POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

A few thoughts on Avatar...

There are many times I walk into a movie theater uncertain whether or not the film before me will be enjoyable, cause meditation of gospel and human themes and be worth the time to hear the story be told. There are other times when I simply know I will like the movie ahead of time.  Avatar was one such movie. I knew the combination of consciousness transfer, technologically animated bodies, strange creatures on strange worlds and a huge SciFi mega battle would be right in the range of awesome for me.  What I did not expect was the visual spectacle that is Avatar.  What follows is not a formal film review, but simply some thoughts which left the theater with me on opening night.  Yes, I saw it opening night, it is what I wanted to do for my birthday. :)

From the outset let me say this.  Movie theaters are one of the venues that our culture does its story telling and many times heavy doses of proselytizing and preaching ideas.  I participate not as a convert who lives his life through the movies or worships the next creation of an established or up and coming film making. I participate to learn, enjoy and think about who we are and what we are saying to ourselves today as a people.  My definition and narrative that I live is the one lived out on earth, inspired by the creator God, culminating in Jesus the unique God incarnate and the savior of the human race.  It is precisely because I find the gospel true that I care about modern pulpits like the movies; there are other gospels being compellingly preached all the time to those in stadium seating across our country.  Just as any person bringing the gospel to a people with a different religion and world view should care to understand the beliefs of a people, so we should care about the stories our friends live by…many times at the movies.  With that said, I really enjoyed Avatar and had some deep questions about its message.  Let me share why.

Loved the Spectacle that is Avatar

I cannot say this enough, Avatar is a stunningly visual movie.  The world created by the Cameron and his cohorts cannot even be described fully; it must be seen.  The makers of Avatar crafted an entire alien world that seamlessly blends together creatures, deadly monsters, a unique natural world, humans, some mind blowing technology and machines of war.  The film is a constant blend of CGI and human performances presented in a wonderful display of real 3D technology.  From the beginning until the end I was riveted by the creative imagination being displayed floating before us.  To be honest, I will likely see Avatar again (maybe in IMAX) as it reflects much of what I enjoy in the science fiction genre. 

The storyline and screenplay are not award worthy, but it is a story that moves, draws you in and culminates simply.  The plot is easy to predict but this does not detract from the story.  It is definitely not as thoughtful/cerebral as I would like as it doesn’t require much wrestling with ideas. There is of course some techo nature worshiping, goddess centered pantheism (more on this in a bit) but it was assumed with tribal simplicity and not wrestled with seriously.  For those new to the Avatar world, here is a synopsis from 20th Century Fox:

Avatar is the story of an ex-Marine who finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people. More than ten years in the making, Avatar marks Cameron’s return to feature directing since helming 1997’s Titanic, the highest grossing film of all time and winner of eleven Oscars® including Best Picture. WETA Digital, renowned for its work in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong, will incorporate new intuitive CGI technologies to transform the environments and characters into photorealistic 3D imagery that will transport the audience into the alien world rich with imaginative vistas, creatures and characters. —© 20th Century Fox

For a more thorough summary of the plot let imdb be your friend

The film is longish but certainly does not feel so.  There was not one part in the movie when I felt the story or the action was dragging.  Granted, it is not simply a techno shoot em up as there is some character development along the way.  The performance turned in by Zoe Saldana as the princess of the Na’vi is excellent and in my opinion overshadows everyone else.  Of course, a hat tip to the computer animators as they made the 10 foot tall blue chick to go along with Saldana’s performance. 

In summary, I really liked Avatar.  It was fun, had the most mind blowing worlds on screen and hits basic themes that human beings like.  The underdog wins, the oppressor is vanquished, there is the hero/redeemer that is selected by some sort of divinity, there is a love story, a coming of age story, belonging to a family, betrayal, redemption and the like.  Come to think of it Avatar is one big cliche dressed up all fancy in another fantastical world; a masterfully created spectacle of a world at that.  

My Questions with Avatar

Though I really enjoyed Avatar some of its content was a bit sophomoric when you think about it for more than a few seconds.  Though it is not a film that I would mock in any way, there are some preachy moments that came off a bit silly to me. Some of are themes deeply woven into the plot, others were lines of dialog that were so transparently jabs at certain points of view that it was hard to take serious. I wish I had more to interact with philosophically from Avatar, but here are a few thoughts I did take away from the messages being proclaimed. 

Is Technology Good or Bad?

One thing I liked about Avatar was some thought about the virtues and use of technology. Though it was not as nuanced a discussion as one might want, the film does cause some reflection about the importance and centrality of technology. First, the humans are using sophisticated technology while the native Na’vi are much more simple people tied to their natural world.  Of course, the humans think that they are primitive savages but what you learn in the film is that a harmonious relationship with nature exists with the Na’vi while the humans are just raping the land for a valuable mineral using technology. The way of life of the Na’vi is seen as spiritual, respectful of nature and they are just a perfect happy Utopian sort of people (more on this late). 

Though the human technology is superior it is used for destruction and shows no respect for “mother” nature. To be honest, it is all a bit preachy and you get the feeling that we would be better off if we were all running around in a perfect forest like the natives of Pandora. Of course, this world is not real. Ironically, it is a human, using sophisticated technology who saves the people but afterwards he is converted to be one of the Na’vi (called “The People”) in both body and consciousness.  The message seems to be nature over the creations of men, which is being presented to humans watching the creation of high tech film makers wearing 3D glasses in indoor theaters. Irony.

Now the Na’vi also have some interesting spiritual biotechnology in that the trees and animals all can interface/network with one another through interfaces akin to a biological USB cable.  In fact, the Navi’s long hair serves as a sort of USB dongle so that they can control six legged horses, flying reptiles and the like.  Who created this network and interrelationship is unclear, but one thing is.  This “nature” is the goddess mother in Avatar.  So rather than a pro science, con spirituality view, Avatar provides a naturotechnological mystical science that is so much better than you. 

