Signs of the Times

America’s phallic affair with guns should give us pause to wonder what the true motivation is. My wife sent me an NPR story on the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania. Congregants gathered carrying AR-15s, saying that the Bible’s rod of iron was really a semi-automatic. Did I say it was a phallic affair? According to the story by Scott Neuman, some of the faithful had substituted the crown of thorns for a crown of bullets. Literally. That man dying on the cross because of government overreach, I suspect, wishes he had his hands free so he could rub his eyes. He’s hanging here dying with the title prince of peace only to have grenade grannies praising his name with high explosives. This is what passes for Christianity these days.

Photo credit: Isabelle Grosjean ZA, Wikipedia

Sensible evangelicals have been in full retreat since November 2016. Stripped of their label by extremists who somehow mistake the lamb of God for Rambo, they no longer have a name of their own. Like worms on the sidewalk in the rain, there’s nowhere left to go. The same is true of rank and file Republicans. They wonder what has become of the (God help us!) party of Nixon. Watergate seems like a mere indiscretion compared to this. I’m sorry, were you waiting for Armageddon? Don’t worry, those who move the hands of the doomsday clock have shifted it closer to midnight than it’s ever been before. You’ll have your end times soon enough.

Among the ironies witnessed by the crucified one from his vantage point high on the cross is that it was his zealous followers who started all this. Religious experts tell us that all world religions depart significantly from the teachings of their founders within one generation. If you’ve read Paul’s letters you know this to be true. I grew up as a Fundamentalist. Even though for my career I specialized in the Hebrew Bible, my upbringing was focused on the red letter words of the other testament. Over and over and over again I read them. Think of others before yourself. Turn the other cheek. Walk the extra mile. Give away everything you own. The ones I don’t recall internalizing were: arm yourself with deadly force. Give your grannie an assault rifle. If someone slaps you on the cheek, blow him away. It is more blessed to destroy than to forgive. We sit beneath a giant clock with a commander in chief with an itchy nuclear button finger. Even a clock can be a crucifix, if you look at it in a certain way.

Watchmen Tell Us

When the local Blockbuster went belly-up a few months back, I was one of the vultures picking the bones. With new DVDs continually creeping up in cost, I look for bargains wherever they might exist. Occasionally I find something for just a couple of dollars that really makes me think. Although I don’t go to theaters often, a couple of years back the previews all featured The Watchmen. I’m not a graphic novel reader either, so it was doubly doubtful that I would ever gravitate to this film. But here it was on sale. Very cheap. The previews had shown Dark Knight-like action and despite my own declarations, I had to admit that I was curious. So I’ve watched it a couple of times and have been intrigued by what an (absentee) role God plays in the movie.

I won’t go into much detail since the story is complex and, to my surprise, sophisticated. Nevertheless, the Watchmen – retired crime-fighters both good and bad – forced out of practice by the government, fear the approach of nuclear war and try to fight back. At several junctures characters declare that there is no God or that they believe there is no God. The setting is an alternate reality in the 1980s, but the crossover between that world and this is evident. Godless heroes may save the day, but with a tremendous human sacrifice required. At first viewing, I was stunned. The message was so bleak and hopeful. The movie could have been made with no mention of God, yet, briefly, his absence was underscored. Strangely, the Bible features in a bedroom scene where a future hero is spending the night with his girlfriend. Why the Bible? Why here?

I would be the first to admit that I do not have the proper background to comprehend the plot. Generally I like to read the book before I see the movie. One of the recurring motifs in the movie version is the doomsday clock that moves dangerously close to atomic war. On top of the Bible is the hero’s watch, ticking inexorably down to midnight. Even I can figure out that the countdown to doomsday is based on the Bible. What the import of this is, however, I can only guess. What kind of world has no God but still has Bibles? A world where Watchmen aren’t wanted and yet are sorely needed. Who will save us now?