All Things Shining is a Wicked Book Indeed

Dreyfus and Kelly (D&K) connect their book, All Things Shining, with Melville’s book, Moby Dick.  Right underneath the title on the cover is a little image of a whale and Moby Dick is referenced throughout the book and they devote a full chapter to Melville’s whale tale right before the concluding chapter.  In All Things Shining, D&K lament that today’s secular age is remise of sacredness – missing all the shining things of a sacred world.  Their claim is that the lives of Homer’s Greeks and the Christians of Dante’s time lived lives rife with meaning in a bright and shining world – unlike our world today, which is an abyss of dark nothingness (nihilism).  Melville has shown D&K the way back into the bright lights of yore through Moby Dick, the book that Melville recognized to be a “wicked book,” but one that left him feeling as spotless as a lamb after having written it.  (143)[1] The “evil art” of Melville is rather obscure in his writing, and he might not have even consciously known what the wickedness was that he had written, and even D&K who seem to know exactly what the hidden evil of Moby Dick is struggle to clearly name it as they sift the lives and motives of the characters on the “hunt for the mighty sperm whale.”[2]  The way forward as discovered by Ishmael in Moby Dick is to find your own polytheistic truths and live in them in joy and in sorrow. (188)  Though D&K try to hide their malevolence in lengthy, rambling, quote-filled chapters, they directly call for an all-embracing dive into an old-school life of polytheism within our modern, technologically driven age.  They give this invitation void of any moral compass besides one’s own passions and subjective standard of morality.  I sense that what D&K have written is far more wicked than what Melville wrote because they directly call us to surrender ourselves to the gods – to be carried away (whooshed up) by them to wherever they want to carry us before the drop that will inevitably come as the sacred wave crashes. (220)

Mastodon Leviathan Album 2
This image reveals more of the complete picture of Mastodon’s Leviathan album that is a concept-album based on Melville’s Moby Dick


This “whooshing up,” D&K say, is when “[t]he most important things, the most real things in Homer’s world, well up and take us over, hold us for a while, and then finally, let us go” (200).  The name for this in Homeric times was the word physis which “was the name for the way the most real things in the world present themselves to us” (200).  D&K consider this whooshing up to be the sacred breaking into our world and shining for all to see and they explain that “[w]hen something whooshes up it focuses and organizes everything around it…” so that “everyone understands who they are and what they are to do immediately in relation to the sacred event that is occurring” (201).  Of course, the best that they can come up with as an example in our modern age is sporting events, when some player does something unimaginable during play… I guess I’ve just never been whooshed up when watching others play sports.  I have had such wooshing experiences at live rock shows in small clubs (when a crowd wide mosh pit erupts in unison or everyone’s face melts at a guitar solo that must be from the rock gods on high – though I’ve never had this moment at an arena or large festival show though – only small, shoulder to shoulder club shows, so I can kind of get what D&K are talking about in terms of responding in a way without thought to the physis overtaking the bystanders).

D&K’s focus seems to be on the wooshing that takes over a group of people as one individual in their midst is wooshed up by the gods.  They do not entertain the individual being struck by the sacred in a moment of isolation in nature (maybe floating in the middle of lake under the star lit sky) or while reading a book or watching a movie alone or laying on the floor listening to an album start to finish with headphones on and eyes closed – these are the times that I am overcome the most by a force outside myself that I could recognize to be sacred.  I don’t quite understand why their focus is on all things shining in crowds – apart from sports giving people a communal meaning their main wooshing up example was Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech on the National Mall.

This group response is where their evil really lies… because they have no absolute and objective standard of morality in their polytheistic endeavor.  D&K admit that there can be madness in the crowds, but they say we must be courageous and leap in to experience this polytheistic path. (220)  They understand that things can get turnt[3] “in new and more shining and meaningful ways” or maybe… “Sometimes, by contrast, one dances with the devil” (220).  Because we’re just getting wooshed up (overtaken by a force of the gods) in their paradigm of finding meaning, they explain that it is “[o]nly by having been taken over by the fanatical leader’s totalizing rhetoric, and [after having] experienced the dangerous and devastating consequences it has, does one learn to discriminate between leaders worth following and those upon whom one must turn one’s back” (220).

That final statement is brutally wicked.  Was Germany whooshed up by Hitler?  Um… Yeah.  But what if Germany had won the war?  Would Hitler then have been “the devil” when we know that the victor writes the history books?  Were many whooshed up into a violent frenzy during the multi-day LA Race Riots?  Um… Yeah.  Was the violence, arson, and looting justified?  Who gets to decide and why?  Were many whooshed up when they followed Jim Jones into his Kool-Aid suicide massacre?  Um… Yeah, and many realized they danced with the devil, but the doors were blocked by gunmen and it was too late to find a different partner to woosh them up into a new and shining dance.  Was Ishmael and the others whooshed up by Captain Ahab’s fanaticism to kill the beast?  Um… Yeah, but only Ishmael survived the whoosh!

