy, and to live in! And I know. I was born here.


  1. Andrea,

    As usual, I believe you have stumbled onto something much bigger than you realize. I applaud your natural insight and I hope you continue to study and learn. I don't think you will be disappointed (That goes for "Mad Men" also. Becky and I have thoroughly enjoyed it as our "after the kids go to bed" adult time.)

    I will try to keep my thoughts as succinct as possible. There will be a ton of rabbit trails that won't be followed but hopefully others will chime in and a good discussion can ensue. So here goes.

    Most would point to 1 John 2 to show that we are not to "love the world or the things in the world". This is typical (especially American Fundamentalist) Christianity. The idea is roughly there is a war going on and those "outside" are trying to drag us to hell and we must keep ourself un-stained by limiting any contact with "evil culture".

    There is a correlating idea that Christians should have the attitude that "this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through" and that "Satan rules this evil age or world". "Pilgrims Progress" probably encapsulates the perfect ideal of this worldview. Please don't get me wrong, I think PP is GREAT literature (and Bunyan was a great Christian) but that doesn't make it good theology. I actually think it is very BAD theology. Unfortunately this theology has influenced Christianity in a very negative way. (Rabbit trail here, ask me later)

    Ok so back to 1 John 2: Remember audience relevance is key. We must understand what John is saying as his original audience would have. The major thing going on in the NT was the question regarding Jesus. Was he the Jewish Messiah or not? Who were the true children of God, the followers of the Way (heretics) or the leaders of the Jews (Pharisees, teachers of the law, Judaizers, etc.) Many Judaizers had infiltrated the early church and were preaching a perversion of "Christ plus law". (Think old wine into new wineskins parable.) (Another rabbit trail... ask me later)

    We can know a few thins for sure from 1 John 2:
    1) His readers where not to love the world or the things of the world
    2) The things of the world were "lust of the flesh" and "pride of life"
    3)That "world" that they were not to love was passing (present tense) away and it was the last hour.

    If you read the rest of the chapter you will clearly see the context of who are the real children of God.... the Judaizers or the Christians.

    We also can logically deduce a few simple facts from the observations above.

    If we can accurately identify what John means by "world" we will be able to know what passed away or was passing away or vise versa, if we identify a world that was marked by lust of the eyes and pride of life and that passed away we can confirm John's definition of "world".

    One thing we know is that John can't be talking about the physical universe or modern non-christian culture. Neither of those are in a state of "passing away". The physical world is still as solid as it was 2000 years ago and the non-Christian culture has ebbed and flowed alongside Christian culture since the beginning of time. (Super rabbit trail... ask me later.)

  2. Cont.

    So what was passing away and about to fully pass away when John wrote this letter.

    Very simple, it was the Old Covenant World of the sacrificial system. (OC for short). The OC world had to pass before the NC world could be consummated. Hebrews 9:7-9/2 Corinthians 5:1-6

    Lets see if my hypothesis holds:

    Timing: John clearly says that the "world" was passing away. He also notes that it was the last hour. The NT is replete with "end of the age" language. I would posit that they are referring to the end of the OC age. (Huge rabbit trail here.. don't ask me if you don't want to get into trouble.)

    But how can the "lust of the eyes" and the "pride of life" be apart of the OC world. Certainly if I see a hot woman walking down the road I can lust after her? Of course, but that is not what John had in mind. That is normal human emotion. That is the kind of evil that existed before the fall, hence the tree of the "knowledge" of good and evil. (Another dangerous rabbit trail.)

    Most Jews rejected Christ, why? They were in love with the types and shadows of the Law/Sacrificial system instead of realizing that those pointed TO Christ. Eve saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and would provide wisdom (Gen. 3:6) and she ate. This is the "lust of the eyes" that John is talking about. By the time of Christ, the Jews were in love with their law. They believed that they were closer to God because God chose them and gave them the law. Everyone else had to come through them to gain access to God. Ironic because God gave more law so that "sin" would abound. And here in front of them stood the fulfillment of the law (Christ / tree of life) and they were rejecting him.

    Now for pride of life. Check out Luke 3:8 / John 8:39. Notice were their pride was. "We have Abraham as our father". Also notice John 5:38-40. Their pride of having the Scriptures kept them from seeing Christ. They were so proud of the "life" that God gave them ("law" Deuteronomy 30:14-20) that they missed the entire message that that law pointed to!

