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October 2004

Sunday Night Journal — October 31, 2004

All Hallows’ Eve

I’m writing this on All Hallows’—that is, All Saints’—Eve. Tomorrow begins the traditional Christian month of praying for the dead.

I had an especially vivid and disturbing dream of death a few nights ago which has left the subject very much on my mind. I can’t describe the dream in detail, but I remember very clearly the emotion it provoked, which was something close to panic. It was not a dream about the pain and fear of the process of dying, but about the state of death itself. In the dream this state was one of disorientation, helplessness, and disconnection. I could not think or perceive clearly and could not act at all. I was aware of other souls around me but could not in any way commune with them. I think it was very much like the state which C.S. Lewis somewhere describes as possibly being what it might be like to be a ghost. And it made me think of the scene in Perelandra where the hell-bound spirit of Weston returns briefly to his body and begs Ransom to help him: what Weston describes is somewhat similar to what I dreamed, and he is in pure panic to escape it.

Somehow in my dream I did pull (or was pulled) away from this state, but only to find myself in a state of dread similar to Weston’s and feeling that it must be possible somehow to escape the inevitability of re-entering what I had just left. I felt the full horror of that inevitability and the hopelessness of escape. I saw the world as a sort of ever-narrowing tunnel through which all the human race must proceed, and as it narrowed we would lose more and more of life—our bodies, our memories, our ability to think clearly and to use language—but never lose everything, that is, never entirely cease to exist or to have some kind of broken and fragmentary consciousness—a sort of permanent burial alive.

I awoke feeling certain of the inevitability of death and simultaneously that the certainty was perfectly intolerable. Most especially, I couldn’t bear the fact that we don’t really know what death will bring. I can face the idea of extinction well enough, but not the idea of permanent living death. I felt a need to know what would happen after death with an intensity that I can only compare to the need for air one feels after holding one’s breath for thirty seconds or more. How, I thought—I was still half asleep and in the grip of the dream—could it be possible that we must all face such a thing without knowing what will happen? How can it be that no one has ever returned to tell us?

And then, of course, coming fully awake, I realized that someone has done so, or claims to have, and moreover claims to be able to tell us what we must do in order to escape a condition which is perhaps something like what I had dreamed. And I remembered that his claim is not merely his own but one well attested by eye-witnesses. Why should we not believe it? I have been a Christian for many years but I think this was the first time I experienced viscerally the intense relief and joy and release from dread with which many pagans have received the Gospel.

O Death, where is thy victory?

A Followup from Last Week

Moving rather abruptly into the mundane: the following questions and comments are ones which might have been, but were not, directed to me about to my last journal entry.

You’ve used an inversion of the Fox News slogan “Fair and Balanced” as part of the title for your attack on CBS and implicitly the other established TV networks. This is a low blow, since Fox is just as biased. Besides, its mere existence with its Republican bias contradicts your claim that a monolithic left-wing media bias has distorted public perception of the issues surrounding the war in Iraq.

Fox is indeed biased. For the record, I don’t particularly admire its news programs (and on the basis of its own advertising have a very low opinion of most of its entertainment programming). Fox news tends to be hasty and superficial compared to, say, CNN. And its bias is arguably more blatant. But I don’t think it’s worse—in fact I think I prefer an open bias to a sneaky one. And in any case I’m glad Fox is there. If we can’t have a reasonably non-partisan press, at least we can have a multiplicity of partisan views.

I also think it’s interesting and amusing that so many on the left are beside themselves about Fox on the grounds that it does not report objectively. This tells me that either they cannot see the bias of a network like CBS, probably because they share it, or that they’re not being honest—presumably the former.

Many on the left think the mainstream media are corporate shills for right-wing forces. Doesn’t the fact that both extremes are offended prove that the media are balanced?

Not at all. First, what constitutes “extreme”? Obviously that’s a relative and somewhat subjective term. I can locate the extremes and the center of a yardstick fairly accurately and in a way with which most people would agree. But the political spectrum is not so well defined. If you think the Republican Party or even the Christian Coalition represent the extreme right, you probably resist even naming the extreme left. Perhaps you’d accept the Shining Path movement? So you’re saying that conservative American evangelicals are comparable to an armed guerrilla force? To that, all I can say is “snap out of it,” because I don’t think I can reach you with reason.

