The Best Game of Thrones Episodes
As a fun exercise, I've ranked the 20 best Game of Thrones episodes, wildly speculating about season 4. I will amend the list as season 4 proceeds, and it will be official by the end of June.
As a fun exercise, I've ranked the 20 best Game of Thrones episodes, wildly speculating about season 4. I will amend the list as season 4 proceeds, and it will be official by the end of June.
For years I've been fascinated by Pre-tribulationists: Christians who believe they will be raptured (taken bodily up to heaven) before the onset of the apocalyptic tribulation. It's a belief that emerged only in the 19th century, but has been popularized by the Left Behind series to the extent of The DaVinci Code. There are technical problems with this view and the more general: early Christians not only expected to suffer the tribulation before they were raptured; they saw it as their holy mandate. Let's examine. Paul is the place to start on the subject. His description of the rapture is justly famous, being the most detailed and earliest (50s AD) version preserved in the NT:
"For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (I Thess 4:16-18) "We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'" (I Cor 15:51-55)Obviously neither of these passages says anything to the effect of "comforting one another because you won't have to go through tribulation". The passage of I Thess 4 simply advises comfort because believers can count on seeing their loved ones again. Paul was addressing a concern about the bodies of Christians who died before the second coming (his answer: they will be resurrected from their sleep-state). In the passage of I Cor 15, he was addressing an opposite concern, about the bodies of Christians who were still living (his answer: they won't need to die first before being resurrected; their mortal bodies will be instantly clothed with immortality). Paul wasn't implying anything at all about the time of the rapture, only about the logistics of dead and alive bodies. He provided a vivid description of the rapture in any case, which impacted the gospel writers and the author of Revelation. The image of Jesus descending in the clouds and harvesting the faithful is present in the Markan Apocalypse (early 70s AD), followed by Matthew (80s) and Luke (90s), and these writers clearly state that the rapture takes place after the tribulation.
"But in those days, after the tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels [with a loud trumpet call], and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven." (Mk 13:24-27/Mt 24:29-31; cf. Lk 21:25-27)Astonishingly, today's Pre-tribulationists fixate on the text which comes right after this:
"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mk 13:32/Mt 24:36)This, they say, proves that the rapture could happen "at any time now". All it proves is that no one (not even Jesus, apparently) knows the exact day and hour when the rapture will take place. But whenever it happens, it obviously follows the tribulation! The Markan Apocalypse couldn't be clearer: there will be a nasty tribulation, involving wars, famine, earthquakes, false Christs, false prophets, and people dying for their beliefs. After this period the sun and moon will darken. Then Jesus will come in the clouds to rapture the elect. If it's so clear, then why is the doctrine of the pre-trib rapture so widely believed? An obvious (and perhaps flippant) answer is that modern evangelicals are self-entitled wimps and want to be saved by Jesus without having to bleed for it. But to be fair, there's another reason. At least some of them are genuinely misreading their bibles. They confuse "tribulation" with "God's wrath". They rightly point out that NT texts (such as I Thess 5:9) assure faithful believers that they won't have to suffer God's wrath. But "God's wrath" isn't the same thing as "tribulation". The book of Revelation makes clear that the Day of God's wrath doesn't come until the sixth seal is opened -- which is the point in the Markan Apocalypse at which the sun and moon are darkened:
