Monday, August 19, 2013

Zombies: The Specter of Materialism

I have recently had the pleasure of playing Telltale Games' interactive masterpiece The Walking Dead (I'm not done yet, so refrain from spoiling it for me).

And one thing that continues to astonish me about pieces of media such as this is how much our culture is fixated on the idea of a flesh-eating animated corpse. From World War Z to Zombieland to Warm Bodies, our society obviously finds something intensely fascinating about zombies, to the point where it is perhaps the most identifiable facet of today's mass media. But why? Why do zombies, of all things, capture our imagination so? We obviously don't idealize them, but rather find in them something unnerving and disturbing. And I think I have figured out exactly what it is.

Now, I have often wondered why anyone would fear becoming a zombie if you die before you turn. Isn't it just your body that gets up and eats people? But that's just it - until recently I didn't realize that modern man thinks he is his body. According to him, the mind is just a chemical reaction in a lump of flesh, combined with other lumps of flesh to make a whole. In short, I believe that people today fear the zombie because they fear they already are a zombie.

For what is secular materialism but a belief that we are the living dead? It states that you are a moving, disintegrating lump of flesh, and that you only have life because some accident gave it to you by chance. You are nothing more than a desire to eat, to propagate your kind. And you can only be killed by the destruction of the brain, for our being resides there.

You may accuse me of being unfair to the materialist, but notice that everything in the previous paragraph could be used both as a description of a zombie and a typical critique of the materialist point of view. These points of view came about independently, and unless Christian apologists wrote The Walking Dead as a tool for their own ends (which I find unlikely) I believe that there is some deep unconscious material welling up here.

This is not something unprecedented, for this very thing has happened in another period of the West's history. Just as zombies are the specter of materialism, you see, vampires are the specter of Christianity. Vampires live forever, and they derive their well-being from the drinking of blood. Vampires are a perverted representation of everything Christianity professes to be, and represent the Christian's anxiety over how desirable eternal bliss really is.

But a new age means a new monster, and the fears of eternal life have replaced themselves with a fear of being purely material. We see ourselves in the zombie, for just as we are afraid of becoming a member of the walking dead, we fear the thought of aging more and more, only to rot and decay in the grave. For just as there is no cure for being a zombie, there is no cure for death. For the materialist, death is the end of all things, and the fact that zombies dominate our culture is evidence that we find this very terrifying.

Given the fact that vampires and zombies represent two fears which have dominated the western psyche, I ask you: which is worse? Would you rather be a vampire, cursed to only walk at night, but still blessed with intelligence and emotion? Or instead a zombie, lacking all thinking or feeling other than an instinctive desire to eat? I'd choose to be a vampire, for it seems to me that eternal life is much better than slow decay, whatever the cost.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Lightness of God

The scriptures say that "God is light". While the more conventional interpretation of this phrase (i.e. that God is identical with light) is true enough, I'd say that the less obvious interpretation of this phrase needs to be heard among people today. For God isn't heavy

To impress upon you what I mean, I'm going to present you with two different models of God in a Mormon context, one light, and one not so light.

The Heavy God lives on a planet called Kolob, located at the center of the universe. He can only dwell at one place at one time, and so he must travel between this planet and Earth fairly instantaneously. This naturally means that Einstein's Theory of Relativity is incorrect. God also has a physical body of flesh and bone, free of all imperfection and blemish. Except the prints in Christ's hands, of course - He needs those. He also lacks any blood, for blood is the mark of a mortal body. Further, the Heavy God hears our prayers by means of a sort of divine telepathy, and can manage all prayers at once because his brain uses the 90% left unused in ours.

The Light God is an exalted man, and by following Him we can learn to be better people. When we pray He answers us and fills us with the Spirit, and He loves us unconditionally. Christ sacrificed Himself for us, and we can cast all of our sorrows and pains upon His back if we turn to Him. He is love, and we experience Him whenever we show love. God is our cosmic parent, and loves us and cares for us as any loving father would.

