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A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...

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    A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

    A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

    However many years a man may live,
       let him enjoy them all.
       But let him remember the days of
          darkness,
       for they will be many.
    — Ecclesiastes 11:8

    The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
    — John 1:5

    I wake up mornings in the darkness, to get ready for work, or writing if it’s a day off. I let my wife sleep and I close the bedroom door after I press the switch for the hall light. I turn on all the lights in the kitchen, even the under-cabinet fixtures that have separate switches because it’s…

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    What Has Hollywood to Do with Jerusalem?: Production Values and Proclaiming the Gospel in the “Ark Encounter” and Ben Hur

    What Has Hollywood to Do with Jerusalem?: Production Values and Proclaiming the Gospel in the “Ark Encounter” and Ben Hur

    If size matters, the new theme park in northern Kentucky, the Ark Encounter, is a massive success. The center-piece of the park, which opened in mid-July, is a full-size replica of Noah’s ark, over 500 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. It is, according to the Ark Encounter website, the “largest timber-frame structure in the world.” The first phase of the park also includes “Ararat Ridge Zoo (with a petting zoo), a 1,500-seat restaurant, a gift store under the Ark, and a zip line.” Future attractions will include “a pre-Flood walled city, the Tower of Babel, a…

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    The Culture of Narcissism, Pt 4: Good News for Narcissists

    The Culture of Narcissism, Pt 4: Good News for Narcissists

    Here is the conclusion to the series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s book, The Culture of Narcissism. Find the rest of the series here.

    “Our society is narcissistic, then, in a double sense. People with narcissistic personalities…play a conspicuous part in contemporary life…these celebrities set the tone for public life and of private life as well…The beautiful people…live out the fantasy of narcissistic success….Modern capitalist society not only elevates narcissists to prominence, it elicits and reinforces narcissistic traits in everyone.”

    So concluded historian and cultural analyst Christopher Lasch thirty-seven years ago in his influential book, The Culture of Narcissism. The intervening years have only more…

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    The Culture of Narcissism, Part 3: The Religion of "Me"

    The Culture of Narcissism, Part 3: The Religion of “Me”

    Here is the penultimate post in a series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s book, The Culture of Narcissism.

    Back in 1987, when the New Age movement had not yet become just another part of the spiritual background noise of postmodern America, ABC television mainstreamed one branch of the movement in the miniseries “Out on a Limb,” which was based on actress Shirley MacLaine’s autobiographical book about her adventures in New Age spirituality. Just over a decade had passed since my own brief involvement in the New Age, so much of the mindset and the jargon was familiar to me. One scene in…

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    The Culture of Narcissism, Part 2: Sex and the Self

    The Culture of Narcissism, Part 2: Sex and the Self

    This is the second part in a series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism.

    Narcissism is the self in love with itself; it’s believing the world revolves around one’s ego. While narcissists lack regard for the needs of others, they crave attention, admiration, and even envy to bolster their own self-esteem. And they will manipulate others for their own self-aggrandizement and personal satisfaction. Narcissists see others, and the world, as mirrors reflecting their own ego needs. Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, argued that “every society reproduces its culture…in the individual, in the form…

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    The Culture of Narcissism, Part 1: Politics and Personhood

    The Culture of Narcissism, Part 1: Politics and Personhood

    This is the first in a four-part series inspired by Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism.

    In the present presidential contest, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal was the first person to say it out loud, to use the “N” word for Donald Trump. That’s right, he called Trump a narcissist. Specifically, in his news conference on September 10, 2015, Jindal said, “Donald Trump is not a serious candidate. He’s a narcissist. He’s an egomaniac. The only thing he believes in is himself” and expounded on the meaning of this description for nearly ten minutes. Harsh words, indeed; but I do…

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    An Artful Hell: Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa

    An Artful Hell: Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa

    Hope for forgiveness and the Kingdom of Heaven beyond our human moral bankruptcy has been replaced by progressive Utopian visions where well-adjusted inhabitants are provided for in an earthly paradise. But the knowledge of who we really are and the true state of our predicament surfaces regularly in our cultural history, if we are paying attention. The visual arts especially will occasionally provide a map of the darkness we travel through. It hardly matters where or when we look, but the dark side of 19th century Romanticism is a good place to start, since a current runs from there through…

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    Jesus and the Dinosaurs: Nature, Salvation, and History

    Jesus and the Dinosaurs: Nature, Salvation, and History

    Last week, the online edition of Nature, the premier journal for the natural sciences, published a study by evolutionary biologist Mary Schweitzer which confirmed the presence of medullary bone in the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in Montana in 2000. Medullary bone is found, in living species, only in birds and is uniquely associated with pregnancy. Schweitzer concluded reasonably that the T. rex relics were likely that of a pregnant female, and that analysis for the presence of medullary bone in fossils “would provide a means for unambiguous gender determination and reproductive status in extinct theropods.” Extrapolation of her findings…

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    Numbers: The Perfectly Reasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics

    Numbers: The Perfectly Reasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics

    In honor of Pi Day…

    The first time I experienced the deep connection between math and physical reality was in performing a high school chemistry experiment to discover whether the antacid Rolaids really did consume 47 times its weight in excess acid. The experiment involved very precise weighing and an acid-base titration. I grew up in a small rural town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, but there was a small NASA facility on the coast about twenty miles away, and since many parents worked there—including my father—my school often borrowed state-of-the-art equipment. Our little chem lab had a high speed centrifuge, a sensitive…

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    It’s the End of the World as We Know It:  The Apocalypse in Popular Culture

    It’s the End of the World as We Know It: The Apocalypse in Popular Culture

    Part 1

    The end is near, and it’s coming to a theater near you, or right into your own living room. I first started paying close attention to the regularity of end-of-the-world scenarios in popular culture—especially in film and television—with the 1998 movies Deep Impact and Armageddon. Both involved the threat of a history-ending meteorite strike (a comet or an asteroid, respectively). Deep Impact attempted a serious dramatic look at the political repercussions and human pathos of an impending world-ending disaster; Armageddon (whose title betrays a serious lack of familiarity with the biblical book of Revelation) was one of those cinematic…

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    Sex and Death: The Existentialism of King Solomon and Ernest Hemingway

    Sex and Death: The Existentialism of King Solomon and Ernest Hemingway

    We live our lives bounded by those two mysteries, birth and death—our beginning and our end—and in between we stumble about in the dark, looking for the light, or at least for a good pair of existential shoes so we will not cut our feet quite so much on the sharp edges of Reality as we head for the Exit. What most of us find is ordinary life. The accidents of history have for now enclosed a space in which a wide swath of humanity—though not all of us, to be sure—experience ordinariness in the prosperity and pleasures of an…

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    The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow in Tomorrowland:  Disney Does Eschatology

    The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow in Tomorrowland: Disney Does Eschatology

    The futuristic city of Tomorrowland in the film Tomorrowland rises from the amber waves of a vast field of ripened grain, gleaming in the sunlight like, well, like the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2). But this is the City of Man, or at least a possible city of humanity’s possible future as envisioned by writer-director Brad Bird. Bird’s vision is part utopian, part anti-dystopian diatribe, part pop eschatology, all wrapped up in a paradoxical package of American populist optimism mixed with elitist progressivism. With a little Steam Punk thrown in for good measure.

    The city…

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