Hidden Jun10

Hidden

“I don’t understand that at all,” I complained to Sensei after he tried to answer my umpteenth question about a technique we were practicing. He had made a correction to my form that seemed completely contrary to what he had told me before. It was counter-intuitive and suddenly made the movements awkward. Now, I totally appreciate how fortunate I am that my martial arts instructor is not only patient and an excellent teacher. Thankfully, unlike the protagonist of Mamoru Hosada’s anime fable The Boy and the Beast/Bakemono no Ko (2015), my Sensei is nothing like Kumatetsu—a giant, anthropomorphic bear with a foul temper and poor hygiene. But when young Ren struggles to comprehend his teacher’s first vague and cryptic lesson in swordsmanship, I still can empathize with his frustration. As a martial artist, I found it gratifying to see Ren following Kumatetsu’s every move (however insignificant it seemed) to “become him” and learn from the beast, despite all the misgivings and rebellious skepticism the boy had. It showed a great deal of humility on Ren’s part to acknowledge that he was weak and that there were things that he could learn from Kumatetsu in spite of their differences. Just because Kumatetsu didn’t know how to teach him didn’t mean the bear had nothing to teach. Eventually Ren discovers, to his surprise, that he is not only able to mimic, but can actually anticipate his teacher’s footsteps without even seeing them. How much am I missing that’s hidden in plain sight in the world around me? It’s not that Kumatetsu meant to keep his techniques secret from his student. It’s that he simply understood that some kinds of knowledge are difficult to comprehend until you have lived it. The problem is, being expected to do something...

They Can’t Stop the Signal Mar21

They Can’t Stop the Signal

Let’s talk about the F-word. No, not that one. The other one—the word considered by some to be just as dirty: faith. The way people talk about it, faith seems no more than a strong willingness to blindly believe something completely unfounded. And Joss Whedon would probably agree with that. I gotta hand it to Whedon for even touching on the issue of faith in some of his films and for doing so in such a compelling way. Whedon’s self-professed preoccupation with spiritual belief is interesting because he also happens to be a self-professed atheist and Humanist. In a 2002 interview with The New York Times, he admitted his fascination with “the concept of devotion” and his desire “to explore that.” However, for Whedon, it is not the object of one’s faith that is important but the strength of conviction that stands behind it. For example, in Serenity, Inara tells the crew that the Operative is not to be taken lightly, that “we have every reason to be afraid . . . . because he’s a believer.”  On another occasion, Whedon uses the character of Shepherd Book to remind Malcolm Reynolds about the need for faith. Mal: “Ah, hell, Shepherd. I ain’t lookin’ for help from on high. That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.” Book: “When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?” Later in Serenity, Book’s dying words to Mal drive home Whedon’s views: “I don’t care what you believe, just believe it.” Sounds pretty Zen, no? The idea that anything goes—what’s the problem with that? There is no denying the appeal of the seeming freedom and self-made meaning Whedon desires. So what if, hypothetically, Mal suddenly decided with great conviction to believe in something morally-reprehensible? Such as, that the behaviour of the Alliance Operative was right? Yes, the one who was responsible for Book’s death and the deaths of Haven’s innocent civilians. Would Shepherd Book really not have cared what Mal ended up believing in? Somehow, I doubt it. (Note to self: make sure my dying words are less vague than “Whatever, man. It’s all good.”) The idea behind Whedon implying that all beliefs are equally valid is called Relativism. One of Relativism’s problems is that regardless of the fervor of my belief—no matter how strongly I might declare that, for example, I am a 400-foot-tall, purple platypus bear with pink horns and silver wings—neither my wishing nor my confidence makes it so. A belief either conforms to reality or not. As a former Humanist, I totally get the appeal of Whedon’s faith in “people power.” Everyone says “believe in yourself!” And sure, that phrase has a nice ring to it. In Age of Ultron, Tony Stark’s bumper sticker in the cockpit of the Avengers’ jet that reads “Jarvis is my co-pilot” riffs off the popular “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker and signifies that Stark has more faith in something he created himself than in a higher power. Ultimately, Whedon believes that the solution to the failings of the human condition—to the problem of evil and the meaninglessness of life—lies in the optimistic belief that people alone have the power to fix themselves. Whedon’s commitment to Humanism infuses his films through the dominant theme of having faith in other people. There is no denying the appeal of the seeming freedom and self-made meaning Whedon desires when we consider our broken world full of disenfranchised people  who have come to distrust any kind of authority. But if I’m brutally honest with myself about my own failings, the reality of betrayal and, well, humanity’s track record, I have to admit that G.K.Chesterton got it right: “What’s wrong with the world today? I am.” Unlike the illusory nature of Whedon’s Humanism, I believe that the power that lies behind the Christian worldview, on the other hand, is not the power...