Star Wars Has No Good Guys


Over at The Federalist, I indulge in the pointless fan squabbles concerning the Star Wars universe.

There’s been a lot of chatter at the Federalist about who the good guys are in the Star Wars universe. Some argue for the Jedi; some for the Empire. Even Ted Cruz has a public opinion, and he sides with the Rebels. I’d like to offer another perspective: Star Wars has no heroes.

Let’s start with the Jedi, who prove to be inherently untrustworthy. Maybe one could excuse a these-aren’t-the droids-you’re-looking-for every now and then, since one might be justified in lying to an enemy in the context of war, but the Jedi lie to friends and enemies alike.

You can read the rest here.

Halloween: a Distinctively Christian Holiday


I have an essay on the Christian roots of Halloween over at Reformation 21. Read it at your own peril.

Death and darkness dominate America’s Halloween celebrations. Children dress as ghosts and ghouls, and October is the season for horror films. Many Americans, both Christian and non-Christian, think that this fascination with the macabre must be anti-Christian, but actually Halloween is a Christian holiday. I’m not saying that it’s a holiday that every Christian must enjoy and participate in, but I am saying that its celebration is rooted in Christian tradition.

You can read the rest here.

Politics and Religion in Ridley Scott’s The Martian


The Martian is good science fiction. It has a hard-edged realism combined with a compelling plot. In the near future, NASA is sending manned missions to Mars, but the Ares III mission runs into trouble. The crew leaves behind astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, because they think he’s dead, but Mark, who isn’t dead, decides that he doesn’t want to die on Mars. He begins working on a plan to get off the planet.

Director Ridley Scott manages to strike just the right balance of humor and tension, and Matt Damon does an excellent job giving us a hero we can root for. Damon’s got most of the screen time, and for most of his scenes he’s acting alone. Pulling off solo scenes successfully proves one’s acting mettle. The rest of the cast does a great job too (though I think an Oscar nod should go to Mackenzie Davis for imbuing a minor role with awesomeness). And let’s not forget to mention the topnotch special effects that are so good that you almost don’t notice they’re there. What a novel concept—effects that serve the story.

And it really is a good story.

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What Has Gotham to Do with Jerusalem?

Over at Reformation21 I’ve got an essay in which I think about the Joker, Batman, and the nature of evil from an Augustinian perspective.

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In the world of comic books, people don’t get more evil than the Joker, but thankfully Batman exists to restrain the evil that the Joker unleashes on Gotham City. The struggle between Batman and the Joker entertains us, but these stories exhibit a dark pre-Christian aesthetic which hearkens back to the myths of the classical pagans. Like those old stories, the Batman mythos tries to make sense of the struggle between good and evil that every person faces in this fallen world. In fact, part of Batman’s appeal lies in his everyman status as one of the few superheroes who doesn’t have superpowers. Batman exemplifies the classical virtues or justice, wisdom, courage, and self-control in his fight against evil, but my Augustinian pessimism doubts that he can actually save Gotham from the Joker’s destructive irrationality.

You can read the rest here.

Ignore the Haters. It’s Time for a New Mary Poppins Movie!

Disney announced their plans for a new Mary Poppins film, and of course social-media feeds everywhere filled with complaints about Hollywood being out of ideas.

Another Reboot? Another sequel? Can’t we get something new?

I suspect that most of those whiners don’t actually go see movies in the theater. Or if they do, they slap their money down to see Fast and Furious 7.

You know what I’m sick of? It isn’t sequels. I’m sick of pretentious people acting like they’re too good to enjoy a sequel. Besides, sequels and reboots are awesome.

Let’s look at some famous non-original content that’s stood the test of time.

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What I’ll Be Doing in the Fall Semester

Today is the first day of the fall semester.

Expectations run so high that the beginning of the new academic year takes on a sacramental quality. Incoming freshmen look forward to beginning the rest of their lives. Returning students anticipate catching up with friends after three months at a monotonous summer job. No one has fallen behind in any class yet, and the illusion of academic responsibility will endure a couple of weeks without tarnish.

The new semester also brings the promise of relief from Houston’s relentless summer heat, and I’m sure that the temperature will be at least ten degrees cooler merely because the university has decreed that it is Fall. It must be time to break out the sweaters.

Fall also brings the sublime feats of strategy and strength that characterize college football. Some of us can actually smell and taste the approaching season. The new academic year offers many charms, but let us not forget that we have returned to this place for the education that the university provides.

With that in mind, here’s a run down of the classes that I’m teaching this semester.

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Revisiting Hiroshima: A Struggle Of Narratives


At The Federalist, I’ve got an essay on the difficulties of interpreting the history of the end of WWII.

Seventy years ago, the American military dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, obliterating the center of the city and killing about a hundred thousand people. The world had never seen this kind of destruction. America wanted to end the war quickly, but this time did the cure turn out to be more devastating than the disease?

So far no one has used an atomic bomb in combat since 1945, which makes the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki unique historical events. These are the kind of historical moments that humans want to find meaning in, but the meaning of historical events is notoriously difficult to pin down.

Twenty years ago, in commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing, the Smithsonian commissioned an exhibit about the Enola Gay that caused a firestorm of its own. The exhibit’s designers believed that the anniversary should be used to tell the history of nuclear weapons and their proliferation. The original script for the exhibit hailed the bomb as the beginning of a new, more precarious age for mankind, but many Americans wanted an experience that focused on the bomb being the necessary close of the Second World War. A power struggle ensued with two sides laying claim to the Enola Gay.

You can read the rest here.