Why the Video Game SMITE Avoids the World’s Most Popular Religions

SMITE-LOGORecently, a Hindu group (in the United States) became agitated at Hi-Rez Studios’ DOTA-like online game SMITE for providing several Hindu gods as characters—the game also allows players to play gods from other mythologies such as Greek, Egyptian, and Norse. The irritation directed at SMITE for the inclusion of the Hindu gods brought people to notice that SMITE seems to have avoided other widely known mythologies—especially those from the Abrahamic religions.

Gamepolitics picked up the story, asked the question, and Hi-Rez responded; however I think it’s obvious why games don’t go with characters from popular religions.

Why? There’s two reasons. The first is that the characters from Abrahamic mythology cower under the umbra of an amount of privilege to an audience who want them sanctified and would rather have their hagiography laid out in a video game rather than see them rolling down the lane in a DOTA game. The second is that much of Abrahamic mythology is excruciatingly boring and steeped in a political culture that lacked a sense of transhuman imagination and instead turned to mysticism rather than the inspiration of animism.

Privileged mythology has a serrated edge in a given culture; the audience might perceive it as too sacrosanct to approach. See the prohibitions against drawing the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, that have been the center of a certain amount of strive involving Comedy Central and South Park—giving rise to Draw Muhammad Day in protest to some particularly stupid radical Muslim groups and drew many Muslims in counter-protest not because they felt a pressing need to do anything but ignore a total outsider drawing Muhammad, but because they felt obligated to speak up for their own cultural norms.

However, what really prevents characters like Jesus being portrayed in a video game like SMITE is because of the trivial condition of sheer dullness.

Jesus, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Muhammad, etc. they’re all just humans who were the center of the narrative mythology plots where they drove either a political or cultural revolution. Adam isn’t even a character so much as a vehicle for telling the story—he didn’t cause anything so much as things happened to him. Jesus exists as a sort of protagonist to a political story of a moral teacher who seems to be framed in a spiritual homage to the Greek poem the Odyssey (and Odysseus is still a more compelling character.) None of them exhibited special powers beyond their connection to the divinity du jour and their only claim to cultural significance is from the context of their own mythology. Worse, that mythology belongs to the popular religious culture meaning that it cannot even claim to be exotic.

Okay, so Moses murdered an Egyptian in his narrative, he’s violent; but that doesn’t make him an impressive warrior. Sure, Elisha could summon bears to tear people to shreds—people do love to flog that one. Ezekiel seems to have had an undead army of skeletons at one point in his story. The problem is that these imaginative turns are blanketed heavily by extremely boring prose regarding customs, costume, laws, and the odd genocide.

The only elements of the mythology that anyone has managed to make remotely interesting have all come from Revelations where angels are described as fantastic monsters, the four horsemen, and the various incarnations of the angel Lucifer. These, however, belong to contemporary Christian mythology arising from an era of poetry and arts and thus are actually imaginative and escape from mysticism to involve symbolism and the flourish of presentation.

No doubt the only character worth rolling up into a game is also the oldest portrayal, the war-deity YHVH. There could be fire and smoke, booming voices, the skies parting for a chariot with a rider tossing fire bolts like spears. The grand drama of the gods that was quickly lost after the influence of the Babylonians and other cultures bled out as the stories were crammed like garments into overstuffed luggage into early Christian mythology.

We are more likely to see Renaissance-era contemporary additions to Christian mythology—Revelation’s angels, four horsemen, etc.—arrive in SMITE as part of Christian cultural characters because they fall a little bit outside the mainstream symbolism. They’re also far more interesting than any of the other contenders.

666 Revealed, Revealed

The "Documentary" 666 Revealed is such an unconvincing piece of video that it hardly seems worth mentioning, but for anyone who may be inclined to accept what it says at face value, here are a few of the serious flaws in it.

When 666 Revealed begins, it gives the distinct impression of being a 1980s or earlier production based on the abysmal technical production quality, and this apparent lack of care permeates the "film" (which looks and sounds much more like an aging VHS tape than any type of film). According to its copyright however, it was produced in 2006, when high quality digital editing equipment was already ubiquitous within the industry, and easily accessible for even amateur home movie producers.

These shortcomings could be forgiven however, if its contents appeared to be anything more than extremely speculative propaganda. Sadly, that is a generous description of the fear-mongering dreck presented here.