No, the right-wing counterpart to the Shining Path would be something like the Aryan Nations (ideologically speaking—in actual deeds the Aryan Nation has done very little, while Shining Path once seemed to have a fair shot at taking control of Peru). Show me where the media gives the Aryan Nations favorable treatment. The left-wing counterpart to the Christian Coalition would be, say, . Which is more likely to get sympathetic treatment from the media?

But let’s drop this language of extremes and middle. The point is that the mainstream media do have a pretty definite political point of view and that they report the news in such a way as to reinforce it. The fact that people of other views than mine also believe this does not mean that we are both wrong. And my specific complaint is that by reporting and editorializing on the war so as to reinforce their belief that it was unjustified, they have seriously exacerbated the divisions within our society. This is a serious accusation and I believe it is true.

How can you dismiss Fahrenheit 911 without having seen it?

I haven’t read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, either. Sometimes reputation is enough.

I once had a very educational conversation with a Seventh Day Adventist fanatic who believed that the Catholic Church is a satanic conspiracy controlled by the Anti-Christ himself, the Pope. It was educational for me, not for him; as far as I could tell he was entirely unchanged. What I learned was the power of maneuvering someone into trying to prove a negative. I cannot prove that the Pope is not the Anti-Christ, George Bush cannot prove that he did not go to war for Halliburton, and Michael Moore cannot prove that his baseball cap is not the receiver through which he obtains his orders from the Daleks.

One can construct from facts a web of false inferences which do not admit of disproof. Here’s how:

First you select any actions on the part of your subject which reflect badly on him. Discard all other facts which cannot be made to serve this purpose. Interpret the ones you keep in the worst possible light, and reject out of hand all possible alternative interpretations. Freely dispense with the distinction between correlation and causation. Insert as many unfalsifiable assertions as needed (the motives of your subject and any other participants are always a nice blank slate for this, as you can impute any content you want to another’s unknown thoughts). If assertions are too risky, innuendo will usually serve the purpose. Finally—and this may be the most important part—stick with monomaniacal perseverance to your core conviction that your subject is evil through and through; this will protect you from dropping your guard against other views.

Michael Moore is telling the truth and you just can’t face it.

Snap out of it.

Seriously. Say the war was immoral, say it was a strategic blunder, and give your rational account of why you believe these to be true, but come out of the shadows and fog of Mooreism. Give the administration credit for acting in good faith. Besides what should be the crippling defect of being incorrect, the Moore account of current events makes it impossible for political opponents to have a dialogue, because it is based on the imputation of bad faith to the other. The country’s divisions are dangerous enough already.

And with that I am swearing off political commentary for at least the next four weeks, no matter who wins on Tuesday.

Sunday Night Journal — October 24, 2004

Unfair, Unbalanced, Unrepentant

I did not intend to emphasize politics in this journal, and, more specifically, I did not intend to write about politics again this week. But I find myself unable to stop thinking about the current presidential campaign. What follows has been bothering me for months; maybe I’ll be able to leave it alone for a while now, although the biggest news is yet to come. I have bitten off a bigger subject here than I can handle in the time or space I usually devote to these pieces, so I may revise it later in the week.

What an exhausting and depressing campaign this has been. I feel that way and I have been involved only as a spectator. The sheer level of acrimony has begun to affect me like psychological sandpaper. The country has not been so divided since the Vietnam war.

The media bear a lot of responsibility for the intensity of the division. Never has the partisanship of the most visible media empires—the New York Times, CBS,—been more evident and less ashamed. I suppose the clearest example of this is in the treatment of the military service of Kerry and Bush, in which the media made it their business to question Bush’s service and to defend Kerry’s. When the Swift Boat Veterans began their attacks on John Kerry’s military record, the New York Times ignored the story for a couple of weeks and then, when it did not go away, attempted not to investigate the charges but to discredit the veterans. When Bush’s record was attacked, the attacks either originated with or were happily amplified by the media, as in Dan Rather’s eager trumpeting of what seem to have been bogus documents.

