Friday, December 29, 2006

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Salvation Begins at Home: The Holy Family and the Analogia Entis (Part 2)

In my last article I gave a brief introduction to the notion of the Analogia Entis and how this idea gives special meaning to the Feast of the Holy Family; Mary and Joseph embody the "first ripples" of the Incarnation, and together with Jesus they form an even more explicit revelation of God's love than an abstract notion of Jesus apart from his family or his life. In this article, I hope to explain more deeply how the Holy Family itself sends ripples of meaning in all directions. By this I mean that the Holy Family not only tells us something about families and about the Church (the horizontal direction) but it even tells us something about the God who, through the Incarnation, is both its creator and one of its members (the vertical direction).

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Salvation Begins at Home: The Holy Family and the Analogia Entis (Part 1)

When Mr. Carpenter invited me to write an article for his magazine, he felt it necessary to remind me that I should write simply; as though for USA Today--not the New York Times (much less the New Yorker)! I have not forgotten the warning. But in my taste for mischief I did let slip some Latin into the title. Mea culpa!

Speaking of mischief, I wonder how many Catholics have had the all-important discussion of whether the child Jesus ever got himself into trouble. Anyone who can remember being a child, I imagine, knows how easy it is to upset "Mom and Dad" without actually sinning. After all, such was the case in Luke's account of young Jesus losing himself among the crowds in the Temple, only to be found impressing the local clergy with his "understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:47). Perhaps it would be mischievous to ask why the only Scriptural account of Jesus' adolescence shows him involved in, shall we say, holy mischief. Maybe the evangelist felt that, amid all of the testimonies he had collected, prudence and edification demanded that only one should be published.

Yet neither Luke's goal nor my own is to sentimentalize the Holy Family, or to make its important moments into fodder for cheeky humor. Rather, I only point out the delight of the Feast of the Holy Family: it reminds us that our God, and First and the Last, Coeternal with the Father, saw fit to have a "Mom and Dad". So far as our human history is concerned, salvation begins at home--Jesus' home, this household of three, this little seed, out of which sprouts the universal Church and the redemption of the world.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me answer a question: "What is the analogia entis?" In English it is translates as the "analogy of being," which is scarcely more intelligible than the original. But the idea is not hard. In a nutshell, it means that every thing is related to every other thing, and everything together is related to God. Just like you can go to family reunions and guess which relatives belong to the same family tree by their looks, so also we can see how every creature is related as one Family, called Creation, and how this Creation is the child of one Parent, God.

Or consider another image: an object dropped into a still puddle makes ripples that move outward. The shape of the object has an effect on the pattern of the ripples. Perhaps if we knew enough about the ripples, we could guess some things about the shape of the object that made them, even without seeing the object itself. We also see how the ripples are related to each other.

This idea has been around long before Christianity; the Greek philosophers tried to understand God based on what they saw in nature; and the Jews came to understand God through his own revelation in the prophets and patriarchs. That is why Paul can say to the Greeks in Areopagus that God made the nations "that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him" (Acts 17:27); and why the Letter to the Hebrews says, "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets," (Hebrews 1:1).

But after the Incarnation--that is, after the first Christmas--everything changed. Now, suddenly, the source of the waves was present for all to see. "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30); for "in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom he also created the world" (Acts 1:2); says Christ himself, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

This brings us back to the Holy Family. Now, we would expect that a very large object (say, God incarnate) thrown into the ocean of human history would make some very large waves. Enter Jesus, and the ripples begin even before his birth. The annunciation to Mary by an angel, her union with Joseph, the leaping of the infant John the Baptist in Elizabeth's womb are all the beginnings of Christ's promise to "draw all things to myself" (John 12:32). And while Jesus Christ himself is entirely God without any additions or accessories, still, those waves travel and bring to us (who live on the proverbial shore) ever deeper knowledge of himself, the inner life of the Trinity, and the saving work of God. So it is with the Holy Family. Christ is too big, in a sense, to contain himself and leave the world untouched by his presence. Rather, his truth unfolds in all directions like in a shock wave, beginning with the Holy Family, extending to the Twelve Apostles, encompassing the Universal Church, and extending finally to the whole world.

In my next article, I will show more specifically how the Holy Family is a beautiful and persuasive image extending in all directions--how it is a symbol of the Trinity, a the archetype of the Church, and a model for every family (literally, "bringing the message home").

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Three more pending rants...