Continue reading

Video Game Review of Journey of Jesus: The Calling

jesusOn its face, Journey of Jesus: The Calling is a Facebook Flash-based game that does exactly what it says on the tin, right down to being a Facebook game. It even suffers many of the flaws that most Facebook games do, from intrusive integration with the social networking aspect, to an aggressive “energy” system pushing players towards microtransactions. As for narrative, it follows a storyline based primarily on Christian mythology that is for the most dusted off only slowly by player activity.

The game boasts on Facebook that 15,000 people play (in their sidebar advertisement.)

In a recent GamePolitics post, it was mentioned that the game got some air time on Fox News. Christian software developer Lightside Games sent their CEO Brent Dusing to speak about the launch—which, much to the video game world’s amusement, was launched the same day as Blizzard’s Diablo III.

“Both games immerse the player, and you are what you eat,” Dusing said in a statement to Fox News. “While one game goes one direction, Journey of Jesus: The Calling players walk in the Messiah’s steps, in an authentic experience of Israel in Christ’s time.”

The game does come with the praise of at least one apparent, although largely unknown, religious scholar.

“Why would a theologian endorse a social-gaming game? Because 300 million people weekly log on to social games and because Journey of Jesus: The Calling takes players closer to the life of Christ in a fun, reflective and entertaining way,” said Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies with the Dallas Theological Seminary.

As a game, it follows the free-to-play model by providing services and game enhancement via microtransactions (for $2 to $50) or spreading the word about the game to Facebook friends.

The gameplay is ubiquitous for a Flash-based Facebook game and it’s boring

Here’s where the game really falls down: it’s just not interesting and in some ways it’s frustrating.

Most Facebook games are Flash-based and must work around a simple UI system that uses only one mouse button and as a result they tend to avoid complex interface design. In JoJ:TC the player partakes of a sort of adventure-style object-find game while moving a character around the map. With each object-find it allows the player to unlock further regions of the map and more dialogue.

The object-find functionality is at least extremely simple and easy to figure out. There’s very little puzzle to it and it’s generally fitting to the setting. The player might be asked to weed a region, chop up logs, or clear a path of brambles. All of these open up further paths and sometimes new maps along the narrative-line.

Useful items can be received by beating foliage (trees, grass, etc.) as well as a little bit of energy, points also come from speaking with characters to help reveal more of the story.

Here the “energy” mechanic comes strongly into play. The player is capable of only a certain number of actions per day, these actions are governed by a type of stamina. This stamina drains as the player finds objects and completes tasks. When the stamina runs out, the player can wait for it to be refreshed over time; or purchase more from the game via a microtransaction currency (gold bricks.) Of course, you can also ask your friends to help give you more energy—the social aspect of this game is extremely strong.

After almost every task completion the game thrusts a “share this with your friends!” window that tries very hard to tie the social networking Facebook experience into the game. This isn’t uncommon for Facebook games, but the degree to which the intrusion went seemed somewhat more excessive than usual.

By the time I made it to the second chapter I even ran into an instance where I couldn’t unlock an element of the game without calling in my friends to help me. Other games generally only settle this for accolades, or special items that don’t affect game play; and this one isn’t all that different in this respect. Of course, it’s possible to avoid having to ask friends for help by spending gold bricks instead.

The narrative is obfuscated and plays through contemporary Christian mythology about Jesus

…but the player character never speaks to him directly. At least not in the beginning.

Most of the game is all about following Jesus through various stories from the New Testament and listening to what other people have to say is going on. Some of the characters are also characters from the New Testament stories (such as disciples of Jesus) and there’s even a strange glowing man who stands out in some maps but says very little.

The characters refer to Jesus as “Yeshua of Nazereth,” the first part of the name is a Hebrew derivative of “to rescue” or “to deliver,” and is sometimes used as alternative name for Jesus.

It’s hard to tell what sect of Christianity that this game is attempting to audience for itself. Different sects modify their contemporary mythology about Jesus based on emphasizing or reflecting dissimilar portions of the story. The makers of the game address this a little on their website speaking about why they might be involved in Christian theology, but that’s something internal to the religion that would have to be addressed between their myriad sects.

The locales chosen look like they’re time-period appropriate for the setting of New Testament stories. The maps of the game take the player around Galilee in the first century C.E. although some of the technology is a bit off. There are Roman soldiers around the countryside (and in one case you get to gang up on one with another native.)