But the bias shows itself in less colorful but more damaging ways. For instance, the Deufler Report ( see here for the CIA’s summary) apparently indicates that although Saddam Hussein did not have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, he was nevertheless playing more or less the sort of game the Bush administration and indeed the Clinton administration had accused him of: attempting to wait out the inspections and sanctions with the intention of restarting his WMD programs when he could safely do so—which is to say that he did in fact represent a long-term threat. But as far as I can tell most news stories have emphasised only the fact that no stockpiles existed and no active work was in progress.

Similarly, the media have repeated interminably, as a point against the administration, the assertion that Saddam Hussein had no ties to the 9-11 attacks, which is true but beside the point: the administration’s claim was not that he masterminded 9-11 but that he was very much involved with the promotion of terrorism. And although this latter claim is certainly true, the media have left an impression in the public mind that Bush lied—or, rather, BUSH LIED!!!—about Saddam’s terrorist connections.

There was and is a reasonable and principled argument to be made against the war, but most of its opponents have not bothered to make it. The Kerry campaign is certainly not making it, since its need to please both hawks and doves leaves it with little room for anything but Monday-morning quarterbacking which runs the gamut from nonsense to cheap shot. Probably the most cogent domestic opposition came from the right, from the Pat Buchanan-America First school of non-interventionism. And the most persuasive international opposition was from the Pope, who simply and passionately decried the loss of life that would surely be involved. From the left, domestic and international, we mostly had the unending shriek of BUSH LIED!!!, even before the war started. It’s easy to forget now that this accusation preceded not just the determination that Saddam Hussein possessed no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, but indeed the war itself. It was a given; most of the anti-war left began with the assumption that the administration were simply bloodthirsty liars (or psychopaths, or Zionist/neoconservative conspirators, or fools, or sometimes all of the above).

The media in general have done very little to raise the level of debate, and have helped in creating an environment in which not only the bitter leftists of A.N.S.W.E.R but prominent Democrats feel perfectly at ease in asserting (or at least insinuating) that the president took us to war based on a lie, even going so far as to seat prominently at their convention—with an ex-president no less—Michael Moore, whose film about the war is by all accounts a tower of mendacity, and not very brave mendacity at that, for it apparently proceeds by innuendo and association, generally stopping short of actually stating the lie which it is implying. (I am relying here on reports about the film, because every time I considered going to see it I was stopped by the prospect of my money ending up in Michael Moore’s pocket. This analysis seems to be a pretty thorough justification of my opinion. I have browsed Moore’s books in stores, enough to get a good sense of what he thinks and how he operates rhetorically; on the basis of that I agree with Victor Davis Hanson’s view that they are “simple big-print screaming.”)

I sometimes wonder if the BUSH LIED!!! brigade really understand and mean what they say. Sometimes it seems that they don’t understand the distinction between lying and being mistaken. Why would anyone tell a lie such as the one Bush is accused of regarding WMD, knowing that it could not possibly escape being disproved by actions which he himself was initiating? It would be like a tax evader asking the IRS to audit him. Or, on the other hand, if he was so very unscrupulous, why would he hesitate to plant a little nerve gas or something of that sort here and there to cement the deception? None of this passes a basic sanity check, yet apparently millions of people believe it.

And do Bush’s attackers really, truly believe that the president of the United States started a war for the purpose of enriching himself and his friends? I cannot think of anything short of aiding an invading army which would so clearly qualify as the “high crimes and misdemeanors” which are grounds for impeachment. I believe Bill Clinton was a very dishonest president, and in many ways a bad one (though not so bad as he might have been had he been less concerned with his own popularity). But I never would have entertained such an accusation against him, at least not without a lot of indisputable evidence. And if I believed it about George Bush I would be agitating for his impeachment.