Nature Worship, Gaia and the Goddess Mother

Avatar is also a movie steeped in religion and it is an exercise in preaching. The message is not even subtle or hidden but couched in the spirit of the age in such a way that audiences will likely not mind too much.  Western culture stands at an interesting epoch of its history.  It evolved from a people who were primarily farmers who believed in one creator God to a industrial people building all matter of stuff all over the planet in the name of “science and progress.”  Humans, through engineering and industry would create a Utopian existence and we would all sing to ourselves of our greatness.  Sadly, this did not occur.  Many today have grown skeptical about our ability to transform the world through building things and have realized how separated we have become from the natural environment which God created.  So today we have those who think industry and technology simple destroy the planet, pollute the world and ruin our lives.  The human creations that were reveled in during the 19th and 20th century have now become green house gas creating enemies for the green avant garde to rail against. Bad humans. This is undercurrent for the worldview of Avatar.

In addition to this, a simple people, dependent upon and in harmony with mother earth (or Mom Pandora) are seen as an almost perfect people.  Every time they kill a deer they snuggle up to it, thank it and almost regretfully eat it. They are mystics that consult Eywa, their God which is pretty much everything that exists and encompasses all. For those unaware of what pantheism is, God is all and all is God, go see Avatar, it is preached everywhere.

The Na’vi certainly are presented in the way some historians love to present native Americans.  They are peaceful, nature loving folks just being oppressed by the Europeans or the “sky people” in the case of Avatar.  Never mind, the warrior culture, warring clans, territorial battles and all that - the message you should get is “technological sky people = always bad” and “nature worship environmental loving people = good.”  No need for any sort of contoured reality, just fundamentalist and ideological proclamation. Those who have commented that Avatar is like “Dances With Wolves” in a galaxy far, far away seem pretty accurate in this observation.

I could get into some of the pantheistic philosophy of the movie but that would be a bit of a long journey.  I will mention I found it silly how Eywa is said not pick sides in wars, she just keeps “balance” of all things. Whatever balance happens to mean. I guess pantheists like having a balance of evil around to keep your honest or something.  Or we could then ask why this non side taking deity actually takes sides like a medieval deity and to win the war for those who hug her trees.

The religion of Avatar is a rehashing of the Gaia hypothesis mingled with pantheism. A whole world is divine and one big symbiotic organism.  The philosophical problem of individuation (or the one and the many) is obliterated with such views, where all are seen as one whole organism rather than individual beings in harmony with a creator that is not creation. 

In my mind, a more balanced view of nature is needed in our day, particularly in the West.  We need a view that advocates neither raping creation nor worshiping it as a goddess.  Rather, we need to see ourselves as responsible for caring for creation and utilizing our world for good.  Such responsibility has been uniquely given to human beings for the creation.  We are made in the image of God and called to cultivate and care for the world.  However, we are to worship the Creator, not the creation, and so use all things that have been made for the glory of God and the good of others.  

I always find it odd that those who think we are just specified apes and then think we have a moral duty to the environment in a way that is “different” than other animals.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe we do have a different responsibility than the beasts of the fields, I just don’t find such a duty deriving from naturalistic worldviews.  In theism, we have this moral responsibility and duty to God…we call it stewardship.

Surprisingly Human Story, which does not contain any of us

As mentioned earlier, there are so many human aspects that we love in a story contained in Avatar that are almost cliche. Yet one of the things I found a little frustrating with Avatar is how hard it is to find a real, contoured human character in the movie. The characters are either clearly wrong headed and wicked (see the white guys running both the corporation and the military) or they are simply the good team who seems to lack any tragic flaws.  Grace, Sigourney Weaver’s scientist character, is just learning…just learning away and would never harm a fly.  Well, maybe she would harm those evil white guys running things.  Jake Sully, the paralyzed marine and future hero/redeemer of the Na’vi, could be more interesting, but he goes from being seen as innocent to being Pandora’s Jesus Christ. Perhaps his dual loyalties to the sky people and the Na’vi could have revealed a human Sully, but you never believe in the movie that he is going to stay a marine, he is Na’vi from the time he puts on his 10 foot tall blue man suit.  I suppose when a movie just wants to preach, it does not need characters that are like us; simply characters that we wish we could be. 

I think you are left with the feeling from Avatar that we should all be like the Na’vi, especially if we could have cool technology that somehow mother earth just gave to us.  My problem is that the Na’vi are not real, they do not exist.  I do not mean to say that 10 foot tall blue people on Pandor do not exist, that is a given.  What I do mean is that people are truly innocent, untainted by sin, are not real.  We need redemption because we are deeply flawed, not because we just need to learn to be more like some phantasm of our minds.  Utopian visions of peoples or societies always let us down when we realize that we are human.  We know we belong in the clouds but yet are so much a part of earth.  This is precisely why I love the views of Jesus. He taught us that we are both more valuable than we can imagine, very much like God.  Yet he taught us that we are deeply wicked and in need of forgiveness and change that comes from outside of ourselves. 

So I find Avatar to have deep human themes in the story, but had very few humans living them out.  The story was incomplete in that sin lived only in “certain types” of people while others are presented as righteous altogether.  This is actually troubling to me as self-righteous people may watch this film and feel very good about themselves.  We are good, tree and nature loving people.  We are not like those warring people who like “terror against terror” and “shock and awe” (yes, there are clear and silly statements like this in the dialogue).  The ideologues of Hollywood love to declare their ideas and views to be good and those of others (usually libertarians or conservatives) to be eeeevil.  Avatar certainly, and in sophomoric fashion, goes after this shtick.  I was surprised their was not a call for government provided universal health care for the forest trees and some evil person saying NO! so he could be rich.