The beginning few stories involve attempting to see Yeshua who is being baptized in a river by John the Baptist—a preacher contemporary to the storytelling, who is also characterized in the New Testament—and helping out some fishermen at the shore of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Tiberias.) Most of the game entails collecting objects from the environment and then using them on other objects; for example getting fishbones to make needles, and nets to fix the sails on the boat.

Due to the aggressive energy system the story is also very difficult to access. As a result, it’s hard to critique the storytelling or even appraise the contemporary mythology.

This game is marketed to sell to a Christian audience and is unabashed in money requirements

The developers of JoJ:TC know their audience and they’re trying very hard to sell to them. The microtransaction system and the extremely aggressive social media tie-ins speak to a publisher who knows how to leverage the Facebook culture and is looking to make money from it.

This might explain why the storytelling is deliberately bland and the gameplay is tedious; it also shows why the energy mechanic is so aggressive as it hollows out the narrative development forcing the player to keep coming back (pay money, or announce the existence of the game to friends.) As a free-to-play game it’s brilliant when it comes to working its audience to make money.

The cash shop in the game also includes items that can be bought for money that enable players to perform certain tasks without spending any energy (allowing them to follow the game further each day) some of these items cost upwards of 20¢ a pop (that’s 20¢-per-tree to receive logs without spending energy.)

With a significant portion of the United States population adherent to the Christian religion and a background of cultural Christianity, a game like JoJ:TC will probably manage to sell well.

The Facebook game exists in the all-enveloping shadow of Blizzard anyway

The Fox News article reflected on the launch of this game by riding it onto the coattails of Diablo III. Chances are that was done because a Flash-based social media game isn’t going to attain as much attention without hitching a ride with the most-popular-thing in the video game industry. As a result, the comparison is hilarious.

Diablo III is not free-to-play and doesn’t hook into Facebook; although it has its social aspects, it’s not at all aggressive at making players tell their friends about it, and it doesn’t charge them any more than the $59.99 price tag on the box. It’s also less a casual game than one like JoJ:TC which will float or fail based entirely on people noticing that it exists.

For those people looking for an energy-based Facebook game with a storyline, interesting gameplay, and some social media aspects I would suggest playing Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of Neverwinter instead. It has all the hallmarks of an excellent fiction game, leveling, branching storylines, tactical puzzles, and even the ability to bring your friend’s characters along. It’s no Diablo III, but it’s a smarter game with better mechanics, and even includes the ability to make adventures of your own, a true Renaissance game for the social media era.

Happy gaming everyone.

Review: Beyond Religion

I am not a Buddhist. While I respect and admire Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, for many reasons, I do not revere him the way that many do. Rather than a holy icon, I simply see an intelligent and compassionate man who wants to help the world in whatever way he can. Fortunately, that also seems to be the way he sees himself.

Because of this, rather than the preachy and unsupported religious mandates conveyed by so many religious leaders, in his book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, the Dalai Lama appropriately shows one of the great differences between Buddhism and most Western religions by championing good ideas because they are good, not because we have been commanded to do them. He explains why he believes that these things are good for us, for the rest of the world, and why other things are not.

He explicitly is not attempting to win converts to Buddhism. Instead he seems to want to help all of us to benefit from some of its important observations about the world we live in, and how we can best live in and improve it, no matter what our views on religion may be. He simply conveys what he finds to be the best ethical ideas in a secular rather than religious framework.

Although he does show his respect for other religious traditions, given the nature of this book he primarily focuses on practical applications, real effects, and what we know of the science behind our ethical (and un-ethical) desires and actions.

To be sure, many different pieces of this book could be filled out into even longer books by themselves, so this should not be seen as the single go-to book for all ethical questions. Rather it is a book which the non-religious may benefit from by taking its good advice, and perhaps also gaining insight into their own ethical motivations and those of others, and it may also aid the religious in understanding that it is possible, and good, for all of us to follow the same basic ethical guidelines. Guidelines that don’t strictly adhere to or contradict any religious tradition, but which all believers and non-believers alike can agree on, if they are thoughtful and honest with themselves.

Rather than being an extremely in depth exploration of all ethical issues, this is a good introduction to secular ethics through the lenses of eastern philosophy and science; the lenses worn for a lifetime by its author.

There are certain things which I disagree with him on, such as the degree of difference between humans minds and those of other animals, probably stemming from a lack of extensive experience with them, and he seems to believe that there is a primarily good nature in all major religions. I can understand why someone, particularly someone in his position, might see things that way, but I do not share that view.

