Thanos and the Infinity Stones: A Cautionary Tale for Control Freaks (Like Us)

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Marvel comics supervillain character “Thanos” is certainly a contender (apart from the biblical Lucifer) for the prize of being the ultimate control freak. But he is actually each of us magnified almost infinitely in our desire to control all of reality and God – and thus a cautionary tale. We all are tempted by the uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and suffering of life to “wish” that we could change things in almost ultimate ways, as Thanos hoped to do in complete ultimacy, once he was able to possess all six of the “infinity stones” – mind, soul, space, power, time, and reality. I always wonder whether the multitudes of Americans seeing movies like this realize that a major point is that the desire for “control” is ultimately dangerously destructive to our God-given creaturely self-hood and of the dignity and right to life of others?

Thanos is a good character to portray such self-deception, because he isn’t automatically portrayed as a shallow one-dimensional maniacal egomaniac but rather as a reasonable, courageous, even sacrificial and loving person (by his own estimation). It’s amazing what the unchecked desire for control does to us all, a story as old as the fall of adam & eve, the fall to the desire for control in the garden of God in Genesis, and as real as the terrible consequences that violently rippled out from there and provide the dismal default context of our personal and collective lives.

So, is there any anti-Thanos we can look to for a better way? How about a “forty day fasted” Jesus in the desolate wilderness tempted by Satan to use “infinity stones” to change “everything” but ultimately victorious over him though the conflict continued and culminated in an “anti-garden” of suffering, called Gethsemane? He is the one to consider, along with those who have truly followed his way, though they be few and far  between.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The “Problem” of Anxiety and Freedom: Soren Kierkegaard, Arcade Fire, and the “Promise” of “Creature Comfort”

 

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It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it.

On and on I don’t know what I want,

on and on, I don’t know if I want it…

From “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

A chorus from Arcade Fire that is “dizzying” in both “merry go round” style – “on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on” – and actually also in content, which this post will explore. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Does that mean that “Creature Comfort” for the anxious is the ultimate thing we should seek? Is our anxiety itself one of the “Signs of Life” that as a “Manifest Propensity” empirically shows that we were created for more than simply consuming (and being consumed by?) the creature comforts marketed to us constantly?

Arcade Fire’s petition to God about the “problem of freedom” is “just make it painless” with painlessness coming through the “Creature Comfort” supposedly promised and provided for through the technological consumerism of “Everything Now.”  Arcade Fire raises one of the most perennial questions of human beings regarding God. Can God, if we consider God as the One that is the creator of human life, able to make that life “painless” for a being that is created with a measure of freedom? It seems that Soren Kierkegaard thought that freedom inevitably produces a measure of anxiety for creatures endowed with that gift.

If that is true, then question becomes, what do we do with this “birthright” of anxiety? Do we try to manufacture “comfort” for the “creature,” the solution that Arcade Fire sees as the “anxiety fix” currently on offer for any and all of us willing to buy into that solution? The manufacturers of such “creature comfort” constantly bombard us with the assurance that we ought to “Put your money on me?” In fact, we all tend to buy into that solution simply because it is the given of our existence now. In a sense we have already paid for it, simply as the price of admission to the modern world.

Infinite Content.

Infinite Content.

We’re infinitely content.

All your money is already spent on it.

All you money is already spent.

On Infinite Content.

From “Infinite Content” by Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”

With nearly biblical poetical genius Arcade Fire reveals the pseudo-religious character of this captivating sales pitch which captures precisely because it tends to exhaust all our resources so that we can’t afford anything else. All our money is already spent! We’re overly invested. But that’s alright because we’re so “infinitely content!” Many or most of us will probably admit how trapped we feel in this situation. But lurking within is the anxiety of dizziness caused by our struggle between wanting and not wanting to remain sellouts to the consumerist solution of “Creature Comfort.”

Soren Kierkegaard defined anxiety as “a sympathetic antipathy and an antipathetic sympathy.” Mark A. Tietjen explains that “It occurs when one is attracted to and repulsed by the same thing.” We seem to be attracted to the comforts offered, but repulsed by the loss of freedom we pay for them.

