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John Hagee warns of blood moon apocalypse

Well, that’s a relief. After years of fanning the flames of religious doomsday fears, television preacher John Hagee, long one of the most prominent banner carriers for fundamentalist Protestant bluster and bombast, has decided to enter the apocalypse sweepstakes for real by giving a specific timetable for — well, something non-specific. But he says it will be “a world-shaking event,” and he says it will happen between now and October 2015.

How does he know this? Simple: He claims that our current cycle of “blood moons” is a direct apocalyptic sign:

Hagee is not, of course, alone in this. The blood moon phenomenon has set off an apocalyptic debate among many Christians. And suddenly I’m gripped by memories of myself, at age 17, watching the apocalyptic religious horror flick The Seventh Sign and finding it so cool as a Jewish kid sits translating a famous end-times passage from the biblical Book of Joel — specifically, Joel 2:31, which states that “the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the LORD” — when he looks out his window and sees the large full moon suddenly overtaken by a wave of crimson that turns it a deep bloody color. Demi Moore, what have you wrought?

But all joking aside, I think it’s important to recognize that the type of apocalyptic religious theorizing advanced by Hagee pointedly ignores certain aspects of the very sacred text that he and his ilk claim to take as absolute, infallible, and unchangeable holy writ. Consider, for example, the fact that the biblical/canonical Jesus’s right-hand man, the apostle Peter, states explicitly in Acts 2 that the Joel prophecy, including the part about the moon turning to blood, is already fulfilled in the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at the Day of Pentecost. Obviously, such a claim represents a distinctly different understanding and interpretation of apocalyptic matters than the model of a literal timetable advanced by the Hagees of the world. Likewise for Jesus’s statement in Luke 17:20-21, where he directly tells the pharisees, who have asked when the kingdom will arrive, that it is not the type of thing that will come by looking for external signs, because God’s kingdom is already within or among them. Call me naive, but I doubt we’ll hear Pastor Hagee addressing the clash between his claims and this subtler view as he continues to spout and tout his literalistic apocalyptic views over the next 18 months.

Anthony Hopkins on philosophy, shamanism, and ‘a landscape of darkness and horror’ in ‘Noah’

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“The Flood” by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld (1634/35)
Via Art and the Bible, Fair Use

I recently saw the Noah movie, and I’m pleased to report that I really liked it. The angle taken by writer-director Darren Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel struck me as deeply engrossing and just right for our collective cultural moment. I was pretty well swept away by their deliberate re-visioning of the basic Bible story as an epic tale of antediluvian human civilization and planetary apocalypse, all revolving around the deep mystery of “the Creator” (the only term used throughout the film to refer to the deity) and His inscrutable nature and terrifying intentions for a world that has been thoroughly corrupted and perverted from its original purpose by humans.

One of the more fascinating changes was Aronofsky’s and Handel’s decision to incorporate an explicitly shamanic theme into the story, largely centered on the person of Methuselah. In the Bible, the Genesis genealogy does present Methuselah as Noah’s grandfather, but he is nowhere mentioned in the flood story itself. The film, by contrast, makes him an important supporting character, and it portrays him as a wise and mysterious old shaman-like figure who gives Noah a psychoactive brew to help him gain a clear vision of what the Creator has been calling him to do in a series of horrifying apocalyptic dreams. As described by Drew McWeeny of HitFix, upon drinking the brew

Noah is propelled into a vision of the Garden and the snake and Adam and Eve’s fall and Cain and Abel’s violence, and he sees the flood, and he sees the Ark, and he knows, with one complete revelation, what he is supposed to do. Methuselah isn’t remotely surprised. He knew that this particular brew would give Noah a direct pipeline to the voice of God, and Aronofsky uses a very real-world visual vocabulary to show a direct communion with the supernatural.

It’s a fascinating way to imagine what a prehistoric, pre-flood religion or spirituality in the general context of this particular tale and tradition might have looked like. It also strikes me as true in spirit to the history and probable prehistory of real-world religion. In the world of the Noah film, religion is experiential, not propositional or intellectual, and it involves a direct sense of communication with the invisible deity, along with an agonized struggle to interpret and understand the meanings of dreams and visions with the help of wise old mediator figures and psychoactive substances.