"When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath is come, and who is able to stand?'" (Rev 6:12-17)This is the onset of God's wrath, and it is from this point on that the elect will be spared the ugliness running over the earth. They will be raptured, as the Markan Apocalypse makes clear, and which Rev 7 implies. Then the seventh seal will be opened (Rev 8:1-6), segueing into the full-blown horrors of the seven trumpets (Rev 8:7-11:19) and seven bowls (Rev 16:1-21). The trumpets and bowls seem to describe the same supernatural events from different perspectives -- God's punishments that steamroll over humanity: fire and brimstone, the sea turning to blood, rivers becoming poison, locusts pouring out of smoking pits, etc. They are unlike the horrors loosed by the seven seals before the rapture (Rev 6:1-13), which are worldly and involve nothing supernatural at all: war, famine, death, martyrdom. Simply put, the tribulation (Rev 6:1-13; Mk 13:1-25/Mt 24:1-29/Lk 21:8-26) is not a period in which God is pouring out wrath to punish people. Tribulation is persecution (Mk 14:17/Mt 13:21) and suffering through tyranny and oppression. People don't go through tribulation because they're bad; they go through it precisely because they're uncompromising in their faith; they endure it as a test of their faith. The New Testament is replete with this idea. Acts says that Christians "must" enter the kingdom of God through tribulation (Acts 14:22), and Paul even tells his converts to "rejoice" in their tribulation and sufferings (II Cor 7:4). In other words, modern Pre-tribulationists are about as far from the mindset of the New Testament as you can possibly get. The early Christians didn't count on escaping tribulation, whether through rapture or not. For them, suffering persecution was a badge of honor -- no less than the cross of Christ. Even when demoralized, they found it within themselves to persevere. This isn't to say that traditional Post-tribulationists are without fault. Many of them fall into the same trap of confusing the tribulation with God's wrath, and as a result put the rapture at the end of the seven-year period of Rev 6-16. The rapture comes after the tribulation but prior to God's wrath. The best timeline I've come across is this one produced by Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church: outlines it, there is a critical break at Rev 12 which starts the timeline over again, so that the sequence of tribulation, rapture, wrath depicted in Rev 6-11 is retold in Rev 13-16. Chapter 12 goes back even further to Mary and the birth of Jesus (12:1-6), and then describes the war in heaven which results in the devil being cast down to earth (Rev 12:7-9). It is his wrath (Rev 12:12) -- not God's -- that is about to spill out, as he persecutes God's elect and tries to destroy them. This is how the tribulation (Rev 13) unfolds. Not with the supernatural events of fire and brimstone, or rivers of poison, or locusts smoking out of pits. But by wars, natural disasters, famine, and martyrdom -- just as in Rev 6:1-11 and Mark's Apocalypse. The anti-Christ emerges and is given worldly power. Back in Rev 6, he was symbolized by the white horse (a mockery, or "fake Christ", of the warrior-Jesus to come in Rev 19:11). In Rev 13, he is symbolized by the beast who rises from the sea. The result is the same: he makes war on the saints to overcome them (Rev 13:7). Everyone worships him except believers (13:7-8), and those who don't worship him are unable to buy or sell anything (13:16-17). Those who defy him are beheaded (see Rev 20:4). His number is 666 (13:18). [Historically, the anti-Christ was the incarnation of Nero Caesar, who persecuted ancient Christians; the numerical equivalents of the letters in his name added up to 666.] The tribulation of Rev 13 mirrors Rev 6, just as the implied rapture of Rev 14 mirrors Rev 7, and just as God's wrath of Rev 16 mirrors Rev 8-11. The "tribulation, rapture, wrath" sequence is implied throughout other parts of the NT. As I already mentioned, I Thess 5:9 states that believers won't be subject to God's wrath, while II Thess 2:1-3 insists that the Day of Christ (the rapture) cannot come until there is a falling away (apostasy) and the man of sin (anti-Christ) revealed. Taken together, these align pretty closely with the schemes of the Markan Apocalypse and Revelation. The NT authors were by no means on the same page with all their beliefs. But many of them shared some common convictions, and a post-tribulation rapture was one of them. The NT expects faithful Christians to be tribulated -- persecuted, oppressed, robbed, starved, slaughtered -- and have their faith put to the test in horrendous ways. The rapture was never understood to avoid this. It was the reward that came after. My point is not to stir up apocalyptic fervor. But if you happen to be a pre-millenial Christian with literal convictions about the end times, then I would insist that a post-trib/pre-wrath rapture is the only sensible option for you; the pre-trib rapture is no more credible than the claims of The DaVinci Code. The more significant point is the early Christian commitment to suffering for the cause of Christ. The apostles were a lot like their savior: they were ready for martyrdom, and didn't expect God to bail their asses out to avoid tribulation.
Almost every site on the web confuses apocalyptic with post-apocalyptic films. I'm setting the record straight.
