Sunday, November 28, 2004

Alexander the Terrible

We had decided sometime ago that seeing Oliver Stone's Alexander the Great would be an inexcusable waste of time and money. Victor David Hanson agrees:

Well, I thought it was simply terrible. The film goes on for nearly three hours, but we hear nothing of what either supporters or detractors of Alexander, both ancient and modern, have agreed were the central issues of his life. Did he really believe in a unity of mankind, and were his mass mixed marriages, Persian dress, and kowtowing cynical, sincere, or delusions of megalomania? We see nothing of the siege of Tyre, Gaza, much less Thebes or even the burning of Persepolis. Other than the talking head Ptolemy, none of his generals have much of a character. There is nothing really in detail about the page purging other than a single reference; Stone, I would have thought, could have had a field day with Alexander's introduction of both crucifixion and decimation.

The Gedrosian desert gets a few seconds. And what was the elephant scene in the jungle? Was that supposed to be dirty fighting in India, or the battle at the Hydaspes-which in fact was a brilliant Macedonian victory? The elephants were visually good, but without context or significance. So since Stone omitted the controversial and key issues of Alexander's career, what do we get instead for at least over two thirds of the movie? Mostly sit-com drama, with gay and bi- subplots, in various bedrooms and banquet halls. Olympias was something out of a teen-aged vampire movie, not the sophisticated and conniving royal we read about in the sources. It is the old Dallas or Falcon Crest glossy pulp in Macedonian drag. Stone's Alexander is a pouty, wimpy bore; the real figure, whatever your thoughts on him, was a killer and a fearful man of action. Gladiator's Maximus was a far more engaging and forceful character-and that was a far better film as well.

There is also irony here. If we remember the embarrassing Troy, we are beginning to see, that all for all the protestations of artistic excellence and craftsmanship, Hollywood has become mostly a place of mediocrity, talentless actors and writers who spout off about politics in lieu of having any real accomplishment in their own field. I've heard so many inane things mouthed by Stone that I would like someone at last to address this question-why would supposedly smart insiders turn over $160 million to someone of such meager talent to make such an embarrassing film? Alexander the Great is third-rate Cecil B. Demille in drag.

We're glad we passed it up.


Kudos to David Wayne at Jollyblogger for calling our attention to the Reformed view of predestination and for doing such a fine job of laying out the case for it. He admits in his piece that the implications of the doctrine are difficult to reconcile with the concept of a perfectly just and good God, but the Bible seems clear, he argues, that some people are predestined to be saved and some are predestined to be lost and that whether we understand it or not that's where we have to take our stand.

We're not theologians here at Viewpoint, but we're not so sure that the words of the Bible actually demand this interpretation. It's possible to read the verses cited by Wayne as suggesting that those who freely accept Christ and are saved are, or have been, predestined to then go on to become sons of God. We grant that this may not be the plainest sense of the words, but when the plain sense doesn't make sense then it is sound exegesis to seek another sense. And if anything about this controversy is clear it is that the conjunction of the following two propositions does not make sense:

1) God is good, just, and merciful.

2) God intentionally creates some people to suffer eternal torment.

One Calvinist reply to the apparent contradiction between these two claims is to quote Paul who asks "does the clay ask the potter why have you made me thus", but this seems an inadequate response to a very perplexing question. Clay pots are not conscious. They don't feel and suffer, much less do they endure for eternity. Human beings are more than clay. For a conscious eternal soul, capable of profound suffering and anguish, to be placed upon this earth simply to suffer forever is completely alien to any notion of justice or goodness of which we are capable of conceiving.

One way around the difficulty, some have suggested, is to maintain that the "lost" do not suffer for eternity but rather are annihilated upon death. This may indeed be better, but one still wonders how denying some individuals eternal happiness is either good, just, or merciful when the individual had no ability to choose that destiny for himself.

Wayne points out that the possibility mentioned above, that God only predestines those who freely choose His salvation, doesn't help exonerate God of the charge of being cruel since it still leaves His goodness open to question. If God foreknew who would accept salvation and who wouldn't, but nevertheless went ahead and created those He knew would ultimately choose to reject His offer of salvation, He would still be open to the charge of cruelty or malevolence.

Perhaps Wayne has gotten himself tangled in the web of His Reformed theology and can't get out of one difficulty without enmeshing himself in another. In this case he's entangled by the Reformed doctrine of Divine sovereignty which holds that every single detail of creation was foreordained and predetermined. It may be, however, that God doesn't deliberately and willfully create every individual who has lived on earth, any more than He directly causes every event that happens to a person in his lifetime. Perhaps God only created the progenitors of mankind. The individual progeny of the original creation may be a result of chance and human volition. If so, God would be absolved of the charge of cruelty since He did not cause the birth of any particular individual nor did He foreordain that any given individual would spurn His love.

Another possibility is that God simply doesn't know what free beings are going to choose to do in their future (See a fuller discussion of this possibility here). Such knowledge may be beyond the capabilities even of a Being who possesses omniscience, just as the ability to create a world in which it would be true to say that God did not create it is beyond the scope of Divine omnipotence.

In any event, the question of exactly what Scripture is referring to when it mentions predestination is very puzzling and every potential resolution carries with it its own set of problems. Some Christians argue that whether our eternal destiny is predetermined or not makes no practical difference since each of us has to live as if we are free agents responsible for our own choices. This is true, of course, but the importance of the question lies not in its significance for our individual salvation, rather it lies in its apologetic significance. Those hostile to the Christian faith have long used the image of a cruel, malevolent deity gleefully creating beings for no greater purpose than to spend eternity condemned to torment and agony as a powerful tool with which to discredit Christianity. It's an image of God that makes Him seem more like Saddam Hussein than the source of love and goodness. It's an image that Christians must dispel, and so we must not throw up our hands and say the problem is too mysterious to be solved. We need to work at solving it.