The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him

October 31, 2004

Happy Reformation Day!

On this date in 1517, a young Augustinian monk and priest by the name of Martin Luther, incensed by the exploitation of the poor by the Roman church in selling indulgences to build St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, nailed 95 theses for debate on the door of the church in Wittenberg, and in so doing touched off a religious wildfire that broke the religious monopoly of the Romanists. Earlier this week, I was surprised and pleased to see that the movie Luther had finally made it to local screens, and in honour of the occasion, this is my review.

Luther begins with the young Luther (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love), trapped in a storm and scared nearly to death by a near lightning strike, crying out to St. Anne to save him, and he will become a monk. In the Augustinian monastery, he becomes so concerned with his own unworthiness before God that his confessor, Father Staupitz, admonishes him to throw himself upon the mercies of Christ, and sends him to the university in Wittenberg to pursue a degree in theology. While there, he becomes angry when a poor woman in his church shows him an indulgence she has purchased from the Dominican monk, Johann Tetzel (Alfred Molina, Spider-Man 2), for the sake of her crippled daughter. And the rest is history.

This movie is pretty much a straight biopic of Luther, being generally faithful to the events of his life, with perhaps a few dramatic liberties taken here or there. It treats Martin Luther respectfully, which is more than you can say for some dramatic treatments of his life (John Osborne’s psychoanalytic play of the same name, for example, attribute’s Luther’s actions to his chronic constipation). But it is reverent without being fawning: Luther is portrayed as a very human man, suffering from depression, haunted by demons, and caught in a moral dilemma, supporting both sides (for different reasons) in the Peasants’ War.

The acting in this film is superb: being a German production, the minor players are of German or East European origin, although the three principals – Fiennes, Molina, and Sir Peter Ustinov in one of his final rôles before his death this March – are all British. Fiennes’ Shakespearean training suits him well for the rôle of Luther, particularly where oration is called for. Alfred Molina is suitably sleazy as the indulgence-peddling Tetzel. But far and away the best performance is Ustinov’s portrayal of Frederick the Wise. He gets the best scene, in which he and his secretary (and Luther’s friend) George Spalatin walk amongst his vast collection of religious relics, realizing that for all their cash value, they are utterly worthless. Ustinov’s last scene, in which Frederick meets Luther at last and receives a copy of the German Bible from him, is also very touching.

Tim at found Luther theologically weak. I disagree. Sure, it’s theologically light: not being a comprehensive treatment of Luther’s theology, there were many aspects of his life that the filmmakers could have touched on but didn’t. But hey, it’s a movie, constrained by time and dramatic concerns. Besides, I noticed that at least four of the five Solas got a mention at some point, often standing in contrast to the Roman system of works-righteousness as characterized by the selling of indulgences. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is easily the most Christian film of the last several years. It’s not just a movie about Jesus and his torture and execution on the cross; it actually explains why that was necessary and what the benefits are for the rest of us.

If you are reading this in Ottawa, Luther is still playing at the AMC theatre in Kanata, daily at 4:10pm. Go give them some business.


Holy Bible, Book divine

October 31, 2004

If, like me, you are interested in the history of the English Bible, the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image at the University of Pennsylvania has placed scans of the entire first edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible, published in 1611, on the Web. Each page can be viewed individually, and you can also zoom in on details.

Also of interest, to me at least, is an extensive collection of Shakespeare publications, including First Folio and quarto editions.

This is one of those sites that really makes the whole Web worthwhile.

Get ’em up against the wall!

October 29, 2004

I really need to follow the news more faithfully.

Last week, Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of engineering at my alma mater, the University of Waterloo, and the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress – and therefore a major “official” spokesman for the Religion of PeaceTM – remarked on television that any Israeli above the age of 18 is a legitimate target for Palestinian terrorism.

On the October 19th program of the Michael Coren Show, Elmasry made the following remarks:

Michael Coren: Anyone over the age of 18 in Israel is a valid target.

Mohamed Elmasry: Anybody above 18 is a part of the Israeli army . . .

Coren: So everyone in Israel and anyone and everyone in Israel, irrespective of gender, over the age of 18 is a valid target?

Elmasry: Yes, I would say.

[Full story]

The CIC, in response, issued a press release calling his remarks “regrettable.” Their attempt at damage control contains the following weasel section:

Within the context of discussion on the show, Dr. Elmasry was presenting not his own views — but those of a significant segment of Palestinians under occupation.”I sincerely regret that my comments were misunderstood and, as a result, caused offense,” he said today.

[Full Statement]

Of course there’s nothing in context that suggests that he was presenting anyone’s views but his own. Nor is the true problem misunderstanding on the part of the audience: both Coren and another guest, a Muslim lawyer, gave Elmasry ample opportunity to clarify his statements, and he simply reiterated what he had said before: any Israeli over 18, male or female, enlisted or not, is fair game for Palestinian attacks.