I do not doubt that the original believers in (if not always the creators of) almost all religions had good intentions and intended to produce something with a good nature, but every one of them was a fallible and (on a cosmic scale) very ignorant person, as we all are. Good intentions are great but when, by your own doing or that of others, negative and even dangerous ideas creep into the works, they can be every bit as much a negative force as the good parts are positive. Even worse, in many religions there is no way to ever truly remove such bad ideas…but I digress.

Fortunately the religious content of this book primarily consists of mentions of characters from the mythology of different religions, which may help to illustrate certain points to the people who know the stories, and occasional tips for believers in certain religions (or no religion). For example when discussing how to meditate, he explains how it is traditionally done, but also suggests that some religious people may be more comfortable or put into the correct frame of mind more easily by kneeling.

None of this is intended to dissuade anyone from reading the book. In fact I highly recommend it. It is simply a recognition that no one is an expert in every area, and that (as should probably be expected), the Dalai Lama’s writing is inclusive of all people, with and without faith, and despite the secular foundation of this book, it does not oppose religion – it just shows that it isn’t a necessity in building an ethical society.

Book Review: “Who Will Rise Up” Part III (Conclusion)

He quotes Dave Gross from a February, 1991 article in the Mustang Daily:

And nobody can argue that it doesn’t work. The crowds he gathers are as angry, rude and ill-behaved as any mob that ever vilified any prophet. And so later in his speech, when he talks about how today’s students are obnoxious and have no morals…well, you can’t really argue. (p. 142.)

Yes you can. Anyone who’s taken a first year sociology class or any social statistics knows that they’re looking at a stacked deck when they regard the group that remains. We’re not seeing a truly random cross-section of student culture; we’re observing a carefully sieved and weighed slice promoted by the very behaviors previously described in the article—in fact Mr. Gross points it out for everyone by stating, “And nobody can argue that it doesn’t work.” That’s correct: It worked to gather an angry crowd of people, insulted by Jed; not a statistically significant population that properly reflects the entire student body to support that last assertion.

A multiple of chapters is dedicated to family life, one entirely to Cindy, his wife, and how women should submit themselves to men. “I often say on campus that no matter how much she denies or fights it, every woman has a God-given desire to marry and bear children for a man who will lovingly rule over her.” (p. 167.) That chapter continues into narratives describing the conception and birth of two of his daughters and their place in his campus-to-campus ministry at early ages.

When he reaches childhood education, Jed would like everyone to know that the establishment of public schools by the state is taken directly from communism—“It is not the proper function of the state to provide education. ‘Free education for all children in public schools,’ is the tenth point of The Communist Manifesto. When the state controls education, it controls our children and our future.” (p. 178.) He then fails to source his claim or demonstrate evidence; the connection to The Communist Manifesto is not evidence because it’s a perfect invocation of a fallacy by appeal to spite. He appeals to the emotions of the audience via connecting public education to communism but fails to draw any actual connection with the manifesto to our incarnation of public education; and he even fails to source exactly why anyone should care other than because people of his era don’t like communism. Furthermore, Just because there are public schools does not prevent people from putting children in private schools; and it certainly does not prevent them from supplementing education at home.

Pastor Glen concludes, “The human eye is so complicated that it can function on as an integrated unit. Which means it’s scientifically impossible for the human eye to evolve piecemeal, as natural selection requires, because the eye is totally useless unless fully developed. (Remember, natural selection is supposed to cancel out useless organs and appendages!) Indeed, such sophisticated design is itself powerful evidence that there must be a designer. So the Bible looks better than evolution when It says man was made by God! (p. 266.)

Yes. He went there. I understand that this book was apparently written in 1995, but for someone with a college education, Jed certainly doesn’t do his research before parroting what other people say. Fortunately for us we do have a number of resources at our disposal to readily show us that most claims of irreducibly complex systems are simply thinly veiled arguments from ignorance.[1] That, in fact, there are extremely plausible pathways that the eye could have evolved visible in extant versions of eyes in a multitude of differing animals.[2] Brother Jed does like to toe the party line of “evolution is incorrect and a lie,” but when it comes down to actually presenting any case for it he doesn’t go the extra mile, let alone the first inch.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I’d say that most people won’t be interested in reading this book unless they’re looking for a biography of George Smock. It does that quite tidily, but skipping through the terribly formatted Bible quotes, and trying to navigate the irrelevant preachy segments is a little bit tedious. The table of contents certainly gives a reasonable road map for avoiding sections of the book that aren’t anything narrative and are only finger pointing.

