michigan state university

Imagine if you actually met Jesus (Christ).

I’m not talking about the “Second Coming” or whatever, I mean what if you got transported back in time 2000 years ago and met Jesus of Nazareth. What would you see?

Studying the history of early Christianity really makes me appreciate how little we know about ancient history. Sure there’s some records here and there, but we’re really riding blind.

Imagine if historians 3000 years from now just have Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, this blog, and the ruins of Las Vegas to go on while studying our era. That would leave them with a pretty odd view. But that’s essentially what we’re going by when evaluating ancient times.

Every famous person from back then, like Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, was probably half a foot shorter than you imagine and you could have easily kicked their ass. What I am saying is that I can stomp the shit out of a Spartan. 300 was just a movie, a shitty one at that. I am taller, got more muscle, and when I’m when I’m trying to quit nicotine I can take anybody. ANYBODY.

sudden impact yur ass!

We should all be thankful that we still have Clint Eastwood. The man’s been working for close to 70 years. He’s an absolute legend.

The Hollywood GOAT?

Seriously, think about that. He’s an accomplished actor AND director. It’s a career that will never be topped. Ever.

Many have tried, notably Sylvester Stallone, but it’s just not possible. (To be fair to Stallone though, Eastwood was in much more competent hands earlier in his career between Sergio Leone and Don Siegel).

This being said, Eastwood isn’t the most innovative director. In fact, when he does make a great film, it’s as though he accidentally did so. His two universally acclaimed films, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, are mostly great because of their scripts (same with The Outlaw Josey Wales). Gran Torino appears to be a film with a lasting cultural impact, and while I wouldn’t say it had an outstanding script or direction, the movie works because of Eastwood’s personality, not because of anything he did behind the camera. But I’d say that Eastwood is to filmmaking what Steve Kerr is to the NBA…he’s extraordinarily competent.

Of course, when you go through a stretch where you’re making a movie ever 20 minutes, it’s hard to maintain quality.

Sudden Impact is one of the million Eastwood movies that gets lost in the shuffle. With a story from pioneering independent filmmaker and Arkansas legend Chuck B Pierce, this Dirty Harry sequel has our favorite 44 Magnum carrying San Francisco investigator being more dirty than usual. Eastwood’s then-wife Sandra Locke costars as woman exacting revenge against men who raped her 10 years earlier. I’d say that this is the best Dirty Harry sequel. Nay, this sequel is better than Dirty Harry, a film that defined raw 70s cop dramas.

What makes Sudden Impact so memorable is not the plot, I don’t remember if there was one, or character development or any of that bullshit. No, what makes this film great is watching Eastwood stumble from one scene to the next just absolutely beating the shit out of and shooting everyone. EVERYONE. To top it off, he runs around with a farting bulldog. He also kills a guy by just giving him a heart attack for fucks sake. Eastwood is just a straight up asshole, more so than usual for Dirty Harry. It’s probably that greatest Cannon film not produced by Cannon.

The film feels as though Eastwood didn’t want to return to the role and the only way they could convince him is if they allowed him to direct. And it payed off. Some of the best films made from this period were done when no one gave a shit. But Eastwood’s direction gave this entry an added edge, which is probably why Sudden Impact feels so different from the other Dirty Harry films.

While we still have him, I wish Eastwood would do ONE MORE Dirty Harry film. It’s what we need now more than ever: a 90 year old bastard just blasting the fuck out of bad guys with a 44 Magnum.

Do it Clint!

earthquake with charlton Heston

Los Angeles in the 1970s was a magical time. Actors quit caring about their physique. Producers were blasting cocaine into their brains. George Kennedy was a star. It’s a time that’s never been topped and it never will be.

Out of this era came Earthquake (1974) starring Charlton Heston and a bunch of actors in need of a paycheck (and co-written by Mario Puzo).

As disaster films go, there’s a long buildup to the “disaster”: Heston is bangin Genevieve Bujold, George Kennedy is an absolute asshole, Walter Matthau is a pimp drunk, and so on. It’s all standard stuff. Then comes the 4 hour earthquake where cardboard houses crumble and the people of LA forget how to handle such an event as they fall several stories out of high rises to their violent deaths. It’s delightful.

