Movie Review: Prince Caspian – by Octavia

prince_caspian-poster2Ooh. It’s Narnia for grown-ups! The kids are older, if as whiny as ever (Edmund is a pleasant exception, for once), and Caspian’s been taking growth hormones. Director Andrew Adamson has sliced out much of the book’s problems – my least favourite, after The Last Battle, Prince Caspian the book begins the character assassination of Susan, signposts Lewis’ desire for the Pevensies to turn into ever-childish Peter Pans (although J.M. Barrie never slaughtered off the Lost Boys, as far as I can recall) and glides over life in a Narnia invaded by foreign oppressors. By cutting out a lot of the waffle, taking a hint from Helm’s Deep by injecting a mid-story assault on the Telmarine castle, and focussing on general slaughter and despair, Adamson has made his film significantly less kid-friendly than his previous effort in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

There’s already a lot of net argument on the changes made, with Lewis purists up in arms against the rest of us – so I’m not going to focus on that, or on the many, many points in the film where you’ll sit up straight and say, “Hey! Did he steal that scene from Peter Jackson?” Instead, I’ll talk about what I went into the film expecting to focus on – albeit somewhat dubiously – Aslan and Susan.

I was actually quite amazed at just how much of a jerk Aslan comes across as in this film. It’s been 1300 years of slaughter and oppression for the resident Narnians, and he’s off twiddling his paws doing goodness knows what. Even when the Kings and Queens are brought back into Narnia via Susan’s lost horn, Aslan continues to wander about the deep forest until a little girl risks her life to ask him really nicely if he’ll come save them all from what is effectively genocide. I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the Narnians, I’d be feeling like there’s maybe a bit of favouritism going on there. One feels quite sympathetic for Nikabrik, the dwarf who tries to resurrect the White Witch on the grounds that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. He does have a point – it only took Aslan 100 years to come along and get rid of her. That’s what… 3 or 4 generations? There’s 1300 years worth of Narnians who would say waiting out the White Witch is a pretty good deal in comparison.

I’ve seen this film a couple of times now, and for all its good points, Lucy gets more and more annoying the more I see of her. All credit to little Georgie Henley for giving a great performance (anyone who remembers the BBC series from their childhood will know how bad it could have been), but she can’t help the prim and self-aggrandising rubbish that is constantly coming out of Lucy’s mouth. The runner-up prize for annoying goes to her repeated insinuations that she’s the only one who actually wants to see Aslan, despite the desperation of her siblings for some sort of guidance and appearance from him. It’s their fault, you see, that they can’t see him. If they’d only want to see him harder, he’d show up. Undoubtedly most annoying utterance, however, is the “I wish you’d all stop acting like grown-ups!” that is lifted straight from the book after, you guessed it, Lucy sees Aslan and no-one else does. In Lucy’s mind (as in Aslan’s and Lewis’, apparently) growing up and behaving like reasonable and rational adults is a bad thing. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ve read The Last Battle and the one thing you never have to do is grow up. It’s all taken care of!

Strangely, the book back-up to Lucy’s argument is removed entirely from the movie version. Getting rid of the age excuse (Peter and Susan have grown too old to return to Narnia) at the end of the film in favour of “Your brother and sister have learned all they can from Narnia” is inconsistent, and also raises the problem of what exactly they’re supposed to have learned. Having talked to several people, none of them can actually come up with these great life lessons Peter and Susan have supposedly imbibed from slaughtering Telmarines and Narnians both. I suppose that you can say that Susan learns to carpe Caspian (and really, who wouldn’t – Ben Barnes has got the standing heroic and looking pretty thing down pat), but anyone who has read The Last Battle knows that Susan’s predilection for the boys is going to get her barred from Narnia in the long run. So the one thing she could be said to have learned is not so hot from the lion’s point of view. Nice one, Aslan.

