Today, in Australia, is a public holiday for the Queen’s Birthday. So in honour of Her Royal Majesty, I have been watching the UK version of Humans. It is based on Swedish series called Real Humans.
In short, AI (called “synths” in the show) becoming conscious – feeling, thinking, and living in freedom. They embody various human traits – caring, agression, “philosopher”, etc. I like the way the UK does TV!
While the consciousness theme is fascinating, I have been struck by a question repeated throughout the series: “what is it like to be you?”. Of course, there is no answer because there is no point of reference. The question illustrates Existential Loneliness – only I know what it is like to be me. And the quote on my email signature comes to mind:
The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be itself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.
I feel like a large part of modern life is all about avoiding the question or escaping into “false answers”. (Doesn’t Merton write about that in No Man is An Island?) So the most important question in my life, who am I?, has to be faced alone before God. I can try to give an answer to others. But there is absolutely no need to justifiy myself to others – my beliefs or my actions. There is only One to whom I must answer – “the power that established me”. In the end I have to answer to my Creator by being “me”. I have to hold in tension the various aspects of my life – freedom and necessaity are at the top of my life at the moment.
So may the Heart of Jesus have mercy on you today!
So The Most Hated Family is the family associated with Westboro Baptist Church led by Fred Phelps. Let’s be honest: it is a cult. The argument is simple: I am right and if you disagree with me you are wrong. I was shocked by how narcissistic it all is. And how the fear of hell is used to motivate.
There is something very attractive to being told what is right and wrong. No heavy lifting! Simply obey. The sovereignty of God was mentioned a number of times. I cannot recall the compassion of God being mentioned. I find it very sad to see what people do to other people in the name of God!
At one point one of the members asks Theroux if he believes in the bible. Can I say that question confuses me?! When I hear that question I feel like the bible is elevated to being an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The bible is not the relationship but only informs and strengthens the relationship.
So putting it simply: I do not believe in the bible (a book) but in Jesus (a person). That does not mean I do not take the bible seriously. But I cannot take it literally. (I still have both hands and both eyes!) I am aware that it is written by different people who have experienced God to the fullest. And people who have experienced their own separation from God. It is a story I enter to experience God.
I doubt Jesus would hold the signs that these people hold up. I doubt Jesus would condemn people like this church does. And I think my relationship with Jesus is much more than obeying. But, alas, I envy these people’s confidence in their message.
I have been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. To be honest, it is not the first time. Or, I suspect, the last. The whole “beam me up Scotty” gives me metaphysical anxiety – is it the same person? Other aspects make me cringe – the utopian ideas. And “The Crazyhorse” makes me giggle.
Yesterday I was thinking about the Borg and the Captain as I watched Descent. There is a way that the whole Borg thing is very Kierkegaardian – the anti-single-individual. Yet at the end of the episode, Picard talks about the common good and it made me think of Fear and Trembling.
Picard is the Tragic Hero who sacrifices the self for the universal. But I was thinking about Christians and the common good. It is like love: “God is love” (1 John 4:16) but love is not God. The common good is not God. Working for the common good is not always working for God. And sometimes the common good can be anti-God.
I think I often mistake an idea for a person. I can only relate to a person, I can only love a person, but I can know an idea. I like The Imitation of Christ on this: to know is to take in but to love is to give. An important idea to hold before me – I am called to love people! And that loving is not always the same as the common good because it calls me to sacrifice.
Anyhow, that was much more involved than I had intended.
I have been watching some Netflix documentaries. I think it is an existentialist experience to watch some of these documentaries – real people doing real things with real feelings. And it creates a response in me.
A couple of days ago, I watched Bad Vegan. Very interesting! There are two issues raised for me: passion and responsibility.
At the end of the series, Sarma Melngailis goes to prison and then speaks about her experience. At the very end, when she is released, she reflects on a conversation with one of the guards. This conversation is all about converting the guard to veganism. It reminded me of St Paul in prison. How many of us are so committed to a cause?
