Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

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Rock bands have always sparked controversy through their lyrical content and very often, it is due to some sort of religious reference or attack. Alternative grunge band Soundgarden was one such band. In 1991, Soundgarden released “Jesus Christ Pose” as their first single off of their album Badmotorfinger which upset people immediately after its release. Right when it came out, MTV banned the music video which brought lots of attention to the song. Many people started calling the song anti-Christian and it got to a point where Soundgarden received death threats while on tour.

Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden, has stated that “Jesus Christ Pose” has nothing really to do with religion and that is about people who exploiting the symbol of Jesus and the cross. Through the song, it is about someone who feels like Cornell is persecuting and “crucifying” him while he is in his Jesus Christ Pose. It seems to be pretty clear that Cornell’s song is about people trying to take on a Jesus like situation to become a sort of deity. Cornell is saying is his song that celebrities and public figures use the image of the crucified Christ to seem oppressed and to give themselves a “martyr” aspect to them that would make them in a way cool or more attractive. In Cornell’s own words, “that song was based entirely on seeing rock stars like Perry Farrell or some top model doing these photo shoots where they were the Christ figure with this stupid-ass crown of thorns and their arms out. It became fashionable to be the sort of persecuted-deity guy”.

All in all, “Jesus Christ Pose” really does not seem to have any sacrilegious lyrics or content (the music video on the other hand is a little bit more debatable), but I cannot help but think what kind of reaction Soundgarden expected while releasing the song. The name of the song seems potentially offensive by itself. Many rock artists tend to do this. They release something that seems offensive on the surface but a closer look always shows the opposite. I suppose it is a rather good way to bring about media attention though.


The Valley of Vision

The Valley of Vision is a book of old Puritan prayers and devotions from various people. Some of the prayers date back to the early Puritan Movement in the sixteenth century, while there are others that are more recent from Charles Spurgeon from the late 1800s. One large part of the Puritan Movement was the emphasis on family worship as well as private devotion. Thus, practicing prayer and meditation was crucial to Puritan spirituality. The Valley of Vision is pure evidence of old Puritan doctrines. The prayers are very intimate and honest, reflecting the importance of private, personal devotion. Many of the writers focus on their own depravity and are very aware of personal sins and their need of a savior. Also, many of the prayers contain lots of theology, such as the trinity and election.

However, through the prayer book, one can also see how Puritans dealt with the problem of evil. It mentions everyone’s depravity and that everyone is in need of repentance and redemption from sins and evil. To the Puritans, the best counter against evil was to get “closer” to God which would make one more “Christ-like” which was done by prayer and devotion. The preface of the book states that “the soul learns to pray by praying; for prayer is communion with a transcendent and immanent God who on the ground of his nature and attributes calls forth all the powers of the redeemed soul in acts of total adoration and dedication”. The Puritans believed that prayer was a communion with God, a way to spend time with God and get to know Him more. Just like friends and family can help change and form a person’s mindset, the Puritans believed that more time spent with God would make one more heavenly minded. While the book might not show insight on theological ideas of why evil exists, it certainly shows how Puritans really believed that prayer was one of the best ways to counter evil.

The Velvet Underground’s Jesus

Andy Warhol was the original manager and producer for The Velvet Underground and used them heavily in his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events, which often included various music, Warhol films and other artistic performances. Andy Warhol and his “Factory” pushed a lifestyle of experimentation in aspects beyond arts. They were seen by the rest of world as morally corrupt as they emphasized sexual freedom and heavy drug experimentation. The Velvet Underground sang about this sort of life style with no shame in many of their songs. For example, “Venus In Furs” is about sado-masochism, “I’m Waiting for The Man” is about Lou Reed waiting for his drug dealer, and perhaps their most bizarre song, “Sister Ray”, is about a man getting killed, and while waiting for the police, drag queens taking sailors home, shooting up heroin, and having an orgy. To the world, The Velvet Underground was a band that had no moral boundaries and lived an almost “evil” lifestyle. They had no care for religion, and definitely did not associate themselves with any organized religion such as Christianity.

However, in 1969, they released a self titled album which contains a track simply named “Jesus”. At first, one would expect it to be a satire of sorts, a song against Jesus and religion. Turns out, it is just a song that confuses Velvet listeners. The song is slow, sweet, beautiful, and seemingly sincere. The lyrics are simple and are repeated for the duration for the whole song (3:24)

Jesus, help me find my proper place
Jesus, help me find my proper place
Help me in my weakness
‘Cos I’m falling out of grace

Lou Reed sounds fragile, weak, and honest. Perhaps this song is really about what the lyrics say. Everyone at some point feels lost, weak, and in despair. Reed seems to be in such a place and is reaching up for someone to pull him up. He might be literally asking Jesus for help, or perhaps Jesus to Reed is just a symbol of that helping hand above that pulls him up, the person or force outside of his life that helps him. Symbol or not, Jesus, or the idea of Jesus, still means something to Reed. Jesus still represents a helper and reviver. Even though The Velvet Underground lived the opposite lifestyle of a “Christian life”, they did not totally reject or bash the idea of it. There is still a sense of respect and adoration towards the name, if not the man, Jesus.