Overall, I loved the grandeur and visual spectacle of Avatar.  As a fan of sci fi movies I was thrilled to go, came out with sense of wonder at what I just watched. It is a movie unlike any I have ever seen and simply must be watched in 3D.  I will likely see it again because it was a pleasure to watch and experience and the story does have its redemptive elements.  The fact that some hero must indeed come and save us is a truth about the universe that we can never escape. Yet, in the midst of the spectacle there was so much preaching that I recommend people watch with a discerning mind.  Avatar represents the ideas of our age and not the truth about ourselves or about God.  Avatar contains false teaching and religion hidding behind every fluorescent Pandoran tree; be not deceived as it seems the makers of Avatar would like to remake you into their image. 

One final warning: if you see Avatar with a anti-war, tree hugging, mother goddess worshipping, hate George Bush, shock and awe hater, the terrorists are just misunderstood, I hate Obama now too for sending more troops, America is the evil empire type friend…beware, they are going to feel really good about themselves and will likely be ready to preach when you pass out beneath the exit signs.  It is probably a good time to go get coffee or a beer and chat a bit about Jesus.  If you see it with a Canadian…just kidding, we all love Canadians.

Stuff White People Like...

This is one of the funnier blogs I have run across in some time...Stuff White People Like 

Some of my favorites

#2 Religions that their parents don’t belong to:
White people will often say they are “spiritual” but not religious. Which usually means that they will believe any religion that doesn’t involve Jesus. Popular choices include Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah and, to a lesser extent, Scientology. A few even dip into Islam, but it’s much more rare since you have to give stuff up and actually go to Mosque. Mostly they are into religion that fits really well into their homes or wardrobe and doesn’t require them to do very much.

#40 - Apple Products
It is surprising that it took all the way to #40 to call out Apple products. Initially, we were planning for an entire week on Apple products, but that would just be over kill. Plain and simple, white people don’t just like Apple, they love and need Apple to operate. On the surface, you would ask yourself, how is that white people love a multi-billion dollar company with manufacturing plants in China, mass production, and that contributes to global pollution through the manufacture of consumer electronic devices? Simple answer: Apple products tell the world you are creative and unique. They are an exclusive product line only used by every white college student, designer, writer, English teacher, and hipster on the planet. [Might I add Emerging Church Pastors? OK, now I'm meddling]

Jonathan Coulton on TWIT

Jonathan Coulton, who is an indie singer song writer who appeals to technoid geeks was interviewed on This Week in Tech.  I personally like Coulton's songs which are strange playful interactions with science, sci fi, biotech and dystopian futuristic views.  If you missed it I blogged on Coulton here a while back. I am a fan of the songs Chiron Beta Prime, The Future Soon and Skullcrusher Mountain. 

This interview would be of interest to: 1) indie music people 2) tech people/programmers and 3) Pastors who did their undergrad in Applied Computer Science and Physics, love tech stuff and weird creepy biotech and zombie humor (OK, me).


Got Game?

A friend put me on to a trailer for an upcoming documentary entitled "Second Skin" which features the lives of several people who are addicted to massively multiplayer online role-playing games (mmorpg).  These games immerse players into online worlds and communities which consume massive time and resources.  The most popular combine fantasy worlds, powers, quests etc.  World of Warcraft is one of the most well known.  Anyway, the trailer for the documentary is below.

Looks to shed some interesting light on the world of the gamers in your life. For those not familiar with games such as WoW you may recognize the world from this Toyota Tacoma Commercial

Daddy Issues and Films

James Harleman, one of the pastors at Mars Hill Church in Seattle has an interesting post up on the Cinemagogue blog entitled Film in the Era of Daddy Issues.  Here is the final paragraph and do go read the rest if you are into films and may have Daddy issues.

I hope these glorious, decades-old daddies of film heroism give us a lark in the cinema as they keep on punching out the opponents, and I hope they also spur us to consider why we are hungry for an everlasting dad that remains faithful and true to us, who shows up and decimates our opposition, who sets things right and even clarifies our direction and purpose. If we stop and consider, some might find that “…the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him…” - Ephesians 1

I am Legend...

Last night I jumped out to catch a film with a friend after we put our kids to bed.  Many times an experience at the movies can be shallow, trivial and a disappointment. You leave feeling - why on earth did I spend time and money on this?  Last night was not one of those occasions.  For those who have not seen the new Will Smith film, I am Legend should cease reading now if you have intentions to do so.   There will be spoilers so hope off now.  To be honest, it was one of the better films I have seen in some time.

Plot Summary

The film is based on Richard Matheson's 1954 science fiction novel of the same name.  This film adaptation takes place in a post apocalyptic Manhattan where a viral 'cure for cancer' has gone horribly wrong. Most of the human population of the world has died, a small amount were immune, another portion turned into vampire like creatures known as dark-seekers.  In this world military virologist Robert Neville (Smith's character) is alone in Manhattan seeking to find a cure for what humanity has wrought upon itself.  What follows is a thick, tense ride of man's fight and hope for survival and redemption for what is a catastrophic situation.  The ending is somewhat optimistic and seems the only portion of the movie which has received some criticism.  The film was almost unbearably tense and dealt with themes much too disturbing for any kid to take in.  In fact, it will be too much for those who are sensitive at the movies. The use of sound (use of silence without much score) and visuals was fantastic and the movie is one tense moment after another for almost the entire 1:40 run time.  Surprisingly the writers and director deal with some themes which only find their sense in a biblical worldview and the religious themes are a bit penetrating.  What follows are some of the themes which I particularly found interesting and insightful.


