Memento: Film Review

The 2000 movie, Memento is a brilliant alternative-reality thriller by director Christopher Nolan of The Matrix fame.  Like The Matrix, Memento explores themes which have a compelling metaphysical message: Life is not as it appears.

The film begins with a revenge killing, and then goes back in time from that point, exploring the events which led up to the killing.   The killer, Leo, has a rare mental disease which makes him unable to create new memories.  He only remembers events before the night he was violently attacked years ago and his wife was murdered.  Every few hours, Leo looses all his short term memory (except the pre-attack memories) and has to start piecing together the mystery of his existence from scratch.  To cope with his mental illness, Leo tattoos instructions to himself on his body, takes pictures and notates them with messages to his future self.  Each time he looses his memory, Leo reembarks upon the great mission emblazoned in a giant tattoo across his chest: “John G. raped and murdered my wife. Find him and kill him.”

“Always Retain in Remembrance”

Like Leo, we all suffer from varying degrees of forgetfulness.  This is particularly true with regard to spiritual knowledge.  We have all experienced moving epiphanies, moments of spiritual clarity, commitment, and perfect understanding.   But soon these moments of clarity vanish like the morning dew, and we we forget they ever happened.

In the film, Leo, who has a disciplined personality, is very careful to document all of his experience for future reference.   So also, in our spiritual life, we try to keep the things of the spirit “in remembrance” by reading our scriptures daily, praying daily, going to church weekly.  Rarely do we learn anything “new” as we study, pray, and worship.  But the whole point of doing these daily exercises is not to learn new things, but to fight against our constant state of forgetfulness.  As Alma says in the Book of Mormon, we are to “always retain in remembrance” our sins and reliance on God.  He tells, if we have felt in the past that we could “sing the song of redeeming love, Can you fee so NOW?” Alma asks?

It is inspiring to watch Leo fight against his constant state of forgetfulness in a disciplined and organized way.  I was inspired to make more notes to myself in daily life, and to stop taking my memory for granted.  This has helped me be more organized, at least for the short time I’ve been practicing it.

The Purpose of Life

Leo’s continual state of forgetfulness can also be interpreted broadly, as our birth on earth.  Consider that our life on earth is just one small event in our eternal progression.  Yet, when we are born, we forget everything that came before this life, all we learned, and all we had become.  Like Leo, who wakes up each day in a foreign reality, we wake up on a foreign planet and must piece together the meaning of it all.  Do we get caught up in the moment, or can we perceive that there is some kind of greater mission and path that we are on?

In the film, Leo’s great hunger is to have a mission.  To have meaning and purpose in a life even when he can’t remember anything that has happened to him in years.  The need for purpose is universal.  We all need a mission in life.  Most “self help” programs start with finding some kind of ideal or life purpose.  This is particularly important when we dwell in a state of constant forgetfulness.  There are so many distractions in life, so many ways to get lost down hidden paths.

Self-Deception

The most profound message of the film is about the power of self-deception.   As we progress in the film we discover that Leo has the power to make deliberately deceptive decisions in order to protect his own psychological and emotional needs.

This happens universally in our lives as well.  BYU philosophy professor Terry Warner addresses this topic in depth in his beautiful book Bonds that Make Us Free. 

“When we are stuck, unable to see our way forward, we think it’s because darkness shrouds our pathway.  In reality, the darkness is in ourselves…In self-betrayal our moral sense or conscience becomes untrustworthy.  In the darkness of our self-absorbed, suspicious thoughts and feelings, we cannot discern the way forward.”

I highly recommend this movie.  It is intense, mind-bending, and spiritually profound.  However, it is rated R, and it is pervasively dark and suspenseful, with a touch of horror.  But well worth it, if you have the stomach for it.

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Beyond Blood Atonement Part 2

In Part 1, I speculated that wars and other acts of bloodshed can sometimes be interpreted as a kind of atonement for sin.  All sins have both spiritual and physical consequences.  Although Jesus Christ’s atonement can pay for the spiritual consequence of our sins, the physical consequences must be paid by the victims, perpetrators, or others who inherit the curses of those sins.  This post examines the doctrinal implications of this kind of atonement and then discusses it’s poetic, rather than legalistic nature.

