We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, April 26, 2013

The New Same Old Wild & Woolly Western Frontier

When I was a small boy, sitting on the leading edge of the baby boom, television helped to shape my imagination, which 60 years ago meant especially the heroes of TV westerns.  There was Gene AutryRoy Rogers, the "Lone Ranger,"  and then a little later the iconic TV series, "Gunsmoke."  In these an countless other TV and movie westerns, young boys saw exemplified what it meant to be a real American man—tough and fair, caring and quick on the draw, law-abiding and above the law when the law wasn't fair, sociable and a rugged individualist—good with a gun but a reluctant warrior at best.  These cowboy heroes "did their own thing," but they did it for the good of frontier society and for true justice, which was something usually distinguished from "the law."

So, recently, I became aware of a new TV series on Syfy, the supposedly science fiction network that shows more silliness than science fiction but occasionally does justice to its name.  The series is "Defiance," which is set in a time in the near future when the Earth has been invaded by a host of alien species and accidentally terraformed in ways that have transformed it into a new,  largely dangerous world.  The hero is Joshua Nolan, the "Chief Lawkeeper" of the multi-racial enclave of Defiance, which stands on what used to be St. Louis.  The Gateway Arch, battered but still standing, is the visual icon of the new civilization Defiance is seeking to build out of the chaos of the post Pale Wars wreck of a world Earth has become.  Josh Nolan is the new Matt Dillion, tougher and more cynical, but still dedicated to justice.  Strip away the high tech, space and aliens veneer, and what we have is a trendy remake of the same old cowboy and western genre.  Indeed, both the new-fangled scifi drama and the old-fashioned cowboy shoot-'em-up dramas seem to draw on far older visions of chivalry, which takes us back to the frontiers of post-Roman, Dark Ages Europe.

One thing that stands out in all of this is how secular, how un-religious, these modern traditions in myth-making are.  Religion sometimes appears but mostly as a sideshow.  The heroes never pray.  They don't lead singing in church. The role of the church as one of the chief civilizing agencies of the real frontier is seldom portrayed, and in more recent TV series religion is more often represented negatively than positively.  Certain social values are portrayed, including the importance of weaponry as the only thing that keeps the bad guys at bay, but spiritual values are seldom to be seen. (One notable exception is the Hallmark Channel TV movie series, "Love Comes Softly," which is a Christian counter-cultural reworking of the cowboy genre).

Our race has a long way to go yet, and one can only pray that the Earth survives the trip we are on.  And we can only pray that eventually the values that define the Kingdom will find their way into the center of our thinking and acting because if they don't it is not likely that the Earth will survive us or us the progressive destruction of the Earth.  Matt Dillion and Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise are fine as far as they go, but it is not far enough. Their way is not the way of wisdom nor of the future we are created to discover.  It is not the way of the Kingdom.