All that is wrong with the world…

March 21, 2011

Thoughts on Preacher and the coming film adaptation

Preacher has to be one of the most overrated comic book series of all time. It has made many best comics of all time lists and many people have cited it as a source of influence. In reality it is very interesting premise that is never fully utilized accept to tell the simple story of love and friendship against a background of unnecessary excessive violence and gore. It’s a shame, because the questions raised about God, responsibility and determinism are interesting and worthy of deep thought and analysis. I have not read much of Ennis’s other work such as The Boy’s or his run on Hellblazer that is said to have inspired Preacher so don’t know if it is perhaps just his style, or if he was trying something new or trying to accomplish something in particular.

The first problem I have with Preacher is the premises, Genesis. The spawn of a devil and angel with power said to rival or surpass that of God himself. I just don’t get how that makes any sense. First of all, why would an angel be pure good and why would a demon be pure evil? I don’t think such beings can be reduced to such simple absolutes, although I don’t necessarily have a lot to back this up with. There is of cause the example of Lucifer who started as an angel which unless he was a victim of God’s master plan, would show that not all angels are pure good. There is the point that if angels lack free will then they can only be what they are designed to be, but given that back in the day they routinely slayed thousands of innocents, can they really be said to be pure good? It’s an issue in theology in which good is defined as whatever is aligned with God, which is often quite distinct from what we may philosophize is objectively good.

Of course, this is never adequately gone into detail and we just have to accept the premise. It seems like Ennis just thought that it was a good enough premise to have an godlike being to serve the story without having really thought it through. One of the main problems with Genesis is that it reduced God’s power. God is meant to be omnipotent (although the omnipotence paradox easily shows that to be impossible) yet is unable to prevent the creation of a being more powerful than he? I mean, Genesis exists without any real personality being controlled by a human who didn’t quite know how to wield the power….so God couldn’t have simply stopped the fornication that resulted in Genesis, what with existing out of time and such? It seems unlikely that such a thing is outside of his power, which then leaves the possibility that it was part of God’s plan. In which case why fear Genesis?

Then there’s the word of god, the main demonstration of the power Genesis provides to Jesse. Essentially it allows him to command anyone….to do anything against their free will. It serves as a good excuse to have characters do horrible disgusting things…but again it is never really explored. Why would humans, who were created for the soul purpose of having free will, be subject to something that could override it? A backdoor of sorts? That isn’t so hard to buy but it seems odd to me. Then, why would Genesis have this particular power? Shouldn’t Genesis simply be raw power? Also, if the power is equal or close to that of God….would this not mean things such as turning back time, manipulating reality, bringing people back from the dead etc should all be possible? Genesis should be far more powerful than what jesus was capable of, yet as portrayed is capable of far less. How does that make sense? Again, it seems like it was just a good excuse for violence. Things like Jesse going back in time to talk to his father or bringing people back to life, restoring Arseface to his pre-disfigured state or reverse Cassidies vampirism all should be possible and would have made a far more interesting comic IMO, yet these possibilities are never even explored.

So, what about the individual characters? Despite the plot flaws and needless violence, Preacher is redeemed because of some very interesting and well written characters who have a whole lot of heart. The protagonist of the series, Jesse Custer is a good ol’ boy from Texas working as a preacher who doesn’t tend to have any faith left. Throughout his journey we see the experiences that made him the man he is today, his uncompromising morals and his views on religion and life. One thing I felt lacking with Jesse was that it was never really explored why he felt his blame on God for abandoning his creation was justified. Was he blaming god for his shitty life? Shouldn’t he have grown out of that and accepted that shit happens?

One thing I wish was explored more was how Jesse uses the word of god so casually. Ordering people to savagely mutilate themselves or torture themselves (such as counting all the grains of sand on a beach) without a second thought, especially when the punishment does not fit the crime seems out of character. For someone who is ultimately a good person yet doesn’t seem to care about the pain he inflicts on others throughout his quest.

What about Arseface? Arseface seems to be the strangest character of all….a boy with a face like an arse due to a failed suicide attempt. He is shown to be the epitome of pathos….being manipulated or dismissed at every turn while being eternally optimistic and taking it all in stride. I really can’t understand why this character exists, as it doesn’t serve the plot at all. I guess it can be seen as a very, very shallow commentary on western society’s obsession with violence and celebrity….but even that seems out of place. The simplest explanation would seem to be that it was just another excuse to have violence and grossness for the sake of it.