Punished for our OWN sins, not Adam’s transgression.



The 2nd Article of Faith states: We believe mankind will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.   Does my theory about blood atonement fit with this doctrine?

I believe this scripture is speaking about eternal, post-mortal punishment, not the natural mortal consequences of sin.   True, we will not be held accountable at the Last Judgement for Adam’s transgression.  However, the reality is that we still suffer in this life because of Adam’s transgression.  Adam’s transgression brought death into the world, and we all die.   The true spirit of this article of faith is that “we won’t be held guilty for Adam’s sin.”   We can be guiltless, but we may still have to pay the price for another’s sin.   Jesus was punished for our sins, but He was not guilty of them.

Although it doesn’t seem fair that we are punished for the sins of others, that is the nature of mortal life.  Accounts will eventually be settled with complete justice in the next life.  But in this life, sins are sown and consequences are suffered across the generations in horrifically unfair ways.

Blood Atonement as Poetic Justice

The Atonement of Christ is often described in legalistic terms, as satisfying the demands of eternal justice.  I am not suggesting that the blood atonement of mortals can necessarily satisfy the the eternal legal accounts of a perfect and just God.   But mortal blood atonement can act as a kind of poetic justice that gives meaning to suffering and can even heal and change lives.  Here is an example of how the poetic justice of blood atonement created a miraculous transformation in the hearts of the people:

Anti-Nephi Lehis

In the Book of Mormon, a group of Lamanites, who were once wicked and murderous, become converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and bury their weapons of war.   They separate themselves from the Lamanites and become Anti-Nephi-Lehis.  The Lamanites become angry towards their former brethren.  So they take up their weapons and attack the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.  To their surprise, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis do not fight back, but instead kneel down and allow themselves to die at their hands.  After a great slaughter, many of the Lamanites are smitten in their hearts, and feel terribly guilty for the massacre.  They kneel down and ask for forgiveness, and decide to join the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, and bury their weapons as well.  In the end, more new Lamanites are converted and join the Anti-Nephi-Lehis than the number that were killed.

In this story, a culture of murder and violence is suddenly transformed into a culture of pacifism and humility.  The Lamanites and their ancestors are guilty of many sins.  But the act of shedding the innocent blood of their brethren causes a powerful change within their hearts.  A similar phenomenon happens on a smaller small in Addiction Recovery.  Often, it is not until a person has hit rock bottom that they finally seek help and become converted to a new way of life.  As in the metaphor of the evil tree, sometimes, the sin has to ripen unto destruction before it will finally be cut down.

A Christmas Carol

Another example of the poetic justice of blood atonement comes from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol:  In the story, the Ghost of Christmas Present opens his robe and reveals two starving children.  He tells Scrooge, “These are your children…their names are “Ignorance” and “Want.”  These children are not in and of themselves responsible for their suffering, but they fill an important prophetic role: they represent the fruits of wickedness.  They pay the physical price for Scrooge’s sins here on earth.  England’s current democratic and socialist state of child protections and economic safety nets are the result of millions of these little children who gave their lives during Scrooge’s Industrial Revolution.  Once there had been enough destruction, the tide turned against Social Darwinism towards a healthier mixture of capitalism and democratic socialism.

Animal Sacrifice

While animal sacrifice has no legal saving power in the gospel, it also existed as a powerful metaphor during Old Testament times.  Killing something, whether it be an animal or a human, is a very deep and heavy thing.  Animal sacrifice serves as a reminder that there are real physical consequences to sin that must be paid for in blood.  You’d probably think twice about sinning if it meant you had to sacrifice your best lamb.

LDS Traditions

LDS history has a lot of fascinating issues with blood atonement and animal sacrifice.  There is the JST translation about how people believed Abel’s blood was a sacrifice for sin in the book of Genesis.  Then there was Brigham Young’s teaching that the real shedding of blood must be the atonement for the sin of shedding blood, which is still the reason why Utah is the only state with execution by firing squad.  And I believe Joseph Smith speculated that in the future the “sons of Levi will offer up an offering in righteousness,” and that this will be an animal sacrifice.   All this goes to show that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young thought a lot about the atonement in some unconventional ways, which reflect some very deep truths about the nature of sin.

