He’s Back!: Luke Wins Lengthy Lawsuit to Save the Apologetic Professor Name

It’s been a long journey since my last post.  As incredible as it sounds, George Lucas sued me for using the name Apologetic Professor because he claimed it was too close to his Star Wars character Appo (Clone Commander of the 501st Legion in Revenge of the Sith), for which he owned the copyright.  As a result, I was legally forced to shut down my blog (and my lucrative Apologetic Professor bobble-head doll and/or ugly paperweight business) for well over a year. 

I also ate a bad taco and got mild indigestion.  It’s been one of those years.

But I finally won the lawsuit and I’m happy to report that my indigestion has passed.  As a result, I can now resume blogging.

All my cards on the table here: I didn’t really win a Star Wars-themed lawsuit.  I did, however, construct a Star Wars costume from $10 at a thrift store for a new character I named Darth Janitorius.  [Editor’s Note: We regret to inform you that this story is actually…true.] There has never been a cleaner bathroom for dark lords than the one in Darth Janitorius’ house, let me tell you.

To clarify: Absolutely no lawsuits, but lots of Star Wars suits.  (Please don’t actually sue me, George Lucas.  You’re an awesome guy and I love you, man!)

But figured after a year and half away from the blog, I needed something particularly eye-catching or else no one would read it.  (At least, that’s the lesson I learned from modern politicians and/or bobble-head distributors).  So while there was no lawsuit, one part of the title is true:

I’M BACK!

Yes, after a year and a half hiatus from blogging, and after much prayer and reflection, I have decided to renew my commitment to you, the one and only reader of my blog.  [Editor’s note: Never mind that the reader in question is actually the Apologetic Professor himself – and he doesn’t even like reading it.  In his own words, “I’d rather eat Brussel sprouts full of glass shards while listening to Justin Bieber sing ‘Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer’ and riding on a nausea-inducing fair ride built by people who have a questionable regard for my safety; I’d rather do all that, than read this stuff!  Gross.”]

I’m sure you are all absolutely dying to know why I’ve actually been away [Editor’s note: We’d mock him, but he’s taking all the challenge out of it].  The real reason is rather drab and boring: I did not have time to do blogging well over this past year, and I made a conscious decision to take some time off from the blog to re-analyze and re-energize and re-estimatize and re-….nuclearize.  Or something.  Anyway, during this last year, I was writing a book (now published, more on that in a later post) and my day job was particularly taxing.  I’ll spare most of the details, but the pertinent point here is:

I’M BACK!

Yes, after finishing the book and seriously weighing the amount of time I have in my life, I’d decided that my heart is too much in this blog to stop writing it.  Now, I actually know that you can’t sustain a blog by taking a year and a half off all the time, or posting on a super intermittent schedule.  But when I say I’m committed to this blog, I mean it: I want this blog to be good, and I want to post regular articles of high quality pertinent to religious topics.

Now, my life is busy and I really do have a day job.  So, to find a balance between the busy-ness of my own life and a need to be a more consistent blogger, I’m going to post at least once a month.  I might post more, but my goal is this:  I want to put something of decent quality at no less than one per month.  While I realize that isn’t as consistent as many blogs that post once a day, this will at least keep me on a regular schedule.

I’m also going to try to expand the scope of the blog by more regularly asking guest bloggers to post.  Thus, while we will keep up the normal cheeky, quasi-intellectual rants of times past, we will mix that in with discussions from other (and more intellectually competent) writers.  I’m also thinking of doing even crazier things like getting a twitter account.  Egad!

So: Buckle up!  It’s going to be a wild ride.

Posted in Rather Bizarre Social Commentary | Leave a comment

The Top 5 Christian Musicians of All Time

Artsy people seem to like arguing over dumb stuff.  Take Hamlet.  The truth is, Hamlet isn’t some great work of genius – it’s just a really badly-written play with poor plot development.  That’s why no one can understand it – because it’s stupid.  But artsy people like it because they seem to enjoy arguing about things they can’t understand.  It makes them feel superior.

(To be fair, one of my best friends – one of the nicest and least arrogant people I know – loves Hamlet.  He tells me that it really has a wonderful plot.  But because he’s clearly biased by having read the play recently, whereas my mind views it through that unclouded clear sky of vaguely remember reading it in junior high – because, I say, I’m humbly inclined to trust my own vague memory from 30 years ago rather than the opinion of an incredibly intelligent person from a year ago – and because admitting that Hamlet has a great plot sort of ruins my introduction, I’m just going to ignore his opinion and plod ahead).

I feel sorry for the artsy people.  How can you not have empathy for people who feel that literally throwing dog crap on a canvas conveys some artistic genius?  You just want to say “Good heavens, try some Thomas Kinkade or something!  He at least paints real things that actually do convey real meaning.”

Well, I feel that way about a lot of music.  In the next two posts, I’m going to offer my own rankings of the greatest Christian artists of all time.  And, after 3 full minutes of intense market research, I notice with some dismay that my rankings don’t always correspond to other people’s rankings.

