Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast.

Students perform during a founding ceremony of a football team of Shaolin Tagou martial arts school, in Dengfeng

1. I hope everyone had a nice Easter week. Hard to believe we’re less than two weeks away from NYC! Which means that those of us in liturgical churches will be reading about “doubting” Thomas this Sunday. A perfect opening for the recent installment of The NY Times’ Stone column, this time from philosopher William Irwin, “God Is a Question, Not an Answer”. Before you roll your eyes at the title (#gimmeabreak), a big part of Irwin’s argument has to do with dismantling any understanding of faith that doesn’t allow for doubt, a refreshing change from the common misconception. For example:

Anyone who does not occasionally worry that she is wrong about the existence or nonexistence of God most likely has a fraudulent belief… There is no faith without doubt…

Indeed, belief without doubt would not be required by an all-loving God, and it should not be worn as a badge of honor. As nonbelievers should have a doubt of desire, so, too believers should have a faith inflected by doubt. Such doubt can enliven belief by putting it at risk and compelling it to renew itself, taking it from the mundane to the transcendent, as when a Christian takes the leap of faith to believe in the resurrection.

It’s a timely reminder from an unexpected source, one which certainly jives with the daily reality of belief. Of course, it’s also a timely reminder of Christian Wiman’s caution about “an almost religious commitment to doubt itself, an assuredness that, in modern times, absolute doubt is the highest form of faith”. Meaning, while it is certainly not something to be denied, celebrating doubt for its own sake is ridiculous. Not just because honest doubt is painful, but because it can so easily be turned into a convenient shield against any/all commitments or claims on one’s life. Thomas receives an answer, after all.

Hundreds of students of the school of nursing take part in an open-air examination at a playground of an vocational college in Baoji, Shaanxi province, China, May 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1EEL1

2. Staying on the theological track, Fleming Rutledge penned a wonderful review of Simon Gathercole’s new book Defending Substitution for The Living Church. Alas, you don’t have to look very hard to encounter the degradation of ‘substitutionary atonement’ in both the church and the academy. It’s become quite the fashionable strawman in fact. No doubt a big part of this has to do with the way the theory has been abused over the centuries, to reduce Calvary to a single dimension and/or justify all sorts of masochistic pieties. But we lose something major when we outlaw this.  Rutledge, via Gathercole, puts it thus:

There is precedent in Greek and Hellenistic culture for one person to die in place of another, but always for a worthy cause or worthy person. It would have been inconceivable in Greco-Roman eyes to give up one’s life in place of an unworthy or impious person. Therefore, when Paul says that Christ dies “for the ungodly,” he is fully aware of the shocking effect of such a statement. Although Gathercole does not linger over the theological riches of this point, it clearly has powerful implications.

edward-koren-your-mother-and-i-think-it-s-time-you-got-a-place-of-your-own-we-d-like-new-yorker-cartoonIn a well-designed summary at the end, Gathercole brings together his various detailed arguments in a robust affirmation of the theme of substitution: Jesus died not only on our behalf but in our place, as an essential aspect of the apostolic gospel. Gathercole repeatedly affirms other motifs… but insists that no one theme should crowd out others.

Amen to that. She goes on, with a nice shoutout to SMZ, to underline the pastoral and homiletical power of substitution–which is undeniable. Just watch the end of season four of Friday Night Lights and see if you can hold back the tears. Such is the electric force involved. We mused on the subject quite a bit on this week’s episode of The Mockingcast, as well as in the following paragraph of Law & Gospel:

The crucifixion is not an excessive act of ‘divine child abuse’ so much as the unmistakable picture of a savior who gives his life for those he came to redeem, the same ones who could not abide the audacity of his indiscriminate compassion. Where some see (anthropomorphized) cruelty, we might see the opposite: “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Meaning, the love of God is not just any love. It is love made manifest in self-sacrifice and willful substitution, one for all and once for all time.