A short alternative answer from Kierkegaard was that we shouldn’t evade our birthright of anxiety, for the sake of a false “comfort,” but rather embrace it. For in that path lies becoming the self we were created to be.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.”
Søren Kierkegaard

I think it is highly possible that Arcade Fires’s song “Put Your Money On Me” contains a double entendre regarding two different voices pleading for us to put our money on them. The first, which we all know all too well, has already been considered. The other is the anti-type of the former. Arcade Fire’s song “We Don’t Deserve Love” explicitly evokes Jesus Christ with the plea to a “Mary” to “roll away the stone” and the mention of the “Christ-types” which leave Mary (us) alone and inevitably don’t provide what we need (love) so that we are always “waiting on” them. I believe that point is that the “Christ-types” can’t give us love. The more sinister underlying narrative of the false savior consumer culture is that we are merely “consumers” and as such are less than human beings. In other words “We Don’t Deserve Love.”

So to return to the double entendre of “Put Your Money On Me” – it is actually present through the song as a complex counter-narrative wherein there is an “either/or” (Kierkegaard) regarding the identity of the one speaking throughout the song. Is it the false Christ offering us “creature comfort” through loss of our own true self or the real Christ offering us love through the gain of true self-hood?  I believe that the “counter-narrative” of the real Christ is actually stronger because of a few of the lyrics, but I still call it the counter-narrative because of Arcade Fire’s “Money + Love” video in which the speaker is obviously the false one. The section of the song that I believe most explicitly can apply to Christ, and can’t really apply to “consumerism” is this:

My mother was crying on the day of our wedding.

Trumpets of angels call for my head.

But I fight through the ether and I’ll quit when I’m dead.

If you wanna know who’ll be there in the end,

When you bury me, baby, I’ll still be your friend.

It is also important to note that the basic premise of the song is the difficult and anxiety producing struggle for freedom by the one being spoken to throughout. The song closes before the epic track “We Don’t Deserve Love” with the words, “I know it’s not easy to put your money on me, all your money on me.”

It is also interesting to think about the scenario of “venturing” for the freedom of true self, as Kierkegaard calls it, in light of the fact of the seeming unfreedom inherent in the fact all our money “is already spent.” Is it possible Arcade Fire’s narrative/ counter-narrative interplay in which money is required for everything leads one to the biblical invitation to freedom for those in bondage that does not require the soul destroying commodities the world trades in? In other words, was Win Butler who majored in Bible and Philosophy at McGill and has explicitly given credit to the Bible and Kierkegaard as constantly forming the way he approaches everything, thinking about the only commodity God “trades in” with humans, namely our anxiety producing gift of freedom of choice?

Isaiah 55 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. (King James Version)

 

Kierkegaard saw how humans deal with anxiety as bound up with the problem of despair. His thought on that problem is more than can be dealt with at the end of this meditation. So I’ll merely add this quote in which he shows that despair can be overcome through the proper reaction to anxiety which is possible through “resting transparently” in God.

“The formula that describes the state of the self when despair is completely rooted out is this: in relating itself to itself and in willing to be oneself, the self rests transparently in the power that established it.” (Soren Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death)

I apologize for not taking time to add links to Arcade Fire’s songs, but I assume that for most of us, being adept with navigating “infinite content,” they are easy to find!

Thanks so much for reading!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Some thoughts on our “natural” human reaction to God’s grace (from Flannery O’Connor, Dean Koontz, Mary Doria Russell, and Jesus of Nazareth)

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“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

– Flannery O’Connor

An excerpt from “A Catholic Thinker” blog article “The Mean Grace of Flannery O’Connor“:

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

“This notion that grace is healing omits the fact that before it heals, it cuts with the sword Christ said He came to bring.”

“[The trendy “beat” writers] call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It’s true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial.”

And when explaining (what I considered incomprehensible) “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to a friend,

“There is a moment of grace in most of the stories, or a moment where it is offered, and usually rejected. Like when the Grandmother recognizes the Misfit as one of her children (a child of God) and reaches out to touch him. It’s the moment of grace for her anyway – a silly old woman – but it leads him to shoot her. This moment of grace excites the devil to frenzy.”

Excerpt from “Odd Thomas” by Dean Koontz:

Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous, whereupon they have a drunkard’s thirst for cynicism, and they feed upon despair as a starving man upon a loaf of bread. (page 142)

Excerpt from “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell:

God was at Sinai and within weeks, people were dancing in front of a golden calf. God walked in jerusalem and days later, folks nailed Him up and then went back to work. Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God (Quoted in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” by Eugene Peterson; page 177)

Excerpt from Mark 6:6 King James Version:

“And he marvelled because of their unbelief.” Jesus of Nazareth

(Whereas we marvel at belief.)