The film begins with an optimistic interview of a medical researcher who has harnessed the ferocity of the virus to do man's bidding and eradicate cancer.  The clinical trials were 100% effective and the interviewer asks the scientist a point blank question: So you cured cancer? The answer is hollow and clear: Yes.  There is no time for optimism as the director makes a harsh cut directly to 3 years later into an empty Manhattan island where Neville is hunting in the midst of the overgrown and desolate city.  The pride of humanity's attempt to cure one of our most horrendous diseases by using a virus, a self-replicating system prone to unpredictability and mutation comes through loud and clear.  It gives much pause to the possibility of overconfident biotechnological reaches which have unseen outcomes.  Now I don't think we are going to turn people into rabid, zombie like vampires, but there are great risks to human life and the environment in the brave new worlds of bio and nano technology.  Pride comes before a fall...true.

Despair, Guilt and Quixotic Dedication

Smith's character carries a certain guilt and responsibility to remedy the situation as we see from well timed flash backs that he was the military scientist attempting to find a cure for this pandemic.  He was unable to find it in time and the director uses the pre-apocalypse story to build his character's fixation with finishing his work.   After everyone is gone, Neville, who has an immunity to the virus, has only his dog and his work left to keep him sane.  He is frantically trying to both stay alive and find the cure he sought before  everything unraveled.  He unrelentingly says "I have to fix it" - his sense is that he simply has to redeem humanity's mistake.  He echoes that "God didn't do this, we did" and you sense that he feels the burden of a savior though his work looks hopeless.  He has almost a quixotic quest to get the job done.  So much that he sends his family away so that he can stay at ground zero and work.  Additionally, towards the end, he again wants to stay and cure the disease rather than go northward in search of a "survivor colony" he hears about.  The director relieves this tension at the end as his work is allowed to succeed - though without him making it through to that future.  Our own kicking against our mortality is felt strongly and Smith's performance only added to this hope/despair paradox of being human.


Being one of the last people alive is a lonely affair so how Neville copes with his isolation is an interesting facet of the film.  In this movie, man's best friend is better than a volleyball.  Neville's dog actually has survived with him and they do everything together.  Eat together, work out together, hunt together, etc.  I never bought into Tom Hank's friendship with a volleyball to keep his sanity in Castaway.  Here we have the family dog as the constant companion. This is quite believable and will certainly grab the hearts of those who love their doggies.  The tragedy of the circumstances is brought home through the dog's character as well.  It was touching and real - dog owners will cry in this movie.  Do not mock them.  There is also so goofy stuff with mannequins which seems to work pretty well especially when the zombies start messing with him.


The film also wrestles a bit with the themes of God's providence and destiny.  Did God have anything to do with this disaster or is man alone and the victim of his sins alone.  Does the hope for the future lie in some form of providence, or is it human ingenuity which must right its own wrongs alone?  The end of the movie almost becomes cheesy when another immune human (a young woman named Anna played by Alice Braga) shows up on the scene and says "God told me to come to you."  At first it was like they were going to make this character out to be a religious wacko of sorts but it quickly moves through that feeling into an intense exchange about God's existence and involvement in their nightmare.  The scene survives the early cheesy moment to the point where it can be seen as genuine.  The movie resolves a little too nicely but at least it is nicely hopeful.  The cynical would probably prefer a different ending, but the current fare--though not great, was not that bad in my opinion.

Theological Angst

There is also much angst surrounding God in Smith's character.  The director does several things throughout the film to bring his humanity and its struggle with God to the foreground. In an early flashback his family prays together as wife and daughter board a helicopter to leave the island.  Later Neville's lines about his disbelief in God, or the fact that God had allowed this to happen come strongly to the center of his personal redemption.  There is a moment where he seems to realize that the hand of providence was indeed involved in the redemption of a broken world and this gives him courage to face the end of of his own life...which though a tad full of bravado, does have a sacrificial element to it.  The man who felt so compelled to "fix it" - eventually does...and gives his life in protecting the new found cure.  Fans of Bob Marley will certainly enjoy the placement of his music and his story in the film.  In fact, towards the end Neville seems to urge action in the world in order to "light up the darkness" - something he grabs from Marley.  There are crosses which hang from a rear view mirror, signs in the city saying "God still loves us" and even a church at the center of the new human colony featured at the end of the film.  The spiritual imagery and wrestle with God is evident throughout but not obnoxious or invasive.


I personally enjoyed the film and it shook me as intensely as any--especially in the first parts of the movie.  I could not help but think of the realities of the film and how it aligns so much with my own theological vision.

  • Man sins greatly - and feels his immense responsibility
  • Yet providence deems redemption to be a worthy path which ultimately is controlled from a power greater than ourselves. 
  • There is hope of new life and healing in a future yet to appear

In thinking of our quests in hope amidst a world of despair, the old poem The Gate of the Year by Minnie Haskins comes to mind.  The poem was made famous by King George VI's quotation in his 1939 Christmas address.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied, 'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God...That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

I am Legend reminded me of our constant struggle with sin, survival, hope and despair.  In the hand of God lies redemption - even amidst our greatest sins. It is one of the most thematically spiritual movies I have seen and sets these motifs firmly in the 21st century.  Highly recommended.

Here are a few reviews and links:

The Compass Loses its Way

A quick look at the fantasy box office opening weekend battles...
  • Hobbits - 72.6 million
  • Narnia - 65.6 million
  • Compass - 26.1 million
So far the compass seems to be a bit more bronze than gold...

An Experiment in Existential Narcissism- A Review of The 4-Hour Work Week...


I just finished reading (well, listening to...over 8 hours for the unabridged audio book) Timothy's Ferriss' new best selling book The 4-Hour Workweek - Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich from Crown.  The 320 page book is a New York Times, WSJ bestseller with currently 315 five star reviews on Amazon.com...sales rank 95 overall, #1 or #2 in several amazon subcategories as of Dec 8. It has also garnered more endorsements than you can shake a stick at.

I grabbed the book on iTunes out of curiosity when I heard it mentioned on one of the geek podcasts I listen to from time to time. As I am moving to NJ in a few months I figured he would be a good guy to listen to just to see how some people think up in the land of the movers and shakers...or in more Ferrissesque parlance...the lands of lifestyle designers.