I don’t think people like Michael Moore care much about the truth as such; or say rather that they have a Larger Truth, for instance that America is run by and for evil men, which makes them indifferent to lesser truths, and certainly uninterested in being fair. (This of course is an occupational hazard for anyone with strong convictions, but a more honest person makes at least some attempt to engage opposing arguments.) Moore reminds me of people I knew in my own days as a student radical, and I was struck then by their lack of interest in truth. Their motivation lay elsewhere, in some mysterious urge to savage the society which had produced them (an urge which I also felt at the time and still have not satisfactorily explained to myself) and their interest in facts did not extend beyond those which could be exploited for that purpose. Or perhaps Moore and others like him are best understood as conspiracy theorists, convinced that they have the key to the Real Story which explains everything and which causes them to filter out any data which does not support the theory.

Perhaps all I’m doing here is describing the fanatic mind, from which breadth and balance can hardly be expected. But the press is supposed to be a corrective to fanaticism. It is supposed to be the means by which citizens in a democracy are informed of the truth, enabled to see as comprehensive a picture as possible, and if the press fails, for partisan reasons, to do its duty it is guilty of a serious dereliction.

And what of the putatively serious statesmen of the Democratic party who fawn over Moore and repeat, in more decorous language, his assertions? Why, again, have they not moved to impeach a president who, were these charges valid, would be a criminal the like of which has never yet occupied the Oval Office? I conclude that they don’t really believe what they are saying, and that their willingness to keep saying it marks them as far more unworthy than the man they are attacking.

Consider these three items, which paint a pretty good picture of what the Democratic Party has come to in this campaign:

  • The image of the weeping and terrified CARE worker begging for her life last week after being kidnapped by men who have already demonstrated that they regard with demonic glee the prospect of using a butcher knife to saw off the head of a helpless and harmless person.

  • Michael Moore’s encouragement of men like these. Do you think I’m being harsh or unfair? Judge his words for yourself: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.” And this: “I’m sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe—just maybe—God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end.” ( Entire piece here; it was written back in April and Moore does not seem to be talking this way anymore, perhaps having decided, after the televised beheadings, that praise of these “Minutemen” is impolitic.)

  • Jimmy Carter’s statement that his two favorite movies are Casbablanca and Fahrenheit 911. Carter may be a decent man in his private life but with his support of people like Moore he is putting the final nails in the coffin of his already shaky reputation as a statesman.

Note that the Democratic convention, at which Moore was very visibly seated next to ex-President Carter, occurred months after Moore made the statements above. The Democrats have embraced a man who has made it his business to poison the wells of debate about the war and who believes that the other side should win. Most of the media apparently think this is acceptable, but that there is something illicit about a group of Vietnam veterans questioning Kerry’s service. The Democratic Party and the Kerry-Edwards campaign ought to be pressed to confront their association with these repulsive statements and tactics, either to repudiate them or to justify them openly, as would be demanded of, say, a Republican candidate who hobnobbed with the KKK. But the mainstream media, willing to denounce as liars some 250 Vietnam veterans, is silent on this, either because they agree with it or because they think Bush’s defeat too important to put at risk.

Journalists ought to be like judges, intent on making sure that all the facts are put plainly before a jury. Instead too many of them have become mere bellowing lawyers, concerned only with winning and indifferent to justice. My opinion of George W. Bush’s presidency is very mixed (for the record, I describe myself as an uneasy supporter of the war). But I hope he wins this election. More than that, though, I hope and pray that the truth will win. Let the chips fall where they may, not where fanatics of any stripe want to put them.

Sunday Night Journal — October 17, 2004

The Litmus Test Test

My old friend Daniel Nichols, with whom I worked on Caelum et Terra is one of those relatively rare people who is genuinely conservative on social issues but tends to lean left on other matters. Though he’s vehemently opposed to the Iraq war (not necessarily a leftward position, of course), he wrote me recently that he intended to hold his nose and vote for Bush for the same reason that many social conservatives continue to support Republicans: the Supreme Court. Although Republicans in general and President Bush in particular can’t be counted on to appoint judges who will resist the judicial imposition of the liberal social agenda, the Democrats can certainly be counted on to promote it vigorously.

A day or two after the third presidential debate I heard from him again. Disgusted by Bush’s refusal to take a definite or specific stand on judicial appointments other than “No litmus tests,” he was reconsidering the idea of voting for the president.