See the difference? One of them is full to the brim with the Spirit, and one of them lacks any spirituality whatsoever. One of them embraces the truths of the Gospel wholeheartedly, and the other seems like it wants to be a facet of science more than one of spirituality. But there is a common feature here - the former tries to combine spiritual beliefs with truths found outside of spirituality, and thus ruins the emotional value of the Gospel. On the other hand, the latter sees only the meaning within the Gospel, keeping outside truths in their own separate compartment. Or if I might phrase it differently - one of them values objective truth, and one of them values meaning.

In my life, I experience the peace of the Gospel only when I consider the meaning of spiritual principles, doctrines, and stories. If I start to wonder how these things fit in a cold, rigid external world, the Gospel loses all of its inherent warmth, and its meaning goes away.

You see, this meaningful God is light. When we see Him as a loving Father and not as a super-powerful alien, He can fit through the narrow door of our Spirit and fill our thoughts much more readily than something heavy. Heaviness means friction. The Heavy God must squeeze through this door to come in at all, but this does not really ever happen. The light God is also a piece of art. We think of this type of deity in much the same way in which we think of a painting, a piece of music, or a movie - full of beauty and warmth. And yet, this God is much more than a work of art, for he is a work of art come to life. He has leapt from the canvas, and become real.

If I could preach one truth loudly from the rooftops, it would be this: do not pursue facts, but seek after meaning! If you only look for the objective, you will only find the objective. And because meaning must come subjectively, this life of this seeker after truth will lack any warmth, color, or beauty. But if you seek after love, beauty, compassion, and emotion, you will find a truth much more powerful than anything seen through the lens of a telescope or a microscope. 

As a closing note, it is incredibly important that the D&C describes God as being seen through "the light of our understanding". For if we seek for God using the light of day, we will not find Him. But if we seek him using this more divine illumination, we will see that He has never left our side.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Rod and the Tree

It is obvious that we live in darkness. Like one whose sight becomes obscured by a lack of light, we feel around our worldly abode like a bull in a china shop, running the risk of colliding with those beings and things who remain stationary. What are these objects, you ask? They are ideas, pieces of knowledge, and supposed truths, all acting as obstacles in our quest to find our way to the light. Of course, these intellectual stumbling blocks can also act as a guiding post, something to cling to as we make our way through the darkness. But you can only grasp onto an object for so long - sooner or later we must break free of them, or else run the risk of never reaching the delights of illumination.

But we suddenly find something new, a sturdy piece of material without adornment or texture which blazes its way through the darkness. It is a metal rod. We initially cling to it without thought, as it seems as good a method as any for finding our way. Some of us may even find its inherent metallic rigidity appealing, but those who dislike its bland monotony soon see the apparent foolishness of clinging to it for longer than a few moments. But if we persist in clinging to this piece of metal, we find that it extends much farther than we expected. In fact, as we continue to press our way forward into the darkness, something happens: we see light.

Far off in the distance, we perceive a source of illumination faintly piercing through the dark obscurity. This will understandably make us very eager, and may lead us to press forward all the more quickly to the light. Others of us, excited by their new vision, may deem the rod entirely unnecessary and obsolete in their quest out of darkness. But alas, the light is still so dim that those who abandon the rod soon find their way back to darkness and again become lost. 

Those who persist soon see the shape of the light's source: a tree. This gives us pause, for we then begin to wonder if the light we so eagerly sought after may not actually be the only thing that drives us forward. Could there be something else at the end of journey? If this light comes from a tree, does it have a fruit? 

Soon we reach the end of the rod, leaving the tree almost within arm's reach. As we pluck the fruit off of its luminescent foliage and take a bite, we feel something entirely new: not light, not knowledge, but pure love. We soon realize that light is a paltry pleasure compared with this joy of joys, and that none of the objects we clung to in our quest provides the peace we find here. Knowledge, we see, is not the end of all things. Though we previously sought after the light of truth and understanding, we begin to realize that these are only tools, used to bring us to the source of this celestial fruit. 