Herr Starr was quite an interesting character and serves as the main antagonist to Jesse throughout the series. A man who truly believes in what he is doing and after hearing of the word of god, develops a plan to make use of it. Instead, what could be a complex character used to examine some of the issues I mention above is instead used as a cheap comedic gimmick, with Herr Starr suffering humiliating injury after injury. The origin and motivation of the character only serves as a thing premise, giving him a reason to go between points so as to be able to suffer in interesting ways. It’s a shame.

Cassidy the Irish vampire was probably my favorite character. He was a unique character, with an interesting outlook and lifestyle. He is easily the character with the most character growth during the series and who is changed drastically by the end of it. He makes mistakes and after a lifetime of not caring, understand why he should. His friendship with Jesse and the subsequent dissemination and redemption of said friendship is one of the nicest stories ever told. These are the redeeming features of Preacher…the story of friendship and family that is told underneath everything.

The Saint of Killers is also an interesting and quite cool character. At the same time, quite an odd character. A vicious killer whose hatred actually freezes over hell and is thus made a saint. Again this is never fleshed out….why would his hate cause hell to freeze over? Even if we just take it…why would the angels make him a saint? Why not some sort of mercenary for hell? None of that matters too much, as the characters is original and cool and just works much of the time. What doesn’t work, at all, is the ending of preacher. Why would he kill god? Why would he be able to kill god? His weapons are made from the Angel of Death’s sword….and it seems unlikely the Angel of Death could have killed god had he wanted to. The main problem is with the ending though….why oh why would he be able to kill god? His power while impressive should pale in comparison to the one and only lord. Oh well.

There are of course a lot more characters in Preacher, but I can’t be bothered to mention most of them, as most of them are gimmicks and not particularly interesting. The retarded shit-flinging offspring of Jesus, a guy who likes to fornicate with meat mannequins, a pair of English sodomites…none of these characters is particularly interesting or gripping and for me at least they simply get in the way of what could be an amazing story. The one exception could be said to be the offspring of Jesus, although this was more interesting to see how faith based obsession can drive people, as the character himself was still uninteresting. I don’t find Tulip worth writing about, as she just isn’t that interesting. She is a fine character but doesn’t have too much of her own story and remains simply Jesse’s love interest.

I did enjoy Preacher, I just think that it was a wasted opportunity. It starts of with such an interesting premise where so many issues could be examined or commented on, but all of that is swept aside for the comic book equivalent of a cheaply made exploitation movie. Girls, guns, violence, vampires, sex, whatever. It wasn’t all bad and it is what it is. The things that shine in preacher are the stories of the various relationships, the dialogue and the artwork isn’t too bad either. However for people to keep highlighting Preacher as some kind of amazing influential accomplishment…that I just don’t understand.

As for examining or commenting on various issues and problems….I don’t think Preacher tries. If it does, it’s always very briefly and overshadowed by the violence, comedy, sex or whatever else is taking up most of the page. It’s like trying to find a complex commentary on the difference between good and evil in Batman Forever. I haven’t read Lucifer or Hellblazer which I have heard good things about and do seem to examine some of these interesting religious and philosophical issues. For the moment though…Supernatural has to be the best media I have found that examines these issues. It does it fairly well considering it’s on network TV and as restricted as it is. Still, so far it’s managed to look at what it means to be human, the soul, free will, the role of god, faith in general, good and evil etc. Good stuff and definitely worth checking out.

In the meanwhile Preacher has been confirmed to happen as a film, being helmed by DJ Caruso. I don’t mind Caruso as a director, thinking Eagle Eye was a well told an paced story with the right amount of action and story. I can see him bring a fairly faithful adaptation to the screen. The problem is what changes will the adaptation go through? Much of the stuff in the comic probably wouldn’t fly for the screen and since the studios are not going to want an R rating which means quite a lot is going to be cut. Still, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Quite a lot can be excised from the film without affecting the story….no women made of meat, no English sodomites, no Arseface…just the story of friendship and a quest to make God accountable. By sticking to the core, taking the general idea and examining the issues a much better film can be had.

The problem is that such a film wouldn’t be the same Preacher as the fans of the comic are familiar with. In this case though, I think there is a chance to make the film far superior to the comic, so I am all for it. If the studio wanted to have a more faithful adaptation then they should probably commission Robert Rodriguez to film it as one of his grindhouse films. Personally, I’ll take a good story that provides food for thought over senseless violence as a poor excuse for comedy any day of the week. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how this turns out.

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May 20, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day – Part Two

Filed under: Issues...the world...etc.. — Tags: , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 11:09 pm

So, part two of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Since the day was announced there have certainly been some interesting reactions, most notably with Pakistan banning access to Facebook. So far their does not seem to have been any large impact, and outside of a few news stories about people being offended and trying to shutdown the day, it has been uneventful. It will be interesting to see if the day is larger next year, if censorship continues or gets worse and enough people care to make a stand.