Now there are a lot of arguments to be made for and against Daniel’s position, and I am at the moment entirely sick of them. I have been spending far too much time lately reading and occasionally participating in the debate at Amy Wellborn’s blog, which gravitates frequently to the intramural Catholic quarrel over whether it’s permissible to vote for someone as committed to unrestricted abortion rights as John Kerry manifestly is.

What really strikes me about the matter is the role played by the media—or, perhaps I should say, since The Media is not quite the monolith it once was, the MSM, or MainStream Media. The triumphant cries of bloggers in the wake of Dan Rather’s recent debacle notwithstanding, the MSM still have a great deal of power to frame the terms of political debate, and the question of judicial appointments is one where a conservative who takes any kind of definite stand simply cannot escape being horsewhipped for “imposing a litmus test,” illicitly injecting ideology (or theology) into the law, etc. ad nauseam. “Litmus test” is itself only a scare phrase which means nothing unless attached to a specific test—would anyone scream “litmus test” if a candidate said he would not appoint a justice who supported striking down the first amendment as unconstitutional? But a liberal can openly assert a very strict ideological test and the MSM will not complain in the least.

If Bush were to say that he intended to appoint only justices who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, he would be all but crucified by the Democrats and most of the press. Bush of course knows that, and so, even if he does believe the decision should be reversed, he doesn’t dare say so in such a close race. I can imagine Dan Rather’s introduction to the story: “A troubling admission today from the Bush campaign...”, and then would come the quotes from unnamed “observers” talking about “red meat for the president’s right-wing base” and asking whether the election of such a fanatic might not mean that the light of justice would wink out forever like the light from a dying star.

John Kerry, on the other hand, can stand tall for his ideology, secure in the knowledge that none of the big media, with the possible exception of Fox News, will make trouble for him, and will in fact congratulate him for his integrity. Here’s how Bush answered the question as to whether he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned:

What he’s asking me is, will I have a litmus test for my judges? And the answer is, no, I will not have a litmus test. I will pick judges who will interpret the Constitution, but I’ll have no litmus test.

And here’s the followup from Kerry:

I’m not going to appoint a judge to the Court who’s going to undo a constitutional right, whether it’s the First Amendment, or the Fifth Amendment, or some other right that's given under our courts today—under the Constitution. And I believe that the right of choice is a constitutional right.

So I don’t intend to see it undone.

Question 1: Which of these men has a “litmus test” for judicial appointees, that is, a pre-determined position, to which any potential appointees must assent, on a specific legal matter?

Question 2: Which of them will be credited by the Democrats and most of the media with having such a test?

Question 3: Why do many conservatives long to dance on the grave of Dan Rather’s career?

And a bonus essay question for advanced constitutional scholars: Comment on Mr. Kerry’s conflation of the authority and standing of Roe v. Wade with that of the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. Express your feelings about the fact that John Kerry may soon be in a position to nominate Supreme Court justices. Does this thought make you happy or sad?

Sunday Night Journal — October 10, 2004

In Gratitude to a Donor

Back in the early ‘70s I worked in a couple of record stores and I heard a lot of music to the point of satiety and well beyond. Sometimes music that I liked mildly, such as the Eagles’ Desperado, was run into the ground, and music that I didn’t much like, such as Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, became hated. Records that weren’t very popular didn’t get played very much, which was fine with me whether I liked them or not: if I didn’t like them, it was nice not to have to hear them, and if I did like them, they didn’t get ruined by over-listening. One of these less-popular works was Judee Sill’s Heart Food. I remember feeling that there was something a bit haunting about it, something that was kind of getting under my skin, but for reasons I can’t now remember I never bought it and soon forgot about it when it stopped being played in the store.

More than ten years later something brought it to mind again. I can’t remember now what sparked the memory, but I do remember that a couple of lyrics came to mind: something about a road to Kingdom Come, and something that included the Kyrie. And I had a vague sense of Out West—deserts, cowboys, horses, tumbleweeds—as well as the notion of some kind of Christian-sounding spirituality. So I asked my old friend Robert Woodley, who for a long time seemed to know every pop album ever produced, and to own most of them, about it. He knew right away what I was talking about and, the record being out of print, made me a tape with Judee Sill on one side and the best of Ultravox on the other. Now there was a contrast: mystical Christian cowboy folk-pop paired with alienated world-weary synth-pop. I listened to both sides a lot, and the tape is much the worse for wear. I eventually bought most of Ultravox’s work, but Judee Sill’s remained unavailable.

