Dave's Mormon Inquiry Weblog
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  Monday, March 01, 2004

There are some detailed comments and samples of several reviews of the movie in this story at Christianity Today.  The Christian world is abuzz over the movie; perhaps it's a sign of the times that this generation's cinematic treatment of Jesus is steeped in violent scenes.  Comment on Mormon blogs touches on the problematic fact that the film is rated R, and Latter-day Saints have been counseled to avoid R-rated movies.  This blog posting at Times and Seasons, with links and comments, is a sample of the mixed reactions Mormons are having.  This Deseret News story covers the rating problem, along with some hearteningly reasonable comments by Prof. Millet of BYU.  For me, it's the violence, not the rating, that bothers me; haven't seen it yet, don't plan to anytime soon.

Prof. Tom Smith at The Right Coast made comments that come closest to my feelings about the movie: To call the movie violent is a ridiculous understatement. It should have been rated NC-17, not R. . . .  [T]here is a sense in which the crucifixion is meant to be contemplated in private, not shown on a screen, or so it seems to me. I felt a little violated by the movie.  I know some Christians view the violence of crucifixion as integral to the Atonement, but I don't.  I see the whole Jewish sacrificial parallel (Lamb of God, spotless offering to God stuff) as metaphor, and one which was most meaningful to the first generation of Jewish Christians.  If Jesus had been made to drink the hemlock with his disciples gathered round him, would he have been any less The Christ?  It hardly makes sense that the particular mode of execution employed by the pagan Romans played any necessary or soteriological role; if true, this suggests the violence truly is gratuitous and incidental rather than integral to the story.  Besides, tens of thousands of people suffered crucifixion by the Romans, there was nothing unique or even exceptional about it.  In that world, violence was common, not exceptional.  We forget that, I think.  After this movie, we'll forget it less, perhaps. 10:23:32 PM      

The US Supreme Court issued its opinion in Locke v. Davey, a Free Exercise Clause (FEC) case, on February 25; for a shorter summary, see the synopsis here.  The path of Religious Clause jurisprudence has taken lots of zigs and zags the last fifty years, but Locke v. Davey seemed like a fairly straightforward case of facial discrimination (in the distribution of state scholarship grants to Washington State college students) on the basis of religious belief (expressed by a decision to major in theology at the college of their choice).  This seemed to follow from Smith and Lukumi Babalu Aye without too much difficulty.

Yet, the Court ruled against the student and in favor of Washington (surprise no. 1) and it wasn't even a close case, decided 7-2 with only Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas in dissent.  In doing so, it reversed the Ninth Circuit, which had earlier held that the state's exclusion of theology students violated the FEC.  How often does the Ninth Circuit support an FEC claim, only to have the Supreme Court including three of the conservative justices reverse them? (surprise no. 2).

To simplify what could be lengthy comments, just see Tim's Freespace here and here (with several good links) for comments and analysis I'll generally second--that Smith was correctly decided but that Locke was wrongly decided, and why.  To me, Locke seems to establish something like a "permissible de minimus infringement" exception, the latest zag for Free Exercise reasoning.  It's like the Court sees whatever personal rights the FEC bestows through a 14th Amendment lens: since individuals who raise such claims are not insular minorities, they only get watered down protection from the FEC, not heightened protection like other personal rights, hence "permissible de minimus infringements."  I'd like to think that over time, as state and local governments take the Locke decision and run with it, the Court will have the opportunity to revisit this decision under different facts. 8:59:18 PM      

A short article entitled The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach is online at Scientific American.  Three recent books examining the best present scientific understanding of consciousness are reviewed.  The article is also a short introduction to the field of evolutionary psychology, a young field that merges brain science and psychology in a firmly evolutionary approach to consciousness.  When the researchers in this field iron out the wrinkles in their theory, it will revolutionize more than psychology.

Consider how central altered states of consciousness are to religion generally and to Mormonism (as one example and as the primary topic of this weblog).  Dreams and visions, demon possession and exorcism, feeling overcome by the Spirit or sorely tempted of the devil, even simple prayer confirmations--all these phenomena are amenable to study under the general banner "altered states of consciousness."  The visions and other conscious sensory phenomena that often accompany epilepsy and even migraine attacks are a simple example of the link between the brain, consciousness, and sensory stimuli.  The problem, of course, is that not all apparent sensory stimuli correspond to objective real-world objects or causes--the brain sometimes creates its own stimuli (e.g., dreams or psychotic perceptions) but as individuals we may have difficulty distinguishing authentic from self-generated sensory experience.  As data and theory continue to advance, the range of experiences explainable by this field will continue to expand.  As research and theory confirmation in this field move into the mainstream over the next couple of decades, expect as much religious push-back as was (and is) directed at organic evolution.

For a hands-on introduction to the field, go to the Center for Evolutionary Psychology website, including their Evolutionary Psychology Primer. 12:28:09 AM      

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Last update: 3/10/2004; 10:07:43 PM.