Monday, March 3, 2014

Nicolas Cage and the Rapture

Just a quick post to note that Nicolas Cage is starring in a reboot of the "Left Behind" movie series, because of course he is.

The Left Behind books were entertaining, although I certainly had significant theological disagreements with them. And the Kirk Cameron movies were just meh, but I gave them an A for effort. With Cage and some other familiar names on board – including Chad Michael Murray and Lolo Jones(!) – this new project might be taken more seriously by the general public.

My wife can't stand Nicolas Cage, and he's not my favorite actor, either. He's been in some good movies, though, and he's certainly not scared of any role. Nor does he shy away from movies with spiritual content (see: "World Trade Center").

I get the feeling this movie will be spectacular – whether a good or bad spectacular, who knows. But Nicolas Cage in a rapture movie has my attention for now.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I Don't Mean to Offend, but...

What triggers our reactions to what we perceive as offensive words or behavior? To what degree are those reactions borne of an intuitive sense of right and wrong, as opposed to social conditioning?

Growing up in a Christian home, a lot of things about the world offended me as I got older and developed a sharper view of the sin in man's heart (and in my own heart). I still consider myself a Christian, but I find myself being less easily offended these days. Part of that is because it takes up too much energy to get offended at every little thing.

I mean, I still don't like hearing someone take God's name in vain. And there are certain social issues on which I have strong feelings, and it can upset me when someone mocks or dismisses my beliefs. But I get over it.

Perhaps my skin has thickened from being a journalist all these years, or maybe I've become apathetic (certainly cynical), but what bothers a lot of people doesn't bother me all that much. Perhaps it should, but it doesn't. Given the influence of my childhood and adulthood experiences, it makes me think that social conditioning does indeed play a large role in what we find offensive.

But I also believe there is an intuitive aspect to it. You see it in very small children, who aren't old enough to understand what you tell them about right and wrong but can sense when someone has been wronged (especially if it's them). The law has been written on our hearts, so to speak, even if we can't always make out exactly what it says.

And that's where the social conditioning can come in. Those who are older and in authority take a child's pliable moral sense and shape it into something more solid, whether for good or bad. Once that value system is established – and everyone has a value system – then we can more easily identify what we do or don't find offensive.

A certain amount of self-righteousness is inherent in any value system, and thus a proclivity for seeking out things that offend us. When something offends you, it's because your sense of right and wrong has been pricked, and taking a moral stand for something makes you feel morally superior to whatever or whoever has offended you. We all like being in the right, and most of us like letting others know that we're in the right and, if they disagree with us, they are clearly in the wrong. So really, being offended is something we want.

This psychological phenomenon, by the way, is not unique to any particular group of people. Christians, Muslims, atheists, Republicans, Democrats, communists, pacifists, warmongers – all possess some sort of moral sense, even if it's twisted. All are offended by those who oppose them.

Of course, some people are more easily offended than others. Given how my attitude in this regard has changed over the years, does being less easily offended equal a crumbling value system? Or more accurately, perhaps, does it mean my value system has turned inward? (Even the most selfish person has values, it's just that most of those values are concerned acutely with the self.) Is it a sign of maturity?

As I ponder this, one thought strikes me: Over the years, how I handle personal insults has changed dramatically. Of all the things that might offend me, a personal insult isn't one of them. Again, I point to my experience as a sports journalist, a job in which insults come with the territory. Sports fans can be a pretty easily offended bunch, and so they lash out at the easiest targets – the messengers.

It's at the point now that someone hurling insults my way actually provides me with a few laughs. Witness this recent Twitter exchange, precipitated by my calling a Mississippi State player a bust after two seasons:

That's tame stuff. I once had a reader – an atheist who took exception to a column I had written for a Christian website – send me an email in which he prayed that Satan would give my children cancer. It doesn't get more offensive than that, but I ultimately laughed it off because of how ridiculous it was.

Laughter is a great way to deal with those who would offend you. It strips such a person's words and actions of their power.

Of course, choosing not to be offended leads us into another moral thorn bush, one in which I often find myself entangled: We can think ourselves too morally advanced to let those offensive heathens bring us down. There's that damn self-righteousness again.