Ferriss is a Princeton graduate whose writing is intelligent, crass, witty, conversational, outrageous, irreverent and at times quite genuine.  To be honest after reading the book I can tell you that I am quite ambivalent with his ideas - some of them I sensed a deep appreciate for, others made me completely sick, others just were ridiculous, some hilarious (the story of how he won a national kick boxing tournament in China comes to mind - I won't spoil that here).  In this review I will cover a few things enjoyed, a few things that annoyed and then leave another substantial issue to another blog post forthcoming here.  So, how to work only four hours and do whatever the hell you want - or what I am calling Tim Ferriss' experiments in existential narcissism.


The book is true to its title and fits very much in several book categories: self-help, entrepreneurship, lifestyle come to mind.  Whether or not others will admit it, Ferriss has articulated quite well some of the longings of the younger generation in western culture.  This book for some will be a resonating voice for those continuing on the post industrial cultural trajectories of America and Europe.  In some ways it just another of the long line of those promising that "You can have it all - really" - this is actually stated on the books companion web site.

The books centers around the idea that our society has some pretty goofy rules and ways of doing things and that it is insane to remain in these conventions.  Think about it, we work 60-80 hours a week in order to have some money, no time and a pile of misery.  Only the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of retirement keeps many motivated.  Ferriss, a Princeton man who was surrounded by those who work this way, found himself miserable and questioning it all.  Why do we wait till the end of life in order to try and enjoy life?  Why do we toil away in offices when we could live a more mobile lifestyle, get things done with more focus and efficiency and be freed up to enjoy life now?  So he set about to do it and this book is his story of how he did and now offers to coach you to do the same.  It is an enjoyable read so I will share a few things that brought a smile


Ferriss is a guy who likes to question things and ask the question why.  I like guys like this.  Now it can be turned into rebellion against rightful authority (which is wicked) and but to be weary of the status quo is the only path to which results in change. Ferriss seemed tired of certain societal conventions which are neither based in truth or law - they are just the way we do stuff.  When you think about it we do often act like the herd animals which Nietzsche accused us of being.  One observation Ferriss makes which I felt was right on is that "Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty."  Sad but true.  There just are not too many risk takers out there. To be quite honest, this discontent for the way things are is found in most church planters I have met.  They are a risky bunch who would rather try to start something than to stay stuck in ruts which are based only in cultural custom. 

Ferriss also shows an immense amount of wit and creativity in thinking  through ways to generate income without a huge amount of time.  He offers suggestions for both the entrepreneur and the one who just wants to enable a bit more cash flow while shaping their current job situation.  Now one needs some intelligence and talent to do some of the things mentioned (one of the weaknesses of the book is that he acts like all 6 billion people in the world could do what he does), but they are not impossible for some people to try.

His focus on eliminating superfluous work and becoming more focused was excellent.  His practical tips on e-mail and overcoming the information overload of our days very helpful.  The practical application of the 80/20 rule and the his example of how he fired some of his less profitable, most time consuming rude and annoying customers was quite enjoyable.  Anyone who feels under the pile of e-mail, needs help in prioritizing will enjoy the chapter on elimination.  It is material that can be found in other places, but Ferriss' application of it to the world of information overload was very helpful.  A few helpful quotes:

  • Doing something unimportant well still does not make it important
  • Simply because a task takes a lot of time does not make it important either 

His application of "elimination" and the 80/20 rule to material possessions and simple living was something I wanted my whole family to read.  I am convinced we all have too much stuff in our lives in - I was big time on board with his "getting rid of your stuff" counsel later in the book.  I hope to lighten our load when we move in the coming year...for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). 

I also enjoyed Ferriss as a writer.  Some will see him as a bit cocky and arrogant -- this is perhaps true.  Some will take too offense at his choice of language - this would be warranted.  Yet the fact is he seemed genuine - genuinely full of it, but somewhat authentic nonetheless.  The fact is that - I wanted to hear him. It did not hurt that Ray Porter, the audio book reader, did a fantastic job with Ferriss' prose.  He wrote conversationally with passion which I think many people will enjoy.

One other thing which was interesting was one of the later chapters wrestling with finding a meaningful life.  I will blog more late about his dealing with ultimate questions and meaning, but he did land that service and learning seem to be central to any meaningful existence.  I find many younger people today wrestling with finding meaning.  I do not agree with Ferriss' relativism and create meaning however you want philosophy, but I do commend that he is asking the questions. 

Finally, I learned much from Ferriss about how some people think today.  I found him consistently embracing the contradictions of contemporary thought.  I found him to be thoroughly what I am calling "most western" - an existential narcissist.  Ferriss states openly that he is living life for excitement and self-fulfillment.  His whole life is dedicated to the accrual of experiences which will keep him from self-doubt and boredom.  His goals are freedom of time and movement with finances as a means to these ends.  Gone are the desires to live a life according to virtue, or according to truth, or in order to find peace.  What remains in western culture, among the educated elite - is the end of the post enlightenment narrative.  Freedom to do what you want, when you want and how you want.  It is the last phase of the autonomy project of western culture.  If you get lonely, empty, bored, miserable...don't find a real solution to your problems - just hop a plane to Berlin, or Beunos Aries or Thailand.  There you can rent out big tables at clubs and have experiences.  All while your Indian assistants and two thirds world outsourcers make money for the new western prince.  On to my annoyances.


The first thing I noticed is that Ferriss presents all his counsel as if any person on earth could do it.  Those who have been around a bit longer will realize that all of his counsel requires something of people in order to pull off.  The advice is for the motivated, smart, winsome person who can actually, to use his words, "bend the world to themselves."  I think some people who try his systems are just going to get fired...or pour some money down a hole in creating their muse.  I'm not saying his business advice was not good - I may end of trying something myself some day - but it does require a person with some talent.