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Beyond Blood Atonement: Part 1

The LDS topic of Blood Atonement is a controversial one.  It is usually addressed only by anti-Mormons who use it to attack the church, and LDS apologists, trying to defend the church in the face of it’s embarrassing implications.  However, I’d like to suggest a broader understanding of Blood Atonement that seeks to transcend the polarized agendas of apologists and anti-Mormons.

Consequences of Sin: Spiritual and Physical

In order to understand universal blood atonement within this broader context, we must understand that every sin has two consequences: a spiritual consequence, and a physical consequence.  The spiritual consequence of sin is spiritual death and separation from God.   Christ’s atonement can free us from the spiritual consequence of sin and brings us back into communion with God, if we repent of the sin.

But whether or not Christ forgives our sin, the physical consequences of sin are still in force, and are suffered by the victim of the sin.   For example, if you steal from someone, the physical consequence is suffered by the person you robbed.  And in a way, the victim’s suffering atones for the physical consequence of that sin.  Thus the victim can become a kind of Savior for the perpetrator.  While the affects of this kind of atonement may not be quantifiable from a legal perspective, it does have a powerful, almost poetic significance.

The Sins of the Fathers

Every time we sin against another, there is a physical consequence.   This is easiest to perceive within families.  The fruits of sin are often passed from father to child, sometimes over many generations.  The abused go on to be abusers.  We find ourselves inadvertently making the same mistakes our parents made.   The Bible says “I will curse them to the 7th generation.”   This is not to say that these consequences are always inevitable.  Christ can take the sword from our hand, and heal us, before we live out the curses we may have inherited.  But nevertheless, if Christ does not heal the abuse in us, we may have to live out the consequences of the abuse others have inflicted upon us.

The Ax at the Root of the Evil Tree

Sinning can be understood as sowing an evil seed.  Sometimes that sin grows and ripens in the heart of the person we have sinned against.   Collectively, societies sometimes sow large amounts of these seeds which ripen over generations into great forests of evil.   John the Baptist says, “the ax is laid at the foot of every tree, and every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.”  The people and cultures who reap the terrible fruits of these sins did not sow the seeds, yet they still suffer destruction for them.  This destruction is a kind of blood atonement.  After the destruction of the evil tree, the physical consequences of the sin have been paid, and the people involved can hit the reset button.

WWII as a type of Blood Atonement

Psychologist Victor Frankel recounted his ordeal as a Holocaust survivor in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.   In his analysis of the experience, he suggests that all suffering has meaning, even seemingly pointless suffering in Nazi concentration camps.  While he was in the camps, he encouraged his fellow inmates to see their suffering as a kind of monument that will stand eternally in the river of time, to be forever referenced by the universe as something real, heroic, and of great value.

But what value can the suffering really have had?  I would like to suggest that actually, there is something profoundly significant about it, that affected and altered the history of humanity.   Consider the world before and after WWII.

Before WWII:  A world ravished by imperial and nationalistic attitudes.  These imperial and tribal cultures had engaged in non-stop warfare for thousands of years.  Democracy was still rare, and relatively new.  It was a world in a state of tyranny, slavery, very little freedom, impenetrable class divisions, profound racial hatred, and violently nationalistic attitudes.

After WWII: Imperialism dies.  There is a mass exodus of the major powers from imperial and dictatorial rule to democratic rule.  Super-powers exhibit rational displays of restraint during the cold-war, and Communism dies a quiet death.  Peace and prosperity reign all across the developed world.  There are wars, but only in the undeveloped world, among countries that were not heavily involved in World War II.  Both Germany and Japan become economic powerhouses and icons of peaceful global neighbors.  I would suggest that the peace and prosperity the developed world enjoy in the 21st century has only been possible because of the violent atonement of WWII.

The World Without WWII?