I've been "YouTubing" more than I've been blogging lately. But there are some topics that I'm not willing to speak off-the-cuff in front of the camera about. My 9th video actually took three cuts and a little editing to get it acceptable. I hope to turn these topics into videos, but I want to write them down here first so that I have basically what I want to say. Here's my project agenda:

  1. A video response to this guy: "God Help Me, I'm a Christian!"(scraps and notes below)
  2. A reflection on racism (scraps and notes below)
  3. My long-promised series on God and morality.
On the Christian guy - W.K. Clifford on the grave responsibility attach to the faculty of belief; what's underneath other people's offense at being told they may/will go to Hell, and what's underneath his inability to understand that offense; Gibson and wife example; Lefebrist example (What if I believed he couldn't be saved because he was "extra ecclesiam"?

On racism - hidden covert racism; my own reflexive/subconscious racist feelings; the dual nature of racism; the coincidence of discrimination and human standards of excellence; combating racism "from both sides"; the "reverse-rebellion instinct"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

YouTube stuff...

I now have a YouTube channel, with a few videos posted. Pretty boring stuff, for the most part. I'm not very photogenic (filmogenic? cinemagenic?) and my nerves are definitely making me stiff in front of the camera.

Windows Movie Maker is a great, simple little program. Even though my camera doesn't record sound, I was able to record the sound separately and drop the video and audio into WMM with just a few glitches. First, my Dell Pocket PC can't seem to record anything longer than eight minutes; and second, the audio and the video weren't perfectly in sync, so I had to manually cut parts out of the audio track so that the words would fit my lip movements.

As it stands, though, the first two videos (where I don't speak) are my favorites, and I might start a new trend of "speechless" YouTube videos.

At one point I had a clever idea of rubber-banding the camera underneath the bill of my Purdue baseball cap and wearing it to get a first-person PoV. As I wore the camera, I filmed myself writing some thoughts (and complaints about secularistic Internet culture) on the whiteboard. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see the viewfinder of the camera while I was doing this, and the video was all but worthless since my whiteboard messages were about six inches cut off at the bottom.

Religion debates are all over the place on YouTube, and sadly it's pretty much the same fare as one can find anywhere else on the 'Net. It's also almost completely dominated by irreligious people. One thing that bugged me in particular was how often they used phrases like "my personal philosophy...".

There is no such thing as a "personal philosophy." There are perspectives, of course, but until those perspectives come into contact with a broader world of knowledge and wisdom, it doesn't seem right to me to give them the distinction of the name "philosophy." Nietzsche didn't write, "my personal philosophy is that God is dead." Plato didn't write, "My personal philosophy is that the state should be governed by philosopher kings."

Listen my fellow YouTube amoebas. If you have the cojones to plaster your faces on hundreds of screens all over the world, don't waste our time with "philosophies" that you think are only valid or meaningful for yourself. At least have the courage to suggest that whatever opinion you're deigning worthy of our ears is something more, i.e., a part of the truth, something with bearing on our beliefs. Because then, then, you open yourself up for critique and argument, and you can't hide behind the "I'm OK, you're OK" mantra of the secularist credo.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Pending rants

This is just a placeholder. I want to...

  • Wrap up some thoughts on music and meaning.
  • Discuss the contradiction implicit in rejecting "natural law" arguments against homosexual intercourse and yet defending homosexual marriage on the basis of "civil rights".
  • Recap a discussion I had with a half-way deep thinker who believes that there is a "middle way" between agnosticism and religion (ho hum, probably just another "mystic", believes in all religions, blahdeeblah).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Not Noteworthy analytics!

A couple of weeks ago I set up NN with Google analytics. Great stuff! Here's some interesting facts.

In the last week, I've gotten hits from California, Texas, New York, a couple from the Philippines, one in Australia, and even one from Malaysia.

Keywords used to search for this site include "secular music christian perspective" and "undying occuria" (apparently a Final Fantasy XII fan stumbled on the blog). Also, "amateur shower"... uh, sorry to disappoint.

In the last week, people have linked directly to my post on hope, on Internet secularists, and a couple of my photography posts. The Final Fantasy rant has seen a lot of views, which goes to show that putting abundant references to popular video games is a great way to lure unsuspecting readers! As well, the Secular Quest for Happiness posts have seen a few individual views.

Should I start a YouTube channel?

NN doesn't have many readers. Last week it saw 85 page views, but probably a third of those are my own since it's the first page my browser loads (you know, to remind me when it's been too long since I've posted, and stuff).