Second, Ferriss rebellion against the Jones was a bit strange.  He acts fed up with the elite of America, slaving away at hedge funds, saving for retirement.  The ironic thing is that Ferriss has traded old elitism for a new flavor - he is still running to keep up with the Jones...his path is just more passport stamps, languages and combat sports rather than a house in the Hamptons...the New Rich (NR as he states it) still want to be rich, just in a slightly different way. 

Additionally, the ethical considerations in the book were a bit vacuous.  Ferriss did not seem concerned with doing the right thing - it didn't even seem to be his question.  It seemed his counsel was "do whatever you can to get what you want...but don't break the law."  By this he means the laws of government, not the moral law.  If you have to tell some little lies to your boss to create some good rhetoric in order to convince her to give you a remote work agreement...well, just do what you have to do. Interestingly enough he offered two examples of how to research the market for a potential product - one from a guy selling shirts from France and the other a woman doing DVDs on Yoga for rock climbers.  One business used some market research practices which were legal, but perhaps a bit dishonest.  The other did not use these techniques because they thought it unethical.  Ferriss offers both methods as options without much of a blink.  At times some of the advice seemed so slick that it felt a bit greasy.  Some may also find less than appealing his "outsourcing" of everything from manufacturing, order fulfillment, and personal assistants to people making 4 bucks an hour in the far east.

Though he goes out of his way to tell stories of single mom's and families living the NR lifestyle, it is obvious that he has no kids.  Anyone leading a family of more than three would just chuckle at some of his suggestions.  So the recommendations for mini retirements and living in multiple locations fit a 29 year old single guy, but would be a hard fit for most of the families I know.  Of course Ferriss might just think they were lame and part of the herd.  All that to say that his "this is for families with kids too" schtick falls a bit flat.

Finally, the biggest issue I had with the work was Ferriss' worldview which I described briefly above.  If you look at how post enlightenment western ideals have shifted, the old goals of pursuing truth, virtue and peace of mind are gone and the new goals of hyper autonomy, excitement as the highest virtue are on full display in Ferriss.  There is nothing worse for him than being bored.  At the end of the book I felt some honesty when he counseled other potential lifestyle designers of the new rich in how to deal with self-doubt even after you have made it (having income with little work, 3-16 month min retirements anywhere on earth). Yet when faced with ultimate questions - why are we here, what does my life mean, the nature of reality etc. his only advice was to do something to keep your mind off of such things.  Do something else to distract yourself - I believe sex and sports were recommended.  It seemed that such parables of autonomy will eventually lead to loneliness and a longing for something more.  For we have been made by God for community and relationship with our maker.  Yet when loneliness and doubt come to Ferriss he is likely to just learn another language and how to fight in another style (he is a avid learning of both foreign languages and fighting techniques).  I don't think he would have it any other way.   For he seems to be in flight from God and filling his days with pizazz to keep him from facing his creator.


I enjoyed the book and found some useful ideas in its pages for breaking out of the ruts of society to attempt different things.  Anyone who desires to live differently will find something to like in the book.  Personally, I liked Tim Ferriss - he sounds like a guy I would greatly enjoy.  Being an ex college wrestler his expertise in many combat sports was of interest for sure.  At the risk of sounding cheesy, I am going to pray for him.  Maybe we'll hang out some day when he is lecturing at Princeton - I'll be just a few miles away.  He is just 29 years old and has many discoveries before him. Perhaps he will bump into Jesus one day who might just tell him "To find your life, you must lose it." 

Men...we're the new women

I just saw a commerical for a new ABC show called "Big Shots" and one of the guys on the show made a profound statement.

Men...we're the new women

Unfortunately, I have no context for the quotation nor do I know what was meant by the statement.  Yet I do think that we have swung a pendulum hard to one side in our culture.  Some love to assume that we still live in a world where boys are taught that "real men don't cry."  We are hardly living in that world any longer.  We live in a society where boy behavior is medicated, the height of masculinity is being "real" enough to whimper with your friends and passivity reigns in the chests of many men.  

I love the word's of a Father to a son as he is about to pass away:

1 When David's time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the Lord may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 1 Kings 2:1-4

On a positive note - if you are a husband or a father - take a moment and read this

Out of Luck

OK, tonight after I returned home after proclaiming a wedding ceremony (they call it officiating - sounds like sports) I flipped on the TV and caught a short part of the ABC news show 20/20.  The topic of the show "Luck" - It is quite amazing to me the amount of silly "non-sense" that was portrayed on this show.  My earlier essay, No Such Luck, was totally confirmed. 

When people deny God and the clear hand of providence they are only left prostrate before a vacuous word. It is amazing as we have supposedly become more intelligent as a society the more superstitious we have become. 

To Quote Steve Turner's poem creed one more time:

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don't hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before during
and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy's OK
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything's getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated.
You can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there's something in horoscopes,
UFO's and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha
Mohammed and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
his good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.

We believe that after death comes The Nothing
because when you ask the dead what happens
they say Nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it's compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What's selected is average.
What's average is normal.
What's normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between
warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behaviour that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions .
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth
that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds.

Sure we do...at least lucky people do. 



More on the Secret


Al Mohler weighs in on the Secret.  Pretty helpful.  If you have not already read Donald Whitney's book review, check that out as well.

Newsweek has an article on the Secret - an old blasphemy that is made ever new in every age.  You can be your own God - that is the secret.  The sad thing is that several people have shared with me that Christian people are buying this stuff.