Methuselah is played by Anthony Hopkins, who does a marvelous job in the role. He also does a marvelous job in a recent interview with McWeeny for HitFix, where in addition to discussing the filmmakers’ decision to include Methuselah in the story he discusses the shamanic matters under question and the explicitly philosophical side of the screenplay as he compares its portrayal of Methuselah to the real-world philosophical figures of Socrates, Plato, and Diogenes. Then he ends with a brief comment on the way Aronofsky managed to create a film that presents “a landscape of . . . darkness and horror,” where the main character is “in tune with some inner signal” as “the ground of all being” speaks within him. It all adds up to a rare moment of true depth in a show-biz industry interview.

Make Mine a Double: On Being a Pod Person

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“STUART” SAYS:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the first film I remember seeing that actually terrified me. I was so young — I saw it when I was still just a highly impressionable child — and the concept driving the film was utterly, perfectly terrifying:

What if your loved ones were replaced by emotionless duplicates? Worse, what if you were replaced by an emotionless duplicate?

Everything the same, everything slightly different. Existential dread in a teatime SF film.

The heroes: Kevin McCarthy’s square-jawed doctor and Dana Wynter’s plucky divorcee look like they can handle themselves. Still, they are strangely vulnerable.

The cure: medicine and psychiatry will save the day. Or could it be that excessive rationality is actually part of the problem?

Minimal special effects: the fanciest come when the pods split open to reveal their duplicates.

Screenplay by Daniel “Out of the Past” Mainwaring. Directed by Don “The Verdict” Siegel. McCarthy’s voiceover is classic noir, as is the framing device where he tells his story to disbelieving authority figures. The only difference is that, instead of the police, he is talking to doctors. And the whole thing plays out in bleak black and white.

And oh God, the ending! It seems tame now, but my innocent young mind couldn’t cope with the stark ambiguity. I was terrified that pod people had actually taken over the earth and that they were such perfect duplicates that nobody had even noticed. My friend tried to ease my paranoia by talking me through it logically: if pod people had taken over the world we would know we were pod people, and as we didn’t, we couldn’t be.

I eyed him suspiciously: “But that’s exactly what you’d say to me if you were a pod person!”

“STUART” SAYS:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers wasn’t the first film I remember seeing that actually terrified me. I was a little older — I saw it when I was an adult — but even so, the concept driving the film remained utterly, perfectly terrifying:

Everyone you know — all your friends, all your rivals — is replaced by an emotionless duplicate. Would your love survive? Would your hate?

Everything different, everything eerily similar. Existential dread in a late night shocker.

The victims: Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams appearout of their depth; ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Still, they have hidden strengths.

The problem: pop psychology and New Age pseudoscience will condemn the day. Or could it be that credulity is actually part of the solution?

Minimal special effects: the fanciest come when a pod duplication goes horrifyingly wrong.

Screenplay by W.D. “Peeper” Richter. Cameo by Don “Dirty Harry” Siegel. Sutherland’s cynical everyman is classic neo-noir, as is his struggle to unravel the conspiracy theory. The only difference is that, instead of dealing with corrupt police and politicians, he is dealing with alien invaders. And the whole thing plays out in bleached, soulless color.

And oh God, the ending! It was bleak beyond belief, yet my jaded adult mind was able cope with the horror. That inhuman screech, overlapping a terrified scream as the last human emotion echoed around the world. My friend had trouble understanding the ending, so I talked him through it: a pod person pretending to be human was indistinguishable from a human pretending to be a pod person, until that final moment of revelation.

I eyed him suspiciously: “Should I be worried that you’re called Stuart, too?”

 

Teeming Links – April 4, 2014

FireHead

The International Business Times has become a worldwide online phenomenon with its network of different news sites that reaches (or so it claims) 40 million people. Now it owns Newsweek. And, as explained by Mother Jones in an extensive article, IBT is anxious to hide its ties to an enigmatic religious figure.

Are you someone who, like me, has watched the movie Groundhog Day repeatedly? If so, here’s some good news from political scientist Charles Murray (best known as the co-author of the classic and controversial The Bell Curve): now you don’t have to read Aristotle’s Ethics, because the movie imparts the same truths.

What if we all decided to resist and rebuff the insufferable cult of productivity that has taken over our lives? What if we decided to create a society and culture where we work less so that we can live more? Robert Anton Wilson’s RICH Economy,” anyone?

Some are saying America’s recent flood of apocalyptic science fiction and fantasy movies indicates that Hollywood hates humans. Consider the new Noah movie, which radically transforms the Genesis story into a parable of divine wrath at humanity’s destruction of the natural environment.

