Creation

The other night, I watched the film Creation with Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly.

Creation is a film that focuses on the “crisis of faith” and mental torment and anguish Charles Darwin endured while giving birth to his groundbreaking work, The Origin of the Species.

I’ve been wanting to watch this film for awhile, ever since I read about a YA book Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith, made interesting to me due to the fact that it explored the conflict between his ideas and her faith. Additionally, I just adore both Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly.

When I read about the YA book, which I still haven’t read, I had never considered the man Charles Darwin himself. I had never really thought about what it must have been like, to believe you had discovered a great truth that had the potential to destroy that which was most dear to the ones you loved. Darwin was always kind of a dirty word growing up in my creationist home and environment–he was always kind of a devil. Considering the personal cost to him for the ideas he brought into the world was just never on my radar.

So my curiosity piqued, I was glad to watch this movie, which turned out to be underwhelming. You know me, I love a deep heartrending examination and exploration of faith. And there were times towards the beginning I could feel it–the complete crushing loss of belief–and also what that loss meant to Darwin who had lost his daughter at age ten. But the film was just so absurd as it tried to depict his madness and the jumps through time were incoherent and at times difficult to follow. I came away knowing only one thing–he had deeply grieved the loss of his daughter.

It makes sense that such an event would hold a tremendous amount of power over someone on the verge of introducing the world to the idea that God had in fact, not created the world in six days. Especially if your spouse is devout and derives their greatest comfort from the belief that her soul exists on in eternity, in a place where there is no sorrow or tears or pain.

It made me think of this piece I read by Michael Chabon about President Obama’s memorial speech in Tucson. He is at first disgusted that President Obama would give in comfort that nine year old Christina Taylor-Green is jumping in rain puddles in heaven.

I tried to imagine how I would feel if, having, God forbid, lost my precious daughter, born three months and ten days before Christina Taylor-Green, somebody offered this charming, tidy, corny vignette to me by way of consolation. I mean, come on! There is no heaven, man. The brunt, the ache and the truth of a child’s death is that he or she will never jump in rain puddles again. That joy was taken from her, and along with it ours in the pleasure of all that splashing. Heaven is pure wishfulness, an imaginary solution to the insoluble problem of the contingency and injustice of life.

There is simply no comfort to be found in death apart from faith. Death comes and it is final and brutal. To accept this for yourself is one thing, but to bring that crushing possibility to everyone else is a heavy burden. It only makes sense a person could go mad.

Of course, the publication of Darwin’s work did not bring an end to religion as friends in the film suppose. Faith can be resilient and adaptable, and is not necessarily in conflict with science. Further more, many people simply choose to believe what they believe their Bibles say over Darwin, knowing they’d be placing their faith in one or the other anyway.

My own faith journey has been very dramatic in recent years. Ideas I once considered to be standard truth have changed and I understand things differently now. There are times I want to engage in conversations with others about the different ways I think, but I consider what I went though–crushing doubt, nights of despair–true wrestling. My thinking cannot simply change overnight, it’s a process. And I feel like I am more me than I have ever been–but I was so curious to know and think and explore. The last thing I want to do is enter into such a conversation with someone who isn’t personally at a point of change in their own lives. I understand, I think, a little better each day that what works for one person simply doesn’t work for another. I don’t want to be the shadow cast on someone else’s peace.

But I guess if there’s a lesson to be learned from Creation’s Darwin, it’s that people will believe what they want anyway.

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The Physical

In thinking about the disappearance of the physical book recently, I’ve been thinking about our physical relationship to things. The common argument about ebooks, after all, is that it’s the story that counts. The binding, the pages it’s printed on, the cover that adorns it–those don’t really matter.

It’s impossible for me not compare this to one of the world’s most common cliches, Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Releasing attachment to covers of books may free us to actually judge less which books we choose to read. And that turns my thoughts to the many ways in which the digital age has aided us in getting past the physical to the heart of something.

I have so many friends of whom I’m absolutely certain that I first met online. I know them–their hearts and thoughts and humor. But even so, for anyone who has first met someone online, it’s impossible not to attach some imagined physical presence to that person. Our minds are incapable of simply knowing a heart, we imagine also the shell that contains it. It’s such a complex thing in my opinion–this relationship to our physical selves. In so many ways, it impacts us. The way we are perceived, the way we feel about ourselves. We make snap judgments based on the physical all the time–and often they bear some shadows of truth. We cannot be divorced from our physical selves.

When I was a young girl I used to try to imagine what God looked like. I simply couldn’t imagine him and it was a source of huge frustration. I couldn’t imagine what his eyes looked like and if His smile was kind. I couldn’t comprehend the physical of God–who was supposed to be everywhere while not being everything. I think this is part of what makes Jesus so appealing…we can imagine God a little better through him.

I must admit that even with the convenience of our computers and internet, there is nothing like the joy of seeing a smile on the face of one you love or admiring the lovely cover on a favorite book.

Conflict

Over the Christmas holiday, my sister and I watched the 2005 movie Joyeux Noel.

I’d been wanting to watch it for quite some time and while I knew it wouldn’t be a happy Christmas movie, it was certainly thought provoking enough. The basic story of the movie is a retelling of events during World War I when the French, Germans, and Scottish set aside their war on Christmas Eve and fraternized with the enemy (each other). It’s remarkable in a way, how close their trenches really were, the way they let down their guard, the Mass they shared in, and the way they were all moved by the singing of Silent Night.

They told one another their stories, who they were, who they loved, who they missed. And after these moments of their guard being down they were expected to go back to war. They were also expected never to tell.

When their superiors found out, they were in trouble. The priest was lectured for having administered Mass to the enemy, even when he shared it was the most important Mass of his life. The enemy, after all, can’t have a face and a heart, it makes them much more difficult to kill.

The movie began with young children shouting rhetoric about the enemy…about how the enemy must be killed to the very last one, because you never know when he will rise again. These are words meant to instill fear and meant to squash human empathy.

What this made me think about, in the way every great piece of art manages to be about more than one thing, is conflict in life. How you can love someone but always end up arguing with them. How you can look at them and see the light in their eyes, and all the little things they hide from the world, and how you can long to just put it all down and talk, just really talk but there’s all this stuff in the way, stuff that makes it impossible. How hurts can run just as deep as love and longing to bridge a divide is not a strength powerful enough to overcome the voices in our society that tell us we must always be strong, the voices inside ourselves that tell us we must always be right.

To make ourselves vulnerable in the face of a potential enemy is a scary thing…something that asks for a kind of strength that disguises itself as weakness. It isn’t enough to only know we’re all human. It isn’t enough to let down our guard just once, and seek that common ground. It requires, if you will, a continual taking up of the cross. It requires a daily kind of pain to enter into a life where we deny ourselves. Where we don’t care about being right. Where we truly consider another better than ourselves.

Moments like that Christmas Eve so many years ago are like the cracks in the walls we build and maintain around us. The sun bursts in. Connection is made. But the enemy of doubt and self-righteousness and fear is lingering in the shadows, eager to ensnare us once again.