Many more prominent sites than my blog have run the story and shown their support as well as showcasing user contributions depticing Mohammed. The Comics Alliance website has a good writeup with many interesting depictions. Reason ran a competition and has shown the winner and runner ups, all of which make interesting statements instead of just depicting Mohammed for the sake of it. Cartoonist Mark Fiore dedicated his daily animation to the cause. Lastly, the CACAH protest blog has many submissions, although as a warning many may be considered offensive. The Comics Alliance and Reason sites also have very well written articles about the importance of the event which are worth reading.

One thing I don’t understand is the amount of people speaking out against the day seeing it as nothing more than just beeing needlessly offensive. I have to wonder just what is wrong with these people, and why they have such an inability to grasp what EDMD is actually about, and why it is important.

In any case, below is my contribution. I used the Simpsons character creator to create a depiction of Mohammed. Lacking any artistic skill myself and seeing all the attention the South Park depiction of Mohammed got, I thought it would be nice to see a Simpsons style depiction. As I wrote in part one, my goal is not to needlesly offend peoples beliefs but to stand a right to free speech.

Presenting Mohammed:

May 13, 2010

Why naturalistic pantheism is a crock

Filed under: Issues...the world...etc.. — Tags: , , , , — allthatiswrong @ 3:00 am

Note: Throughout history many similar yet different philosophies and beliefs have been referred to as naturalistic pantheism. I am specifically talking about the beliefs described by the World Pantheism Movement website and that many people are starting to identify as subscribing to.

Naturalistic Pantheism, also called Scientific Pantheism is a particular set of beliefs, which some people may refer to as a religion or life philosophy. Naturalistic Pantheism eschews all traditional religions and their dogma without having any of it’s own. It claims not to have any core beliefs and to be open to and accept scientific evidence and proof while at the same time having a ‘reverence’ for the universe and all existence.

It seems that Naturalistic Pantheism is the choice of educated and perhaps intelligent people who are smart enough to acknowledge that all the current organized religions are absurd, yet still have some sort of need for a spiritual aspect to their lives. If you eliminate all the spiritual aspects of god or worship from naturalistic pantheism then all that remains is the base scientific knowledge and fact. In what possible way is this so insufficient that some people need to re-imagine the universe as a kind of entity? If I can have a deep wonder and respect for the universe without having to do so, surely others can as well? I understand that people have different ways of coping or looking at the world but this is just ridiculous.

It is pointless to ascribe fantasy to the world to make it more appealing. I really have to wonder about the people who feel this is necessary and their general coping skills. Empirical evidence is really all that matters. Anything outside of that is speculation which while interesting should not be enough to base your life around.

Richard Dawkins who famously attacked religion and the concept of a personal god in The God Delusion shares the same basic idea. He mentions many times in TGD that surely the universe is amazing enough, and that it should be enough that we appreciate the beauty of what exists without having to ascribe a fictional creator as being responsible. Naturalistic pantheism would seem to share this view except for the unnecessary aspects of spirituality and reverence.

I would think that Richard Dawkins would be fundamentally opposed to the concept of naturalistic pantheism. Why? Because it is disingenuous. Rather than have a reverence for existence as we understand it to be as science has revealed it to be, naturalistic pantheism paraphrases and reinterprets our current understanding to ascribe a higher meaning. Something that does not exist accept in peoples imaginations and should therefore be dismissed.

It seems that as many organized religions decline in popularity alternative spirituality’s are increasing in popularity. Nonsense such as Neo-paganism, astrology, even magic and now naturalistic pantheism are on the rise. People are starting to understand that the dogma of organized religions is nonsensical and so are looking for crutch to fill their need. Enter the above spirituality’s which are appealing since they don’t directly contradict science. If people have a need to believe in something that isn’t there is no stopping them. Perhaps in a few hundred years when organized religion is largely defunct, instead of it being gone altogether it will have just been replaced by something less fantastic but equally absurd.

I think this is an interesting time in humanities history. Until recently religious people have dominated society. It is only in the last few decades that people are choosing to think for themselves and realizing that most religions simply don’t make any sense. The people who cannot entirely accept scientific evidence and findings and need to place their own unsubstantiated ideas and beliefs on top of them represent the last of a dying breed. These people will probably always be around as part of the diversity of humans in general, but eventually they will be an extreme minority deprived of any credibility.