Could the developed world be as peaceful and prosperous as it is today, without WWII?  (please note I am only considering the developed world, those 1st world nations principally involved in WWII, which today enjoy the greatest period of peace and prosperity in the history of mankind.  Wars still exist today, but only in less civilized nations.  Developed nations get involved in these third world conflicts only for containment and democratization purposes, not imperialistic ones as in former days.)  Consider these three scenarios:

  1. If Hitler had not invaded Russia:  Millions of lives would have been saved, but Hitler might have ruled Europe all the way through the 1980s or longer, and Imperial wars similar to those of the 19th Century, might still be going on today.
  2. If Hitler had not killed the Jews:  Most likely, there would be no state of Israel today.  The fallout of the holocaust that created powerful international impetus propelled the Jewish people into their new home in Palestine.  Without the atonement of the holocaust, the Jews in Europe might still be treated in 19th century ways, as “a hiss and a byword” all around the developed world.  Racism might be much more prevalent.
  3. If Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor, or behaved more rationally with regard to China?  We would have had no reason to go to war with Japan, and thus it might still be a fascist, militarily aggressive country today, with territory still spanning much of Asia, full of slavery, periodic genocides, and irrational displays of Kamikaze suicide.

I acknowledge that this view is bound to be controversial, and may even seem blasphemous to some.  Others will argue that the developed world could have stabilized without WWII, and that it was an unnecessary aberration, a complete and total waste of human life and capital.  And still others will argue that it is morally reprehensible to “see a silver lining” in something so atrocious.  Nevertheless, I do believe today’s peace and prosperity in the developed world, is thanks, in large part, to the violent atonement of WWII.  Germany had centuries of sin on its head, centuries of ruthless imperial and monarchical rule, centuries of brutal treatment of the Jews.  But in a period of less than 15 years, Germany was transformed from a state of sinful and racist nationalism, into a state of pacifistic humility.  This became possible, in part, because of the atonement of the Jews, and the deaths of millions of others.

I believe if you examine all the wars and killings in the world, you might be able to see how some of it paved the way for our modern state of peace and prosperity.  I sometimes remember this when I step outside into the sun each morning.  Each step I take in this blessed land was paid for by the blood of millions before me.  If they had not paid the price for the sins of humanity, I would still be paying for it myself, living the life of a slave or soldier.  I live and breath, free, prosperous, with unlimited opportunity, not because God simply gave it to me free.  Humanity gave it to me, and they gave it to me with their blood.  There is no free lunch.

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Part 2 of Satan’s Three Degrees of Glory: Upper, Middle and Lower Class

In the previous post, I discussed how people can sometimes rise through class structure by obeying universal laws governing the use of wealth.  Many of those who find themselves in the Upper Class, have been wise stewards of the resources given them.  Likewise, people who find themselves in the Lower Class could sometimes be described as those who do not follow the universal laws of prosperity which would help them rise to Middle or Upper classes.  They may hold self-defeating attitudes or patterns of behavior that continually keep them from getting ahead.

This is an unfair generalization of course.  On a case by case basis, there are many exceptions.  Many people are born into wealth, but are wasteful and unfruitful themselves.  The poor are often not given educational and monetary opportunities.  But as a general rule, one can see that universal laws governing prosperity often work effectively in today’s capitalist class structure.  Lehi’s promise to Nephi, “If you keep my commandments, you shall prosper in the land,” has a correlation to the class structure.  We see that many people are blessed monetarily because they followed universal laws or commandments.  While there are individual exceptions, Lehi’s promise is true in general.  The Upper Class may not obey all the commandments, like going to church or praying, but they often do obey the universal commandments governing the use of wealth and resources which the Savior gave in the parable of the talents.

The Lower Class Virtue: Charity

However, there is one particular quality of the Lower Class that has come out in research. They are by far the most generous of any class, the most charitable.  It is common to see an extraordinary amount of charitable service and giving among the homeless, who often give the shirt off their back to help out a brother in need.  This particular quality was highlighted by Jesus in the story of the Widow’s Mite.

Paul extols three great virtues: faith, hope, and charity.  The virtues of faith and hope are essential for the effective management of money and resources.  Anyone who invests wisely is using a combination of faith, hope, and works in order to create a profit.  The Lower Class are often too hopeless and faithless.  They have been disappointed too many times.  They are poor in spirit and faith.  They often grew up as victims and perpetuate that culture among themselves.  But they still have charity.  And charity is the greatest of all the virtues.