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014

“Godric” by Frederick Buechner and “4 & 20” by Stephen Stills – Of father’s, sons, and poverties

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A meditation on familial life with selections from “Godric” by Frederick Buechner, and “4 & 20” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

Godric had some interesting things to say about his father:

“Aedlward the freeman was my father, and Reginald has it that his name means Keeper of Blessedness. If so, he kept it mostly to himself, more’s the pity. I pity Aedlward. If he pitied me, he never said…

…It was fear kept Aedlward from us, and next to God what he feared of all things most was an empty belly. He had good cause. He had seen poor famished folk eat rat and cat and seen grown men suckle their wives for strength enough to ferret nuts to feed them. Bitterer fare than that a man will go to when his belly starts to gnaw itself. So it was his fear we’d starve that made him starve us for that one of all things that we hungered for the most, which was the man himself.” (“Godric,” pp. 9-10)

An interesting song with at least some similarity is the great song called “4 & 20” written by Stephen Stills.

Four and twenty years ago I come into this life
The son of a woman and a man who lived in strife
He was tired of bein’ poor and he wasn’t into sellin’ door to door
And he worked like the devil to be more

A different kind of poverty now upsets me so
Night after sleepless night I walk the floor and want to know
Why am I so alone? Where is my woman? Can I bring her home?
Have I driven her away? Is she gone?

Mornin’ comes the sunrise and I’m driven to my bed
I see that it is empty and there’s devils in my head
I embrace the many colored beast
I grow weary of the torment, can there be no peace?
And I find myself just wishin’ that my life would simply cease

It is extremely difficult to “work like the devil” and provide all that your children need, as Aedlward proved also. The fears of man toward evils such as poverty can bring poverty of soul that results from the starved relationships of father’s and sons (or daughters for that matter). One thing is sure, we all need to seek understanding and have forgiveness for our parents shortcomings that take root in the common struggles of life.

I could not but think of the fact that there was even a similarity in the experience of Jesus the “Son of God” that began in Gethsemane and ended with his crucifixion at Golgotha:

 “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)

Though the “rift” in their relationship was for different reasons, not being caused by the “sins of the father” but by the “cup of God’s wrath against the sins of the world” that Jesus willingly endured for our salvation, yet nonetheless there was an unfathomable poverty of soul for Jesus the Son caused by the separation of connection in his relationship to his father.

 “But in the garden of Gethsemane, he turns to the Father and all he can see before him is wrath, the abyss, the chasm, the nothingness of the cup. God is the source of all love, all life, all light, all coherence. Therefore exclusion from God is exclusion from the source of all light, all love, all coherence. Jesus began to experience the spiritual, cosmic, infinite disintegration that would happen when he became separated from his Father on the cross. Jesus began to experience merely a foretaste of that, and staggered.” (“King’s Cross” by Timothy Keller, p. 176)

The separation of Jesus from his own Father, was at least partly for the purpose of reconciliation within the familial relationships of the human families.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Aspirations for Leviathan” – Thomas Hobbes, Gentle Giant, and Jacques Ellul

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I admit that this is an odd post  – consisting mainly of three excerpts from the minds of men: 1) an excerpt from “Leviathan” by Thomas Hobbes that expresses the nature of his idea of a commonwealth of men materialized in a social contract under a supreme ruler; 2) a song called “Aspirations” by the early 70’s English progressive rock band Gentle Giant that poignantly expresses the desires for peace that compel men to conceive of, and covenant for, such societal schemes; 3) An excerpt from “The Betrayal of the West” by Jacques Ellul that effectively demonstrates that the pattern of aspiration/degradation has plagued every social construct and aspiration of mankind in the West. Lest we drown in despair, I conclude the post with some thoughts from elsewhere… Continue reading

Soren Kierkegaard’s “Works of Love” 5 (Self-love: part 2, improper self-love)

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In this post I present an excerpt from Soren Kierkegaard in which he presents some examples of persons that fail to love themselves with proper self-love. This is perhaps one of the best ways to demonstrate how “natural” self-love is inadequate as a basis for neighbor-love, while also falling short of proper self-love. Continue reading