The people who got whooshed in the examples I just provided were people who, according to D&K, hadn’t yet “acquired the skill” to let themselves “be overwhelmed” by the gods yet possess the “discrimination” to keep themselves from getting “drawn in by the rhetoric of the fanatical and dangerous demagogue” (221).   But remember, there is no way to “acquire this skill” until one has already “been taken over by the fanatical leader’s totalizing rhetoric, and experienced the dangerous and devastating consequence’s it has” (220).  An “evil art” indeed.

What D&K are selling is still essentially nihilism, which is what they are trying avoid, since they recognize nihilism fails to provide meaning in life.  They don’t et that their pitch is still nihilism.

By what standard is one to know if he is dancing with the devil or with the gods?  These whooshing forces were never all good in the Greek pantheon of the gods.  And since D&K aren’t really asking us to accept the Greek gods as being real, again I’ll ask the question but in a slightly different way, by what standard are we to judge what is good and what is evil?  The standard is one’s own opinion.  We can pick and choose what we follow..  In the end, this is still nihilism, a nihilism that has each man be his own god… because it’s truly each individual person who gets to say what whoosh is right and what whoosh is wrong, or if there is even a whoosh to be had at all.

What happens when there are two whooshing parties who come into direct contradiction with one another in terms of who they are and what they are to do and they each consider the other party to be whooshed by the devil?  Well here, we just landed back at what D&K want to avoid, sitting in the contemporary world with “no ground for choosing one course of action over any other” (15).   They offer that there are many gods that can whoosh us up and let us see the shiny good things as they really are, but we’re the final judges of what is shining or not.  Since we’re still the judges of what is right and wrong and what is sacred and shining in the D&K model of finding meaning in life, they’re still dealing the Nietzsche pill of being free to do what we whilt, which I prefer to label as Anton LaVey chose to name it – Satanism.  And in this label, we get the grandest understanding of how evil D&K’s book is – All Things Shining – because as Christians we know that Satan dances among us as an angel of light.  (2 Corinthians 11:14)

Satan deceives through telling lies, but his lies are tricky to recognize, because they’re steeped in truth.  In other words, his lies come to us in partial truths.  It is in this sense that I do try to approach all things as shining.  Every worldview and every culture and every religion and every zeitgeist has some elements of truth within them – I’m rather certain of this.  Christians would do good to point these truths out from time to time.  Since Christ’s claim is true that he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), then all truth is God’s truth, no matter where it is found.  Where truth is found, declare it, use it, put it in its full context of which it is fully and directly revealed from God in the Bible.  The Apostle Paul did this when he quoted the philosophers of the Athenians (Acts 17).  We can do this too, but we must realize that when we seek the shiny things in life in this manner, we must always cling to the truth of Christ so that we are not deceived into the lie that all is one, and one is all, and that all that glitters is gold.[4]

The nuggets of truth that I am referring to that permeate all of the world are reflections of the Creator within his Creation.  In the Christian account of everything the world is now fallen from its very good original state at creation, but that does not mean that all is now evil within it… there is much that is good and much to be enjoyed and praised and thankful for within God’s world.  Through man’s natural knowledge that there is a God, known from what he has created, from God’s law written on the hearts of all men, and from God’s love for all of his creation in which he showers both the righteous and the wicked with good gifts in this temporal realm, the sacred things of beauty and truth bubble up all around us.  It is in this sense that I highly appreciate D&K’s call for us all to develop the “skills for responding to the manifold senses of the sacred that still linger unappreciated at the margins of our disenchanted world” (222).  It is here in the margins that I have seen people tend to embrace and enjoy the full freedom of being who they want to be, being their own god creating their own little kingdoms, and with their creative juices unstifled by the restrictions and conformity of society they really do shine and stand out among the herd, and people are drawn to such whooshed up individuals and they find their identity and meaning in such communities.   From my Christian perspective, they are letting the image of God that they bare (as broken as it may be) shine as they show off their creative abilities and flair, as they reflect their Creator that they may not personally know in the slightest.

In this way, all things are shining for a time.  Apart from God, however, there is no light – only darkness.  And God’s patience is running out.


[1] All parenthetical numbers are references to the page numbers within All Things Shining by Dreyfus and Kelly that was published in 2011 by Free Press.

[2] A line I stole from the epic song, “Nantucket Sleighride” by Mountain.

[3] Slang for “get really wasted and have a ton of fun” according to Urban Dictionary, but I’ve heard it used by many in Gen Z to refer to something very akin to getting whooshed up in a communal sense (and it sounds so much more lit to get turnt than to get whooshed).

[4] “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin lyric reference.