In the mid-‘90s as more and more music resources became available on the web—retailers, fans, reviews—I made it a point to go looking every now and then for Heart Food. At a time when it seemed that almost everything that had ever been available on LP was appearing on CD, Heart Food remained absent. At one point I almost paid $50 for a copy of the LP on Ebay, but was held back by imagining the scene in which I attempted to justify to my wife paying that much money for a used LP.

This past summer Dawn Eden happened to mention it on The Dawn Patrol, which reminded me that it had been a while since I looked for it. Happily, it was now available, albeit at $26. I emailed Dawn complimenting her on her taste and complaining about the high price. She advised me to buy it anyway, quickly because it was a limited edition, adding that I shouldn’t balk at the price because I would get $260 worth of enjoyment out of it.

Still put off by the high price, I didn’t buy the CD right away, but put it on my birthday wish list. My wife having granted the wish last week, I can now say that Dawn’s advice was right on. It has probably been ten years or more since I listened to my old tape copy, and hearing it now in CD-quality audio is almost like hearing it for the first time. The sound is far richer and warmer and more detailed, and the music itself seems better than ever.

It’s always difficult to describe music, and this more so than some, because it produces an effect which is somewhat at odds with its raw materials. That is, if I say that in addition to Sill’s voice and guitar the first song (“There's a Rugged Road,” the “kingdom come” song I remembered from 1973) includes steel guitar and fiddle and in general sounds somewhat country-western, it will be accurate as to the sound but not as to the atmosphere, which is mystical. Country music is pretty down to earth and straightforward, as is the folk-country music of people like Kate Wolf and Nanci Griffith. But there is an indefinable air of mystery about this song. Those images that I mentioned earlier—deserts, cowboys, and the like—are there, but as archetypes and symbols, not as their down-to-earth selves. Perhaps one way to put it is that the Western-ness is movie-Western: cinematic, not really meant to be the real thing, lifted out of history and put to work for other purposes, in this case to provide imagery for spiritual matters. Not all the songs are in this Western mode; there are touches of gospel, Gregorian chant, and soft rock. The album as a whole really should seem like a hodge-podge, but it’s held together by Sill’s voice and visionary songwriting.

Although the lyrics are full of Christian symbols and allusions, and at least two of them seem to be quite explicitly Christian, the album’s liner notes make it sound as if Sill’s Christianity was eccentric at best. That’s as may be, but it needn’t bother the listener. I’m always at risk of hyperbole when praising a work that I really like, but it seems to me that this album as a whole is worthy of being ranked with anything produced in post-1965 popular music. And the final song, “The Donor” (this is the one I remembered as including the Kyrie) is, whatever Judee Sill may actually have believed, one of the most moving cries to God that anyone has ever put to music.

Strong words? Well, listen for yourself. And say a prayer for the soul of Judee Sill. She had been a drug addict before getting straight enough to pursue a serious music career and make Heart Food and its predecessor, Judee Sill. Like a lot of addicts, she apparently never really shook off the lure, and returned off and on to heroin and other drugs, including pain-killers for injuries suffered in a car accident. She never made another album, although there are some demos for a projected third, and in 1979 died alone of an overdose which, as in the case of Nick Drake, may or may not have been suicide.

A long and lonely road to Kingdom Come, says the first song, and I suppose that’s what Judee Sill had, although in years it was not so very long. But “The Donor” pretty well describes her relationship to the rest of us. The making of art is a curious thing. The artist does his work for motives almost never entirely pure—Judee Sill apparently wanted very much to be a star—completes it, and moves on. The gift remains.