Almost every site on the web conflates apocalyptic with post-apocalyptic films. I'm setting the record straight.
ranked C.S. Lewis' Narnian chronicles, I explained why The Last Battle is the best of the series. Yes, it still traumatizes kids, and "kills off" the young protagonist Susan Pevensie in the most ridiculously unfair way; some readers decide they want nothing to do with a Christ-figure like Aslan who casts his wayward subjects -- those sweet talking animals -- into the incinerator. But this is what apocalypses are: outpourings of divine wrath that serve a justice so hyper it redefines the meaning of the word. They're mysteries. Like the Book of Job. And of course, like the story of Noah. Make no mistake, Noah pulls no punches in this regard; Aronofsky doesn't soft-peddle God's act of genocide. He takes license filling in the blanks of Genesis 6-9, but remains true to the heart of the story: a righteous man and his family are spared the global holocaust, and are commissioned to preserve the animal creation while humanity is wiped out -- because people, in God's eyes, deserve nothing less. Don't listen to complaints from the Christian right that this theme of divine vengeance has been anachronistically aligned with pagan environmentalism or vegetarianism. If Christians knew their bibles, they would know that a significant amount of "environmentalism" can be derived from scripture; and as for vegetarianism, if we're going to be proper fundies, we would acknowledge that God didn't add meat to the human diet until after the flood (Gen 9:3). See Chris Heard's wonderful skewering of Christian ignorance on these points. Noah cannot be called pro-environmental in any true modern sense, though it can resonate with some viewers on that level. "Sympathy for the Devil" argues that the biblical story of Noah has not been merely supplemented by gnostic and Kabbalah myths, but wholly subverted and re-appropriated by them. He writes:
"Of all the Christian leaders who went to great lengths to endorse this movie, and all of the Christian leaders who panned it, not one of them could identify a blatantly Gnostic subversion of the biblical story when it was right in front of their faces.... Aronofsky did it as an experiment to make fools of us: 'You are so ignorant that I can put Noah up on the big screen and portray him literally as the 'seed of the Serpent' and you all will watch my studio's screening and endorse it.'... He's having quite the laugh. And what a Gnostic experiment. In Gnosticism, only the elite are 'in the know' and have the secret knowledge. Everybody else are dupes and ignorant fools. The 'event' of this movie is intended to illustrate the Gnostic premise. We are dupes and fools."Which is why, according to Mattson, everyone in the film -- protagonists and antagonists alike -- worship "the Creator" (never called "God"). The sides of Noah and Tubal-Cain are equally deluded. Noah isn't wicked like Tubal-Cain, of course, but he's a far cry from the righteous figure of the bible; he forces Ham to abandon a girl to her death, progressively alienates his family as they ride out the flood, and finally comes within a hair's width of butchering his two newborn grandchildren. This, says Mattson, is not a side commentary on the evil in everyone, but rather a deliberate alignment with the Zohar scheme of the Jewish Kabbalah, where "on the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species" (Tubal-Cain) and "from the side of Abel/Seth comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial" (Noah). The crux of the film -- Noah's homicidal mania on board the Ark -- is, according to Mattson, the expected behavior of a deluded follower of the false murderous god the gnostics believed Yahweh to be. When Noah finally breaks with this malevolence, lighting on love and mercy (which according to the gnostic myth the Jewish God doesn't have a single atom of), his enlightenment appears to have been triggered by the snakeskin relic: the skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden.
"The serpent was right all along [in gnostic traditions]. This 'god,' 'The Creator,' whom they are worshiping is withholding something from them that the serpent will provide: divinity itself. The world of Gnostic mysticism is bewildering with a myriad of varieties. But, generally speaking, they hold in common that the serpent is 'Sophia,' 'Mother,' or 'Wisdom.' The serpent represents the true divine, and the claims of 'The Creator' are false."The snake-skin relic is what controls Mattson's interpretation of Noah. It's the key, for him, that unveils Aronofsky's conspiracy. At the start of the film,
"Lamech, rather strangely for a patriarch of a family that follows God, takes out a sacred relic, the skin of the serpent from the Garden of Eden. He wraps it around his arm, stretches out his hand to touch his son—except, just then, a band of marauders interrupts them and the ceremony isn’t completed. Lamech gets killed, and the 'villain' of the film, Tubal-Cain, steals the snakeskin. Noah, in other words, doesn't get whatever benefit the serpent's skin was to bestow."