The past narratives were probably the best part of the entire work; followed by the unintentional eye roll inducing humor of the parables like The Five Dormies. (p. 110-113.) Perhaps there’s some useful information about Brother Jed’s psychology in the other sections, but for anyone looking for substance will find themselves grasping at smoke.

Come to this book for the history, the narrative, and the pictures—and there’s many pictures. In the midst of the book, split between two sections, are select photographs from Jed’s preaching campaign trail. They create an interesting aperture into the past.

The life and times of Brother Jed.

Now close the book.

Part I | Part II | Part III


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreducible_complexity#Reducibility_of_.22irreducible.22_systems
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_the_eye

 

 

Book Review: “Who Will Rise Up” Part II

Don’t look now, but Jed’s antiquated sexism is showing. Sure, he spends some time trying to rebut this before the fact in a previous chapter in a section called “Politically Correct” but even that reeked of sniggering gesticulation (p. 106-107). Readers might as well re-title that entire section “We Saw What You Did There.” Jed basically goes on about how the Political Correctness movement (which actually has nothing to do with these labels) could get people wrongfully labeled as homophobic or sexist for showing disagreement with mainstream mores. Well, okay, we can see that. Disagree with affirmative action and possibly get wrongfully labeled a racist. Display old fashioned traditional sensibilities with women and potentially get called sexist.

Many girls walk around campus braless and, on numerous occasions, to the delight of the boys, they have flashed their bare breasts toward me. No wonder there are so many rapes on college campuses. Those girls walking and jogging around campus with their shorts so short that their buttocks hang out are just asking for it. They might as well have a sign on their back saying, “Rape me, rape me, rape me.” (p. 114.)

Then, of course, there’s blatant showboating sexism. This, right after making craven veiled claims that his god “may be” condemning women to mastectomies and hysterectomies because of what he observes as today’s feminine immorality (p. 113).

“Masturbation is one of the first expressions of lust. Your masturbator of today is very likely to be your homosexual of tomorrow. Your homosexual of tomorrow could be your psychology professor of the next day. In fact, universities are graduating more queers than Ph.D’s.” (p 117.) Okay. So what? Jed certainly goes out of his way not to cite any sources, but it strikes me that this drippy “very likely” and “could be” language is just to cover up the baseless assertions that he’s trying to make. Although, I think that per capita a university must be graduating more homosexuals than Ph.Ds simply because of the sheer rarity of Ph.Ds and that—if a Ph.D is not statistically connected to homosexuality—there are therefore Ph.D graduates who are also homosexual. This entire paragraph was a childish appeal to ridicule.

Once again, Jed’s cherry picking reappears—this time in the reverse direction—he retells the story of Lot, instead of holding Lot on a pedestal, he’s attacking the people of Sodom. So now he brings up the rest of the story. “Lot had the same attitude, and he was vexed to the point of offering his own virgin daughters to a gang of sodomites.” (p. 118). This is part of the same story which Jed earlier used as an example of the Sodomites telling Lot not judge them; he portrayed the story as part of his illustration on using morals to judge behavior. This is Lot, after all, the only “good man” in all of Sodom and Gomorrah.

After further bad rhetoric and some poorly narrated stories about why he believes homosexuality is bad, Jed moves onto condoms. Here he has managed to cross the threshold from gibbering kook to outright jackass liar. “The AIDS virus is fifty times smaller than the tiniest pores of a latex condom. Using a condom to prevent AIDS is like using a tennis racquet to return B-B pellets.” (p. 122). This particular line of gibberish is brought to you not by a real misunderstanding of science done by the Center for Disease Control on the matter, but instead it’s a deliberately deceitful bit of propaganda forwarded by evangelists in 3rd world countries like Africa to preach against condoms—worsening the already horrible HIV epidemic in such places. George Smock is a reprehensible asshole for reprinting this lie.

“Most students may not realize that, when they use drugs, they are practicing sorcery. Sorcery comes from the Greek word ‘pharmakeia,’ which in English would be ‘pharmacy’ or ‘drugs.’ Anyone using drugs illicitly is practicing sorcery. ” (p. 124.) Firstly, this is a fallacy by etymology—secondly, he’s wrong: E. Sorcery comes from L. sors/sortis: fate, oracle. Perhaps he was confused by the meaning of AG. pharmakis or witch. Maybe he should have claimed instead, following etymology, that drug users were practicing witchcraft.