Thousand females receive facial care to create new Guinness World Record in east China

3. Shifting gears a bit, the rumors are true: Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho just debuted as a musical. As the story of Patrick Bateman enters a new medium, Dwight Garner took the opportunity to observe that “In Hindsight, An ‘American Psycho’ Looks a Lot Like Us”, a bold and rather harrowing diagnosis. He missed the opportunity to reference Fall Out Boy, but his core observations dovetail nicely with those of Gary Shandling:

The culture has shifted to make room for Bateman. We’ve developed a taste for barbaric libertines with twinkling eyes and some zing in their tortured souls. Tony Soprano, Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” Hannibal Lecter (who predates “American Psycho”) — here are the most significant pop culture characters of the past 30 years… Thanks to these characters, and to first-person shooter video games, we’ve learned to identify with the bearer of violence and not just cower before him or her…

Something has happened since 1991 to our response to violence, especially when it is seasoned with a shake of wet or, especially, dry humor. Increasingly inured to the mess, we’ve learned to savor the wit. The catharsis that horror can provide now travels on a second and more intellectualized rail. Whether this fact will save or sink us, morally, we do not yet know.

The jury’s out, in other words. Also on the low anthropology tip, it took about six hours for Microsoft’s AI twitter bot, @Tayandyou to become a nazi.

People practice Taichi at a square in Qinyang, Henan province

4. Along very similar lines, KillScreen’s Carmen Petaccio muses on the “Twilight of the Superheroes”, namely, how the ever-darkening tonal trajectory of our blockbusters mirrors the path of American anxiety:

Our superheroes have lost all interest in being heroic. In the name of brand consistency, they’ve lived long enough to resemble villains…

For 15 years, the superhero blockbuster has allowed American audiences to project an illusory dual image of its character, a fiction in which it’s at once helpless victim and benevolent savior, the damsel in distress and the hero coming to her aid. Where Batman vs. Superman and Captain America: Civil War strive and likely fail, Suicide Squad presents a much more honest, holistic image of America as superpower in the 21st century. It’s the conclusion to an argument whose articulation has been 15 years in the making. We’re neither the victims nor the heroes, it suggests. The resemblance isn’t passing. We simply are the villains.

5. Social Science Study of the Week: Changing Parenting Attitudes, as Seen Through ‘New Yorker’ Cartoons. We’ve come full circle from the 20s, it would appear. A related one comes from the Atlantic, an interview with child psychologist Alan Kazdin, “No Spanking, No Timeouts, No problems”, i.e. “Punishment might make you feel better, but it won’t change the kid’s behavior”.

6. Which is a great cue for this week’s “humor” highlight, Mallory Ortberg’s new poem, “Why You Are Angry: A Text Game” (a follow-up to the “Why Are You Lonely: A Text Game” we mentioned a couple months ago). Two favorite possibilities:

  • INCAPABLE OF ABSORBING A SINGLE PIECE OF CRITICISM WITHOUT SUBSEQUENTLY FEELING THAT THERE IS SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG WITH YOU AS A PERSON AND HAVE THEREFORE MADE AN ACTIVE DECISION THAT ANY AND ALL CRITICISM WILL KILL YOUR HEART STONE DEAD AND MUST BE REJECTED AND PUSHED OUTWARD AT ANY AND ALL COST, LEST YOU CEASE TO EXIST AS YOURSELF
  • NOT YET FREE OF THE DELUSION THAT MAKING SOMEONE ELSE FEEL GUILTY FOR THEIR BAD HABITS IS AN EFFICIENT WAY OF ENDING A BAD HABIT

I know, I know. Not exactly a laugh riot. Thankfully, McSweeney’s Let Me Translate My Email For You is clever as can be. And the following vid is pretty rich (if crass):

7. This week on The Mockingcast, Scott was privileged to speak with Chris Bachelder, author of the just released novel The Throwback Special. What prompted the invitation was the interview he did with NPR, but the Times review certainly didn’t hurt. What a treat!

8. Long Read of the week is definitely “The Deranged True Story Of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, The Citizen Kane Of Wasted Teenage Metalness”. Thank you, America. And thank you Weezer, for the terrific album that hit today:

Strays
Amazon has a sense of humor
– Those looking for a respite from the box office blues so common in early Spring should check out Richard Linklater’s latest, Everybody Wants Some!!, which is getting raves.
– We have a photo essay in The Atlantic to thank for the incredible images of Chinese Crowd Art.