“Haunted by the Dead” – The Walking Dead

walking deadI know that some Christians are highly opposed to watching any movie related to zombies, vampires, witches, ghosts, and demons.  I typically avoid these types of shows and movies as well.  Most of the time they seem to be filmed for shock value and have what I consider to be excessive and unnecessary sex, gore, and violence with little to none redeeming value.

However, I have found a lot that I enjoy about AMC’s The Walking Dead, which is based on the Image Comics series with the same name.

Here’s what I enjoy about the show – the moral dilemmas.

If one of us must die to save the rest, who should it be and why?

When is it appropriate to kill someone else?  If you know letting the person live will likely lead to many more deaths, murders in fact, murders within your own family, do you let the person go!  An entire episode dealt with essentially a debate about this topic with arguments from both sides.

The show raises questions about government authority. If our entire governmental system were to crash, who makes the laws, who enforces those laws, what laws from before still apply and which ones no longer do?

All of this is connected to the value of humanity.  The one character in the show who has consistently fought for the intrinsic value of all humans as being equal has been the Christian pastor, because he of course knows that we are all created in the image of God.  He again and again calls people to look to the good that God is working out through the zombie apocalypse.

As fictional as a zombie apocalypse might be, the scenarios come down to what we all face in our day to day lives on much smaller levels – provision and safety for our families – are we selfless or selfish – do we seek to love God and love our neighbor – or do we seek to save our own lives?

Spoiler [this paragraph break only] Once the Christian pastor is removed from the show, the group quickly begins to dissolve into us first, and kill everyone else mode.  Maybe rightfully so in the scenarios presented thus far, but there is no hesitation any longer!

Walking Dead2

And there are of course some really good quotes one can pull from the show.  Here’s one that stuck out to me:

“That’s the fear, right?  People who are living are haunted by the dead.  We are who we are; we do what we do, because they’re still here – in our heads, in the forests, the world is haunted now, and there’s no getting out of that.  Not until we’re dead.”

Isn’t this true for us, here, in this world, our very real world not overrun by zombies.  We are who we are and we do what we do because of those who went before us – the dead if you will.  Why do we sin?  Because Adam sinned and his sin has been passed on to all of us (Romans 5).  Why do I do the things I do, why am I the way I am?  Largely, it’s a result of my ancestors (the dead).  I am in very much the same way as my father and mother, and I’m sure they are very much who they are because of their father and mother, and it can keep going back down the line.  Genesis shows this from the very beginning – just look at the patterns that flowed from Cain to his descendents compared to those that flowed from Seth down to his.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – if you will.

Also, aren’t we haunted by the dead?  It’s always in front of us, death.  Those who have died that we have known, are always in our heads, in our thoughts.  They remind us of our own mortality.

This world is truly haunted!  Is it not?  At least, as it is now, in its fallen state due to sin!  And there is no escaping it.  Not until we die.  At which point there is an escape, but that escape only comes to those who have died in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Can Sci-Fi Fanboys Allow Co-existence?

Sci-Fi Coexist Bumper StickerCould this happen?

Of course, fans of the X-Files can love the Alien universe.  Plenty of Lord of the Rings fans also read the Star Wars books and follow all of the spin-offs.   Even the most treasonous act of loving Star Wars and Star Trek occurs all of the time.  And the most blasphemous act of all is already set in motion – JJ Abrams who directed the Star Trek remakes is directing the forthcoming Star Wars trilogy.  I know one fanboy who couldn’t sit still in-class when this news was released.  His world had ended.

Of course, this type of co-existence happens in the Sci-fi world.  Geeks, nerds, fanboys can unite over multiple Sci-fi universes and enjoy them at the same time.  But… can those universes actually co-exist with one another.  Could you imagine how it would play out if an alien from the Alien universe entered into the X-Files story arch?  Chris Carter would be strung up before filming even has a chance to begin.  What if some sort of time and dimension jump took place and all of a sudden the Star Trek Enterprise with Captain Kirk was teaming up with the Rebels to fight the Empire?  Fans would not allow this to happen.  Would they?  Could this co-existence really take place?  Could these story-archs all unite without sacrificing something special within each of their unique universes?

So why should we expect this to happen with religions?  Come on!

Could this be a good starting point for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with someone?