At the end of the day it is generally impossible to have strong religious beliefs and accept the current scientific knowledge without making significant compromises. abstracting your religion to the point it is practically indistinguishable from the normal workings of the universe is not enlightened, but a crock.

For more information: http://www.pantheism.net/manifest.htm

October 8, 2009

Agnosticism is a pointless and irrational stance.

This was initially posted elsewhere, and it was interesting to observe the responses. In a small minded gaming community, people could not be bothered to actually read the article and responded emotionally to the title, feeling obligated to defend their religion or stance – missing the point entirely. This contrasts heavily with the reaction that was received when it was posted in the Richard Dawkins forum, where pretty much everybody agreed. I find it interesting how people can be so biased or hostile, and refuse to consider new ideas if they find them the least bit threatening. I hope that by making this article more available, it may generate some interesting feedback, or further arguments or points of view to consider. While I am sure many such arguments have been written on this topic, the only other one I could find was this one here, which misses some of the points raised in this article. Without further ado, the article:

I have thought about this quite a lot, and this is the conclusion I keep coming back to. In this text, I hope to explain my reasoning as to why, and to hear back some alternative points of view, or reasons why my reasoning may not apply or can be voided. I would like to stress, this thread is in no way an attack on religion, nor is it specific to any religion. I would hate to see it sidetracked by a back and forth argument that tends to accompany such matters. Likewise, I understand matters of faith and belief are very much a spiritual or emotional thing, logic, reason or evidence not having a major influence. As such, I am only looking at this issue from a logical/rational/objective/empirical point of view, as I am incapable of taking the matter on faith. As such, I would appreciate any serious responses to be on similar grounds.

NOTE: When I say agnosticism, I am not referring to what is sometimes called weak atheism. The idea of accepting the possibility that a god may exist, but waiting for evidence and assuming none does. That is of course, not pointless and very rational. I am in fact referring to Agnostic atheism, Apathetic agnosticism, Strong agnosticism, and to a far less extent, as much as it sometimes falls under the category of agnosticism, ignosticism. This post is to do with truly taking the stance that you can’t or don’t know, implicitly considering both ideas as equally likely, rather than denying the idea of God by default but willing to consider evidence. With that out of the way….

Firstly, we can divide a belief in God into two major categories. A belief in or possible acknowledgment of God(s) relating to, or as a result of subscribing to a particular religious faith, such as Christianity, Judaism, Scientology etc. The second category is far less specific, and is not related to any particular religion, and simply acknowledges the possibility of there being an external force/deity, with details such as identity, capabilities/level of power, intentions etc not being specified.

I will address the first category first.

The god of any number of organized religions. Well, these religions are all the result of human creation. Perhaps their is a god, who communicated with early humans and used them to record his messages. Perhaps. In which case, all the dogma and tradition can be said to be accurate, or at least the core stuff can be said to be. If this is the case, then agnosticism can not possibly apply. If you subscribe to the beliefs of your specific religion, then…it’s a matter of faith. You can’t ever know you are correct, and it doesn’t matter, because you believe. agnosticism is completely contrary to having a belief in a specific religion. If you declare yourself an agnostic while practicing a religion, that isn’t smart or rational, it’s just hypocritical.

Yes, it is accurate that all religions are created by humans. Each of the Abrahamic religions can be traced back to their roots before they split off from Judaism, they can be shown to have adopted and influences the cultures they influences at different times, and the results of this influence. We have much evidence that will contradict almost all Abrahamic dogma, and it is reliable. We can follow the spread and influence of Christianity around the world as new lands were settled and trading relationships entered into. Likewise for other religions, we can trace back the origins of Taoism, Confucianism or Wicca, we can see how it started and how they evolved throughout history, with their current incarnations no longer resembling what they were originally.

I tend to believe, as it is the most rational conclusion based on the info provided, that it is simply human nature to come up with a religion and belief system. The very best example of this is the cargo cults phenomenon, and the case of the Jon Frum cargo cult. Cargo cults are an interesting phenomenon. Due to a less advanced civilization encountering soldiers, or planes dropping of cargo or something similar and not understanding it, they will make up a reason for it, and ascribe a very powerful entity to it, or in the case of something tangible, such as John Frum, who was responsible in getting much cargo delivered, assign great power to an individual.

This is near perfect evidence of how religions can be formed, and that it is natural for humans to do so. It is easy to explain how then why there have been so many religions through history, why they have nothing in common with each other unless they were a descendant, and why they grow in power over time. Religions adapt. Most Christians traditionally took the Bible literally…in the face of developments, it is now far more common to interpret the passages in a metaphorical way so they can be applied to the modern world. A fantastic example of adapting and growing stronger. There is an interesting parallel to Jon Frum growing in power, and after people learning he was human saying he was indeed a spiritual messenger, elevating him above his original mortal origins, and making idols out of the symbol of an airplane, hoping to attract more..to practices deemed by many of the worlds religions today. People have a need to explain and justify things, and in the face of threatening information, will adapt to incorporate it.