Part I | Part II | Part III

Book Review: “Who Will Rise Up?” Part I

Like most autobiographies, Who Will Rise Up? by George “Jed” Smock is a self-important narrative that smacks of purple prose sporting overwrought acclaims to his own prowess and condemnation of exaggerated villainy in the world. The strange bias of his writing is steeped in most paragraphs, any number of which take swipes at his old life. He also intersperses his text with Bible verses, which, instead of using italics for emphasis, he bolds so that they break up the narrative and legibility of the text.

The title of his work comes from the Bible Psalm 94:16, “Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?”

If Jed’s theatrics on campus are any indication he certainly thinks romantically about his past experiences, so it is difficult to separate fact from silvery fiction in his book. Fun sections come out hither and yon when he snidely chuckles about how he can exorcize demons from people. One event happened on a college campus when he shouted in “Latin” at a man assaulting a woman—to which the man allegedly reacted by becoming docile, said “Okay,” and then left. (p. 70-71). Another account didn’t actually manage anything like expelling a demon. Instead he lay hands on a drunken man while in jail and shouted at him, startling the man awake. Jed calls the drunk man a “wino” in his prose. The assault, combined with him beginning to preach loudly at others in the jail cell with him, led the jailers to put him into his own cell (p. 87).

He has been the subject of multiple civil rights violations in regards to free speech on public property; however Jed doesn’t care about civil rights as much as he does spreading his own word. He capriciously condemns those who would defend his own right to speak freely and fails repeatedly to hold up his own civic responsibility when he feels like he’s “saved enough souls.” A great deal of his vituperative speech is directed against the culture that would stand with him in opposition to the sort of bad behavior of being arrested for speaking publicly. He will toe the line to get wrongfully arrested; but rarely follows through after the fact.

Like a lot of others like him, he also totally ignores or derides civil rights when they don’t agree with his agenda. He takes advantage of them when they’re in his favor, martyrs himself for them when it affects his freedom of speech; but when it comes to opening freedom of religion and speech to others he quickly shuts up or claims incredulity. In one example he is upset that chapel services and instruction had become optional—as if Christianity is the only proper and right religion to speak on campuses—and then decried this as a deathblow (p. 102). As if college students shouldn’t have a choice as to whether they’re going to listen to him or not; he espouses this while only a few chapters earlier he likes to laud himself for how many people “Didn’t have to stop and listen to him, but did anyway.”

“They disdain the one Book [sic] that unites races, ages, ethnic groups and economic classes into a common purpose.” (p. 106-107). We have to assume he means the Bible when he says “Book,” but really this book is also the origin of their god commanding the murder and genocide of multiple groups who were not the chosen people. So much for uniting ethnic groups; this book has been the basis of a multitude of atrocities based on these commands. The above quote is a common denominator of Jed’s style of cherry picking Christian mythology. In an earlier chapter he retells the story of Lot and the angels, only to leave out how Lot offered his daughters to the mob that came calling lustfully for the angels (presumably so that the mob would rape his daughters instead of the angels.)

Part I | Part II | Part III

“Expelled” Movie Review

I want to start off by saying that I really like Ben Stein and his work in the entertainment industry. I’ve always seen him as smart and fair-minded, even when our political views diverge. I respect a lot of his actions and opinions on a lot of things. However, I feel that his loyalties and allegiances cloud his rational judgment, especially when issues like genocide and abortion arise. This is obviously a painful subject for him, but I feel that this movie, like some other of his opinions, are ruled by emotion and not evidence. I still like him, even if I disagree with his stance on evolution. He’s as human and imperfect as anyone. We should understand his bias and try to glean some kind of understanding from his opinions.

Before watching “Expelled” I did encounter some hype for this movie, and due to my respect for Ben Stein I wanted to give it a fair review. I was keenly interested in the existence of intolerance and persecution from the know-it alls in charge – mainstream getting it wrong. This movie has been portrayed as being something to that effect, putting Stein et al. in the same vein as Alfred Wegener and his then-ridiculed hypothesis of continental drift, later to form the core of plate tectonics. Unfortunately, “Expelled” is nothing of the sort. It is a highly biased piece of propaganda that does nothing more than (try) to plant a seed of doubt with very little science to substantiate it. Apparently the seed is all that is needed and these ideas have taken root in the minds of many who are now thoroughly convinced that evil science has it all wrong.

You\'re like part of the family, Doctor!