The National Association of Broadcasters if Funny

Check out this ad from the NAB.  Touche! A sad state of affairs is underneath the paycheck of Howard Stern when comparing to Marta Stewart.  Apparently MasteCard shut them down from running the ads.  Engagdet makes a good point:

Not only is the NAB getting its own panties all up in a bunch over the looming threat of a satellite radio "monopoly", it has also managed to wedgie-fy MasterCard's britches, too. A new anti-Sirius / XM merger copycat ad of MC's signature "Priceless" campaign has been making the rounds -- the irony apparently lost on on the NAB that hiring a would-be-lobbyist for the other side and knocking off someone else's ad campaign smells very much of bad business. It's no surprise that MasterCard cried copyright infringement, which prompted the NAB to stop running the ad altogether. Michelle Lehman, the NAB's EVP of Marketing and Communications and Regulatory Affairs, confirms the cessation but also points out that the ad's already gotten a bunch of attention anyway. NAB losing its cool and cred in front of the industry? Now that's priceless.

I still think the ad is funny.

Fact of the Day - The 300

I have not seen the new buzz movie 300 but it brings up some fascinating issues.  My good friend Tim Dees wrestles with the movie in today's fact of the day:

THE 300
by Tim Dees 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran and a FotD regular, has found a new target for his harangues.  These days it's the movie the 300, which opened to a box office windfall last Friday.

The 300 depicts the battle of Thermopylae, which was a battle between 300 Spartans and tens of thousands of Persians.  The Spartans slowed down the Persians enough to give the rest of the Greeks time to muster their forces.  Basically, it's the Alamo, but in Ancient Greece. One trick to all this is that the story of Thermopylae has been transmuted from history to legend and back so many times that the line between the two has been blurred.  So we're dealing with legend as much as history.

What Ahmadinejad is concerned about is the depiction of the Persians in the film.  Not surprisingly, they are seen as bloodthirsty, immoral, wicked lechers.  And considering that most Iranians are Farsi-speaking Persians, they take exception to this ham-handed characterization.  I think on this point Ahmadinejad is dead-on.

The tough thing about the battle at Thermopylae is that the Spartans were the winners, but the Spartans weren't the good guys (not to say that the Persians were).  They were violent people who engaged in institutionalized infanticide and pederasty.  Two out of every three Spartans were slaves, which makes their portrayal as freedom fighters all the more absurd.  Indeed, it's quite difficult to cheer for the Spartans.  The Persians were not without fault themselves, but it's hard to imagine a more bleak, oppressive society than ancient Sparta.

But there's one big issue I have with the movie: why does director Zack Snyder portray many of the Persians as black?  I can think of no reason why they would be black; modern Persians aren't black, and early Persian art doesn't depict Persians as black.  It also seems unlikely that the Persians would have hired/conscripted black fighters to be in their army. I suspect that this choice was made out of latent racism and xenophobia.  We have the Spartans, who look more or less like white Americans (albeit white Americans in the Charlton Heston biblical movie sense), and then we have the Spartans, who look like the opposite.  It's not a clash of civilizations, but of races.

Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian and classicist, wrote the following in a foreword to the graphic novel of the 300: 

"Ultimately the film takes a moral stance, Herodotean in nature: there is a difference, an unapologetic difference between free citizens who fight for eleutheria and imperial subjects who give obeisance. We are not left with the usual postmodern quandary 'who are the good guys' in a battle in which the lust for violence plagues both sides. In the end, the defending Spartans are better, not perfect, just better than the invading Persians, and that proves good enough in the end. And to suggest that unambiguously these days has perhaps become a revolutionary thing in itself."

But what makes the Spartans better? 

Many, Many, different ways to say "Nonsense!"

Pulpit Magazine has a plethora of scholars all saying the same thing about James Cameron's and Simcha Jacobovici's "The Jesus Tomb"

A very thorough compilation of consensus is found here. They are all saying the same thing...this is silliness. 

A couple of my favorites:

Dr. Garret G. Fagan, Professor of Classics at Penn State University:

They’re not scientists, but they need to dress themselves in the clothes of science to pass muster… Television is not in the business of education, even with the so-called educational channels like Discovery. “Ultimately, they’re in the business of making money. …  By the time the rebuttals come out, the mass media would have moved on to the next sensation and people will have this vague notion that they have found the tomb of Jesus. (Online Source)

Dr. James White, Christian apologist, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries:

One of the main “tests” I had in mind for this book [The Jesus Family Tomb] when I picked it up was this: Will the book honestly discuss the limitations of mitochondrial DNA? Will they admit that such analysis can only speak to maternal relations, not to paternal relations? Will they tell us what Dr. Carney Matheson has confirmed that such a test cannot rule out that Yeshua ben Yosef was the father of Mariamne? Or will they spin the results? The answer was: spin, spin, spin. (Online Source)

I admit that there are challenges in the world today to Christian truth that the church's apologists work very hard to understand and answer.  This however is not such a challenge.  This is a simple exercise that is simple to refute and understand. 

Money, Money, Money, Spin, Spin, Spin - thats all there is to see here folks.

Donald Whitney on "The Secret"


Donald Whitney has reviewed the popular book and related DVD wonderfully entitled "The Secret" - This best selling novel and internet deliverable movie is sweeping the planet with the help of America's self-realization prophetess of day time television. Apparently the product description for the DVD reads: This is The Secret to everything—the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted.

A few more wonderful ditties that Dr. Whitney highlighted from the book:

You are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet (p. 164)

And one more gem for the road... 

The earth turns on its orbit for You. The oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You. The sun rises and it sets for You. The stars come out for You. Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience, is all there for You. Take a look around. None of it can exist, without You. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life. And now you know The Secret (p. 183)

This is apparently what educated people in western culture now believe.  What happens when you do not get everything you want?  Someone needs to tell this secret to all the people in poverty worldwide.  Get the word out today in Dafur!  This is a bit sickening that we digest this sort of thing.   Interesting to see on the web site that all but one of the "teachers" look like good old wealthy self-actualized white dudes. Give me a break. 