I've been watching a bit of YouTube videos and I now ask myself whether I should jump onto that bandwagon. A video Not Noteworthy would give me the advantage of being able to use a whiteboard to make graphical illustrations of some of the thoughts I have on here. But it would have the disadvantage of forcing me to actually talk. I've never spent a long time talking in front of a camera; I somehow doubt that it would be like teaching religious ed. In my Confirmation class, I get pretty wild and animated not just because of the material but because I have the company of my class. Could I explain things compellingly in front of a camera?

It seems like it would be a little difficult to develop interesting presentations in video form. On the other hand, if I had a halfway decent camera and some basic video editing software, I could really show people the sources of my own thinking; actually display book pages with highlighted passages, or take videos of liturgical oddities. I could control the visual context of the presentation; even include music and such.

I dunno, what do people think?

Friday, December 08, 2006

The secular quest for happiness, continued, and more on music

My last post on this subject was long. Very long. So why am I continuing on? Well, I have more source material.

In the first place, I copied a version of my essay into a forum populated mostly by non-religious older teens and twenty-somethings, in a section meant for indy music fans. Although none of my references were to indy bands (we don't have an indy music station in Tucson), the forumites actually appreciated the bulk of what I was saying, although the thread was eventually sidetracked into a common discussion of whether "Christian rock" was worthwhile (with some interesting points).

One user made a post in the thread (which I will copy here if I get his OK) expressing his own existential angst; he said something to the effect of, 'everything we do is to forget that we will die.' It reminded me of a line from Pascal's Pensees: "Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair."

I've been distracted; I hope to finish this later.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On a forum today...

Former Catholic: "Jesus didn't preach about shepherds to tell Christians that they need to become sheep."

John chapter 10, man. Baaaaaaaa.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The secular quest for happiness

I've written before on this subject, although typically I have been a bit more derisive than I intend to be in this post. That is because I have always juxtaposed the secular quest for happiness with the joy and peace which comes only from Jesus Christ - "our hearts are restless until they rest in thee". In that case, it has always been a matter of gold and dross - simple as that. But this time I would like to take a different look; to try and ferret out hidden, graced corners of a secular consciousness.

One of my favorite radio stations in town is KFMA - "new rock". They do a lot of punk, alternative, metal, as well as some acoustic and stuff. One of the things I like about the station is the wide range of emotions that get expressed in the different songs - almost like a profile of your typical 20-something anglophone. There's the angry music (Godsmack, Metallica) and the whiney, self-absorbed music (Plain White T's, Three Days Grace). Those don't interest me as much.

But on occasion you get a group that seems to do everything within its ability to run up against the boundaries of being; the music throws itself against the plastic of the modern hamster ball, trying to get beyond it, outside of it; though in a tragic existential irony, the very act only causes the ball to roll faster. Some groups that come to mind are Muse, Beck, Incubus, Gorillaz, maybe a couple others (I'd like suggestions).

Other groups' hit songs - like Modest Mouse's "Float On" and New Found Glory's "It's Not Your Fault" - try to evoke relief from the struggles and anxieties of guilt and worry (similar to a post of my own recently).

Of course, the same station has plenty of songs that don't really have any redeeming value at all for the Christian perspective... Buckcherry's "Crazy Bitch", for example, or virtually anything by Nine Inch Nails, which basically take cheeky pleasure in giving up the search for ultimacy or transcendence and dive right back into hedonistic narcissism, and with gusto. "There is no you, there is only me" (NIN's "Only" - a supreme example, Professor Desmond, of how the univocal and the equivocal can tend to collapse into one-another).

But what manifests in song after song are modern treatises on the most important things in life; a dramatic dispute. There is a war going on internally in the collective mind of secularist culture, even before any talk of organized religion comes onto the scene. Similar to how Greek drama reflected how the collective psyche of the day was coping with life, strung between the impoverishment of Homeric myth, the rise of Platonic rationalism, and the rebellion of the mystery religions, so now contemporary music reflects an emotional and intellectual constellation. This constellation is a delight precisely because of its diversity even to the point of self-contradiction, its richness as a roller-coaster of emotions--which are not, importantly, felt as a "meaningless sequence of empty experiences" (as stated by a clever T-shirt banner ad), but rather the very dispute between meaningfulness and meaninglessness themselves.

It is not hard to understand why the most commonly heard 'Christian' themes are not likely to win substantial credibility when set in 'competition' with the secular milieu.