In short, the movie “Expelled” fits the meaning of propaganda perfectly.

propaganda – [prop-uh-gan-duh]

  • information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
  • the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.
  • the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement.

Propaganda can either be true or false; the intent is to spread information. In this case, the documentary wants to tell you how true believers of intelligent design have been unfairly maligned and vilified for expressing alternative views within the hallows of schools and scientific institutions. It does this. It does not, however, tell you why intelligent design is a viable theory. It proposes 1) that people are being unfairly treated (with no evidence) and 2) not believing in god makes you just like Hitler (again with no evidence).

Right away we are exposed to Godwin’s law as secularist scientists are compared to Nazi Germany and concludes with “Darwinian atheism” being the inspiration for Hitler’s cruel acts. One minute in, and Stein loses.

The entire film plays out as a David and Goliath story. Science is the giant, arrogant and cruel, who tries to exterminate the Davids within. By their telling, Big Science suppresses ID in a ruthless, systematic way and advises everyone to keep quiet about their beliefs. Branded intellectual terrorists, these “free thinkers” can martyr themselves or stay silent. These revolutionists must throw out the tainted Darwinist tea in justified, righteous protest of scientific imperialism.

By this time, I understand their point: thinking people, scientists themselves, are being pushed around because they harbor an unpopular theory. I should point out, though, that this isn’t actually the case either – much of what they claim is blatantly false. Now as I watch more of the same, halfway into the documentary, I’m expecting them to blow me away with the enormous mountain of evidence back up the theory of intelligent design. Apparently, this would have to wait as we hear how evolutionary theory is simply “a mess” because nobody has pinpointed the moment nor mechanism of the creation of life, much less the universe. Oh, foolish science. You can do nothing that religion can’t best.

But this isn’t about religion, they are quick to point out. Intelligent Design is NOT about religion. It is about rational, evidence-based science and free thought. But first, more Nazi imagery, and the movie continues to degrade into a slurry of mixed ideologies and propaganda.

What we find, shockingly, is that science is covering up for a greater conspiracy: hippies. With their free love and protests!

Panspermia? Ridiculous. Big Bang? Preposterous. But now THIS theory of a Creator that preexisted and created life on earth is science. Of course, whether or not you want to call that Creator “God” is a religious debate that clearly has no place in science. But since we are on the subject of religion, let’s look what can happen if you don’t believe in god, demonstrated with a simple equation:

Evolution = no meaning in life + no hope + no ethics = Hitler

Evolution leads to atheism, and atheism leads to depression so in the words of Barney Fife, we gotta nip it in the bud. We’ll neglect to mention anything about how religion has inspired evil acts. And let’s throw in the evils of abortion because Ben Stein hates abortion even more than atheism.

Nip it in the bud!

Again and again they maintain that the theory of evolution is falling apart. At no time do they present any evidence to the failings of evolutionary theory, except to say that it seems unlikely. Their only concern is to tell the world how unfairly these people have been treated because of their deeply-held (religious) convictions. Much like the poor UFO believers who are scorned and ridiculed.

Most of the interviews were cherry picked for the best presentation for ID (that’s why nothing is really said about ID and concentrates on the politicking) and the worst from skeptics and atheists. The interview with Richard Dawkins was really bad. I don’t know if he just cracked under presssure, or if they used “tricksy editing” or both. Either way, Dawkins needs to up his game. He’s more of a presenter than a debater, while Stein’s been at the showbiz thing for a long time and is used to being in front of a camera. Stein comes off as “Why you gotta be such a downer and ruin it for the rest of us?” – as if this is the goal of Dawkin’s work.

“Expelled” doesn’t give you any real information and it unfairly presents these non-issues as if they were real threats to education. It attacks science for being science – the quest to find answers. It’s not a failure or a weakness in science to say that you don’t know all the answers. What is wrong is to start out with a premise and to seek to find “facts” that support this foregone conclusion. Scientists don’t start the day saying “How can I dispute a divine creator today? What evidence can I distort to prove my atheist agenda?” It’s fine if they see god or a supreme being in their work – they are entitled to their beliefs. But these beliefs shouldn’t guide their hands.

The facts are, “Expelled” doesn’t offer a shred of evidence to support ID. So why should it be treated as a plausible alternative to evolutionary theory? Because Ben Stein saw an area to exploit in a documentary that pushes his personal agenda. Maybe next time he’ll push for astrology, numerology and alchemy to get their fair share in the classroom.

Who Would Jesus Shoot? UN Peacekeepers!