On the other hand, maybe a different and very popular type of science fiction apocalypse sends a different message: this week Bill Clinton told Jimmy Kimmel that, as in Independence Day, an alien invasion might unite the human race:

Forget about offloading human intellectual power onto computers. Over at the always excellent Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer argues that, given the epic atrophy of America’s collective intellect in this age of ubiquitous, media-driven, partisan-powered hype and jingoism, and with all of us staring down the barrel of an energy-starved deindustrial future, there will be plenty of job openings for real-world versions of the hyper-intelligent mentats — humans with super-trained intellects — from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

And speaking of the human intellect, have you ever reflected on the awesome and mysterious power of naming? Consider:

The act of naming is one of the central mysteries of human cognition — it is the visible tip of an iceberg whose depth below the surface of conscious thought we have only just begun to plumb. . . . Maybe the story of Rumpelstiltskin, in its cryptic way, is trying to tell us two intertwined tales. On the one hand it is telling us that unnamed powers lurk in the shadows: capricious spirits that can both help and harm us. Like stories themselves, these powers may be infinite. Perhaps our rational concepts can never fully account for them. But on the other hand, it seems to be telling us that when malevolent or irrational forces manifest themselves, we can — if we’re lucky — name them and tame them. But maybe I’m wrong about this. After all,

The Tao that can be expressed
Is not the Tao of the Absolute.
The name that can be named
Is not the name of the Absolute.

It turns out that we have a quantum reality problem: “When the deepest theory we have seems to undermine science itself, some kind of collapse looks inevitable.”

Could our quantum crisis have a bearing on why physicists make up stories in the dark? Here’s science writer Philip Ball, from an article where he calls out the close relationship between the history of science and the history of spiritualism, psychical research, and more:

Before science had the means to explore [the realm of unseen realities], we had to make do with stories that became enshrined in myth and folklore. Those stories aren’t banished as science advances; they are simply reinvented. Scientists working at the forefront of the invisible will always be confronted with gaps in knowledge, understanding, and experimental capability. In the face of those limits, they draw unconsciously on the imagery of the old stories. This is a necessary part of science, and these stories can sometimes suggest genuinely productive scientific ideas. But the danger is that we will start to believe them at face value, mistaking them for theories. A backward glance at the history of the invisible shows how the narratives and tropes of myth and folklore can stimulate science, while showing that the truth will probably turn out to be far stranger and more unexpected than these old stories can accommodate.

Finally, while we’re talking about stories in the dark we would all do well to recognize the influence of Victorian mysticism and occultism on subsequent Western culture:

[The larger cultural tapestry is] an interweaving of mysticism, technology, and art that began at the turn of the last century and is still with us in the twenty-first. . . . One strand wove into the history of science and technology; another became the New Age Movement; another is emerging in the techno-utopian transhumanists of Silicon Valley, who (seemingly unwittingly) borrow themes and aims from theosophy. It’s hard to say where it all will take us. But it seems fair to say that Besant and Leadbeater played a small but intriguing role in shaping the globalized culture of the twenty-first century, which weaves together East and West, mysticism and rationalism, sound and sight.

 Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teeming Links – March 28, 2014

FireHead

It turns out that right as I was putting together last week’s Teeming Brain doom-and-gloom update, a new “official prophecy of doom” had just been issued from a very prominent and mainstream source: “Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy. Leaked draft report from UN panel seen by The Independent is most comprehensive investigation into impact of climate change ever undertaken — and it’s not good news.”

Did President Obama really just try to defend the U.S. war in Iraq while delivering a speech criticizing Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine? Why, yes. Yes, he did. (Quoth Bill Clinton at the 2012 Democratic Convention: “It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”)

What used to be paranoid is now considered the essence of responsible parenting. Ours is an age of obsessive parental overprotectiveness.

FALSE: Mental illness is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain. FALSE: The DSM, the psychiatric profession’s diagnostic Bible, is scientifically valid and reliable. The whole field of psychiatry is imploding before our eyes. (Also see this.)

And even as mainstream psychiatry is self-destructing, the orthodox gospel of healthy eating continues to crumble — a development now being tracked by mainstream journalism. Almost everything we’ve been told for the past four decades is wrong. In point of fact, fatty foods like butter and cheese are better for you than trans-fat margarines. There’s basically no link between fats and heart disease .