In a shot which I’m uncertain if Adamson intended (he’s a sneaky bastard if he did), the dwarf Trumpkin kills a wild bear then comments that treating people as dumb animals long enough turns them into, surprisingly, dumb animals. Interestingly, the camera is on Susan as he says this. Film Susan is rather strong on science and rationality (a big change from the books, and she is infinitely more tolerable and sympathetic in the film version) and it’s pretty arguable that her upcoming doubt and rejection of Aslan comes from his treatment of those around him. Expect people to endure in unearned faith against all good sense, and you might find that good sense is the one thing that they actually lose. That, or faith.

In short, if you can stop yourself from comparing Prince Caspian to Lord of the Rings this is actually a much better, darker story than the book or the previous film. And even the religious will find it hard to deny that Aslan comes off as a right pillock. The moral of the story seems, on the surface, to be “Have faith, and everything will be alright”. But practically, the moral that any thinking person will take away is “Have as much faith as you like, but don’t sit on your arse waiting for that faith to mean anything.”

It makes me wonder how the film-makers will interpret The Last Battle, should they ever make it. It’s undoubtedly the most difficult of the seven Narnian books – and absolutely the most off-putting to modern audiences. The film version of Prince Caspian seems to indicate that changes will abound.

Peach Streusel Coffee Cake – by Isolde

This recipe is from a special issue BH&G magazine, “Simply Perfect Holiday Baking.”  It was supposed to be a blueberry coffeecake, but I discovered too late that I was out of blueberries.  Using peaches worked out really well, but if you want to use blueberries, use 2 cups.

And I know calling plain brown sugar “streusel” is weird, but the rest of my family hates nuts, so I just left them out.

peach_coffeecakeStreusel:
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)

Cake:
8 ounces sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups chopped fresh peaches, mixed with 2 tbs flour
Powdered Sugar Icing:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 tsp milk – more as needed

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease, or line with parchment paper, a 9x13x2 baking pan.

Streusel:
Mix brown sugar and nuts.  Set aside.

Cake:
Mix sour cream and baking soda.  Set aside.  Beat butter and sugar together until combined.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add extract and beat until well mixed.  Add flour and baking powder; beat until well mixed.  Add foamy sour cream; beat until well mixed.

Spread half the batter in the pan.  Top with peaches and half the streusel.  Top with remaining batter – I just dropped it in 1/4 cup or so blobs and lightly spread it around. Don’t worry about completely covering the peach layer.  Top with remaining streusel.

Bake in preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The recipe recommended using the toothpick test to make sure it’s done (insert it in the center, and if it comes out clean, it’s done). Let cool.

For the icing, mix all together and drizzle over cake.  Don’t make this until you’re ready to use it, or it will set up.

The Auto-Pygmalion – by Eva Jones

The Auto-Pygmalion and the Search for the Numinous.

I’ve been in many churches, read many religious texts. I’ve even prayed – though I felt like a bit of a fool at the time – just in case there was something there that might answer. And I’ve never felt anything in response. Not a single part of me stirs to organised religion, or to the texts it is based on – indeed the opposite is the case. It is atheism that sparks my emotional response, my rational understanding. The idea that we stand alone, looking into the abyss, and that that is all there is has something terribly attractive about it, emotionally-speaking. It may be bleak, and wintry, and there may be no hope in it, but the feeling it inspires in me is one of empathy and loyalty. I wonder why this is so? It cannot be just because my reason says that it is truth. If anything, it is the emotional attachment to the feelings that the bleakness of atheism can inspire that is my anchor to it. And yet, those who are religious are often so because of feeling rather than reason. They are like me, in their own way, and I don’t know why. Is there an inadequacy within myself that I can’t recognise or relate to what motivates them: their experience of the numinous as interpreted by their faith?

