Friday, August 1, 2008

"What the bleep?" Modernity in sheeps clothing

For the first half of What the bleep? I was intrigued, even excited at points about some of what the movie had to say. I saw elements of process theology and various narrative concepts being discussed (at least I though as much), and for a moment interpreted the discussion about intention and context to be closely related to narrative concepts.

I had looked forward to watching the movie (shown in a graduate course at the University I attend) because I have a lot of respect for the professor, and, a friend of mine who was reading Rawls tome on Justice (I don't know if I agree with Rawls, but I am eager to talk with those who at least read him) told me he liked the movie and had a copy of it on his video shelf.

Well, then came the last half of the show, and if I have ever been witness to latent modernity disguised as progressive thinking about religion (or science), I believe I saw as much in What the bleep? I first felt guilty about wondering why none of the contributors to the film were named or credentialed during the movie. I am not all that impressed with lettered people, but at least the letters betray their tendencies to some point. Everyone who spoke with authority in this film, however, seemed reluctant to lend their name to the project on film. (I didn't see the credits, but that's a little late anyway.) I think I know why. Everyone connected with the movie would have had their agenda revealed far prior to the preaching undertaken at the end that not only suggested that followers of religion (explicitly Catholic Christianity) were victims, but that victimization was limiting their spiritual horizons and personal potential. I'll speak more toward victimization later.

Presently, I'd like to clarify why I believe that What the bleep? is more representative of modernity than it would like you to believe. In fact, this film, if it has claim to a status representative of postmodern thinking, reveals the inability of postmodernism to completely deconstruct the Enlightenment project. (Craig will say I've been reading McIntyre again.) The only thing that the movie really does is act to underwrite an individualist perspective of those persons who want to free themselves of the ancient burdens of organized religion, yet know that they will be left yoked to the emptiness of empiricism if they don't create something to fill the spiritual vacuum created by the rejection of ancient stories. Whether it is dressed up as modernism or quantum mechanics, the really Insightful people who have achieved level six of Fowler's stages of faith have an agenda that wants you to not only reject the baggage of Christianity's past (Don't Hindus have any baggage, and why does no one ever speak about Islam - it is relevant isn't it?) but anything that might provide an identity that isn't purchased online from a culture three thousand miles away.

The Enlightenment and modernity, and American individualism, is all about rejecting the past as irrelevant to your future, if not overtly oppressive. what the Enlightenment produced, amongst other things, however, was a rejection of personal culpability for the past, while all the while accepting the benefits of privileged status. And when you are privileged, it is rather easy to peel of perceived or real victim hood in favor of a self-authored identity that, when mixed with quantum mechanics, allows you to manipulate the world and the reality around you.

Liberation theology, and narrative, would have a field day with this perspective. but first, I must say that it is a healthy thing to throw the spirit of victimization away in favor of a new identity in Jesus and those communities that follow him. However, to say that adjusting a reality through the manipulation of individual perceptions is liberation, well, I offer that such liberation is incomplete at best, and serves the oppressor at worst. The reality of the burdens of empire upon conquered peoples is as real as the wall that separates Israel and Palestine, or as real as the atrocities committed by governments an individuals worldwide.

Such atrocities must not only be perceived as real, but whole communities must be willing to change their own lives according to these realities suffered by the other. When I lived in Detroit, no amount of direct thinking, contrary to the statements of the witches of Bleep, are going to stop bullets from entering young flesh, and no amount of prayer without the correlated actions of the Church is going to eliminate torture or genocide - or manipulate the past, as suggested by folks in the movie. That Alice is stuck in the rabbit hole is not the problem. The fact that the genie is out of the bottle is the problem, and very few people are praying, and few churches are acting, in a manner that throws privilege to the wind so that victims may be truly liberated from their yoke to our lifestyle.


Mr. Miro said...

Scot: You've been reading McIntyre again.
Okay, I got that out of the way. I wasn't clear which movie you were watching--the 2004 "What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?" or the 2006 sequel, "What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole." I haven't seen the second, and I'm guessing that's the one you're referring to; I don't know if seeing them together would help or not. I suspect not. I saw the first right as I started at ESR, so I'm not sure how I would view it--or the sequel--if I saw them today. I do think you have a good point, that there's an emphasis on the individual rather than the corporate that either ignores or abets the problems of our society.
I can offer one insight, however, at least with regards to the first movie. The lack of identification makes the viewer listen differently, and when the titles and positions were revealed at the end, some of them were quite surprising: the Anglican bishop talking about quantum physics, the physicist talking about God, etc.
Why didn't you ever tell me you were interested in Rawls?

R. Scot Miller said...

Hi Mr. Miro,
I haven't even pulled MacIntyre from the shelf since I've moved, but it is displayed rather prominently on my livingroom bookshelves. As for Rawls, I've just checked him out again, and will comment soon.
I did watch the second movie, and I would not have been surprised at all to see an Anglican speaking about quakntum mechanics. I just would have like to see a name so that I could tell if he was somehow related to Spong. I've read a lot of books by people who I have no idea of how they look. but at the end of "down the rabbit hole" there were people who were talking very authoritatively about dogmas, and not just Christian dogma, but new age particulars that revealed this fillm for what it was, an advertisement for crystal factories. Hope to here from you soon, I'll check out Mr. Miro's blog soon. Blessings, Scot