Jesus’ Celebration of the Lower Class

The irony of Jesus’ teachings, is that they extol upper-class mentalities as positive metaphors for the faithful, while at the same time condemning the rich to hell, and the poor to heaven in general.  This is illustrated in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the teaching that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” suggests that those who hold self-defeating attitudes are actually those who inherit the kingdom of heaven.   In Mary’s prayer in Luke 1:46 she focuses almost entirely on the Messiah’s mission to redeem the poor and send the rich away empty handed.  In the parable of wedding feast, the bridegroom first invites the Upper Class.  When they reject him, he invites the Lower Class beggars from the streets.

Satan’s Condemnation of the Lower Class

Just as we condemn those in the Telestial kingdom as wicked, Satan condemns the Lower Class as worthless and stupid.  In the capitalist system, which allows for progression between Satan’s three kingdoms, the Lower Class are seen as having brought their woes upon themselves, and any kind of charity to them is seen as entitlement and “throwing your money away” as they will just go waste it, like the man who buried his talent in the earth.
However the scriptures suggest that Satan’s class structure itself is not God’s ideal.  D&C 49:20 says “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lithe in sin.”  While in mortal life, “the poor ye will always have among you,” Jesus reminds us that the class structure itself is corrupt and sinful.  

We should remember that we live in a compromised world, and that as inspired and successful as the capitalist-three-class structure seems to be, it is not a true reflection of the kingdom of heaven with it’s three degrees.  The treasures of the three kingdoms will we rewarded along entirely different lines than the capitalist system.  The laws that govern prosperity and power on earth are different than the laws governing the three kingdoms.

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Satan’s Three Degrees of Glory: Upper, Middle, and Lower Class

Part I

This is two part posting which will examine the Upper, Middle, and Lower class divisions in our society as metaphors for the Three Degrees of Glory.  I call them “Satan’s Three Degrees of Glory,” but not because they are completely evil.  In fact, Jesus frequently used class distinctions as metaphors in his parables and teachings.

Joseph Smith taught that each of the three degrees of glory has a certain law attached to it: either the Celestial Law, the Terrestrial Law, or the Telestial Law.  People become part of a particular kingdom by obeying the laws of that kingdom. This is similar in Satan’s Class structure.  By obeying certain universal laws or principles, many people are able to move from Lower Class deprivation to Middle Class prosperity.  In many cases, people from the Upper Classes arrived at their status by obedience to universal laws governing the realm of the Upper Class world.  This is the point of books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  People can get rich by obeying laws governing the use of wealth.  Jesus has many parables that use earthly status and riches as a metaphor for heavenly status, such as the parable of the talents, the unjust steward, the house built on a rock, the man who didn’t have enough money to finish building his tower.  In each of these parables, universal laws governing wealth and class distinction are used as metaphors for spiritual laws governing our place in the heavens.

I call it Satan’s Class Structure, not because it is wrong to want to progress within the structure, but because Satan wants us to focus on class divisions as our ultimate and most important identity, rather than focusing on our eternal place in the heavens.

The Upper Class: Luxury Wants

My aunt just built a multi-million dollar home of modest size.  While it is certainly a beautiful structure, it could have been much more grand and splendidly superficial, if she had used cheaper building materials and labor.  But instead, she used the home as an excuse to explore her discerning taste in super-luxury items and an exercise in environmental building techniques.  The result is opulent but not arrogant.

True upper class mentality seeks to distinguish itself from middle class posturing through greater discernment in luxurious lifestyle.  A $2,000 Chanel dress may look very similar to a department store knockoff for $100, but a closer and more cultivated look reveals a much more exquisite tailoring and quality fabrics, made in Italy by people who make middle class wages, rather than people in Vietnam making pennies.

As a gross generalization, the upper class practices discernment of true luxury over the compromised appearance of luxury.  This mentality does not belong only to the rich.  Anyone can build up their life with a few luxury items that are affordable within your particular financial realm.  Even someone who is rather poor can have an upper class mentality by buying a few high quality things that reflect their values.  For example, there are poor ambassadors and diplomats from 3rd world countries who work at the United Nations.  While they don’t have much money, they do have one “made in Italy” Armani suit that they spent $2,500 on, which they wear every day for years.  If they had middle class mentality, they would have bought two “made in China” Dillards’ suits for $500, and spent the rest of their money on rent for an apartment they couldn’t quite afford.