The natural reaction upon eating this fruit is to share it with the others who struggle in the darkness. You want more than anything for them to feel what you feel, to let them know what joy comes from this transcendent love. But this proves problematic. Though we want to go back into the darkness to aid those who have not tasted love, we would risk the greatest danger by returning to obscurity. If we did this, substituting the dim light of truth for the great joy of love, we would only risk our own ability to return to the tree. Both the savior and the saved would be lost, and all would be for naught.

We can only ever call through the darkness, and hope that the other has ears to hear. Notwithstanding the danger of venturing back into the mists of darkness, to lead another along the iron rod would be coercion, causing them to press forward to something in which they have no interest. The only person who can appreciate this fruit, this love of God, is one who takes the journey of faith on their own. Only then can we be sure that they will remain by the tree, and ever bask in the radiance of its love.

The iron rod is the word of God, and only by clinging to its doctrines, stories, and commandments can we begin to experience the fruit of God which lies at the end of its path. This will prove difficult, and may cause frustration or despair. The word can be monotonous, boring, and unfairly rigid at times, but it is the only real way out of the darkness and toward the light's source. But light is not the end of all things. Blazing behind it all is a roaring fire of love, and by reaching the tree we can taste it and take it into us. For love alone is our goal, and love alone is real.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spiritual Aphorisms

Hello again! If you, dear reader, wonder as to the cause of my absence of several months, I can only say that I have taken a "sabbatical" to develop myself in ways that have heretofore been lacking. In this process, I have had the privilege of experiencing feelings and emotions which I had never felt before, and have found myself becoming better at things in which I had always assumed I had an inherent lack. In short, I have had what one can only term a mystical experience. I do not mean this to boast of myself, but only to testify of God's greatness and glory when extending His merciful arm toward his children. But in recent days a thought has run through my mind: "how do I share this experience with others?" Clearly a mere description will not suffice, for direct words fail at everything they try to do. Instead, I wish to use words indirectly, and to show you what I have gone through. How will I do this? I will follow in the footsteps of Nietzsche and Heraclitus, and use a series of aphorisms/maxims (short phrases) intended to convey my experience in a way that lies beyond words. Let me know how I do!

On Truth

1. To speak the truth is to be an idolater. To show it is to be a mouthpiece for God.

2. To put it differently, words must die before they can be resurrected; truth can only come through lies.

3. Is The Book of Mormon true? It depends on how you mean it. If by "true" you signify something that concretely exists independent of the believer's faith, then no - nothing does. But if you mean something that is real, then the Book of Mormon is true without question.

On Heaven

4. Where may one find the Kingdom of God? On a distant planet, you say? In a temple? But you forget - you can only see any of these places because of light. From where does it shine? Discover it, and you will find what you have sought.

On God

5. Three separate and distinct personages? How absurd! And yet, it is only through this absurdity that we can even speak intelligently about God.

6. The Holy Ghost is certainly mysterious, for all the doctrine on his person would not fill up a single paragraph. Is it because, like any ghost, he is translucent?

7. Why do we not speak of the Heavenly Mother? Is it, as many suppose, because she needs to be protected? Or is it perhaps because she finds our language distasteful?

On Men and Women

8. The Proclamation on the Family says that gender is eternal - men will always be men, and women will always be women. It speaks the truth - for who ever heard of a bank-less river?

9. Gender is good business for bridge-builders...and commuters.
On Marriage
10. Every married man is a polygamist, and every married woman a polyandrist. What is a living soul, after all, but an eternal marriage?

11. Marriage is a mirror, or better yet, a double mirror.

12. For we see outwardly in the other what we inwardly are.

13. Our existence began in love, and our lives make up a continuing love story.

On Love

14. Love accompanies all the senses, as it is preparing to replace them.

15. Wherever you love, there God is revealed.

16. The universe did not start in a dense singularity or a divine flash - our world began with the blood and broken flesh of Gethsemene.

17. For love can only grow from the seed of pain, and pain can only find its meaning in love.