Yet I don’t believe this is the case. I’ve never been religious, was raised in a family without religion, and yet I know the numinous. Ironically, it was C.S. Lewis who showed the way – I say ironically, because I usually find his reasoning limited and inadequate when it comes to religion. But his feelings I can understand. In the book of his childhood, Surprised by Joy, he talks of his experiences reading northern mythology, and how his reactions to it prepared him for his later conversion to Christianity:

yggdrasill“Pure “Northernness” engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity… and almost at the same moment I knew that I had met this before, long, long ago (it hardly seems longer now) in Tegner’s Drapa, that Siegfried (whatever it might be) belonged to the same world as Balder and the sunward-sailing cranes. And with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heart-break, the memory of Joy itself, the knowledge that I had once had what I had now lacked for years, that I was returning at last from exile and desert lands to my own country; and the distance of the Twilight of the Gods, and the distance of my own past Joy, both unattainable, flowed together in a single, unendurable sense of desire and loss, which suddenly became one with the loss of the whole experience, which, as I now stared round that dusty schoolroom like a man recovering from unconsciousness, had already vanished, had eluded me at the very moment when I could first say It is. And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to “have it again” was the supreme and only important object of desire.”

My experience was different from Lewis’. I don’t say that I felt the same thing as he did, but I do recognise his experiences as kin to mine. I never had the childhood memory to forget and then fall back on again. All my experiences have come as an adult, and always from literature – specifically, non-religious literature – or music. It’s rare, but it happens. The literature a reasonable person would expect to find evidence of some sort of spirituality beyond the natural gives me not a shred of emotional response. But the few textual instances that do provoke this response are, as far as I have experienced, limited to the odd, brief passage in fantasy literature – specifically, that literature that resonates with northern mythology.

And welcome as those brief flashes of something beyond what I know to be present are, I find them unsettling.

In normal, everyday environments my atheism functions extremely well. But I would be lying if I said that I didn’t understand the feeling of the numinous, and that I didn’t want to feel it again. If only because to know it and not feel it is becoming unbearable.

Northern mythology tells of a battle called Ragnarök, a final battle where the forces of chaos defeat those or order and cause the destruction of the world. The Völuspá saga tells of the descent into darkness that portends the end, and one of those portents is the monstrous winter – three years of winter without a summer, without sun or warmth. I don’t believe that this is anything more than a story; I don’t have any pagan inclinations. But the metaphor suffices. Lately, I feel as if I have descended into that winter, and I can’t seem to pull myself out.

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It’s true that there’s a history of depression in my family, and that I may just be the next one on the genetic tree to get it. All the symptoms are there. It’s also true that to attribute it to any great crisis in non-faith is maybe being just a little bit melodramatic. Who am I that such a crisis should come to me? But increasingly, that monstrous winter is sinking its claws into me, and there’s no-one to talk to about it. I simply don’t trust anyone I know enough to let them see more than a very carefully constructed shell of how I know I should behave. This is where the internet is helpful, because I don’t know anyone reading this, and anyone reading this will never know me, never meet me, never miss me if I can’t find my way out of the ice, find my own path out of Ragnarök and into renewal.

And also increasingly, I begin to feel as if those momentary, scattered experiences of the numinous are all that is holding me together. Again, that may just be a misinterpretation of an experience, or it may be presumption. But I never felt the isolation I feel now before I began to understand the numinous experientially. If it’s a manifestation of some bizarre brain chemistry, I would like to know so that I can learn to recognise it and live without it – I see no point in fostering a delusion for the sake of leaning on some great universal sympathy that doesn’t actually exist. Better to grow a backbone and face my own Fimbulvetr with a little bit of courage. I would almost prefer this, even though I’m not brave and see not possibility of ever becoming so, because the alternative – that there is a reason for the numinous, and that behind that reason is a rationale for leaving me to feel this alone… that is truly unbearable. How can anyone face that with courage, how can that inspire any sort of faith?

I think a person can only get so lonely before the fear of becoming lonelier fails to instil any terror. At that point, you just have to huddle within yourself like some dumb animal and hope that it passes before doing something not very brave at all, like… well, you can guess, I’m sure.