The Middle Class: Economical Wants

While the Upper Class focus their labors on obtaining luxury wants, the Middle Class focuses on cultivating the appearance of wealth on a Middle Class budget.    The Middle Class is marked by insecurity and concern about being passed by in the race of life, keeping up appearances, the constant preoccupation with getting into the great and spacious building.  The Upper Class is already in the great and spacious building, and doesn’t need to covet and clamor.  They can sneer at the inferior taste at the Middle Class posers below.  The Upper Classes are the Joneses, the Middle Classes are tying to keep up with the Joneses.  To keep up with the Joneses, the Middle Class frequently overextend themselves, and make compromises on quality.   They shop at Macy’s, not Saks, non-organic Albertsons rather than organic Whole Foods.

The Pearl of Great Price: Metaphors for our Spiritual Life

While the pride of the Upper Class is something we should not aspire to, upper class attitudes towards luxury can be an effective metaphor for our spiritual lives.   Jesus talks about the pearl collector who sells all his pearls to obtain one single pearl of great price.  This is upper-class mentality.  It’s about quality over quantity, essence over appearance.    The terrestrial world, as well as the middle class one, is all about fakery, illusion, the appearance of things, compromise, comfort, casualness.  Jesus warned us not to become like “whitened sepulchers,” who have outward beauty, but inside are full of dead men’s bones, not unlike our cheap “made in China” knockoffs.

So does our spiritual walk reflect the kind of integrity that the Upper Class seeks in their luxury items?  Do we pray, read, listen, and serve with complete honesty and intention?  Or do we do so in a distracted way, simply to keep up appearances, while we try to get ahead, or appear that we are ahead in some sort of spiritual race?  Like a poor UN diplomat wearing an Armani suit, a typical Saint may not be possess a great wealth of spiritual gifts.  But he can put his whole soul into one thing with complete integrity, even if it is a simple prayer.

The Dangers of Upper Class Mentality

I don’t judge anyone for subscribing to the compromises of Middle Class life, as I do myself on most fronts.  Our place in the classes in the mortal realm are a distraction and a temptation to the saints.  It’s not good to be overly concerned about whether we have middle or upper class attitudes or lifestyles.  A true saint doesn’t worry so much about the outward, physical manifestations of their life.  A saint builds up treasures in heaven, not on earth.   As Jesus said, “Take no thought for the morrow, what you should wear…”

But as a metaphor, Upper Class mentalities it can be helpful to remember.  On a spiritual level, saints are supposed to be Upper Class Celestial beings, not Middle Class Terrestrial beings.  We seek the truest and the most beautiful heavenly treasures, and don’t settle for less than the best with regards to our spiritual privileges.

Rationalization for my recent Ferragamo splurge

I think that seeking after “upper class” luxuries can sometimes have integrity to it, as long as it is a genuine reflection of our spiritual attitudes and values.  If we buy luxury items because we value integrity, it is different than if we buy them to feast upon our lusts.  I recently bought a used pair of Ferragamo shoes for $250.  They retail for over $600.  To do this, I had to overcome the powerful Middle Class mentality forged into me by my parents.  I’d never purchased a pair of shoes for over $80, so I fought off lots of guilt over this.

But I remembered that Jesus let the woman anoint his feet with very expensive perfume, and when Judas suggested it should be sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus said, “the poor you always have with you.”  I also remembered the scripture “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach tidings of peace,” and I thought, how beautiful are the feet of those who wear incredible couture footwear.  Then I remembered the scripture, “let your feet be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” and I thought that since I was a missionary in Italy, I deserved to buy a pair of the finest shoes Italy could offer, since what I gave the Italians myself was the best I had to offer.  I swallowed my guilt, and made the purchase! (Then I sold them on ebay for a profit, since they didn’t quite fit right.)

In my next posting, I’ll examine further the sinister dangers of class structure, particularly with regard to how we view the lower class.

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Vampires and the Plan of Salvation

I love vampires.  But I’m not much interested in the popular campy appeal of vampires, the horror, the stylization.   What I love about vampires is how close they are to humans, how much we have in common with them.