Given that throughout human history, there have been so many religions, in all different parts of the world, with none of them resembling any of the others, while the religions in particular geographic regions have always maintained some traditions in common, given that we have observed phenomenon like cargo cult within the last 100 years, the stance of agnosticism can not apply to human created religions, even if it is considered that they were creating with the guiding hand of a god. As such, only belief or faith applies. The agnostic stance is then reserved for people who do not subscribe to any specific religion, but wish to consider the possibility that there may be a god of some sort.

The above few paragraphs are not intended as an attack on anyone subscribing to any faith, they merely serve to illustrate what I believe to be human nature, and the man made nature of religion, which is relevant as to why so many people will adopt an agnostic stance towards the idea of god, and not other similar imagined concepts.

Now, for the second category, it is important to distinguish the possible god from an interventionist god, and a non-interventionist god. The distinction is important. A non-interventionist god..would mean little if he were to exist. If he did not create our universe, did not interfere in any way, and has no effect on anything we do, then surely he is irrelevant, and his existence meaningless, to us? We would have no reason to prey to him, to worship him, to fear him, or to even communicate with him. For all intents and purposes, our lives, and the lives of all humans past and future, would not be affected by such a god.

An interventionist god on the other hand, will have intervened in the affairs of our universe to some extent. Perhaps he just set the universe in motion, or perhaps he micromanages humans and animals and listens to prayers and steps in when appropriate, which is apparent whenever we think a coincidence has occurred. It does not matter to what extent such a god would have intervened, only that he did. This type of god can then be said to represent a creationist god, not in the biblical or any other religious sense, but by the fact that if it were not for the actions of this god, even if they were simply setting everything in motion and not creating earth or people specifically, we would not have existed. None of that may necessarily have any impact relating to the reasoning of such a god existing however I thought it was important to mention the distinctions.

With that out of the way, there are quite a few problems with examining the idea of a god, of any sort, that does not come from any of our established religions.

Because of these reasons that I have outlined….agnosticism makes as much sense as taking an agnostic stance towards Santa, Raptor Jesus, FSM, Russel’s Teapot or Yoda. No sane adult will acknowledge that any of the above may exist, but will in fact stubbornly deny their existence, on the basis that they are man made. For some reason however, it is perfectly acceptable to take an agnostic stance towards the idea of god. Why? Obviously Yoda was created as a work of fiction, and has a specific set of facts to work with, and deny. There are many other suggestions of things that may exist, and are less specific(and therefore harder to prove), and yet are dismissed as ridiculous. Take UFO’s for example. I have always considered from a scientific point of view that it makes sense to consider that ET’s may exist, and yet most people will(perhaps less these days) laugh at the idea. Quite often, these same people who will accept the idea of god, or take an agnostic stance, will firmly deny the existence of ET’s. How does that make sense?

The only answer is that because such a large number of people in so many different forms embrace this idea, people have been fooled into thinking that there may be something to it. Again, I’m not exactly sure why the idea of god is different in this respect, as the same applies to vampires and dragons. Forgetting that for the moment, the fact is.., agnosticism does not come into play if you subscribe to a religious faith. If you have faith, and believe the dogma and such…, then you believe god exists, and taking a stance that he may not would have no relevance at all. Left with the people who don’t subscribe to a specific religion but want to acknowledge the concept as plausible.., well this is just as meaningless as the previous examples I gave.

The correct stance to take here, when presented with an idea that you cannot know to exist, is to assume it does not, unless presented with some kind of valid reasoning or proof. In the case of a non-interventionist god, we do not have this, and due to the nature of such a god, we never can have this. We can never know, just as we may never know of many supernatural monsters are true or not, or an invisible and out of phase pink unicorn that only turns invisible and out of phase when people look at it or it is detected in some way. While it might be theoretically possible to one day find reasonably persuasive evidence of the existence of a deity, it is impossible to find evidence of any thing’s non-existence. Given that we cannot prove the non-existence of a deity, why should we consider it may exist, anymore than something most people would deem as ludicrous, but is equally unable to be proven to not exist?

It’s fine to admit that something may exist if you don’t now either way, but it makes little sense to do so when there is a simpler explanation. Because agnosticism as a stance contradicts this rather basic truth, it is a pointless and irrational stance.

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