And one of the reasons they don’t correspond is this “artsy” dimension.  Take Jars of Clay, one of the bands that consistently rank highly on other people’s lists. Well, I like Jars of Clay and I considered them for this list, but ultimately they failed because, although they did have one truly great album, the vast majority of the time they literally make no sense.  They are the Hamlet of the Christian music world.  Lyrically, I think they are like some kind of random-word generator or abstract art technique – they produce enough volume that eventually one or two songs sounds like it makes an ounce of sense, and so everyone assumes that the rest of the time they actually do mean something.  So while I like Jars of Clay a lot and own a bunch of their albums, they are not the lyrical geniuses that everyone says they are.  Genius means being able to communicate; and mostly, they can’t.  (See also Sixpence None the Richer: Seriously, I like some of their music, but I’ve no idea what all the fuss is about.)

There’s also a different problem with a lot of modern Christian music in quite another direction:  A lot of it is well-done but boringly repetitive.  I don’t like abstract art – but I also don’t like seeing the same boring and flat picture of a mountain over and over and over again.  No matter how recognizable it is, I get tired of it.  And a lot of Christian music these days is like that, and unfortunately, that seems to get rewarded.  So, for example, take the top 3 artists from this “Top 101 Christian Artists of All Time” list:

http://www.hearitfirst.com/blog/101-best-christian-artists-of-all-time/

Those artists are Mercy Me, Chris Tomlin, and Third Day.  All of them are nice, but they only have one song.  I don’t mean that they each only have one hit – I mean, I have several albums by all of them, and they all sing the exact same tune over and over and over again.  I keep buying the albums because it’s a nice song.  But did I mention that it’s the same song?  That mountain gets old – at some point, I want some new color or something more creative.

So what I’m saying is that I don’t like other people’s rankings, and you should listen to mine!  Over the next two posts, I’m going to tell you who I think are the very best Christian artists of all time.  Enjoy and let the debates begin!

1. Rich Mullins.  It’s tough to put someone as the greatest artist of all time of any genre who sings like an out-of-tune elephant and who performs a style of music that I frankly don’t like.  But anything else would be dishonest.  This guy’s music showed me the light during so many dark and lonely days; carried me through so many sinful years to keep searching; pointed me towards God when I had lost hope.  Plus, the guy plays a mean dulcimer, and you can’t say that of too many top-selling artists.  He has written everything from very-famous praise music (Awesome God) to incredibly poignant critical commentaries of the Bible (The World as Best I Remember It) – and just when you think you get your head around his musical style, he has a way of surprising you.  I could pick any song at random.

Signature Song:  Growing Young

2. Guardian.  Back in the days when Christian music was struggling to get off the ground, a friend of mine who heard this band said something like “they are the only Christian band that doesn’t sound derivative – they sound like they would really be talented on any stage, a creative force no matter what world they happened to be playing in.”  And that about sums it up.  This is one of the greatest arena-rock bands of all time that you’ve probably never heard of.  Best lead singer ever (though my daughter’s comment when she heard him was “that guy is terrible, he sounds like he’s yelling and not singing.” It’s safe to say that my violin-playing daughter doesn’t really know how to rock.  It’s so sad, kids these days, what with their love of classical music and lack of knowledge of You Give Love a Bad Name… this interruption was brought to you by the Apologetic Professor; we better get back to the actual sentence now, if I can remember what that was), great lyrics, catchy hard rock tunes, and some of the greatest hair-band ballads of all time.

I must say that I am completely beyond veclempt (that is, I am incredibly annoyed) that Guardian did not make any list of top Christian bands that I saw, including the top 101 list I referenced earlier (I mean, are you telling me that there are 101 bands better than this one!  One of the bands is “August Burns Red” – I have one of their albums and it sounds like a tuba player formed a hard rock band; are you kidding me?).

I could pick any number of rock-it-out songs or cool ballads, but because most of the songs on this list are actually meaningful ballads, I’ll opt with the former to shift it up a bit (I challenge you to listen to this song and not feel totally awesome):

Signature Song: Dr. Jones and the Kings of Rhythm

3. Charlie Peacock.  Another guy who didn’t even make a single “Top Christian Artist” list.  Shocking.  I could write the same thing here as I did about Rich Mullins:  Charlie Peacock cannot sing.  There’s that.  (Although unlike Rich Mullins, he has that “Peter Cetera” or “Phil Collins” this-guy-cannot-sing-but-I-like-his-voice-anyway listenability.)  He generally likes jazz (which I hate – worst art form ever) and is way, way too funky for my tastes.  But the songwriting talent is beyond compare and the number of deep, thoughtful, life-changing lyrics he has produced is hard to briefly discuss.  I’d probably have him a bit lower, but he’s my wife’s favorite artist of all time (by far), and she reads this blog once a year, and who knows?  It could be this week.  So I don’t want to risk it.

I could have picked almost any song off of his “Everything That’s On My Mind” album, which is one of the greatest albums of all time of any genre. This one is sort of picked at random.