Except it isn’t passing, I’m not a dumb animal who can wait forever, and I am at the point where loneliness has almost ceased to matter. I want answers, and I want not to have to sit through an unending winter to get them. If only because I don’t believe that I can survive it.

How to continue to live as an atheist while still experiencing the numinous… that’s the kind of road-map I don’t seem to be able to find. So where to from here?

Read more of Eva’s posts at her blog.

Botanical Photos – by SteveF

The Gower

The Gower

Chilterns

Chilterns

Hampstead Heath

Hampstead Heath

Chilterns 2

Chilterns 2

Lake District Bogbean

Lake District Bogbean

My Testimonial; or Why I Don’t Love Jesus – by Alethias

Alethias (otherwise known as Sword of Truth) has kindly agreed to kick off what we hope will be a new regular column here at Nexus: a place to share our stories of deconversion or growing up atheist. In fact, it was his story that was the impetus for our new feature!

It all started on a dark and stormy night…

Well, not necessarily, but I’ve never started a story with that line whether true or not, and it was fun.

I imagine a little back story might be nice so y’all can understand what I’m coming out of.

I grew up in a church of Christ. Notice the lowercase ‘c’ in ‘church’? That isn’t an accident. A very fundamentalist group that makes all sorts of rules that often seem to strike outsiders as just plain weird. With many of them there seems to be no such thing as a rule that is too strict to be worth making; no sunday school or musical instruments in the church service because the new testament doesn’t have them. The list of rules they can come up with just goes on and on.

I spent the first 19 years or so of my life as cofC. I had a fairly strict upbringing, but my parents loved me intensely and I had a happy childhood. I left home when I was 18. I went to a Bible training work and was going to be a cofC preacher (can’t call it pastor, after all, since pastors are ‘elders’ and preachers aren’t elders. Another weird cofC rule). And it had to be a Bible training work and not a college, because that particular cofC thinks it unscriptural to fund colleges from church funds.

I got to about a week away from graduation to be a preacher-boy, and quit. I decided that didn’t really know if I agreed with all of it, and so I felt that I couldn’t morally justify being a preacher of something I didn’t know if I even believed.

I went to church irregularly for a time, and ended up falling in with a group that was into the charismatic stuff. I ended up getting ‘baptized in the spirit’ and speaking in tongues and all that. I loved it. I had a renewed faith in Jesus, and hope in heaven, and a new mission on life.

My parents were of course less than thrilled. I wasn’t that far away from condemning myself to hell in their eyes, if i hadn’t already crossed the line, but they still loved me.

It didn’t take me long, maybe about 3 or 4 years, to become known in the charismatic churches I attended as having prophetic gifting. That is, oftentimes when praying for a particular person, I’d get a sense of what god wanted for them, and I wasn’t shy about speaking it outloud.

In charismatic circles, you are both treated with respect and feared if you can be good at that, and I was terribly good at it. Some people would constantly seek me out for ‘words from the lord’. Others would painstakingly avoid me while being polite for fear of offending me. I liked it, I confess. It gives you a power to influence people that can be both used for good or ill.

A side note: My fan and constant companion thru all this was my wife. I met her at one of the charismatic churches I attended (I regularly attended 2 or three). We fell for each other very fast and married after a year long engagement. It’s weird, but she was oftentimes the skeptic of my ‘prophetic gifting’. It’s strange now that I don’t even believe anymore and she goes to a very popular charismatic church in this town. Ironic.

What did I do with my time? I did all the normal things, but I also went to biker bars and witnessed, and passed out tracts on Friday and Saturday evenings, and passed out tracts and witnessed at rodeos(we lived in Texas), and I preached, and I gave prophecies, and lots of other stuff along that time. I even had a successful ministry for casting demons out of people.

When I hit about 30 or so, I threw Messianic Judaism into the mix. I became very interested in the Jewish roots of christianity and wanted to be part of that.

Every thing was going great. And then my world fell apart.