"Noah kills Tubal-Cain and recovers the snakeskin relic: 'Sophia,' 'Wisdom,' the true light of the divine."Except that Noah does neither of these things. Ham is the one who stabs Tubal-Cain to death; Ham is the one who takes the snake-skin relic (and he's not blessed by it when he does; his arm doesn't light up with the appropriate glow). Noah doesn't even touch the damn thing until the very end of the film, when Ham yields it to him. Frankly, I saw no implied connection between Ham's removing the snake-skin relic off Tubal-Cain's corpse and the separate scene on top of the Ark, where Noah is about to butcher his granddaughters but after long moments of agony finally stops his blade. What I saw was Noah struggling brutally with his conscience and barely winning. I certainly didn't whiff any subtle enlightenment triggered by a relic acquired below deck. It's safe to say that the snake-skin doesn't carry the loaded significance Mattson ascribes to it. I agree there is something gnostic about it, just as there are gnostic and Kabbalah elements that crop up elsewhere. But they serve a supplemental role at best. Noah, on whole, doesn't denigrate the Creator (far less the creation, which is esteemed as positive) or glorify the serpent. It does take the vengeful character of God seriously, as obviously did the bible of "orthodox" Jews and Christians. Later gnostics couldn't cope with this dimension to God, and so cast him a lesser, primitive barbaric deity. Apparently Christians like Mattson can't cope with fleshed out (homicidal) portraits of figures like Noah -- who indeed are only mirroring the image of the divine on this point, yet with a balance that I think comes across loud and clear.
I enjoyed Larry Hurtado's dismantling of the myth of gnostic intellectualism. As a Unitarian who celebrates religious diversity, I come into enough contact with neo-gnostics, and there are even aspects of gnosticism I find positively interesting. Salvation by self-discovery is something orthodoxy could use more of. But there's also a lot to laugh about in gnosticism, especially fantasies that they were intellectually and/or spiritually superior. Hurtado writes:
"It's perhaps a natural mistake for people who haven't read the texts, given that 'gnostic' comes from the Greek word 'gnosis', which means 'knowledge'. But in the case of those called 'gnostics,' the kind of 'knowledge' that they sought wasn't 'intellectual,' but (to put it kindly) what we might term 'esoteric,' secretive truths expressed typically in cryptic, riddling form, deliberately intended to make little sense as expressed. Put unkindly, one might characterize it as a bunch of 'mumbo-jumbo' with no attempt to present them reasonably and in terms of the intellectual climate of the time... There are modern equivalents to the ancient gnostics, people who go for the esoteric, who imagine themselves special in some way [and] can leap into mystical truths."That's not uncharitable, just accurate, and again as a Unitarian I know all about the allure of pretentious spiritualities.
John Ransom: "What's that mighty tome? I thought the gnostic gospels were my territory, not yours... I like the verse where Jesus says, 'If you understand the world, you have found a corpse, but if you have found a corpse, you are superior to the world.' [Thom 56] That has the real gnostic thing, don't you think?... Why are you bothering with such drivel?"Note that Tim Underhill is a lead character in many of Straub's novels, and according to the author a lot like himself, so Straub could be having some fun at his own expense. That's commendable. As I said, there's plenty to laugh about in gnosticism. Even if John Ransom is a despicable man (as we later learn), he nails the gnostics properly like Hurtado does.
Tim Underhill: "I'm hoping to find out. What do you have against it?"
John: "Gnosticism is a dead end. When people allude to it now, they make it mean anything they want it to mean by turning it into a system of analogies. And the whole point of gnosticism in the first place was that any kind of nonsense you could make up was true because you made it up."
Tim: "I guess that's why I like it."
"We find our identity in the man who fell among the thieves... [We] fall prey to our own collective rigid attitudes, which in times of crises leave us bleeding and beaten on the road. In these crises all that is respectable and accepted -- the priests and levites -- pass us by. These persons in our lives whom we most adulate, and whose acceptance we most want, are the very ones whose opinions we fear in the time of crisis... Salvation comes from the 'Samaritan'. The Samaritan is the despised one, the one in ourselves whom we have looked down upon for so long. In being administered to by our inferior side, we can make a beginning towards wholeness." (The Kingdom Within, p 146)That's a perfect illustration of esoteric "mumbo jumobo" (per Hurtado) and indeed just "making things up" (per Ransom); of emptying out real-world entities like Samaritans, priests, and levites, and pouring into the shells whatever abstractions you want. Jesus (or the early Christians, or Luke) had been suggesting that cultural enemies (Samaritans) and evil men (traders) can be unexpected heroes. However orthodoxy later tamed the moral, the original idea remained. Even the trivial Sunday-school lesson you can derive from it carries echoes from the hills of Galilee. But the gnostic puts us in another universe.
Time to Thrive Speech, in which she came out as lesbian and thanked the Human Rights Campaign for inspiring her. I don't normally watch these kind of things, but Ellen's speech was moving, actually one of the best speeches I've heard in a long time. Its wide impact is cause for rejoice.