Left Behind: Eternal Forces

“Praise the Lord!” they shout as the vile UN forces are ground under the treads of Jesus’ own tank brigade beneath a large ad for Dell computers plastered on an in-game billboard.

We’ve all been searching for a game where you can play as a group of militant Christian evangelists fighting the evil forces of Secularism, and we’ve finally found it. Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a game where the UN and its Antichrist leader Nicholae Carpathia (which must be pronounced Niiiiiic-ko-lie Kar-PAAAAAAA-thee-uh to obtain its full amusement factor) are vilified along with all non-Christians, education and rock music. If it weren’t a video game itself, Left Behind would almost certainly have included them in its list of the forces of evil as well.

Set in the early aftermath of “The Rapture”, an event in which some Christians believe that they will be instantly transported to Heaven before the world is thrown into chaos by the Antichrist, Left Behind starts with a premise that at least some segment of the gaming world could get behind.

The real world counterparts of the game villain “Secularists’” on the other hand, while they may think that the idea of a game world where all of the evangelical Christians suddenly disappear from the face of the planet sounds fun, will quickly be disappointed when they find out the evangelicals still manage to preach at you from The Great Beyond, and the goal of the game is actually turning into them!

You use your “Recruiter” units to raise the “Spirit Level” of neutral characters until they are converted. Trying to thwart your efforts are the members of the evil “Global Community” which consists of such vile beings as “Rock Stars” who play ungodly music, “Secularists” who specialize in deception and “Cult Leaders” who, along with many other evil units, are trained in dreaded “Colleges”.

Murdering unbelievers along with other atrocities such as seeing secularist propaganda and listening to rock music can lower your units’ “Spirit Levels” until they lose faith and switch sides. Fortunately, as in real life, there is a simple cure for all ills: prayer.

Whether you’ve heard a song that doesn’t glorify God, or you’ve merely shot a dozen people in their evil Secularist faces, prayer can bring your “Spirit Level” back up and keep you from losing faith.

It’s interesting that the performers of the game’s own Christian Rock music are not vilified along with other Rock Stars. Perhaps they managed to escape the malevolent clutches of the evil education system unscathed by college?

One of the most disturbing things about this game is that while it portrays the Christian Tribulation Forces as good in their ceaseless efforts to convert or kill the unbelievers, it shows musicians and unbelievers as forces of evil, even aligning them with cult leaders! Since when are “secularists” on the same side as cult leaders? Apparently since the poor martyr complex ridden evangelicals decided that life is just one big fight pitting Real Christians against Everyone Else.

Back in the game, God’s holy bullets rip through the bodies of the Global Community Peacekeepers (UN Peacekeeper stand-ins) as “Amazing Grace” plays in the background and the Tribulation Forces take down another group of unbelievers in the name of the Lord. This mind-bogglingly strange dichotomy is taken from the second official trailer for the game, so the sickness of this pairing is apparently lost on them.

In a vain attempt to make these battle scenes more palatable, the game’s designers chose to make it blood free. Sure, you can kill tons of people, but your poor little eyes are perfectly protected from the real problem with violence; the blood. Apparently it’s not that whole “killing” thing that’s a problem, just seeing the results.

At least the game won’t let you mow down groups of neutral people — until they decide to oppose you that is. Then they’re as bad as any lying Secularist pig and they deserve to be burned at the stake. If only the game’s designers had thought to include an Inquisition weapon set.

Left Behind II

Not content to sit on its laurels (such as they may be), Left Behind Games is hard at work on a sequel to its first multi-million dollar losing flop.

As it is likely to be another colossal failure, we should lend them our full support in its development. If the Left Behind publishers continue to bleed themselves dry with one financial blunder after another, we won’t be subjected to their garbage for much longer.

Unfortunately for Left Behind Games, they were unable to hide the blood pouring out of the gaping wounds in the game at launch. They have since released a patch that supposedly addresses at least the most egregious of the game’s bugs and faults, but one has to wonder, if God blesses endeavors He supports and curses those he dislikes, then perhaps this is a game that God doesn’t want us to play?

Despite Left Behind Games’ attempts at intimidating people through legal threats into not criticizing their prodigious flop of a game, major review sites kept their criticisms and low ratings up, which is probably a major reason for the multi-million dollar loss on this steaming pile of “How Not to Make a Game.”

Unless you’re in the mood for a buggy, preachy game of Christian Jihad, Left Behind: Eternal Forces is a good game to leave behind.