The series is all about a relationship. Within this relationship (which was abusive) the question of responsibility is raised. All relationships include (at least) two people who are free individuals responsible for their actions. I think the question at the end of the series is how much responsibility do individuals carry for other people? It raises the legal but it made me think of the moral/philosophical question.
The other one I watched last night is The Tinder Swindler. It made me feel very sad. We have this need to “hook up” and will surrender all for love. And there are people in the world who will use this “need” for their own gain. It shows how fundamental love is for us as human beings and how it is beyond reason – it is a secular form of faith. It did make me very wary of Tinder!
We have this insatiable need for love that will never be met by anyone on this side of eternity. And the truth of that is shown paradoxically by those who chose not to play the game. The relationship we seek can only be a reflection of the relationship with the Absolute. And if there is no relationship with the Absolute then what sort of reflection are we seeing?
I admit that at the end I was somewhat upset by the smallish punishment of the swindler. Again, responsibility for actions.
So if all of that gives you an insight into my emotional state, good! I am struggling with the idea of relationships, passion (in the philosophical and physical sense), and above all responsibility. Merton speaks about reading novels, I suggest that we watch some good TV and enter into the suffering and struggle of others. Not to sit on the sideline with popcorn. Not to be a spectator claiming “that will never happen to me”. But to help the self become a real self before God. To become really human!
Filmmakers gain access to the community of Rockland Ranch in the middle of the Utah desert where 14 polygamous Mormon families have created unique homes for themselves carved out of a rock-face.
There is a common theme in some “cults” (I am not saying this is a cult): individuality gives way to the community. For the greater good (however, that is defined) individuals stop being individuals and become a cog in the machine. The individual’s task is to be a step for another to reach a “higher level of holiness”.
I watched the mini-series Chernobyl. I know there are issues with it – especially about what did and did not actually happen. As always the characters made it real for me. And, I admit, I still mourn Lane Pryce!
Surrender to the universal or stand by yourself. Advancement vs authenticity. What makes this more impactful is that these are real people with real choices. I was really struck by the end when pictures of the actual people are shown with their stories. And the personal cost of their choices.
Life is about choices. I think it is human nature to escape into the faceless crowd and push responsibility to an abstract. “I was just doing my duty”! The essence of faith is that I stand alone before God. I answer for me. That is really lonely in an existential sense. In the end, no one knows my pain or hurt, no one but me. There are things that go on in my head that only God knows. And He still loves me!!! Maybe the start of authenticity is accepting that I am alone before God?And the end is accepting that I am loved anyway!
As of last Friday, I am again in lockdown. Actually not only me but the whole of the state of Victoria. We had online church yesterday. We have now done it so often it has a feeling of normality. Nothing stops the people of God from worshipping – even from watching The Chosen.
During lockdown, I have been watching more TV than normal. So I thought I would share some of the shows that I have been marathoning:
Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults – I think Heaven’s Gate really illustrates that a cult is the opposite of the single individual. This is really good because it includes people who were part of the cult and continue to believe.
Westworld – season 3 as I have seen the first two
Versailles – only because I am amazed people dressed like that
Batman Begins – I have been listening to the soundtrack while working
There might be some I have forgotten. I might do another post for books which is much more interesting.
I have been thinking of rewatching Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series. I have enjoyed them in the past and, since we are back in lockdown, I have a little spare time. And Existentialist Comics has a great comic on the connection between Kierkegaard and Batman.
A movie is an experience. I think we sometimes over look the depth of some movies. I like the no-brainer movies too. But there are movies that make people think and, I think, the church should acknowledge that and work with it rather than against it. I think Jesus (and most certainly Kierkegaard) would use examples from modern movies to illustrate His points.
I have always thought that the three Nolan Batman movies had much philosophical depth. And I really like Batman as a superhero. So I did a quick Google and found this: The Dark Knight: Why So Existential? The post draws some very good connections with Fear and Trembling. It is well worth a read!
I might write more about Batman as I make my way through the movies.