Lotsa stuff happened in the early and mid 90’s that had a profound impact on how I look at life.

One of my daughters had a window fall out of its frame on top of her. We were living in military housing and the frame of the house had sagged. The window was loose in its frame and just fell. It sliced her back open and the cut came within a millimeter of puncturing her lungs, which probably would have killed her. It was traumatic and really shook me, but I decided that it was God’s mercy that she lived. But it still bothered me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She ended up having a full mastectomy and radiation and chemo, and was proclaimed cancer-free. I decided that it was God’s mercy that she lived, but I was bothered. If God can have mercy for her to live, why can’t he have mercy for her to not get cancer? No good answer for that one, and the question didn’t go away easily.

Over half a million Rwandans were massacred by other Rwandans because they belonged to the wrong tribe, or they were a little too liberal. I saw a picture of the inside of a church with bodies piled up and brown stains all over the church that were the dried blood of the victims. I was horrified. Then it got worse: I learned that the priest and nuns participated in the killing.

So where is God’s mercy in that?

I started having chronic migraines in 1997, and have had them since. sometimes I’ll go a few months without a headache, sometimes I’ll get them every other day for up to months on end. Sometimes I’m not all that good a person, sometimes I’m not all that bad a person. I started thinking “What is God trying to perfect in my by giving me these headaches?”. That progressed to “Wait a minute here. Even if the goal is to perfect me, God is sure pretty damn cold-blooded to do it this way.” That progressed over time to “Exactly why do I want to believe in a God that will do this to me for no apparent reason?” That progressed to “O wait. How is this different than there not even being a God at all?”. I was distinctly scared of going down that path. Remember that I was someone that believed that God talked to him about things. Going through this process of questioning stuff, I started questioning other stuff. Could I really be sure that when I thought I heard God’s voice that it wasn’t me just talking to myself, being crazy? Even though some of my prophecies seemed extraordinary accurate, why did I have to jump to the conclusion that they were accurate because of God? I could think of lots of rational explanations other than God.

My mom’s cancer came back. In fact, it came out that she had bone cancer, and had for years. The breast cancer was real, but it came from the bone cancer. She was in intense excruciating pain pretty constantly for the last several years of her life. My mom and dad were big fans of the book of Job in the Bible. Sorry, but I wasn’t. I, to put it bluntly, fucking hated Job. He was prissy and righteous and got everythign restored and then some. My mom was the saintliest person I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. She suffered excruciating agony for years and died. Um, hello? God? O wait. I remember. You are not really real, are you?

I went from that to, in August of 2003, asking God to reveal himself to me in a way that I couldn’t deny was him. I set a personal time limit on it, and decided that if he revealed himself to me in an undeniable way, I was going to serve him regardless.

That was the last prayer I prayed. I told my wife in January of 2004 that I couldn’t serve a God that didn’t exist. I have gone from the argument from evil to believing science is actually accurate in describing the Theory of Evolution. I have gone from being a libertarian to being a determinist. It is apparent that even though we have a deterministic universe, we have freedom of choice. If you don’t believe me, read Freedom Evolves by Daniel Dennett and see if it doesn’t convince you.

My how things change.

Ina Garten’s Barbecue Sauce – by Isolde

Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) was looking for her perfect barbecue sauce, and ended up combining various types to create this one.  If you’re looking for sweet and spicy, this isn’t it.  It’s quite tangy with a clear tomato flavor, and it works well with many foods.

This makes six cups. If that’s more than you need, you can make a half-batch, or freeze the leftovers in pint-sized canning jars.

bbq21 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup (10 ounces) tomato paste
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large saucepan on low heat, saute the onions and garlic with the vegetable oil for 10 to 15 minutes.  You’re not looking to caramelize the onions – just cook them until they’re soft and translucent.  Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You don’t want it to boil or you’ll end up with a CSI-crime-scene themed stove top.  Don’t ask me how I know this.

Use immediately or store in the refrigerator.

Iris – by Sinister

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