Calvary and the Lost Art of Forgiveness

CalvaryThe film Calvary ends with the murderer about to speak. Seconds before, the camera tracked past visitors talking to inmates at a prison. The daughter of the murdered priest waited for him to sit. She picks up the phone receiver and he, reluctantly picks up his. And as tears run down her cheek, the film fades to black. You are allowed to make up your own mind. But it seems clear to me that she did not visit to spit bile at him. We have two choices when we have been wronged. And neither of them changes the wrong. Calvary suggests that forgiveness is the only rational choice.

The film offers up a wonderful thought experiment because it dispenses with the idea of justice. I find that so refreshing because I think justice is a lie that the powerful use to rationalize the punishment of the weak. Justice is never done. Vengeance is done. Perhaps people feel a bit better because the bad guy was punished. But the wrong has been done and it won’t be undone. People are not resurrected with more killing. Wasted lives are not fixed by wasting more lives. Rape is not erased with a cash settlement.

Calvary starts with the antagonist in a confessional saying, “I first tasted semen when I was seven years old.” We learn that he was brutally and continuously raped for years by a priest who is now dead. And he has come up with an idea: he is going to kill Father James — not because he is guilty, but because he is innocent. If this were a normal film, that would be the end of it. James knows who it is. He could call the police and have the man locked up. But that would not be the Christian thing to do. James doesn’t want to die, but he’s willing to.

In the film, it seems that James doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. If he isn’t killed with a bullet to the head, he will be killed with a thousand cuts. His congregation does not understand Christianity the way he does. When his church is burned down, they don’t seem to care. At one point, he’s asked who burned down his church. He responds, “It’s not my church. It’s our church.” But they don’t see it that way. There’s too much history. It isn’t just the child rape. What St Ignatius said is true to James, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” But that is hogwash to almost everyone but James.

Throughout Calvary, Father James is forced to suffer for the sins of others. There is really only one sin that he is responsible for: effectively abandoning his daughter for the priesthood after his wife died. And this is a sin that he actively seeks — and gets — forgiveness for. But how do you seek forgiveness for the sins of others? And how do you do that when others are not interested in even discussing the subject? The antagonist at least wants vengeance — or something like it. But most of the other people want nothing at all. They practice a thoughtless cynicism.

So without being too obvious, Calvary ends on a hopeful note. The wounded man at the beginning is now the wounder. And the daughter is set to break the cycle of wounded and wounding. She will do what is so rare in this world: forgive.


Calvary is one of the most spiritual films I’ve ever seen. And for a Christian, it would be especially meaningful. I wish that more Christians would watch it than truly vile films like God’s Not Dead and The Passion of the Christ. Both of those films made scads of money. But they don’t expect anything of their viewers. Calvary is a serious film that demands attention — especially from Christians. And it lost money.

Happy Mother’s Day

Weirdo at CemeteryST. MARYS, OH—Apparently content to hang around dead people rather than celebrate like a normal person, area weirdo John Mills spent most of Mother’s Day at a local cemetery, creeped-out sources confirmed. “This is your mom’s special day, and you’re supposed to be taking her to brunch or a spa, not staring at some tombstone,” reported the sources, adding that lurking in a graveyard like some sort of ghoul may in fact be the very worst way to honor the woman who gave you life. “Is it too hard to do something nice for your mother just once a year? Then again, with that miserable look on his face, I bet his mom’s happy he forgot all about her.” At press time, sources reported that the freak had tossed some flowers on the ground that would’ve looked so much nicer in a vase in his mother’s home.

The Onion Staff
Total Weirdo Spends Mother’s Day at Cemetery

Student Refuses to Do Homework — Claims Religious Persecution

Grace Lewis - Keep of the Truth (tm)Once upon a time, Christians were fed to the lions. Even though that appears to have been political, Christians called it religious persecution. But it shows just how hollowed out Christianity has become that today, persecution is thought to be any instance when the entire society doesn’t accept Christian dogma as The Truth™. The best example of this is the constant complaint about, Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas. The problem Christians have with “Happy holidays!” is that it doesn’t single out Christianity as being true and special.