Dependency and Exploitation

Vampires live off of the blood of others, and when they attack someone, the victim in turn becomes a vampire and goes on to infect others.  This is the standard cycle of abused becoming abusers.  In almost all close relationships, there exists some element of dependency and exploitation.   Often, neediness and dependency can sap the life energy out of the partner in a relationship, just as a vampire saps the life blood from a victim.  The vampire can become a powerful metaphor for our behavior in these relationships.  Our abuse of another sometimes has far reaching consequences that reverberate in their life, just as the bite of a vampire does.

When we sin against others, we can recognize that sin as a potential “infection” that we inflict upon others.  Often, we sin against them in the first place, because we are taking life from them to feed a need within ourselves.  Our sins against others can be defined as feeding the addictive need we have to control others.   It is sometimes hard to recognize this for what it is, as it is often disguised in terms of care and concern.  But more often, on a subconscious level, it has to do with the insecurity we feel in life, and the need to somehow shore up that insecurity by keeping others rotating within our orbit.

Addictions

Humanity’s vampiric tendencies can best be understood as addictions.  The pedophile is an extreme example of the vampiric type.  He suffers from an addiction to sex with children.  In many cases, the addiction is passed on to the child, by virtue of their innocence and vulnerability at the time, and they often go on to either repeat the abuse, or to manifest the infection in other forms of abuse, or addictive behavior.  Both the perpetrator and the victim become vampires, and even take on the spiritual persona of a vampire: a kind of ghostly, groundless misery, unable to find fulfillment in anything but their addictions, and then letting their addictions suck the life out of them.

Spiritual Death

Vampires are sometimes referred to as the “living dead” or the “undead.”  If they are put into direct sunlight they burst into flames.  They wander to and fro in the dark, with haunted, tormented visages, consumed only with satisfying their need for blood.  There is a symbol in this idea of “living dead” in the LDS doctrine of spiritual death.  We believe that when we sin, we become spiritually dead from God, cast out of his presence into the lone and dreary world.  Repentance through Christ’s atonement brings us back into life and God’s presence.  But until we experience the atonement, we are spiritually dead.  This symbol was powerfully evoked in the film The Sixth Sense, where Bruce Willis, the film’s star, goes about his daily life, only to realize at the end of the film, that he has been in fact, dead for some time, and that the reason everyone was ignoring him in real life, was because he was a ghost, and no one could see him.  Likewise, in our own life, few of us recognize that we are in fact spiritually dead. We are the living dead.  Blood is also a powerful metaphor in the gospel.  Signifying both life and death.  Brigham Young explained that sin must be paid for in blood, the doctrine of blood atonement.  Christ’s blood pays for our sins.

The Atonement and Sacrament

Understanding mankind’s vampiric state can give added perspective to Christ’s admonition to “eat my flesh and drink my blood.”  Christ died to satisfy the blood lust of the people.  They saw Him as a threat to their power and place in the world.  They needed Christ to stay in their orbit, not pull people away from them.  So Christ is the classic victim of vampires, killed in the most cruel way, in order to satisfy the most base and carnal of addictions: to torture and humiliate.  He literally debased himself to become the “fix” for mankind’s addictive sadism.  But unlike other vampiric victims, Christ went like a lamb to the slaughter, willingly, and “to this end was I born.”  As a God, he transformed his sacrifice on the cross to become a blood sacrifice for all mankind’s sins.

So what happens when we, as metaphorical vampires, partake of the blood of Christ at the sacrament table?  This is the only blood that truly satisfies, that transforms us, and brings us back to spiritual life.  It is similar to Christ’s description of living water: Whoso drinketh of this water shall thirst again, but the water that I shall give him shall be a well of water springing into everlasting life.”  Vampires, like addicts of all stripes, cannot find satiation in blood, but are constantly thirsting for more.  But Christ’s blood provides lasting satiation and rest.  (I thought about being a vampire at the sacrament today, and about drinking the blood of Christ to find life and relief from the restless pursuits of the flesh.  I can’t say that it totally worked, because vampires have unfortunately been so stylized in popular culture, that their place at the sacrament table seems a bit sacrilegious.)