Samsara – Christianity Today’s Movie Review

I like reading movie reviews from Christianity Today.  I like the reviews that are connected to a Christian worldview, and sometimes I especially like the discussion questions that are present at the end of each review.  Without even seeing the movie, Samsara, the discussion questions at the end of the Samsara movie review are great to use in religious/spiritual conversations:


Filmed in 25 countries over five years, a beautiful moving picture book of the world.
Mack Hayden


[ posted 8/31/2012 5:31 ]
our rating

3 Stars - Good
mpaa rating

PG-13 (for some disturbing and sexual images)
Directed By

Ron Fricke
Run Time

1 hour 42 minutes

Theatre Release

August 23, 2012 by Oscilloscope Pictures

Samsara. The name begets an aura of distant mystery. What kind of film is this? A journey into the unknown or a treasure hunt spanning continents? An elixir guaranteeing meaning to all shades of existence, sought for high and low? The latest project from Ron Fricke (1985’s Chronos and 1992’s Baraka) answers a subtle yes to all these suggestions while reaching even further. His camera traverses the globe with the fervency of a Cortes, the ambition of a Magellan. Still, his greater purpose is to create not a travelogue but a dialogue. The far-away wonders and nearby concerns presented are meant to encourage us to allow the world to illumine itself and our souls.

If narrative structure is necessary for your cinematic enjoyment, Samsara will probably dissatisfy. One viewer may perceive it to be a kaleidoscopic masterpiece while another may see it as an unwelcome flashback to college art history slide shows. No dialogue is exchanged between characters, no soliloquies pass the lips of any personage. It’s a silent documentary, accompanied by ambient music and the even louder soundtrack of the viewer’s own thoughts. A variety of landscapes, faces, and circumstances pass in and out of focus bereft of any explanation.

Buddhist monks and a communal work of art Buddhist monks and a communal work of art

The breadth of life depicted here refuses to be framed or unified. Diversity is the highest virtue. Toward the beginning, a group of Buddhist monks gathers around a patch of ground to create a work of art, communally crafting a mandala—a spiritual tapestry made of colored sands, as delicate as it is intricate. Close to when the curtains fall, the same monks are seen destroying what they have created—not with any sense of malice but perhaps a hint of fatalism. The end was as inevitable as the beginning. What happens in between creation and destruction is life, life, shining life. Fricke sets out to display it all. Fantasies and nightmares, the serene and saddening. Questions are posed by portrayal alone. What is man’s hand in both the assembling and dispersal of the tapestry? The personalities, the architecture, and the threatening wild all seem to support different conclusions. And perhaps that’s what Fricke wants the viewer to take away in the first place.

An infant awaits baptism An infant awaits baptism

Samsara is a phenomenally ambitious film. Shot over the course of five years, spanning continents, it sets out to encompass the whole world and life from infancy to cessation. The cinematography captures all the myriad elements of earthly life with vibrancy and colorful abandon. Think The Tree of Life meets National Geographic in motion. Each scene is composed according to its own needs. Still, this fly-by-night set of moving pictures is able to maintain its strange unpredictability without becoming a mere series of vignettes. Inexplicably, Fricke was able to make different countries, different peoples, and different shooting styles cohere without losing each scene’s originality.

While often evoking wonder, any study of life’s light can only be seen by darkness’s occasional display. Disturbance comes unexpectedly and without warning. Interposed with the mundane or joyful are factually based and surrealistic examples of fear and evil. Animals are mistreated, the aftermath of catastrophe is analyzed, and a nightmare plays out in an office cubicle. There is the desire to turn away, the cringe you wish did not exist. Especially when couched in so many other real life images, Fricke refuses to spoon feed. If we are to have his vision of human existence, cradle to the grave, we are to have a vision that includes the righteous and the wicked.

A Mursi tribe girl from Ethiopia A Mursi tribe girl from Ethiopia

Faces take up most of the screen time; the human visage is the most useful metaphor for the human soul. By staring into the eyes of so many different people, the spectator’s self is brought under greater scrutiny. Interior monologuing reaches an all-time high as uncomfortable seconds while by, faces staring directly into the camera and, by extension, directly into the audience’s hearts. In its best moments, the film unnerves or enlightens by creating the sensation that it is watching you. A look into the eyes of African or Tibetan citizens makes life both more intense and sublime in North America

The Christian’s sense of mission might be deepened by films such as these. On one hand, it seems to be a practical ode to postmodernity. “Can you not see how different we all are?” “How silly to impose an exclusive system of belief on such an endless world?” But through each scene, a little more of the beauty and brokenness found in every human artwork and personality is revealed. The tapestry is created and then destroyed: this is an absolute. Even more so is the desire for resurrection, for a more beautiful and indestructible tapestry that we have yet to even understand.

Talk About It

Discussion starters

  1. What is the value of travel in the Christian life? Can seeing other ways of life help us better understand our own?
  2. The film’s more disturbing sequences are deeply unsettling. Are nightmares as essential as lighthearted dreams to the human condition?
  3. Do you think the director’s worldview is detectable here? If so, do you think it can be considered compatible with Christianity?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Samsara is rated PG-13 for some disturbing and sexual images. There is one truly frightening sequence involving a man in an office cubicle as well as some scary images involving deformities or human cruelty to animals. Another scene takes place in what appears to be an erotic dance club somewhere in Asia. The breasts of African tribal women are also seen in a different sequence.