Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fourth Annual Ralphies

Ah, the Ralphies. This year, for me, has been a year of retrenchment, retreat, and hunkering down to work, and I don't feel that I've been in a lot of touch with the outside world of movies, books, etc. On the other hand, that's never stopped me before, has it? So, on with the highly idiosyncratic awards. I expect all of you to follow suit. Yes, you too. Don't try to hide behind that sign. I see you.

BEST MOVIE: Actually, there are still of lot of movies I'd like to see that I haven't. They'll have to wait until they show up on the Netflix queue. Of the movies we actually got out to see, the best and most thoughtful was probably The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen). However, the one I liked the best was The Simpsons Movie. So Homer gets the Ralphie this year. Woo-hoo!

BEST RECORD: A couple of my favorite bands had new records this year — the Fiery Furnaces with Widow City and The National with Boxer. Good stuff, but my socks remained on my feet, if you know what I mean. Like other baby boomers, I really enjoyed Raising Sand with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. And, I spent a lot of time catching up with records from the past, and the best record I listened to this year (and one of the best ever) is Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson (1982). But the Ralphie has to go to a record from 2007 and this year it goes to Icky Thump by the White Stripes. Loud, messy, and good.

BEST BOOK (FICTION): Again, it was a year of reading old favorites and not reading a lot of new stuff. Besides the old favorites, I did read a few novels by Charles Portis, Jay MacInerny, and Doug Coupland. But the only 2007 fiction book I read is a worthy winner of a Ralphie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The whole series is a great achievement, and will no doubt prove to be an enduring classic.

BEST BOOK (NON-FICTION): I don't think I actually read a non-fiction book published this year. However, the Ralphie for Best Non-Fiction that I did read goes to Baruch Halpern's David's Secret Demons (2000). It elevated the whole question of minimalism vs. maximalism to a new plateau of sophistication and made both sides look shallow by its very erudition. (This achievement is not lessened by the fact that Halpern is plainly and perversely wrong in many of his exegetical judgments.)

BEST TV SHOW: My usual favorites are all on the list: The Office, Lost and the Fox Sunday night animated lineup. The Office wound up its 3rd season in a blaze of glory, and then stumbled in its 4th season, at least what we've seen so far. When Pam and Jim got together, the air just seemed to go out of the series. The only shows that consistently made me laugh out loud were Family Guy and 30 Rock. But I'm giving the Ralphie to Lost for a great story, compelling acting, and for featuring the hero of demented 50-something guys everywhere, Terry O'Quinn as Locke.

That's it for this year, folks. If I didn't link to something, just Google it, will ya, or look it up on Wikipedia. Do I have to do everything? Sheesh.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Satan, Romney, and 2008

An election is coming up — so they tell me — in 2008. And that can mean only one thing: Total boredom for the next 12 months. Yes, politics makes me weep for its very dullness, and an election year is the worst of all, because it’s so difficult to avoid.

Most annoying are the people who say, “Tut-tut! Don’t you think it’s important to make an informed choice? Don’t you feel it is your bounden duty as a citizen to pay close attention to all the candidates and then cast an intelligent vote? Huh? Don’t you?” My answer to that is: Yeah, I guess. But I don’t think it’s necessary for me to spend a huge amount of time figuring out where I should cast my vote, which will count for 1/190 millionth of the total voice of the electorate. As usual, I will spend a couple of hours the day before the election reading up on the platforms, and then decide in the voting booth.

Fortunately, however, the current campaign seems to be diversified away from the usual boring policy discussions and is getting into something that is actually interesting, namely, theology. Mike Huckabee, in connection with Mitt* Romney’s Mormonism, asked the question, “Don’t Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers?”

Now I don’t care whether Huckabee had a political agenda in asking that question or not. Probably he did. What I do care about is this: Do Mormons actually believe Jesus and Satan were brothers? And the answer seems to be yes:

On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some—especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations. But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. Jesus Christ was with the Father from the beginning. Lucifer, too, was an angel “who was in authority in the presence of God,” a “son of the morning.” (See Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:25–27.) Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the Firstborn of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother. (See Col. 1:15; D&C 93:21.)

The actual import of this is not, as the Mormons point out, that Jesus and Satan are friends. They aren’t. But they are “spirit brothers,” which, I assume, means that both of them or neither of them are “one with the Father” in the credal sense. In short, Mormons are not Trinitarians in the traditional Christian way; and therefore, arguably, are not Christians.

I mean this in the formal sense. I take it for granted that “being a Christian” can be understood in a formal sense, wherein dogmatic definitions long held in common by all churches (such as those of Nicea and Chalcedon) define what “Christian” means. “Christian” can also be taken in a material sense, in that someone who is formally a heretic or even an “unbeliever” can have (or be on the way to having) saving faith in Christ, although unable to articulate it properly or (in the case of the unbeliever) unaware of it. The opposite is also true, that someone who is formally a Christian, in the sense of assenting outwardly to the formal dogmas of the faith, may materially not be one, in the sense of being unregenerate and having no actual, saving faith in Christ.

It follows then, that Mitt Romney may or may not be a Christian (material sense), but is certainly not a Christian (formal sense). Does this make any difference politically? Or should it? I assume that our overall judgment of someone’s fitness for office in this country should concentrate on whether their policies conduce to the common good, and not whether they belong to a particular group (even if it is our group). Our theology will influence our views of what policies are best for the commonwealth, but we regrettably can’t assume that the candidates will draw the same conclusions from their theology (or lack thereof). We can only look at the policies themselves. Therefore our decision must ultimately rest on the boring grounds of public policy and not on the interesting grounds of theology.

It’s gonna be a long year.

*What kind of name is “Mitt”? Shouldn’t it be “Mitch”?