Well, on Thursday, the conservative world went crazy about a teenager who was being oppressed because a mean old teacher gave her Fs on essays that she was supposed to write that the teen thought required her to argue against Christianity. For example, Breitbart published, Professor Fails Student for Refusing to Conform to His Anti-Christian Bias. Fox News ran with, Student: Professor Gave Me Zeros for Refusing to Condemn Christianity. WorldNetDaily went with, Christian Girl Given Zeroes for Her Beliefs, with the subtitle, “No student should be subjected to such outrageous bias and outright hostility.” As it will likely not surprise you, this is not what is going on.

College students are used to telling teachers what they want to hear. They don’t go running to television stations to complain that they are expected to make an argument that goes against what they believe. In fact, it is part of the learning experience to be able to make arguments that go against what you believe. It is part of learning to think. Only a coward would be so fragile in her beliefs as to think that considering an opposing view would be an assault on her opinions. But as we know, modern American Christians are mostly extremely cowardly when it comes to their faiths.

What actually happened in this case was that the student, young Grace Lewis, decided that she didn’t have to write essays that dealt with events in the history of Christianity. She preferred to talk about the way Christianity is today. But the instructor, Lance Russum, was teaching an introduction to humanities course, not Sunday school. So when Lewis did not write her essays on the subjects assigned, he gave her zero credit. It wasn’t that he disagreed with her homespun Christian apologetics; it was that her homespun Christian apologetics had nothing to do with the assignment.

Here is one of the essay assignments:

  1. What is something Lady Julian is saying/doing that women should not be saying/doing at that time under the Christian mythos?
  2. From the article on the nuns, what makes their defiance of male dominance so important?
  3. Why did Christianity, and its male gods, want to silence these women?

Apparently, by the time of this assignment, Russum had experienced Lewis’ approach to such questions. So he added this note:

You are to only answer the above three questions. SECOND, and this is VERY important, I DO NOT want you to write about how wonderful you think Christianity is now because women can do A, B or C. History is history and facts are facts and your opinion on if it is better now or not is irrelevant for this discussion. This is a HISTORICAL discussion about the Middle Ages. If you really feel the need to express your opinion on how you think Christianity is now for women, you may email me, you may call my office or I would love for you to stop by for a nice cup of hot tea where we can talk about it, but it does not belong in this assignment. The pieces you are reading [are] from some of the greatest expressions of mythology by women ever, the question is to honor that voice in that moment of history.

In an unintentionally funny response, Lewis wrote, “In conclusion, the questions assigned are not open-minded questions.” Yes, that’s right: reading about a 14th century Christian thinker is designed to make people abandon their Christianity. This can only be true if one’s faith is childish and based upon Christians of all times being perfect. Ms Lewis is a silly young woman and should be treated as such. She certainly shouldn’t be paraded around on television like a star.

To me, the situation is very clear if we change the subject from Christianity to Islam or Hinduism. No Christian would see a problem with that because no Christian sees those religions as being reflective of the true will of God. This highlights the biggest problem with dogmatic religion: it claims to be a destination. Followers of all the Abrahamic religions aren’t searching for the truth. They think they’ve found it. And if that’s the case, then why is Grace Lewis even in school? There is nothing she needs to learn. The Bible told her so.

Government Spying Draws Stupid Conclusions

Ahmad Muaffaq ZaidanOne of the great conservative canards is that the government can’t do anything right. Not only is this wrong, but the government is very often better at offering its complicated services than the private sector is at offering its simple services. But the one area where the government does the worst job is when the operations are secret. The things we’ve learned years later about covert operations are often scandalous in their stupidity. Of course, these are exactly the things that conservatives most approve of with regard to the government. And not surprisingly, they are also the parts of the government that are most controlled by conservatives.