Signature Song: Monkeys at the Zoo

4. Amy Grant.  A friend of mine once dared me to listen to a One Direction song and not like it.  Hating boy-band pop music with every fiber of my being, I took her up on the challenge smugly, because I was sure I would not like it. Seriously, right?  It’s One Direction.  How hard is it going to be to not like…good Heavens, the truth was…it was a catchy song that was impossible not to like.  There – I said it out loud – I like a One Direction song, ok?

Now, speaking of humiliating admissions: I am embarrassed by this selection.  Putting Amy Grant here is worse than admitting I like a One Direction song (although, contrary to what you may hear from some people, the rumor going around that “One Direction completely changed my life” is a reckless exaggeration).

But not putting Amy Grant here is horribly dishonest.  The truth is: Her early music was transforming.  I still go back to that music when I’m down to find comfort and inspiration.  There are so many songs she’s sung that have helped me find God that I cannot begin to count them.  So, while her later pop-act music was hardly the stuff of U2 legend (though some of it was ok – see her very nice cover of “Big Yellow Taxi”), her first few albums alone would be enough to land her here.

If I were going to list my favorite songs of all time, she’d probably have two of the top 10 – including “So Glad” and this one, which would almost certainly be number one:

Signature Song: Arms of Love

5. Steve Camp.  This last spot was incredibly hard to pick.  Probably the best overall musical artist left, the one that has produced the best albums and the best music, would be Geoff Moore and the Distance.  But while Geoff Moore can totally rock (“Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music” is a classic) and has produced one of the most powerful forgiveness ballads in history (a song that helped change my life called “Mercy for the Memories”), overall, they just don’t have a lot of…heart.  So as you’ll see next week, they slide way down the list.

As I am prone to do, I used the heart factor here to pick the last artist in the Top 5.  This is a bad choice for two reasons: (1) This guy can be super annoying.  Half his songs drive me crazy because they are manipulative, shallow-ish songs that have quasi-political overtones.  I don’t mind preachy, but this guy is preachy, if you follow me.  (2) He can’t really do a fast song to save his life.  All his fast songs sound like 1970’s television show tracks.  Look up the soundtrack for The Facts of Life…and if you think that’s good music, I…feel sorry for you.  Maybe try using an iPhone.

With all of that bad stuff said, why on earth is this guy on the list?  It’s simple – he has a collection of incredibly powerful, incredibly honest, heart-rending cries to God that are basically unparalleled in Christian music, now or then.  Songs where he cries to God and means it – songs where God speaks back and you can almost feel His love.  And his voice has got that scratchy Bryan Adams quality that is so good for soaring ballads.  His “Doing My Best” album is still one of the music sets I gravitate to the most, and Steve Camp holds the honor of producing the only song in history using the word “holiness” (which is a concept I mostly don’t get – I mean, what the heck is that, anyway?  It seems like a word too vague to be meaningful to me) that I actually like (“Stranger to Holiness”).  I could pick many songs here, but I’ll pick the one that probably meant the most to me in my youth.

Signature song: He is All You Need.

Next post, we’ll pick up with #6!

Posted in Top 5 Lists, Ratings, and Rankings | Comments Off

Luke Giving a Talk in Kalispell Tonight

Luke has been invited to give a talk at FVCC tonight in Kalispell from 7:00-8:30.  So, for the massive Apologetic Professor contingent in Kalispell who might be interested (haha), the information about the talk is below!  The theme of the six-speaker series is “why are we all so divided these days?”

March 2, 2016, Wednesday, 7:00-8:30pm, FVCC – AT 139      

“The Secret Psychological Influence of Expectations for Agreement: Do Conformity Pressures Ultimately Create a Happy or a Divided Society?”

Dr. Luke Conway, Associate Professor of Psychology, The University of Montana

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The Best Argument for Both Atheism and Theism

I find it interesting that arguments for both Christianity and Atheism often take some kind of a parallel structure, where each side basically uses the same kind of argument, sometimes almost the exact same argument – but they start from different assumptions and therefore end up in opposite corners.

For example, there are times that it seems to me the best argument on either side, the one that most people on both sides actually feel deeply even if they don’t articulate it – that best argument is something like no argument should be necessary at all.  If I were an atheist, and many days of my life I have very nearly been an atheist, I would say something like this:

If God is real, why on earth would we need to debate about Him/Her/It/What-Have-You?  I mean, if there were an omnipotent Creator of the universe that wanted us to know Him, it’s hard to imagine that He (etc.) would rely so much on intuition and creative argument for evidence of His very existence.  So without such clear evidence, why are we debating this thing at all? You are asking me to believe that there is an omnipotent being who wants everyone to believe in Him yet, for unknown reasons, allows the possibility of honest doubt.  You are asking me to believe in a being so powerful that He can create a universe, but who yet seems absent from that universe essentially all of the time except for the occasional mild hint.  Give me a break!  Better to just admit that God isn’t there, that we’ve misread the occasional mild hint, that we’re over-interpreting the rainbow and windstorm and earthquake and fall colors, and get on with figuring out how we can muddle along as best we can.