This does show me that people desire hope and they are frustrated with life under the sun.  And it appears that they will pay good money to find the secret - it is sad that they are only being sold ancient lies which say "you shall be as gods."   


Cameron at it again...

Director James Cameron is at again with his friend Simcha Jacobovici.

This duo earlier produced a controversial documentary on the ancient Exodus which entertained possible natural explanations for the 10 plagues associated with the Exodus event.  That documentary was an entertaining ride, though some of the theories are a bit specious (especially the deal about the destruction of the 1st born).  I recommended watching that one for its cool CG effects and discussion of the Exodus narrative.  My little review is found here.

This time around the topic of their newest documentary is the so called "discovery of the remains of Jesus." Time magazine has a brief treatment of the deal which I have copied in below:

Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you 'The Titanic' is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he's sinking is Christianity.

In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting claim that Jesus wasn't resurrected --the cornerstone of Christian faith-- and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene.

No, it's not a re-make of "The Da Vinci Codes'. It's supposed to be true.

Let's go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua. Israel's prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn't associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn't afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.

There was also this little inconvenience that a few miles away, in the old city of Jerusalem, Christians for centuries had been worshipping the empty tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Christ's resurrection, after all, is the main foundation of the faith, proof that a boy born to a carpenter's wife in a manger is the Son of God.

But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family.

Ever the showman, (Why does this remind me of the impresario in another movie,"King Kong", whose hubris blinds him to the dangers of an angry and very large ape?) Cameron is holding a New York press conference on Monday at which he will reveal three coffins, supposedly those of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. News about the film, which will be shown soon on Discovery Channel, Britain's Channel 4, Canada's Vision, and Israel's Channel 8, has been a hot blog topic in the Middle East (check out a personal favorite: Israelity Bites) Here in the Holy Land, Biblical Archeology is a dangerous profession. This 90-minute documentary is bound to outrage Christians and stir up a titanic debate between believers and skeptics. Stay tuned.
The entry already has drawn over 1500 comments on Time's blog - you can read it here.

Sounds like some more fantastic speculation which will be well written and a quality production.  In our day where lies can be spun if the production looks cool and emotionally grabs people, this will be a stumbling block to some people.  This has no scholarly support from Jewish or Christian scholars, but Cameron apparently wants the buzz and will throw his money at it.  I'll link to some responses by scholars in the blogosphere as they come.

For those who like the commercials


CBS.com has a page up featuring some of the super bowl ads from last night's game - Here is the link - and skip the Go Daddy ad will you.  My favorites where the Bud Light fist bump, the Garmin Navigation battle with the giant maposaurous, and the careerbuilder.com battles.

Intelligent Americans!

An Australian comedian does some man on the street research about Americans.  This is pretty ridiculous stuff. For all of those out there who say "dumb it all down" "just make it practical" "don't go too deep" etc.  I continue to stand in protest.  Folks, we need to learn some things, be curious, teach others, value knowledge, we must stop being content to just float through the world aimless without purpose constantly seeking new "a-muse" ments.



OK, this new trailer for the Transformers movie looks really cool.  I just hope they wrote a good story to go with all the effects.  As a sci-fi fan and a guy who played with transformers as a kid - this looks to be one fun movie. We'll see how it turns out.

Yahoo has the trailer here. 

The Day, The Music Died - The Music Industry and the Contradictions We Live

Being from Music City, I felt compelled to read this article in the Washington Post (See - 'Before the Music Dies' Diagnoses an Ailing Industry - washingtonpost.com). It is basically about a documentary film chronicling the commercialization of the music business which is driving the heart from music industry.

The documentary, Before the Music Dies, is a series of interviews of music lovers and old school musicians, commenting on the current state of affairs of the music scene. The message seems to be that music has sold out to the man, leaving hollow, marketed crap out there on the shelves for the consumer.

Some hope is seen in the new indie scene, digitial music, direct creation and sale to music consumers, but in the end the article finishes with a keen observation about modern culture. Here are the last few paragraphs, which I find a true song therein:

But even as Rasmussen says he's not terribly optimistic about the ability of talented new artists to find an audience, the film touches on new paths that are emerging to connect music and listeners: satellite radio, the Internet, file sharing, bands that handle their own distribution. There's even a scene celebrating an FM radio station that dares to go its own way -- Seattle's KEXP, where deejays get to pick their own tunes and play tastemaker.

Rasmussen believes that in this era, when the promise of infinite choice slams up against the reality of time-stressed lives, what listeners crave is "someone to tell them where the great new music is." As the movie quotes Bob Dylan, who in his dotage has taken up the role of radio deejay: "It's just too much. It's pollution."

But this cry for someone to synthesize information -- a way to identify and lead people to quality work -- conflicts with the rhetoric of the Internet, the notion that out there on the Web, democracy is pure and no middleman need exist.

That is the central contradiction in popular culture today, the celebration of unbounded choice even as overwhelmed consumers crave both art they can share with others and a reliable guide to sift through all the junk for them.

Emphasis added

Anyway, music folks may want to read...

Hard Right Turn: I think this last paragraph applies to American Christianity in two ways:

  • We too pick churches like people in a shopping mall. We are consumers seeking the vibe that fits "me" and "us" - is the music to our liking, is the preacher entertaining, do they have something for "me?" - we even call it "church shopping." Consumerus Maximus may well be the new Western Deity.
  • I think the Protestant mega-church has bought the story of offering "unbounded choice" at the church itself and in doing so somewhat splintered the spiritual life of the Christian family. The church has something for the kid, the teen, the young, the old, the in-between, the women, the man, etc. Everything is very targeted and marketed to the individual. Right or wrong, I am part of this world. What I see as a bi-product is an erosion in the cohesion in the family's life with God is lost while individuals consume various portions of the church pie. Mom is studying X, Dad Y, the kids Z. All going in different directions, wondering why no one connects at home.
What to do?