My only complaint about this sequence is that they didn’t do enough with Richard Roundtree’s part as a daredevil. It would have been pimp if he CRUSHED that obstacle course on his motorbike while buildings crumbled and people died all around him. Oh well.

Honestly, there’s a few good matte paintings here and there. But the standout is Marjoe Gortner’s performance as the sexually confused grocer/wannabe karate instructor/National Guardsman. It’s a performance that was ahead of its time.

The ending is good too: the city is in ruins and none of the personal drama gets resolved (of course, I was barely paying attention at this point).

I think this film provides a good insight into an era where Hollywood quit giving a shit, just as long as everyone made a fuck ton of money.

last temptation of Christ: a deeper revolution

The Last Temptation of Christ unsurprisingly stuck with me. Usually when I complete a novel, I think “hmm, that was nice” and I move on to the next thing. But Kazantzakis’s interpretation of “the Greatest Story Ever Told” is rewarding and leaves a lot to think about, especially if you’re obsessed with early Christian history.

I mean, obviously it’s not historically accurate. That’s not the point. The point is that the book brings these familiar characters to life. Jesus begins the book as a sickly carpenter before transforming into the messianic figure we’ve come to know and love. However, his humanity is emphasized. At times, Jesus comes across as a jerk with megalomaniac fantasies. This helps contextualize Jesus the man and the era he lived in.

This is best demonstrated by his relationship with Judas Iscariot. Judas is a true revolutionary with a hatred for the Romans and is often frustrated by Jesus and his message of love. Jesus feels that Judas’s revolutionary ideals don’t go far enough: the concerns for the body are temporary, Jesus wants to bring salvation to the world…Jew and gentile alike.

The various characters are often puzzled by this. This universalism is too lofty, too radical to ever be realized.

And this sort of remains true today. I’ve expressed my admiration for John Dominic Crossan views: Jesus was responding to the imperial authority of the Romans. Jesus and his followers might not thought of it in that way, but that was effectively what he was doing. I don’t think enough scholars, both Christian and secular, stop to appreciate this. Not even Bart Ehrman.

I think this is best demonstrated by the cross as the official symbol of Christianity. Jesus unquestionably died by crucifixion, perhaps the most ruthless form of punishment by the Romans. And none of the early Christian apologists deny that it happened. Stop and think about that: their very leader got “owned” by the Romans. In fact, it HAD to have happened so that he could be resurrected. So Christians took this event and chalked it up as a win for their beliefs, and a loss for the ruthless rule of the Romans.

Scholars often wonder how Paul was able to convince so many pagans to convert to Christianity (or, to be more historically accurate, his form of Christian Judaism, as Paul still thought of himself as a Jew), well maybe here’s an answer: Roman rule under the Pax Romana pissed off enough people that when they heard of a man who was resurrected after a crucifixion, conversion was a way to subtly stick it to the Romans. This could be why Paul put so much emphasis on death and resurrection in his theology.

Yes, I know there are plenty of problems with this theory, chief among these is how little the Romans are criticized in the New Testament. In fact, the Gospels explicitly blame the Jews for Jesus’s death and not the Romans, even though the Romans certainly DID execute Jesus. My response to this is that you don’t have to spend more than two minutes following populist/leftist politics before realizing that they hate each other more than they hate their opposition. It is my opinion (maybe more on that at another time) that this is fundamentally rooted in these kinds of movements. Even though the Romans were THE existential threat to life in the Mediterranean world, it would have been mainstream Judaism that were the primary theological/ideological opponents of early Christianity…even if the Jews were as much under the thumb of Roman rule as they were. This is heresy in the world of radical movements, what leftists might call “class traitors” today, and it wouldn’t take much for Christian writers to switch out Romans for the Jews in regards to who was guilty for Jesus’s death.