If I were a Christian, and many days of my life I hope that I am worthy of that name, I would say something like this:

If God is not real, why on earth would we need an argument to show it?  I do not think we would ever have thought of Him on our own.  I didn’t create this vivid feeling that something beyond this world exists – a feeling I find inside of me and I can’t seem to totally shake. Why did I awake at all in the world with the sense of the Divine?  Where did it come from?   Why do the mountains cry out to me of something beyond themselves, why do I hear an echo of Heaven in my daughter’s laughter? Why do I like Middle-Earth and magic rings and stories from long-forgotten other worlds so much? Why does it seem that everyone looks up in hopes of finding lost loved ones?  Why do we seem to gravitate to eternity and cry out for Heaven in the dire crises of our lives – in those moments where everything seems on the line – where does that desire come from? So given all that, given this pervasive sense that humanity has always seemed to have, and that I certainly seem to have, of the existence of something beyond this world, why are we still debating about it?  Best to just admit that something beyond this world likely exists and get on with figuring out what in the world it is!

But both of those arguments say the same thing – they both basically assert a psychological fact about how things are and then suggest everyone should just get on board with that psychological fact.  Atheists feel we should not need to argue because they don’t see or feel God as much as they think they should; Christians feel they should not need to argue because they already feel God sometimes and assume everyone else should feel Him in the same way, too.

The ironic truth is, of course, that both of those arguments as to why we should not need to argue illustrate exactly why we do need to argue; or at least why we need to argue with ourselves.  I’m not sure you and I need to argue [Apologetic Editorial Staff Note: Seriously, this guy’s idiotic behavior suggests that he is in fact pretty darn sure he wants to argue with you…he has been known to argue with a piece of broccoli about the role of the quantum physics in digestion…for three hours…we’re just sayin’] – but I’m fairly certain that you need to argue with you, and that I need to argue with me.  At some fundamental level, there are reasons why it seems eternity exists; and reasons why it seems it doesn’t.  It would be unwise to ignore either calling, unwise to close one’s eyes to the facts on either side.

If, like me, you believe in God (and just so there is no ambiguity – make no mistake, I do unequivocally believe in God), it is foolish to pretend like it isn’t upsetting that He seems absent sometimes.  It is bad for you; it is dishonest; and it is insulting to other people who feel it, too.  (For Christians, it is also shockingly unnecessary: The Bible is replete with anguished cries wondering where God is, and many of the most venerated heroes of the Bible – David, Job, and even Jesus Himself – uttered bracingly blunt accusations against God for seeming absent).  But if, unlike me, you don’t believe in God, it is also foolish to completely shut your mind and eyes to the desire for eternity, if and when it makes an appearance in your lives.  The Bible doesn’t call thoughtful atheists or skeptics fools – but it does call the person who “says in their heart there is no God” a fool.  Honest doubt is not vilified in the Bible; but a complete closing of one’s eyes and heart to the yearnings of eternity is. That’s because it is foolish to turn away from the calling of eternity without seeking – to merely declare by fiat that there is no God.

So each of us should not be afraid of the clashing sides; but what about that internal argument?  How should we stack the absence of God against the yearnings of eternity? Here’s a brief sample of one (that “one” being inside of this guy) of how those arguments might clash:  Although they occasionally sound good when you read them out loud, neither of those arguments is super-compelling when stacked against the other; it’s almost a wash.  Almost a wash – but if that were all there was, if that’s all there was to consider in the universe, I’d probably be an agnostic with some hope of faith.  It is slightly more strange to me that God, being God and desiring belief, would go long stretches appearing absent, than it is that I would experience a sense of the Divine intermittently, if no God were present.

Of course, I’m not an agnostic, at least not most of the time, and so it’s probably not right to say that’s the best argument for theism (or atheism).  I put this whole dialogue here mostly to encourage you to seek the truth in all its aspects, to have courage for what really is, to honestly observe what you actually experience and keep your eyes open.  It isn’t my internal argument that matters – but yours.  Don’t be afraid of it!

But I also admit that I have another motive: I want to remind my readers that, at some fundamental level, I do get it.  I actually do get why people might be an atheist, and I don’t hold that against them.  I believe God is alive mostly because I believe that I’ve actually met Him, and I believe that if you seek Him long enough, you will, too.  I feel more like a prophet some days than a professor.  Intellectually, experientially, I think there are reasons to believe in Him, reasons to hope in Him, reasons to have faith in Him; but there are also reasons to doubt, reasons to give up, reasons to stop the search.  I’m not naïve to those reasons on either side.  All I ask is that my beloved atheist and agnostic readers keep their minds open to evidence and experiences that might lead to belief in God – that they give faith a legitimate fighting chance.  Really!

Posted in Christian Approach to Knowledge, Does God Exist?, What Christians Actually Believe | Comments Off

The Top 5 Worst Movies of 2012-2013 That I Did Not Watch

Once, I felt an ounce of social pressure to watch a movie.