Meanwhile, researchers are giving psychedelics to cancer patients to help alleviate their despair — and it’s working:

They almost uniformly experienced a dramatic reduction in existential anxiety and depression, and an increased acceptance of the cancer, and the changes lasted a year or more and in some cases were permanent. . . . [Stephen] Ross [director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at Bellevue Hospital in New York] is part of a new generation of researchers who have re-discovered what scientists knew more than half a century ago: that psychedelics can be good medicine. . . . Scientists still don’t completely understand why psychedelics seem to offer a shortcut to spiritual enlightenment, allowing people to experience life-changing insights that they are often unable to achieve after decades of therapy. But researchers are hopeful that will change, and that the success of these new studies will signal a renaissance in research into these powerful mind-altering drugs.

Don’t look now, but the future is a social media-fied video game:

In five years’ time, all news articles will consist of a single coloured icon you click repeatedly to make info-nuggets fly out, accompanied by musical notes, like a cross between Flappy Bird and Newsnight. . . . Meanwhile, video games and social media will combine to create a world in which you unlock exciting advantages in real life by accruing followers and influence. Every major city will house a glamorous gentrified enclave to which only successful social brand identities (or “people” as they used to be known) with more than 300,000 followers will be permitted entry, and a load of cardboard boxes and dog shit on the outside for everybody else.

Deflating the digital humanists:

[To portray their work] as part of a Copernican turn in the humanities overstates the extent to which it is anything more than a very useful tool for quantifying cultural and intellectual trends. It’s a new way of gathering information about culture, rather than a new way of thinking about it or of understanding it — things for which we continue to rely on the analog humanities.

Science and “progress” can’t tell us how to live. They can’t address the deep meaning of life, the universe, and everything. So where to turn? How about philosophy, which is unendingly relevant:

We are deluged with information; we know how to track down facts in seconds; the scientific method produces new discoveries every day. But what does all that mean for us? . . . The grand forward push of human knowledge requires each of us to begin by trying to think independently, to recognize that knowledge is more than information, to see that we are moral beings who must closely interrogate both ourselves and the world we inhabit — to live, as Socrates recommended, an examined life.

Take this, all of you scoffers at Fortean phenomena (and/or at Sharknado): “When Animals Fall from the Sky: The Surprising Science of Animal Rain

Finally, here’s a neat look at the evolution of popular American cinema in 3 minutes, underlaid by Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”:

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Cultural Sounds of Apocalypse

Sounds of Apocalypse, Part Two

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“The Walls of Jericho Fall Down” by Gustave Doré

This is Part Two of contributor Dominik Irtenkauf’s four-part essay “Sounds of Apocalypse.” Before reading it you may want to read Part One, “Roar of Creation and Destruction,” in which Dominik lays the explanatory groundwork for the theme he is pursuing.

The word “apocalypse” derives from the Ancient Greek language and originally meant “the unveiling of secrets.” But since the canonical Christian document by St. John refers to this revealing as the overture to the end of the world as we know it, the idea of the apocalypse became colloquially linked to this very idea: the end of the world. Human beings are able to predict events to a certain degree, and even more, they can imagine worlds and states they haven’t experienced before. However, the mash-up network of fiction and truth, real experiences and second-hand representations (either in personal experience, films, or books), doesn’t really entail different levels of fear, because fear erodes any distinguishable borders. It’s the sheer will to survive which remains intact.

Augmenting this with a term from Georges Bataille, we see that we can almost reach the reality of imaginary events by means of “inner experience”:

I call experience a voyage to the end of the possible of man. Anyone may not embark on this voyage but if he does embark on it, this supposes the negation of the authorities, the existing values which limit the possible. By the virtue of the fact that it is negation of other values, other authorities, experience, having a positive existence, becomes itself value and authority. (Bataille, p.  7)

So can we experience the apocalypse as living beings simply by imagination? The cultural products of the apocalypse meme tell us that it is very possible. Read the rest of this entry

Video: Christopher Walken can’t stop dancing

Yes, I talk a lot about the damnability of the Internet’s inbuilt capacity for destructive distraction, but damn, sometimes the whole thing is hugely useful for circulating a dose of pure fun. And if this mashup of nearly 70 movies featuring a vigorously dancing Christopher Walken, set to a very familiar and appropriate song, isn’t pure fun, then I don’t know what is. It also integrates a smattering of archetypal Walkenisms — various verbal intonations, facial expressions, and bits of body language — that any consumer of movie and media culture in the past 40 years will find familiar. (Note: Beware a few faint, fleeting moments of NSFW imagery.)

Kudos to Ben Craw, video editor at The Huffington Post, for this wonderfully conceived and created slice of entertainment. You can see a full list of the movies he used here.