It is this narcissism of small differences that plague radical movements, religious and political alike, and I doubt early Christianity was any different. (See Monty Python’s Life of Brian)

It is difficult to tell if the real Jesus actually preached this message of universalism, or a peaceful coexistence of all people under one God. Crossan might, but it’s more likely this was extracted by later thinkers and is now considered the ethical message of Christianity IF people could move past their short-sightedness (maybe not under “one god”, but you get the idea).

Anyways, I’ve spent too much time on this post, forgot where I was going. The end.

what is truth?

Obviously I’m going through a Bart D Ehrman phase. It’s not because I agree with him most of the time or that I find him a master debater (sorry, had to say it). It’s because he’s the only public intellectual that I can think of at the top of my head that has a genuine passion for teaching.

Because Ehrman’s area of expertise is the Bible, specifically the New Testament and early Christianity, people naturally have strong opinions about the subject. Some people, specifically atheists but a few Christians aren’t exempt, like to use this subject as a way to “trigger” their opponents.

This is a fad on YouTube. The “Intellectual Dark Web” (IDW), or guys that found fame on the internet during the “alt-Right” hay day (people like Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, etc.) perfected the science of “triggering” (also known as “owning the libs”) and many online personalities have attempted to emulate it, including leftists with varying degrees of success. It’s a way of weaponizing information.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to discussions on the Bible, religion, and politics, but even movies and fucking geography!

Because “owning the line” is currency on YouTube, this has led to many quaks pretending to be experts littering the platform and distracting us away from those trying to present information in good faith.

Just because an opinion triggers someone, that doesn’t give it more credence. But that appears to be sound logic in some circles. Even if the opinion is true, if presented in a way that’s designed to give offense, that doesn’t make the one with the opinion more noble or virtuous…it makes you an asshole.

Thankfully my man Ehrman avoids that.

pee pee poo poo

The YouTube algorithm sucks sometimes. When you search certain people, you can’t rid their videos from your recommendations.

Bart D Ehrman, the distinguished James Gray professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is one such person. Not that I hate Ehrman, quite the contrary. The man knows the Bible better than anyone. But I don’t find the subject of “God’s existence” to be particularly interesting.

Nevertheless, I watched him debate this with a professional snake oil salesman named Kyle Butt. The subject they were specifically debating was “God and suffering”. Ehrman’s fans swear up and down that he won the debate, but no one “wins” a debate. Everyone loses (and, sorry to say Christians, but agnostics/atheists have the much easier argument).

But I’m always intrigued by how the “problem of morality” gets tossed around like a hot potato in a debate. Maybe I’ve spent too much time of Twitter and Reddit forums, but it feels that in our political climate that all sides wish to enter into a “post moral” phase where one can gain points by accusing their opponent of “moralizing”. However, I have never once found this to be convincing.

Mostly because it makes no fucking sense. Even if we move past “good and evil”, new social mores become established which sets up a whole other paradigm of morality.

When viewed in this political climate, the Ehrman/Butt debate seems outdated (it took place in 2014). Butt believed that there are objective platonic forms of morality established by God of the Bible, while Ehrman simply took a sublime, “know right/wrong when I see it” approach. Naturally, I agreed with Ehrman (even though I didn’t find it philosophically consistent).

But I think what Ehrman was trying (or should have) focused on was the power of empathy in understanding the conditions of our fellow humans. From my understanding, empathy is a real scientifically falsifiable phenomenon that everyone (except psychopaths) feels. HOWEVER, the power of ideology does everything it can to undermine this.

Ideology can take many forms, from personal, to political, to religious.

In my view, individualist ideology, propagated by consumer culture, is the most prevalent. In fact, it even lays the foundation for current political/religious ideologies. When viewed in this light, it makes sense why online atheists and the Christian Right are suddenly bedfellows: Christians can rest easy knowing that God is invested in their individual lives, and the fate and suffering of everyone else is in His hands. And atheists become unburdened in believing that there’s a moralistic force binding the universe together, and can instead focus on their own truths.

Either way, they don’t have to show concern over the suffering of their fellow humans.

I guess that’s another reason why everyone wants to jump on the “post moral” train.