I know, right?  But my wife and I had resisted the temptation to watch Titanic for years on the grounds that it sounded like an idiotic, thoughtless movie that confused lust with love – and we felt somewhat sure we already knew that the boat sank.

But so many of the people in our social orbit had watched the movie that we began to feel sadly…disconnected…from our culture.  We thought, if everyone in our culture loves this movie, how bad could it be, really?  So we gave in and watched it on our VCR.  (Kids, a VCR is an ancient device that involves hired monkeys throwing stones at a wall to create moving pictures.  No one has them anymore except people who collect parachute pants and Bee Gees albums. Please, please don’t ask about those).

And guess what?  Titanic turned out to be an idiotic, thoughtless movie that confused lust with love…aaaaaand the boat sank.  (Titanic is like the NASCAR of the movie world.  If your sport is only interesting when people wreck their cars, that can’t be a good sign.  Well, literally the only part of this movie that I liked was the cool cinematography of a boat sinking.  Thumbs down, waaaaaaayyy down.).

So that was the last time Kathrene and I ever watched anything to feel more “connected” with our culture.  We felt then and feel now that if our culture was really that dumb, we’ll just be happy on our own, thank you very much.

So that brings us to today’s offering, where, with shocking hubris, I continue to tell you about movies that I actually haven’t seen.  Go find a blog that does that!

Here, we go back to the 2012-2013 era:

1. Prometheus.  This is how you know you’ve totally screwed up the big-market potential for a movie: You make a space-adventure flick about trying to discover the origins of life on our planet, and Luke Conway doesn’t watch it.  I absolutely love this kind of movie – I’m a sci-fi nut – but they made it in the R range for violence and gore, and that turned me off so much that I avoided it.  Pity!  I use this movie in my classes as an example of why Hollywood should not get a free pass in the whole “they just give us what we want” debate – in actual fact, by all accounts, had they made this a PG-13 movie, it might have been the one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.  As it stands, it was merely the 24th highest-grossing movie in the year they made it (2012), taking in less money than generally-less-heralded but kid-friendly movies like Madagascar 3 (10th), The Lorax (11th), Wreck-It Ralph (12th), Ice Age: Continental Drift (16th),and Hotel Transylvania (19th).  Imagine if they had made it a cleaner movie like, say, The Hunger Games (which finished 3rd in 2012)? In other words, they lost millions and millions and millions of dollars to add more violence and gore to the movie.  Is it really that they are giving us what we want – or are they possibly, just maybe, giving us what they want?

2.  Twighlight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.  Romantic vampires?  This movie franchise accomplished a nearly-impossible feat:  It combined two different genres of movies that are each horrid on their own (romance and vampires).  Please.  You don’t make either brussel sprouts or light beer any better by making “Brussel sprouts light beer.”

3. Dr. Suess’ the Lorax.  I like Dr. Suess, and I like kids’ animated movies, but when I read about this movie, it seemed both incredibly boring and uninspiring, so I gave it a pass.  And I’m sleeping fine at night, thank you.

4. The Amazing Spider Man.  I’m sorry, but you don’t get to make one of the most beloved good superheroes of all time into a teenage punk and expect me to watch it.  It’s like they made Captain America side with the Nazis after a night of drunken revelry.  So, guys, make Peter Parker back into Peter Parker and then get back to me (which, by the way, they did for the second instantiation of this franchise).

5. Les Miserables.  This is – by far – my favorite musical/play of all time for live theater, and yet I didn’t watch this because I simply could not imagine Hugh Jackman…singing.  Gross.

Worst of the Rest:

6.  The Lone Ranger.  7. Fast and Furious 6.

Posted in Top 5 Lists, Ratings, and Rankings | Comments Off

A Low-Budget Christian Movie Is Number 1 in the Nation: Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

I told you so.

For years, I’ve been saying on this blog things like “there is a hunger in the nation for really good Christian movies…it’s just that we aren’t making very many” (from The Top 5 Christian-y Christian Movies of All Time), and “the country is starving for some genuinely good Christian movies and TV shows.  If someone ever actually makes one, look out!” (from The Top 5 Worst Movies of 2014-2015 That I Did Not Watch).

Well, low and behold, look what just happened: A low-budget Christian movie about the hot Hollywood topic of…prayer…was the number one grossing movie at the box office last week.

So I’m writing an entire blog piece to say “I told you so.”  I told you that the country wants good Christian movies.  I told you that Hollywood dislikes Christianity so much they are often willing to hurt themselves to show it.  I told you that if they’d wake up and make good, clean, Christian movies that they could make a bunch of money.  But instead of doing that, they let a group of amateurs from a church in Georgia make the number one movie in the country with very little budget.  Imagine what could happen if Hollywood actually put their own vast resources into it?

