Hannah Arendt, a non-Christian thinker with a strangely more accurate perception of Christianity than almost anyone, offers some thoughts on the problems with being good:
The one activity taught by Jesus in word and deed is the action of goodness, and goodness obviously harbors a tendency to hide from being seen or heard. Christian hostility toward the public realm, the tendency of at least the early Christians to lead a life as far removed from the public realm as possible, can also be understood as a self-evident consequence of devotion to good works independent of all beliefs and expectations. For it is manifest that the moment a good work becomes known and public, it loses its specific character of goodness, being done for nothing but goodness’ sake. When goodness appears openly, it is no longer goodness, though it may still be useful as organized charity or an act of solidarity. Therefore: ‘Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them.’ Goodness can exist only when it is not perceived, not even by its author; whoever sees himself performing a good work is no longer good, but at best a useful member of society or a dutiful member of a church. Therefore: ‘Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.’
It may be this curious negative quality of goodness, the lack of outward phenomenal manifestation, that makes Jesus of Nazareth’s appearance in history such a profoundly paradoxical event; and it certainly seems to be the reason that he thought and taught that no man could be good: ‘Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.’ The same conviction finds its expression in the talmudic story of the thirty-six righteous men, for the sake of whom God saves the world and who also are known to nobody, least of all to themselves. We are reminded of Socrates’ great insight that no man can be wise, out of which love for wisdom, or philo-sophy, was born; the whole life story of Jesus seems to testify how love for goodness arises out of the insight that no man can be good.
(The Human Condition, pp 74-75)
From the prologue to The Human Condition:
In 1957, an earth-born object made by man was launched into the universe… The immediate reaction, expressed on the spur of the moment, was relief about the first “step toward escape from men’s imprisonment to the earth”… What is new [in this comment] is only that one of this country’s most respectable newspapers finally brought to its front page what up to then had been buried in the highly non-respectable literature of science fiction (to which, unfortunately, nobody yet has paid the attention is deserves as a vehicle of mass sentiments and mass desires). The banality of the statement should not make us overlook how extraordinary in fact it was; for although Christians have spoken of the earth as a vale of tears and philosophers have looked upon their body as a prison of mind or soul, nobody in the history of mankind has ever conceived of the earth as a prison for men’s bodies or shown such eagerness to go literally from here to the moon. Should the emancipation and secularization of the modern age, which began with a turning-away, not necessarily from God, but from a god who was the Father of men in heaven, end with an even more fateful repudiation of an Earth who was the Mother of all living creatures under the sky? …and the wish to escape the human condition, I suspect, also underlies the hope to extend man’s lifespan far beyond the hundred-year limit.
This future man, whom the scientists tell us they will produce in no more than a hundred years, seems to be possessed by a rebellion against human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking), which he wishes to exchange, as it were, for something he has made himself.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some thoughts on identity and freedom, prompted in part by Apple’s iPad Air commercial. So to continue the theme of ads-from-tech-companies, I thought I might also offer just some brief comments on Microsoft’s ad from the Super Bowl, which is begging for religious reflection. (If you happened to be grabbing some wings from the kitchen while it aired on Super Bowl Sunday, be sure to watch it below.)
Here are the lines from the video:
“What is technology? What can it do? How far can we go? Technology has the power to unite us. It…
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Major league baseball, perhaps more other professional sports, has intricacies that are taken very seriously. This manifested itself last week, when various Los Angeles Dodgers players began to celebrate their win against the Arizona Diamondbacks by jumping into the pool at Chase Field, home of the D-Backs. The Dodgers’ victory over the Diamondbacks clinched the NL West, which is a feat worth celebrating, for sure.
There has been lots of talk about the Dodgers’ celebratory actions, of course, most of which seeks to answer the question as to whether or not it’s worth getting upset over, or is it just not worth all…
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1. Is Arrested Development a Christian show? At the risk of over-criticizing, if it weren’t, they probably wouldn’t have botched the ending the way they did. We all wanted les cousins dangereux to find love at last, but instead we witness a series of falls, especially with Michael and George Michael, up ’til now the show’s everymen/heroes, sinking further and further to pursue their own justification, most notably in a girl who thrives off neglect (see Always Sunny’s “DENNIS System” – but actually don’t). But perhaps the ending is so abrupt and disconcerting because Hurwitz is trying so much to make a point that…
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Welcome back! This week for our new short story series, we turn to Flannery O’Connor’s popular and much-anthologized “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – the story of a family vacation gone awry. You can read along by clicking here.
Have you heard the one about the family driving to Florida? Grandmother’s vanity leads to a car accident in South Georgia, they run into an outlaw called the Misfit, and he kills them all. Flannery O’Connor found stories like this deeply comical, and at the same time as serious as anything in the world.
It’s safe to say she was the…
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Score one for this year’s winter film season! With a half-dozen movies premiering on Mockingbird’s *must* see list (including The Hobbit, Les Mis, James Bond, Django Unchained…), Wreck-It-Ralph kicks off the winter with a pixelated parable of judgment, love, and identity so potent, you half-expected to see Martin Luther listed as a guest-writer in the credits. Okay, so perhaps I’m a bit over-enthusiastic in my praise of Disney’s newest in-house release, but when movie critics call Wreck-It Ralph “pixar-esque,” well, we’ve kind of got to take notice.
Perhaps there’s no better world to play out the drama of law-trapped characters than the unforgiving…
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What do failed stars, Firefly, and engineering specifications have in common? About as random as mustard plants, or misplaced coins. In (sometimes Mbird contributor) Michael Belote’s new book, the hilariously named Rise of the Time Lords: A Geek’s Guide to Christianity, all things geeky, from supply-and-demand to the Theory of Relativity, illustrate the old, Christian story. More than that, all of his illustrations are spot-on: that is, they not only make points, but also they deepen the doctrinal positions that people more than familiar with incurvatus in se – but perhaps less familiar with stellar gravity – already “know.” The theology in…
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I don’t wanna just survive. It’s says in these movie writing books that every character has an arc. Understand?…Everybody starts out somewheres. And they do something, something gets done to them and it changes their life. That’s called an arc. Where’s my arc?
-Christopher Moltisanti, The Sopranos
HBO’s wild success in premium television belies an underlying sophistication in everything from writing, to editing, to photography. Perhaps the network’s most striking accomplishment is how down-to-earth its characters and plotting tend to be, while still retaining their series’ impressively novelistic scale. HBO seems to understand how deep the human obsession with “arced” narratives of…
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Stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan has a relatively new and insightful comedy special, Mr. Universe. Are you familiar with Gaffigan or his stand-up? You may recognize him in Flight of the Conchords (or his brief appearances in any number of other sitcoms and movies). If you don’t know who or what I am talking about, his bits on Hot Pockets and bacon are mandatory viewing.
For my money, the highlight of his Mr. Universe special is a bit on McDonald’s. In fact, it inspired me to list a few observations (in no particular order) about Gaffigan’s act and persona that are highlighted by the…
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[Spoiler Alert – those who haven’t seen it, run don’t walk…it’s fantastic!]
“All their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest.” -Ecclesiastes 2:23
“Put your sword back in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” -Matthew 26.52
Nolan has now traced the Dark Knight’s journey from streetfighter to hero, from hero to villain, and from villain to…recluse. Wayne has died to the world and only holds on to the shadow-life of mourning for Rachel, and Alfred drops more than a few hints that…
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