God's Kingdom or Apocalypse?
Ken Burns' new documentary, The War, premiers tonight. Is this good news, or bad? The Washington Post says today that near the end, "the camera lingers for a full 40 seconds on the image of a dead U. S. Marine on Iwo Jima. Face up, arms splayed, teeth bared, he is as grotesque as a man forever young can be."
One effect of such truth telling (the deconstructing of the mythology of war's "glory") to a generation that lacks true transcendence is to heighten the dread -- the religious awe -- the human heart feels toward death. Hit the pause button: "What is true transcendence?" one must ask. (1) First, it is a certitude that every single human being is eternal (for good or ill), and that biological cessation of life is not our terminus, our end point, our telos. (2) Secondly, it is a faith-filled hope that such knowledge is based on our peculiar nature; namely, that we are created imago dei -- in the image and likeness of God -- and that peculiar nature is not affected by death. And (3) thirdly, by virtue of that nature and relationship to God (for Christians, by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ) our sufferings and deaths have meaning and purpose in the "economy" of God's Kingdom. "O Death, where is your sting?" we can say with Saint Paul.
But, you see, here lies the problem. Staring at the realities of life and death from the point of view of one whose "operating system" includes the above is one thing. Staring at them without the benefit of such faith produces and reduces humans to a far different level of being. It, in fact, brings the most stout-hearted atheist (literally, one without God) to the level of a modern primitive who has to function without the benefits of the revealed biblical faith that had been at the heart and soul of the Christian West until the first fissures appeared during the so-called "Enlightenment".
One might say that the endless project of Hollywood to create images of ever more violent scenarios, the "reality TV" efforts to throw people (down to "Kids Nation") into rivalries and bloody death-dealing mayhem has the effect of demoralizing a West made weak by its cowering awareness of the power of death. Death has become the 'new sex,' so fascinated have we become by it, awed by it, stunned by it, with demonstrable effects: enervation, low birth-rates, nihilism. The West's new motto: "What's the use?" So, I ask again, "Is the premier of Ken Burns' The War good news or bad?"
As the stars would have it, the West has a self-appointed rival and enemy that is decidedly not so enervated by the power of death. Indeed, it seems to thrive on such power, because its O/S leaves room for a parody of the Bible's Heaven -- however laughable its 72-virgins version may seem to us. Indeed, the West's enemy thrives on the West's a-theistic fears of death. Time was, the West knew that there were worse things one could do to a person than kill him, and ,conversely, there were worse things that could happen to one than to be killed. But now, such documentaries, no less than Hollywood's unholy fascination with death and other elements of the primitive Sacred, help create paralyzed, cowering, and rather spineless masses who believe nothing (defining "nothing" here is simply a laundry-list of priorities and values of modernist vapidity).
To such masses in the West, perhaps a scimitar-wielding overlord is what will be necessary. "Necessary for WHAT?" you may ask. Necessary, as Israel discovered during the Babylonian Exile, to repent and return to its precious, revealed faith in the steadfastly-loving, covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Necessary today for us to repent and return to the God in Three Persons, the Most Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.