Other people are picking up on this theme, too – consider the following statements from Gary Susman on the secular movie news cite Movie Fone:

“By now, we should probably stop being surprised when Christian-themed movies become mainstream hits, but the feat is still striking…if the Hollywood studios don’t want to leave money on the table, they just have to figure out how to make such movies and how to sell them in campaigns that don’t require blanketing the continent with superhero toys and fast-food tie-ins.”

Welcome to the party, Gary.  I told you so.

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The Top 5 Worst Movies of 2014-2015 That I Did NOT Watch

Anyone can write a movie column criticizing flicks that they actually watched.  Losers.  How boring is that?

On this blog we aim for higher ground.  The Apologetic Professor has never held back criticism of something just because of the simple fact that I’ve never actually seen the thing. [Editor’s note: This isn’t hyperbole.  He once wrote a scathing critique of a book he had not actually read.]

I can hear your mind purring from a distance, probably thinking something like this: Stuffed-Crust Pizza is awesome…is that a fly or a weird mole on my arm… wait, is my mind really ‘purring’ like some kind of cat…this guy’s writing is boring…is Magneto or Darth Vader a cooler bad guy…wait, how can you critique something you haven’t even seen?

Well, let me tell you, in response: Yes, neither (it’s a freckle), no (not ‘purring’ like a cat, but rather like the well-oiled engine I assume your mind to be), you’re boring too, clearly Darth Vader, and it’s super-easy to critique stuff you haven’t seen.

It’s like this: Parents tell their children dumb things all the time like “you can’t say you don’t like that food until you’ve tried it.”  To which I say, “ok, you try eating a cow-manure-and-rusty-nails casserole topped with glass shards – after all, you can’t say you don’t like it until you try it!”  Seriously, I can totally, totally critique foods I haven’t eaten just fine, and thus I can totally critique a movie that I haven’t seen.

That’s why I think the greatest invention in human history is the “off” button on the remote.  And it’s not just because of Shawn Hannity or Rachel Maddow, either.  It’s partially because it’s an obvious psychological truth that what you put into your system will ultimately be what you get out of it; that self-improvement starts with what you see and hear; that just as television can inspire you, so it can bring you down.

So before I watch any movie, I read about its moral character first.  (There are many helpful cites for this, but the two I frequent the most are pluggedin.com and kids-in-mind.com). It doesn’t always have to be morally uplifting for me to watch it – but it at least cannot drag my mind down into a meerkat-infested pit where computer-based spellcheckers have apparently never been programmed with the word “meerkat.”

And as a result, I feel perfectly competent to comment on movies that I haven’t actually seen, and indeed find it a duty to do so, because I feel like I’m pretty sure already that watching them would be like eating that cow-manure-and-rusty-nails casserole.

Thus, without further ado, I give you:  The top 5 worst movies of 2014-2015 that I did not watch.

1.  Fifty Shades of Grey.  Seriously, don’t even engage me in a debate about this movie.  I read one and a half sentences about it, stopped at one particularly alarming phrase in the middle of the second sentence, and have literally not read a word about it since.  One of the reasons that I am happy is that I stay millions of miles away from this kind of thing – and so should you.  Go watch Cinderella instead.

2. Furious 7.  Look, I got some “masculine” traits, ok?  I like sports and don’t shave a lot.  I can’t stand Taylor Swift or television shows where there is no plot and half of the main characters die in the hospital.  But: I just did not get the “fast car” gene that many of my fellow guys seem to have gotten.  In a lot of movies I actually like, I literally skip the car chases.  (I have never once watched any of the car chase scenes in one of my favorite movie franchises, the Bourne movies – I always fast forward through them).  Color me crazy, but I prefer a movie to have an actual plotline, and all I hear in praise of Furious 7 is “cool car-based stunts” and “inappropriately-dressed women.”  So yeah, that doesn’t sound entertaining or inspiring in any positive way – and is the reason I have never seen a single one of these dumb “Furious” movies.

3.  Kingsman: The Secret Service.  This is exactly my kind of spy/political intrigue movie – so you know you’ve blown it big-time when you put too much excessive junk in it for me to watch it.

4.  Exodus: Gods and Kings. When I saw the first preview of this movie, I was incredibly excited.  I think both the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation have a world of untapped potential for awesome and inspiring movies, if people would throw a lot of money and talent at them (sorry, Left Behind folks, but that’s not good enough).  And this story in the book of Exodus is one of the most made-for-the-American-movies stories of all time.

So imagine my disappointment when I heard that they took this beloved and gripping story and made God into a thoughtless child throwing a temper tantrum.  The whole inspiring point of the story is that God loved the Israelites and wanted to save them from the horrors of slavery; and they turned that good-kicks-down-the-door-of-evil plotline into the petulant fit of an erratic child.

(Sigh). I don’t think Hollywood has learned their lesson – there is a huge market for movies that inspire people to faith and hope and love and goodness.  They lose money by twisting good stories and making them bad; and yet they do it anyway.

But I did feel better to learn that the movie sucked, so I didn’t miss anything.

5. SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water.  If I have to tell you why I didn’t watch this movie, then you’re not smart enough to read this blog.  Seriously – that sponge has to be one of the most irritating things humanity has ever produced.  Jar Jar, anyone?