Elmasry’s own apology, issued two days ago and accepted by the CIC (though they did not accept his offered resignation), contains its own weaselling:

“I sincerely apologize for the way I expressed myself last week on The Michael Coren Show and I offer my resignation,” Dr. Elmasry said in his statement to the CIC Board. “I also offer my apology for the distress I caused to my family, to the University of Waterloo, to the CIC Board, members and friends. I apologize for any public remarks I made which offended Canada’s Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, and Arab communities and Canadians at large.”

“It has always been a core belief of mine that killing civilians — any civilians, for any cause — is an immoral act of the worst kind and I will never change in this conviction. Failing to articulate my beliefs clearly, completely, and forcefully on that occasion, was the biggest mistake in my 30 years of public life.”

[Full Statement]

Weasel #1: “I sincerely apologize for the way I expressed myself.” Why don’t you apologize for the hate speech you expressed, Dr. Elmasry?

Weasel #2: “I apologize for any public remarks I made which offended Canada’s Muslim, Jewish, Palestinian, and Arab communities and Canadians at large.” Should you not also apologize to Israelis, whom you have just declared valid targets, Dr. Elmasry?

Weasel #3: “It has always been a core belief of mine that killing civilians — any civilians, for any cause — is an immoral act of the worst kind and I will never change in this conviction.” But isn’t the whole point of this controversy that you declared all Israelis above 18 to be military targets, therefore not civilians, Dr. Elmasry?

Weasel #4: “Failing to articulate my beliefs” is not your problem, Dr. Elmasry. No one has wondered what it was you were saying.

Maybe I’m being uncharitable in my interpretation, but I doubt it. Since official apologies of this kind are generally what is termed “carefully worded,” I find it unlikely that at least four rhetorical blunders would be left in by accident.

Had the situation been reversed, and a Jew (or a Christian) uttered hate speech declaring Palestinian adults legitimate targets, the CIC would be all over them like white on rice, and rightly so. But the situation wasn’t reversed, and so Elmasry gets a pass because of his “exemplary” “track record for the past 30 years.”

Elmasry’s tirade stands opposed to the values of Canada and all civilized society. If the Canadian Islamic Congress is truly the voice of moderation it claims to be (and not just running in CYA mode), then it needs to prove it by showing its former president the door by way of a boot up the rear. Silence is assent.

Update: According to UW’s student newspaper, the Imprint, Elmasry is now under investigation by the University, as well as the Halton Regional Police, to determine whether his remarks constitute criminal hate propaganda.

Other campus news:

Also pay attention to the Iron Warrior, the newspaper of the UW Engineering Society (EngSoc). At the time of writing the Web page still displays the Oct. 15 issue, too early to report on the controversy.

Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me . . . you guys

October 28, 2004

It’s years old, but I’ve never heard it before, and I just about laughed myself into severe anoxia while listening to Eric Cartman sing “Come Sail Away,” [RealAudio] quite possibly the most demented novelty song in the history of recorded sound, and certainly the funniest thing I’ve heard in the history of today.

Runnin’ with the devil

October 28, 2004

No comment required. Except to say (once again) that John Effin’ Kerry’s handlers really, really, really need to keep him away from all cameras.

I’m searching through these carousels and the carnival arcades

October 27, 2004

Now that it appears Blogger has gotten over its bout with cyber-‘flu or whatever was going on, I have discovered that Christian Carnival XLI is up at From the Anchor Hold.

My submission was my defense of sola Scriptura from this weekend. I see that I’ve already received some comments prompting further discussion, so I know I’ve got at least one good theology post coming in the next few days.

With over 30 submissions again this week, it took a while to slug through them all, but here are the highlights.

Jerry McClellan at Truth Be Told fisks a sermon by infamous Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson, whose views on good and evil are a bit addlepated:

Apparently Mr. Robinson believes that no one can know what is evil and if one does profess to know good or evil then he is being arrogant. His sermon is taken from Matthew 13: 24 – 30, 36 – 43, the parable of the wheat and tares, although, he doesn’t really stay on point and pours into this passage a meaning that, obviously, it was not intended to have.

[Read I Know Good and Evil, am I Arrogant?]

Warren at View from the Pew argues that there is no such thing as the separation of church and life:

I do not see how faith and action can ever be separated, if you are following your faith in a consistant manner. Faith requires you to believe a certain way about things, and those beliefs require you to act in certain ways. This is hard for people without faith to understand. They cannot see what it is about faith that makes it so vital to people who have it. Part of the problem is us.

[Read Faith in Public]

You know, given that Martin Luther was one of the most down-to-earth characters in human history, there’s just something æsthetically right about the idea that Luther discovering the great truths of the Reformation while taking a dump, as Intolerant Elle writes:

Luther is quoted as saying he was “in cloaca”, or in the sewer, when he was inspired to argue that salvation is granted because of faith, not deeds.

[Read Good Works Down the Toilet]

As always: Enjoy.

Help! I need somebody

October 27, 2004

Blogspot seems to be in a spot of trouble at the moment; although I appear to be able to view my own blog fine, I can’t say the same for anyone else at the moment.

I could remain the Pastor of Urinals for a while longer if this keeps up.

Update: Looks like the problem, whatever it was, has been resolved.