The Decalogue

In 1989, Krzysztof Kieślowski directed ten, one-hour films that were aired on Polish television as one series known as The Decalogue. The highly acclaimed series represented the Ten Commandments with each film lining up with one commandment. The first movie, just entitled Decalogue I, delves into the first commandment,which states “I am the Lord thy God thou shalt have no other gods before me”.   Kieślowski’s representation of the first commandment is not through the worship of a literal god, but that of science and technology, a philosophy that one lives by and clings dearly to. In Decalogue I, Kieślowski explores the dangers of living only off facts and truths and how faith is a necessity in one’s life that can coexist with science.

In Decalogue I, Kieślowski looks at the story of a father, Krzysztof, whose intellect becomes a barrier between him and faith. He is a man who lives by science and computation. He finds it hard to believe in God because God cannot be seen or explained through science. For Christmas, he buys his son, Pawel a pair of new ice skates that Pawel wants to use on a nearby frozen lake. Excited, the father and son use a computer program to calculate whether or not it is safe for Pawel to skate on the ice. The computer says yes, pushing Pawel to go skate on the lake. However, the lake unexpectedly breaks and Pawel dies in the cold lake.

Before Pawel’s death, Irena, Pawel’s aunt, was a large part of Pawel’s life. She is a caring and loving figure and tells Pawel about God and faith. She tells Pawel that “your dad’s way of life may seem more reasonable, but it doesn’t rule out God” and that “God is very simple, if you have faith”. These end up being the things that Krzyszytof realizes after the death of his son. He comes to a sudden important realization that he was putting all his hope and faith in science and technology and that they had become a religion to him. His philosophy, he realizes, is flawed and that there are things in life that just cannot be explained purely through sciences. Krzysztof experiences a sort of redemption at the end as he is seen weak and stripped away from his philosophy.

Decalogue I is a modern representation of breaking the first commandment and how it could be something seemingly good such as science. Kieślowski shows, however, that when one only believes in and lives by science, it becomes a “god”. Kieślowski never says that technology is bad, but he does show a large pitfall of the intellectual community. Krzysztof’s own brain and intellect becomes a stumbling block for him as he cannot believe anything that he cannot see or logically deduce. Through Irena , Kieślowski shows that science and religion can coexist and that there is room for God in everyone. People have to make room for faith though – but sometimes God intervenes, even through tragedy, to help people move their stumbling blocks aside and create room.

Santa Sangre

A surrealistic film that involves true horror, psychological pain, and extremely dark humor, Santa Sangre tells the story of Felix, a man whose past environment shapes, distorts and haunts him. As a young boy, he grows up in a circus with his parents. His father, Orgo, is a knife thrower who is characterized by his large, bloated body as well as his overly sexual desires while his mother, Concha (Mexican slang for “vagina”), is the leader of a religious cult, Santa Sangre. Concha’s cult worships a saint, a little girl whose arms were cut off by rapists and was ultimately left to die in her own pool of blood. Around her blood, Concha’s church is built and in it contains a large pool of blood that is said to be “holy blood”. During a circus performance one day, Concha witnesses her husband running off with a tattooed lady to have sex. Enraged, she finds them, pours acid on her husband, and consequently gets her two arms chopped off by Orgo who proceeds to kill himself. All this in front of little Felix’s eyes. Felix ends up in a mental institution where he escapes when he hears and sees his armless mother out his window. From here, he literally becomes the arms and hands of his mother, standing behind her and slipping his own arms and hands (now with long nails and red nail polish) through the sleeves of his mother’s clothes and killing women at his mother’s bidding.

Without revealing too much about the film, Sante Sangre is ultimately a coming to age film. Felix struggles throughout the whole movie to find his identity as he is trapped by the memories of his childhood and the rules of his mother’s religion. Sante Sangre ultimately states that we are all formed by our families’ sins and beliefs and the only way to truly define oneself is to break free from all the rules and religion acquired from our parents.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Judas Iscariot is traditionally viewed as the antagonist in the story of Jesus Christ. Judas, a man who would betray his own divine Lord with a kiss in exchange for money, could be the epitome of heartlessness and to this day is infamously the symbol of betrayal and unforgivable sin. However, in 1970, Andrew Lloyd Weber and lyricist Tim Rice turned this conventional view of Judas inside out and depicted the Jesus story through the eyes of Judas, rather sympathetically, in their rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. In Superstar, Judas is the narrator, being forced to witness a man, Jesus, whom he admired, spiral into self-righteousness and contradictions. This shift in perspective sparked controversy as many Christians objected to the apparent “humanization” of Jesus. He is seen, not unlike other men, as easily frustrated, angry, and tired. But exactly how much is Jesus “humanized”? A depiction of Jesus that is, in a way, “too human” easily strips of his divinity, making Jesus Christ Superstar a sacrilegious work. But to a certain extent, showing a human Jesus would still agree with certain Christian doctrine, namely the idea of the Hypostatic Union, the belief that Jesus was both fully divine yet completely human. It is easy to quickly tag Superstar as sacrilegious, but by taking a closer look, it can be seen that Superstar focuses on Jesus’ humanity without taking away his divinity. Jesus is often tempted in Jesus Christ Superstar like any human, but unlike any other man, Jesus never crosses the line from temptation into sin. A more human depiction of Jesus makes him more accessible, which is what Weber and Rice create. We understand his frustration, anger, fears and temptation and can marvel at how Jesus, a man like us, suffered under every temptation, yet still lived a sinless life.