Worst of the Rest:

6. Heaven is for Real.  Technically, I don’t think this movie is bad or good – I just think movies like this are generally both annoying and super-boring.  Also, it is supposed to be based on a true story, and I don’t trust this kind of thing at all – anyone can make up something if they want to, and I don’t just jump because someone says they found Heaven is for real after all.  Of course, it turns out that Heaven is for real – so jump already!  [Editor's note: This is why this guy is a member of Hypocrites Anonymous and tells everyone he knows about it.]

7. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  I was a little surprised to find out that this movie really is just about a kid having a really bad day.  No plot, no character development, no heart, no moral backstory – just a really bad day, for two hours.  (It’s like the Catcher in the Rye – I mean, who writes a 300 page book about a day and a half in a guy’s life?  I don’t care how many freakin’ times he says the F-word; that’s just not good literature).  So basically, you can read the long title of the story for free and get the exact same experience you would for paying money to watch it; all that without having to watch a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie.

8. Son of God. OK, ok, I admit that I feel bad putting this one on here.  So bad, in fact, that I got this movie from Netflix and had every intention of watching it.  Really, I did.  But after four months of it sitting by my DVD player, my wife and I finally admitted that we did not have enough interest to spend 2 hours on this thing.

It’s not that I don’t like movies about Jesus (Jesus of Nazareth is one of my all-time favorite movies) or that I heard this movie was particularly bad (in fact I heard it was decent) – it’s rather that most of the time, when Christians try to produce a two-hour movie about God coming to earth, it’s either all wrong (e.g., The Judas Project), or actually in a foreign language (e.g., The Passion) – and very few of them are inspiring.  And that’s incredibly annoying to someone who firmly believes that Jesus is alive and saved his life.  Can’t we make better movies about God, for crying out loud?

Also, watching a movie about Jesus is rarely of the popcorn-eating-relaxing-experience sort, and if I’m going to be forced into some self-reflective intimacy with God, I may as well pray directly to the Father as opposed to watch a movie.

9. God’s Not Dead.  I actually heard this movie was better than you’d think, and it turns out that I do believe myself that God is not dead, but I never even considered watching this movie.

Look, not everything that we love makes a good movie, ok?  I love crème brulee, but I’m not paying my hard-earned money to watch Crème Brulee: The Movie or Crème Brulee II: This Time They Eat It Somewhat More Quickly.

So really…a whole movie about a kid debating a professor over theology?  I’m a professor…I love theology…but a movie where I have to actually watch it?  I like my movies pitting good versus bad to be a little more cosmic than this (and also, from what I hear of this flick, to more accurately capture good and bad).  Where’s Magneto when you need him?

Though I will say this. Hollywood’s smug and hypocritical attitudes annoy me a lot, and thus I take some satisfaction in that the extremely negative critical reception of this movie (which seemed predictably biased by anti-Christian sentiment and not comprised entirely of reasonable argument) was largely and comically put in its place by the surprising box office success of this movie.  Whether it was a good movie or not, it sort of makes the point I’ve tried to make on this blog before: The country is starving for some genuinely good Christian movies and TV shows.  If someone ever actually makes one, look out!

10.  Left Behind.  In case you missed it, someone re-made the first Left Behind movie and put Nicholas Cage in it.  I’d mock the movie here, but they took all the challenge out of it. 

The Rest of the Worst of the Rest:

11. Transformers: Age of Extinction.  12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 13. RoboCop.

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Why Fox News is the Best Thing That’s Ever Happened to the Country

I believe in absolute truth; I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; I believe that there are lines in the world that you should never cross, and some lines that you can’t cross even if you wanted to.  I most definitively do not believe in the wishy-washy, relativistic worldview that the vast majority of our culture claims to believe in, and which many of the readers of this blog believe in.

And yet, curiously, I find that a lot of those people who will not accept as basic truths those few things I do believe in – a lot of those same people quietly (and sometimes loudly) believe absolutely in their political ideology.  But political ideology is a super-stupid thing to believe in absolutely.  That’s the one thing in the world I would not hang my absolutist hat on; because really no one knows what the heck the best political solution is for a complicated mass of laws and people and history and anger and desire and hunger and money is.  I mean, loving my neighbor is hard, but the principle is firm and it is not actually complicated in theory (though in practice it is difficult and messy).  But designing a law that best encourages people to feed the poor while simultaneously rewarding hard work (to name just one of a hundred tensions in that one issue alone) is actually just educated guesswork – at best.  Loving my neighbor can be messy, but I feel like I know for the most part what to do; writing laws that best encourage everyone to love everyone else isn’t just messy – it’s multiplied chaos.

That’s why politically I believe in dialecticism – pitting different viewpoints against each other and letting the truth come out in the wash.  The best thing would be for each person to consistently weigh all the tensions involved in political decisions as the individual truth-seeking vessels we hope they are, so that the dialecticism occurs within each person.  But as that’s not gonna happen often, even in complex and devoted thinkers, the next best thing is for society to have multiple points of view represented and let them hash it out freely.