Precisely the strongest appeal of secularism over and against Christianity is its overwhelming self-sense of having a greater respect for truth; as well as a series of convictions of what truth is. Truth is complex, not simple; sensible, not invisible; democratic, not the exclusive possession of authoritarian demagogues (whether Popes or preachers). Importantly, truth is a difficult and elusive thing to see, if indeed it can be seen at all, especially in great matters; thus the very word "faith," if it connotes any actual belief in propositions without the attendant struggle of deep rational thought, is an offense deserving only of ridicule.

For these very good and very persuasive convictions, Christian music--even if it attempts (with mixed success) to co-opt the instruments or the style of rock and alternative--will scarcely ever win converts to its legions of doe-eyed "Jesus freaks". It does nothing to challenge the ABC's of secularism ("Anything But Christianity"). Worse, it offends secular-minded listeners who perceive or suspect its evangelical nature; that it is a baited hook, and thus lacks precisely the integrity and simplicity of expression that makes secular music so appealing (even if that secular song's message may not coincide with a feeling or opinion of 'my own').

At the very best, the feelings and thoughts expressed in rock with Christian themes are not suspected of subterfuge, but rather accepted and allowed as part of the secular constellation. But of course, just for that reason, it becomes one more turn of the roller coaster, one voice among many, which is not a bad thing (certainly not, from the secular PoV), but neither does it represent a serious step forward in mutual understanding--like an agnostic wearing a necklace with a cross.

Ultimately, if secular music is set side-by-side with Christian-themed music, the secular music will come across as truly superior; not only, as is often the case, in its craftsmanship, but in its content. Secularism is diverse, Christianity is monotone; secularism respects the fact that life is sometimes painful and hard, Christianity is always offering easy answers; secularism has a sense of humor, Christianity takes itself too seriously (whether in glazed-eye happiness or self-immolating sorrow); secularism embraces life, Christianity just embraces ghosts and invisible friends. Christian songwriters, I think, make the common mistake of believing that since so many secular songs are anxious, lonely, and pain-wracked, that the secularists are begging for relief and company, which Jesus can give them. That's wrong. It is precisely the tensions and contradictions and fluctuation and ambiguities that hold the greatest attraction for the secularist; it is the common Christian failure to recognize this which forms the core of the failure of Christian music (and in no small part the failure of much Christian evangelization).

Let's ignore Christian music for now. Like I said, before any mention of religion arrives on the scene, there is already a vast "debate" which secular music is engaged in, far moreso than we might see in Internet forums and such. It is not a debate in the sense of songs being written as if they were arguments. Songs are largely blind to one-another. But like preachers, music groups invariably have messages, even if their expressed intent is not to have a message. Muse's songs typically carry a sense of strident ambition and soaring transcendence, without ever actually saying what that ambition is directed towards--as if to celebrate ambition itself. By marked contrast, Gnarles Barkley's "Crazy" has the memorable line, "Ha ha ha, bless your soul; you really think you're in control?" and Jem's "Just a Ride" chides our ambitions, "So we make our plans, Ten times a day, And when they don't go our way we, Breakdown... It's just a ride, it's just a ride." So much for changing the world on my own steam.

Secular music is about throwing up every scrap of human experience into the air (or the airwaves, as the case may be) and letting the pieces fall where they may. But it's more than that. Or at least, it is the secular ambition to be more than that. Rock is the new repository of deep thought. Every musician is a philosopher, even the ones that attempt to be the anti-philosophers. And I suspect that it is impossible to express oneself in music without feeling a sense of contribution, and thus of progress made in the collective bank of popular human wisdom. But to what end?

That's the key question. To what end, really? It's the question dealt with in many songs, directly or indirectly. For Muse the answer might be, "To an important end;" for Jem, "To the end of enjoyment." For NIN, "To my end" (or "To f you like an animal..."); for Modest Mouse, "Not to worry so much".

But as much as one might emphasize the diversity and difference in the answers, given or implied in secular music, there is as much in common. Comfort, respect, inner peace, truth, love, reality, fun, friends, justice, authenticity, sex, strength, honesty, escape, change, help, freedom, radicalism, kindness, tolerance: secular virtues with high premiums. It is a kind of chaotic eudaimonia that doesn't bother balancing these virtues or holding them together as one whole. Instead it screams out one or two as loud as it can at this moment, and then silences them and screams out another.

