Sunday, April 22, 2012

Forms of Ideology

In the grossest, sorry, highest-grossing film of 1998, the keynote speaker has this to say.

I address you tonight not as the President of the United States, not as the leader of a country, but as a citizen of humanity. We are faced with the very gravest of challenges. The Bible calls this day "Armageddon"- the end of all things. And yet, for the first time in the history of the planet, a species has the technology to prevent its own extinction. All of you praying with us need to know that everything that can be done to prevent this disaster is being called into service. 
The human thirst for excellence, knowledge, every step up the ladder of science, every adventurous reach into space, all of our combined modern technologies and imaginations, even the wars that we've fought have provided us the tools to wage this terrible battle. Through all the chaos that is our history, through all of the wrong and the discord, through all of the pain and suffering, through all of our times, there is one thing that has nourished our souls, and elevated our species above its origins, and that is our courage. The dreams of an entire planet are focused tonight on those fourteen brave souls traveling into the heavens. And may we all, citizens the world over, see these events through. God speed, and good luck to you.

This speech is the window through which this film was viewed by millions, and thus the reason for its enormous success. We know it is dumb, we know it is scientifically, aesthetically, morally, biblically, actingly absurd and repulsive. And we know all this within the first few seconds, when the words "A Michael Bay film" appear on screen. It is confirmed when Billy Bob Thornton addresses one of his colleagues as "hoss".

But none of that matters when your ideology is in tune with the masses. The ideology goes something like this:

Technology will save us! Science will save us! Our courage will save us! War will save us! A blue collar American who loves his country and his freedoms will save us! Our knowledge will save us! (And since there are no atheists on planets that are about to be destroyed by giant asteroids) God will save us!

Technology, science, courage, war, patriotism, knowledge, "God" - these are our truths. What we so desperately want to believe is that our truths are redemptive; that they give us the tools to fight against that which threatens our lives. The irony is that a film as stupid as Armaggedon helps us believe in these truths. Ultimately, in the film, it takes the sacrifice of a willing human to preserve them.

This sacrifice is the sacrifice of the Christ-figure. There is a crucial difference, however, between the Christ-figures and the Christ. These Christ-figures die to preserve the world as it is, with its current ideologies propped up by such heroic deaths. The death of Christ is, by contrast, the end of the world. It is a judgement of the world's ideologies, a bringing to nothing of the powers and systems that seek control of the future. Given our complicity with these powers and systems, it is no wonder that we so easily recognise Harry Stamper's death as salvific while we puzzle over the foolishness of the cross.

The ideological mistake made by Christians is thinking that God is interested in preserving the world, and that the death of Jesus is our assurance of this. We can add "Jesus will save us!" to the list above. But to do so would be to misunderstand the word "Jesus" and the word "save". Salvation by Christ is not the safeguarding of the present order of creation. Salvation is creation, again. It is new. 

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