Thus, I was intrigued to read Cora Currier, Glenn Greenwald, and Andrew Fishman, US Government Designated Prominent Al Jazeera Journalist as “Member of Al Qaeda.” It is based upon the Edward Snowden files — the gift that keeps on giving. Apparently, the US government has labeled veteran Islamabad bureau chief for Al Jazeera Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan as a member of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. And it is all based upon metadata. Given that Zaidan has traveled to and from terrorist locations, they’ve determined that he must be a courier. Like I said: stupid. Of course, it is also just heartless. What does it matter to them if an innocent man is targeted? Especially an actual journalist!

Note that it is based upon this kind of metadata that the CIA and the military call in drone attacks. So this kind of bulk collection of data doesn’t just put the very practice of journalism in jeopardy, it potentially puts journalists’ lives in danger. I have to wonder what our government would say after calling a strike on Zaidan in downtown Islamabad while having lunch with a group of journalists. “They were all men of military age, so they must have been combatants”? It wouldn’t be anymore absurd than much else that the government has claimed in the “war on terror.”

Of course, none of this is new. The article also goes through various times in the past when the US government has targeted Al Jazeera and its employees. This included, “Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman, was imprisoned by the US government at Guantanamo for six years before being released in 2008 without ever being charged.” It’s been clear for a long time that the US government just doesn’t like the network because it has a “scary” sounding name and it reports from the other side of our bombing campaigns and so makes us look bad.

That hasn’t stopped the US from being hypocritical, however. “The Obama administration has criticized Egypt for holding three of Al Jazeera’s journalists on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood.” And so on. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the US government doesn’t do more harm than good. In the name of making the world “safe for democracy” it is destroying democracy.

This doesn’t just apply to “those people” over there. This revelation comes right after the domestic news, NSA’s Bulk Collection Of Americans’ Phone Data Is Illegal, Appeals Court Rules. But the story of Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan shows what a farce are the government claims that metadata don’t mean anything. The only way that we get control of this is if we drag this stuff out into the light. And the government will do everything it can to avoid doing that. I’m not hopeful.

Morning Music: Merle Haggard

I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink - Merle HaggardI really wanted to listen to Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” this morning. But the truth is that Haggard rarely passes up an opportunity to annoy me. He’s a demagogue. And in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was all about pitting the white working man against those other less noble members of society. He’s most explicit in attacking hippies for their drug choices, even while he was privately doing the very same drugs. In “Working Man Blues” he talks about never being on welfare. That’s a common myth that middle class people believe, even while they have their mortgages subsidized by the government.

But no one ever wrote better drinking songs than Merle Haggard. So here is a live performance of “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” with a kick-ass band. I do wish he would lose the hat. He looks stupid in it.

Anniversary Post: J Edgar Hoover Takes Over FBI

J Edgar HooverOn this day in 1924, J Edgar Hoover became the head of the FBI — then called Bureau of Investigation. And he stayed in that post for almost fifty years, leaving only when he died. Apologists for him note that he turned it into the modern and professional organization that it is today. But if that’s the best you can say about him, it’s sad. The FBI has recently admitted to using forensic pseudoscience for years. And now we have an FBI that seems to spend the bulk of its time “foiling” terror plots that it creates. See, for example: FBI Creates Terror Plots to Foil Them; FBI Makes Us Less Safe With Fake Terror Plots; and FBI Foils Another of Its Own Terrorist Attacks.

But the truth is that Hoover was a vile man. People think that Richard Nixon ran a crime syndicate. It was nothing compared to Hoover’s. The only reason he wasn’t replaced as head of the FBI was that he had so much dirt on those people who had power over him. And where did he get that dirt? Through his corrupt use of the FBI. As I will discuss later today, the government always gets screwed up when it works in secret. And Hoover was on the leading edge of that. He was also a bigot. He was a truly vile man.

So happy anniversary for the major mistake of giving J Edgar Hoover any power at all.