That’s why I thought (and think) Fox News was the best thing that’s happened to this country in a long time.  Why?  Because Fox News brings the truth?  Good Heavens!  Don’t be absurd.  Of course Fox News doesn’t bring the truth.  Fox News is a conservative media machine that I don’t trust any more than I trust a compass that only points to Louisiana.  No, Fox News is not a trustworthy outlet; it does not tell the truth much of the time.

But neither did CNN.  CNN used to be a biased liberal machine (and to some degree it still is), and Fox News provided necessary counter-balance to the machine.  It forced CNN to consider different points of view and woke up the political elites in the country to how conservative their nation actually is.  That’s dialecticism – that’s good for the country.  We need the yen and the yang – we need both sides hashing it out.

And yet…and yet…it would be better if we could all take a chill pill and hash it out passionately…but cordially.  Hash it out with more reasonable humility, the humility that comes with realizing that only idiots sell their soul to a political program.  That no political program is so absolutely correct that we should hang everything on that.  So, to all of you, on both sides, I say this.  Listen to the wisdom in this C. S. Lewis quote and remember, as you do, the parables Jesus taught about the self-righteous people who thought they were going to Heaven because at least they weren’t like this other guy:

“A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme—whose highest real claim is to reasonable prudence—the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication.”

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Luke Speaking Tonight at Cru

Luke is going to give a talk on Resisting Temptation on Thursday, April 23, at 7:00 PM.  It will be in ISB 110 on the University of Montana campus.  (If you are a savvy person, you will note that this means it is tonight.)

This is the weekly Cru meeting, so be apprised that if you are not a Christian, there will also likely be other Christian-ish sorts of things…like singing…and humor.  But all are welcome!

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An Article to Irritate Democrats

One of my character flaws is that I seem to enjoy annoying people.  I sometimes dance around the house, even though I don’t actually like dancing. Why would I do that, you ask?  Simple: It really gets on my daughter’s nerves.  [Editor’s note: His daughter is being reasonable. The editorial staff at the Apologetic Professor recently unearthed a VHS tape with definitive proof of the alarming fact that Luke was once in a dancing and singing show choir.  We kid you not – this guy danced and sang on video camera!  It was horrible.  It was like watching Angela Lansbury try to imitate a squid.  It actually gave us nightmares.]  Anywho, the best thing you can say about that trait is that I am an “equal opportunity” irritator – I seem to like irritating pretty much everyone.  Kind of like the writers on SNL, but without the wit and unnecessary lewdness.

Last week I intentionally irritated Republicans.  Next up on blog-destroying Irritation Month Programming is an attack on Democratic politics.  In particular, I think my Democrat friends might be interested to learn that:

(1)  The Bible clearly states, and more generally implies, that you should not get to eat if you do not work.  In other words, the rules designed to help poor people are explicitly opposed to helping them if they are not willing to do their part (2 Thessalonians 3:10-14).  To put a fine point on it, the Bible implies that it would be better for people to be rejected and learn a moral lesson than it would be for them to be given food as an entitlement.

(2)  Indeed, the Bible would oppose anything like an “entitlement.”  Really, far from trying to stir up dissent in the fine union-esque manner, the Bible instead encourages people to be content with what they have (Hebrew 13:5), and to submit to their fate even in shockingly bad circumstances (e.g., 1 Peter 2:18).  It consistently encourages a spirit of gratitude on just about every page (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Gratitude makes people happy; feeling entitled makes people unhappy.  The sense of collective action that is so important to liberals historically finds very little to support it in the Bible, and much to oppose it.

(3)  The Bible is pretty radically opposed to anything that smacks of self-indulgent laziness, lust, and the like (Matthew 5:27-30).  The Bible talks a lot about holiness and takes adultery and marriage shockingly seriously – like death (e.g., Matthew 5:27-32). Things like pornography, lewdness, and loose attitudes towards monogamy and sexual relations – things that that Democrats are more prone to support – will find essentially no quarter given to them in the Bible.

(4)  When democrats speak of “human rights,” the Bible has little to say to them.  For example, there is leftist talk of some kind of “right to a good job.”  What?  Christianity simply laughs at this.  The…right…to a good job?  Even if you don’t work for it?  Even if you sit and home and play video games?  Really.  (See 2 Thessalonians 3:10-14 and about half of the book of Proverbs, e.g., 21:25). But more broadly, Christianity teaches throughout that we really have no rights.  There is a sense in which everything good is a gift…yes.  One of our gifts is freedom.  But there is literally nothing we are owed (for a representative sample, see my least favorite chapter in the Bible – Romans chapter 9).

I could go on – I could literally do this all day, annoying both sides with my annoying banter that so deeply annoys.  But rather, I think I’ll finish by pointing out that the main problem with both sides is that they think they are totally right.  And next week, I’m going to add one additional post to ensure that exactly everyone is completely annoyed with me.

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