Blade Runner vs. 2001

I am now in a position to answer for myself the question I posed last week: whether Blade Runner or 2001: A Space Odyssey is, from the Christian point of view, the better film. On Monday night I was in the library and a copy of Blade Runner on the shelf caught my eye, so I took it home, having decided that I was probably jaded enough now to handle whatever level of violence it might contain.

The answer is that Blade Runner is clearly more compatible with a Christian view of things than 2001. There really isn’t much contest. I might still say that 2001 is my favorite science-fiction film, but as I said last week my preference in that genre leans toward visions of amazing (and in effect magical) technological progress and grand cosmic vistas; I like it for its appeal to my sense of wonder. But Blade Runner transcends the genre, and while the evolutionary fantasy of 2001 is entertaining, Blade Runner has much more of truth to say about life as it really is.

The future as depicted in 2001 is a pretty antiseptic affair, and I’m not the first to point out that the film is fundamentally cold. There is very little of real human nature to be seen in it, and the characters are the sort of conventional place-holders—scientists and military men—familiar to anyone who’s read much science fiction, especially that written before the late ‘60s or so. The plot concerns the unfolding of the mystery of the monoliths (I am assuming you have seen the film) which seem to have guided human evolution, and the specific people portrayed are incidental. (Only in the struggle between Dave, the astronaut, and HAL, the shipboard computer, do we get much sense of any individual. Some say the acting here is flat and the scene without tension, but I’ve always seen it as an excellent portrayal of a man totally, unimaginably alone and concentrating intensely, with all the self-discipline he can muster, on solving the problem that is threatening to kill him as it has killed the rest of the crew.) For the most part, unless you are willing to entertain seriously Arthur C. Clarke’s conjecture that a wise and mighty alien civilization is at work behind the scenes in the development of humanity, the plot is just a vehicle for spectacle.

There is, so to speak, no place to stand for Christianity in 2001. Religion simply has no place here. It seems to have vanished, as so many people under the sway of scientific materialism assume it is destined to do. There are only physical facts. Technological man has produced a clean, orderly, rational world ready for the next evolutionary step, soon to be revealed by the unseen aliens, who in effect occupy the place of God.

The world of Blade Runner, on the other hand, has been all but ruined by technology in the hands of the malformed human will; it is a dark, dirty, post-nuclear-war world. From the point of view of technical film-making it’s at least as well done as 2001. I am not going to summarize the plot—most people who would be interested have either seen it or should do so—but in a nutshell it concerns a policeman whose job it is to hunt down renegade androids who can be distinguished from humans only by elaborate and subtle tests. The story is always on the verge of falling into standard Hollywood patterns: of course the policeman is going to fall in love with a beautiful female android, and of course there is going to be a final hand-to-hand (and hardly believable) fight with a killer android. I suppose, in fact, that it’s accurate to say that it does fall into these patterns, but it doesn’t stay there, and in the end it transcends them as it transcends the science fiction genre.

What does it have to do with Christianity? Well, nothing directly. But although there is no sign of religion in the world of Blade Runner, it would not be out of place, as it would be in 2001. One can easily imagine any number of the characters, including the androids, at worship. They certainly have the essential intuition without which Christianity has no purchase in a soul: that they and their world are a mess and in need of help. (Yes, the human world of 2001 is dependent upon the gifts of the aliens, but this is not so much a rescue from sin as the working out of a logical puzzle: how did we get so smart?) And there are at least two thematic elements which share certain aspects of the Christian vision.

First is the question of the humanity of the androids. It is clear that they are—the newest models, at any rate, which are the subject of the story—in every relevant respect human, although perhaps even more flawed in some ways than the rest of us. Never mind the technological and philosophical questions of whether human beings could ever build human beings—I myself do not think it possible, but, taking it for granted as an element of the plot, the clear implication of the film is precisely the same point that John Paul II has made over and over again: to treat human beings as objects is deeply wrong.

The second element emerges fully only in the surprising last few minutes of the film. I’ll say only that it involves gestures of love, mercy, and a kind of simple human solidarity in the face of mortality that were for me deeply moving. I don’t usually admit to this sort thing, but I had tears in my eyes at the end of Blade Runner. I doubt very much that anyone was ever made to weep—whether for joy, sorrow, or beauty—by 2001.