Again, to what end? At this point some might shout, "Why do you have to keep asking that question?" And that itself is one of the possible answers among many. But I place a high premium on going another level deeper until exhaustion, and this question seems the best way to do it. To what end? And toward an answer I believe I see one possible fundamental tension, a sort of perpetual motion machine that operates as the engine of the rock music industry.

No matter how good, a single song can only satisfy a very partial human emotional urge; if the urge is stronger than five minutes can fix, we replay it until we've had our fill and hunger for a different flavor or for silence. The above virtues I mentioned are just that, flavors; and we like the flavors as strong and undiluted as possible. Yet we never achieve anything like a sustainable satisfaction, nothing that carries us for quite as long as we would have wished. And so we turn, now to the righteous anger of Korn, now to the self-loathing of Linkin Park, now to the mischievious charm of Red Hot Chili Peppers. As we flip from theme to theme to theme, I think, three things happen; first, a little bit of hope, a little excitement, fresh with each subsequent song. A little bit of "Oh, yes, YES," in an erotic flirtation with infinity and an inexplicit wishfulness that it could only last forever. Then, a growing awareness that the rush of each song is a little less strong each time; the themes have all been cycled through, and we start to perceive via boredom that even art and human expression is not as infinite as we once supposed; and finally, a renewal of the excitement, via a song that we hadn't heard before (treating an old theme in a different way), or via a personal amnesia that gives an illusion of freshness that we welcome.

The perpetuity of the enjoyment of secular music is cyclical and amnesiatic rather than actually progressive or transcendent, and this is a sense that I believe artists and music fans are not entirely unaware of. It's precisely why you have groups like Beck and Gorillaz writing lyrics of apparent nonsense, or NIN and Manson writing shocker lyrics, both in their own way trying to break free of this pervasive and stultifying sense of the finitude of life. Kierkegaard fans will be with me on this--the aesthetic leaves one infinitely hungry.

Although there are happy songs, there is a kind of a sweet sadness attendant to being a secular music fan, even if one does happen to be, like me, an ardent Christian. Even in the enjoyment of the power of music there is the realization that it is a limited power and my hunger is not limited but goes on forever. It is precisely this phenomenon which creates the best music, but notice how music artists are not necessarily happier people than anybody else; ah, the frustration of trying to put the infinite into words and notes! To struggle to sing like gods, to grow exhausted and finally to wish to retreat back into the womb; yet the highest highs and lowest lows have been tread over a thousand times, and still no one has yet found the key to happiness and most people live in the world utterly without it, no less the music fans.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Final Fantasy XII and providence

What's this? A post about a video game? Sadly yes. On occasion Squaresoft will release a new title that steals away hours of my life before I realize what's happened. The last two free-time bombs they sent my way were Final Fantasy X (which consumed much of the latter half of my first year in seminary) and the original Kingdom Hearts (which consumed the first half of my first year at Mundelein).

Well, they did it again. Or rather, I did it again. FFXII has been my poison for the last month, which is part of the reason why you haven't seen many Not Noteworthy posts. I'm not particularly proud of the fact. But when I finish a game, as I just have in this case, there's an immense sense of relief, as if I was finally free to put the thing away and not touch it again for years to come. Strange how a game can hold you captive like that, not letting go until you see the ending.

One of the special draws of Square games is that they can be unusually thought-provoking. The plot of their recent installment is no exception, and this (guilty confessions aside) is my main reason for posting.

In case any readers are playing themselves, it's a common courtesy that I warn that I will spoil the plot for you if you keep reading.

The central theme of the game's storyline appears to be a question of freedom; not merely freedom from a totalitarian regime or from an outdated social order, but freedom even from the providential guidance of (benevolent?) gods who call themselves the "undying".

As one discovers in the course of the game, the various threads of the plot are all ultimately chess-plays in a battle between these quasi-eternal beings--a "council" of gods, who see themselves as the authors of history and the preservers of order, and a rogue god who appears to wish that the "reigns of history be placed back in the hands of man". (Political note here: isn't it interesting that fantasy or science fiction always employs traditional 'sexist' English? Could it be that gender-neutral English is guilty of sucking the dramatic life out of English discourse? One wonders about the implications for liturgy...)

Now, the directors behind this game are not generally known for warm fuzzy feelings toward institutional religion, particularly Christianity. Two previous games by the same director - Yasumi Matsuno - are thinly veiled screeds against the corruption and violence implicit in hierarchical religion, though with the nuance at least of including sympathetic characters with strong faith in those very religions.