    Just a side note. Josephus tells us that the Temple was seen as a cosmos or heaven and earth. The Jews didn't think like we do. Their "world" was their relationship to God. Do a search on heavens and earth and you will quickly realize that most of the time it is talking about people (Jews). (Hint, the sea is the Gentiles). Even our Duet. passage above shows how this works.

    Ok, so John is warning his readers to not love the old world that they left and that was now persecuting them from the outside and introducing destructive heresies from the inside. There was a huge temptation for Jewish Christians to return back to the old way (and Gentiles to be circumcised). After all, it had been a while since this Jesus had lived, died and disappeared. The Temple still stood and Jesus promised that not one stone would be left upon another before that generation died out (Matt. 24). That generation was quickly coming to an end and the temptation would be to see Jesus as a false prophet according to Duet. 18:22 (A Biblical generation was 40 years...hmm 40 years in the wilderness...?). Add to this that life sucked for a Jew that converted to Christianity. You lost your social standing, business, etc. etc.

    All of Johns writing are written to Jewish audiences. We know because of a few reasons, one of which is the Jewish literary style. (Lots of chiasms, Hebrew poetry, etc.)

  3. Cont.
    So what is the rest of the story? Well, that "world" did come to a fiery end. When Rome surrounded Jerusalem in AD 66 (don't quote me on the date) the Christians realized that "her desolation was near". Vespasian had the city surrounded but guess what. Nero died and Vespasian left to go solidify his reign as the new Emperor. The Christians realized that this was their cue to "get out of dodge". The Jews saw this as Divine deliverance, per OT protocol.

    The Jews degenerated into more civil war and the "lust of the eyes" and "pride of life" consumed them to the point of killing each other. Vespasian sent Titus back to finish the job because he was tired of these Jews causing problems. (They were expecting a Messiah to deliver them from Rome and set up an earthly kingdom and there were many men who claimed to be that person. Hence the civil unrest that was normally unheard of under Pax Romana (Interestingly enough this was a 3 1/2 year period!)

    It just so happens that the Romans surrounded Jerusalem during one of the biggest feast celebration. The whole nation was in and around Jerusalem when Titus showed up. What does a faithful Jew do when foreign armies attack. Run to the Temple. God will protect his people!

    Only one problem.... There was a New Temple in town. Actually not in town... in the Heavenly Jerusalem. That Temple was the body of Christ and that is where God would dwell with man from now on....

    So as the faithful Christians are leaving Jerusalem the un-repentant Jews crowded into the city. If you want to read a real life horror story, read Josephus's Jewish Wars. Makes your stomach turn.

    Not one stone was left on another! Jesus was proved a true prophet! The Christians were exonerated and justified as the true children of God! (Think Cain and Able. Cain rose up against his brother and persecuted him but God vindicated Able and his sacrifice!)


  4. Last continued!!

    So where does that leave us with 1 John 2?

    Well, first of all we need to realize that the "world" John was talking about no longer exists! Just think about that for a minute! How would this reality change the way that we look at the outside world? We are priest's to the outside world. We bear the image of Christ to let the world know that there is only one true king... King Jesus. And he rules through his church by love, sacrifice, peace and justice, not legalism, pharisaism and man made "religion". We have nothing to fear from the outside world! It is our playground and our daddy owns the property. Yeah sometimes we will have to control ourselves or stand up to bullies but it is still our playground.

    But is there any application we can draw from 1 John? Usually most people think that if you see things fulfilled in the NT, then you don't believe there is any application to our lives today. Nonsense. Even though the specific "world" that John was taking about passed away there are still plenty of man made worlds to love. The biggest for Christians and a good application that I would draw from 1 John 2 is the legalism / hypocrisy of religious systems. I want to avoid falling into the trap of "lust of the eyes" and "pride of life" that is wrapped up in self righteous living. Looking at other Christians or even non-Christians and saying or thinking... "I'm better than you" or "I'm on the inside your not" or "stand over there, away from me, because you are stained by the world" or even "if you don't interpret the Bible like I do you are a compromised Christian or apostate or really just a fake".

    I think you get my drift.

    Another great study is the word element (greek word stoicheion) that 2 Peter 3 uses. Look it up and see how it is used in the NT to refer to the OC system that only brought death. 2 Peter 3 confirms 1 John 2 that that world would be dissolved very shortly (for the original audience).

    Ok that is enough. I am sorry for the long post but I think you will see how you hit the nail on the head. You may not have realized how big the nail was!!!! Please feel free to question or challenge anything. I hope others will chime in as well. This is a fascinating subject and life changing if we catch the reality of it all. (Talk about freedom!!!!!)



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