Vampire lore has been part of many diverse cultures for thousands of years.  Why would such a consistent phenomenon show up across cultures and centuries?  Because the metaphor of a vampire is so universal and human.  We are all spiritual vampires, selfishly feeding and feasting off of the spirits of others.  We have only invented their physical reality as a way of trying to understand and cope with the darkness within our own soul.

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Restoring True Courage

A Review of Paradise Now

The issue of Palestinian statehood is heating up again, with an upcoming vote scheduled in the UN.  The US is doing all it can diplomatically to persuade Palestine to postpone the vote.  As things currently stand with Israeli relations, it cannot afford to vote in favor of it.  But it doesn’t want to inflame Arab-American relations either by voting against statehood.

For anyone interested in Israeli-Palestinian relations, I highly suggest seeing the brilliant 2005 film Paradise Now.  It tells the story of two Palestinian suicide bombers, who have a change of heart en route to their mission, one deciding to go back, and the other following through with the terrible mission.  It’s a gripping drama, frightfully realistic, and deeply humane.

It was a very controversial film, mischaracterized as anti-Semitic by many critics who didn’t like to see terrorists portrayed as something more than inhumane monsters.   But the psychology of terrorism is not so easily dismissed, not so black and white as we would like to admit.  I once heard a psychiatrist interviewed on NPR who had studied murderers for years, and who found that most all murderers display psychopathic disorders.  However, terrorists don’t display any psychopathic disorders whatsoever.  They check out perfectly normal.  Fanaticism, it turns out, is a common, very typical human trait.  The evil of fanaticism lies not in the individuals, but within the culture of deception and blindness that surround these otherwise normal people.

It’s easy for us in the West to recognize the evil of terrorism, the immorality of shedding civilian blood, and the futility of the constant cycle of revenge.  But you get a much more nuanced portrait from the inside.  In the film Paradise Now, the suicide bombers come from homes ravaged by war and death.  The land is engulfed in an oppressive poverty and hopelessness.  There is a constant, gnawing hatred for the Israelis, who are seen has having taken away their freedoms, killed their friends, and refused to acknowledge their humanity by granting them statehood.   They feel it is better to die than to live with such humiliation, such indignity.   They say, “if we had planes, we would fight with planes, but all we have is our bodies, so we fight with them.”

Of course all these perspectives are clearly misguided, but not from the narrow perspectives of these forgotten souls, lost in a depressed and abandoned wasteland of hatred and anti-Israeli propaganda.   The girlfriend of one of the suicide bombers, herself an orphan of Israeli retaliation, continually pleads with them not to return bloodshed with more bloodshed.  She tries to reason that a constant cycle of revenge does no good, and doesn’t serve the Palestinian cause at all.

Paradise Now is a tragedy.  But not principally the tragedy of the innocents killed by terrorism.   Instead, it is the great tragedy that terrorism and a culture of revenge has inflicted upon the Palestinians themselves.  The tragedy of the Israeli victims is one that is obvious and apparent.  But this film shows that there is another, even deeper and more profound tragedy going on within the hearts and families of these hopeless terrorists, who live in a perpetual state of dark hatred, unable to forgive, to let go of the past, and to accept humiliation and defeat at the hands of their sometimes brutal superiors.

Glen Beck said in his recent Restoring Courage Rally: “In Israel, there is more courage in one square mile than in all of Europe. In Israel, there is more courage in one Israeli soldier than in the combined and cold hearts of every bureaucrat at the United Nations.”  I would suggest that perhaps something is missing from Glen Beck’s vision of courage.  In my mind, the greatest courage is not the courage to retaliate swiftly and brutally for every wrong.  It is not the courage to be uncompromising and always take a militaristic stance.  True courage is the courage of a Palestinian or an Israeli to turn away from revenge, and to forgive, to love your enemy.  True courage is the courage to give your enemy a second chance, to put down your arms.  To talk and talk, till you can find agreement and compromise, even if it takes years, decades.

I hope, for the sake of Arab-Israeli-American relations, that this vote in the UN can be postponed, and that Israel and Palestine can have the courage to sit down together and face the compromises necessary to make the two-state solution a reality.  Films like Paradise Now show that we are never too far apart from each other, and those things which bind us together as humans are greater than those which tear us apart.

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