The real-life paranormal origins (and impact) of ‘Ghostbusters’

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Fascinating: last week, right on the heels of Harold Ramis’s death, Esquire published “An Oral History of Ghostbusters” (originally published in Premiere Magazine), in which various cast and crew members recount the making, reception, and enduring cultural impact of everybody’s favorite ghost-chasing movie. And it leads with a statement from Dan Aykroyd about the way the film arose out of his serious reading, and also his personal and familial history,  in the field of real paranormal and psychical research:

In about 1981, I read an article on quantum physics and parapsychology in The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. And it was like, bang — that’s it. It was also a combination of my family’s history — my great-grandfather was an Edwardian spiritualist, and my mother claims she saw an apparition of my great-great-grandparents while nursing me and watching films like the Bowery Boys’ Ghost Chasers and Bob Hope’s The Ghost Breakers. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to update the ghost movies from the ’40s?”

FULL STORY: “An Oral History of Ghostbusters

The fact that Aykroyd is personally interested in such matters is not, of course, news. In addition to having prominently associated himself with UFO research, he openly self-identifies as a Spiritualist. And as it turns out, all the way back in 2003 he told Private Clubs magazine about the inspiring influence of these things on Ghostbusters:

PRIVATE CLUBS: Was your enthusiasm for the paranormal the spark for Ghostbusters or did Ghostbusters spark your enthusiasm?

DAN AYKROYD: My great-grandfather was an Edwardian spiritualist who belonged to the British Society for Psychical Research, and he got the entire family thinking along these lines back three generations ago. My grandfather had séances in the farmhouse. My father read everything he could on trance mediumship, where the medium will go into a trance and become another person, speak in another voice. They did a lot of that. So this stuff was lying around the house, and it was natural for me to have an interest in it.

In light of all this, I can’t help but wonder about the possibility that, if the paranormal really is America’s new religion, then the epic impact of Ghostbusters, which landed like a mile-wide asteroid in the middle of popular culture in 1984, may be implicated in such a development, given the movie’s creative and philosophical grounding in serious “real-world” issues of this sort. Maybe I, along with everybody else in America, was unwittingly imbibing a huge dose of authentic paranormal/supernatural and daemonic/shamanic psychic energy as we sat laughing our lungs out in darkened movie theaters 30 years ago while four wise-ass bozos paraded across the screen battling an invading horde of other-dimensional ghosts and demons.

Image via Wikipedia, Fair Use

Vampires, Frankenstein, and Alien Horror: The Dark Mirror Film Festival 2013

If you find yourself in Waco, Texas in October 2013 — specifically, on Friday, October 25 — and you’re in the mood to celebrate the Halloween horror season in style, be sure to come join us for the fourth annual Dark Mirror horror film festival. Four classic horror films. Informative introductory talks by vampire expert and religion scholar Dr. J. Gordon Melton, Baylor University film professor Dr. Jim Kendrick, and yours truly. All the junk food you care to buy (popcorn, candy, chili cheese nachos, hot dogs, soda, water). What’s not to like?

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

‘Visitors’ – The new film from Godfrey Reggio, Philip Glass, and Jon Kane

There simply are no words. And I mean that literally, as you’re about to see.

When I learned recently of the imminent release of a new film by director Godfrey Reggio, he of Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi fame, I was fairly stunned. Then the sensation was augmented when I watched the trailers. As I explained here three months ago, Koyaanisqatsi literally changed my life, and more than one person contacted me after I published that post to let me know they feel the very same way.

And now comes Visitors. Like Reggio’s first three films, this one features an original musical score by Philip Glass. Like Naqoyqatsi, it features visual design by filmmaker Jon Kane. It will premier at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, and will be presented there by Steven Soderbergh.

Here is the just-released teaser trailer, followed by an earlier trailer (from 2011) that was released when the project was being developed under the alternate title The Holy See. Even though they’re similar, be sure to watch the second one to its conclusion, which offers a striking “payoff.”

Here’s the film’s official description:

Thirty years after Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio — with the support of Philip Glass and Jon Kane — once again leapfrogs over earthbound filmmakers and creates another stunning, wordless portrait of modern life. Presented by Steven Soderbergh in stunning B&W 4K, Visitors reveals humanity’s trancelike relationship with technology, which, when commandeered by extreme emotional states, produces massive effects far beyond the human species. The film is visceral, offering the audience an experience beyond information about the moment in which we live. Comprised of only 74 shots, Visitors takes viewers on a journey to the moon and back to confront them with themselves.

For what it’s worth, I predict a positively mythic impact.