FFXII is significantly different. There is a complaint against religion, but unlike past games, the complaint is actually theological rather than political. There are no corrupt clergy; what few clergy/faithful there are are hospitable and warm-hearted, if slightly doe-eyed, devotees.

The problem resides in the nature of belief in a providential, personal deity.

"The humes ever skew hist'ry's weave. With hate they move through too-short lives. Driven to err by base desire, t'ward waste and wasting on they run. Undying, we Occuria light the path for wayward sons of man. Oft did we pass judgment on them so that Ivalice might endure. Eternal, we are hist'ry's stewards, to set the course and keep it true. The chosen is our hand, our fist, to let live some and crush the rest."

A slightly less artistic, if literal translation of the Japanese (done by "spookychee" in the GameFAQs forums), goes as follows...

"The children of man always upset history. Panicked by their short existences they chase meaningless desires and as their mistakes compound, run ever faster towards ruin. We, the immortal Oquelia, must, from time to time, lead an ignorant child to punish the others and bring ruin to Ivalice. We, as immortals, have a duty to determine the correct history. We have a duty to select the chosen one who will punish those who revolt against [the correct] history."

I added the words "the correct" based on another translation of the Japanese done by "sigel_x".

Here we have something like a very subtle, and very effective critique, on the part of secular-or-possibly-Buddhist minded authors, of a Christian notion of providence. Namely, they are bring up a very old question on how we reconcile two seemingly incompatible claims: the notion that God is the author of history, not only generally but even in its minutiae, and the belief that his human creation has a will that is free.

Continuing on...

Now granted, some Christians might be surprised at the whole providence thing. It seems like most apologetics these days tends to answer the Problem of Evil with a simple gesture to man's (heheh, "man's") freedom. In other words, the typical apologist is content to say, "Hey, it's not like it's God's fault." Yet left unchecked, this apologetic, while not precisely false, can lead too easily to deism. In fact, any implication that history chugs along, sinning on its own steam, independently of and contradictory to God's own will, is basically deistic at its core and does not do justice to the mysterious and often confounding doctrine of God's providence. The fact is that we as Christians must come to terms with the fact that, as one of my professors put it, God has said "yes" to a world in which the Holocaust happened. More to the point, if the world had not had the Holocaust in it, God would not have said "yes" to it. History as it has passed and the future as God's foreknowledge sees it is, exactly as it is, the unfolding of his singular Will. God is truly the Author of History, even in the strong sense of the word; there is, indeed, the "correct history", and it is always and everywhere none other than history as it has happened. He would not have it any other way.

I hope that the stress I lay on this point is at least a little disconcerting. It is important for us as Christians that the problem of evil, of theodicy, remain a difficult problem. If it gets too easy to answer, then we have gone astray. But even more at issue here than the question of the reconciliation of evil with a good and loving God, is the issue of human freedom, which beyond being simply another Christian doctrine, is an especially cherished Enlightenment ideal.

In the game, it is never quite answered whether the gods, the "undying" or "
Occuria" are benevolent or malevolent beings; none of them display many of the detestable qualities we expect from fictional villains. That question itself is disregarded. The real question is whether they, no matter their eternity of wisdom and infinite power, have any business defining what the "correct history" is. They make a very appealing case to one of your protagonists: wage war on our behalf and set history straight. She quite nearly does just that. But in the end she refuses--less because of her pacifistic nature (she has none) than because she is offended by the very idea of being an instrument of the gods.

Now, she certainly has my sympathies, for several reasons. First and most obvious among those is the relatively pathetic nature of the gods trying to boss her (and everybody else on the planet) around. Immortal, certainly, but not uncreated; plural, without even the ability to contain a dissenter in the ranks; petty, snide, and incorrigibly proud of their own omnipotence (in anyone else it would be a sign of insecurity). These gods should be feared in the sense that they could probably torture you for eternity because you sneezed in a way they didn't like (although not even then, as they require human agents to do their bidding). But there is nothing in them to inspire reverence or awe. They are human, all too human.

Of course this is an ancient critique of polytheistic religion. Xenophanes was the original thinker of "pink unicorns". He could not believe in the deities of the pantheon because of their sheer ridiculousness. "Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods everything that is a shame and reproach among men, stealing and committing adultery and deceiving each other," (fr. 11, Sextus, Adv. Math. IX, 193).

Even if one's concept of "god" or "gods" was improper and childish, it could still be a vast improvement over these historic and fictional polytheisms.

More later. Errands to run!