Friday, 31 July 2015

Extraterrestrial Jesus

So in the past week, there has been quite a bit of excitement after the discovery of Kepler-452b (aka Earth 2.0) was announced. The most interesting discussion for me was Benjamin L. Corey's response to Jeff Schweitzer's claim that the existence of alien life would spell the end of religion. Ben refutes Schweitzer pretty comprehensively, so I'm not going to take too much time on that, but the topic did leave me absolutely fascinated with all the questions it would open up.


As Corey shows in his response, I think that Schweitzer's main issue is that he picked the wrong proof to base his article around, mainly because he seems to believe that every Christian (and religious person for that matter) is a young earth creationist. This is already a rather poor "proof" to base a whole opinion around though, because it has already been long established that you can be Christian without taking the creation account literally. It's also rather silly to insist that, because the Bible never mentions extraterrestrial life, then therefore the Bible is wrong if they are discovered. I assume the logic of this notion is that Schweitzer can't understand why God would hide knowledge from us, but this just seems like a poor assumption to me. Considering that nearly everything in the Bible was written to, and about, a specific time, place and peoples, why the heck would they mention "oh yeah, by the way, there are aliens out there too. Have fun!"

While Schweitzer's article is fundamentally flawed, that's not to say that the topic is not entirely without merit. While I sincerely doubt that alien life will spell the end of religion, it would certainly cause a shift in some traditional dogma and cause a small percentage of religious people to abandon their faith. For example, young earth creationism would be dealt a major blow and would become even more of a joke than it already is (and yet, despite Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research stating that alien life is impossible within a creationist's belief system, they will definitely change their tunes to save face). This, of course, doesn't even take into account all the people who will ignore or deny these discoveries.


Personally, I think Schweitzer would have been far better served if he had tackled his thesis by asking theological questions about the impact alien life would have on religion, because I believe this is where peoples' faith will be tested the most (since I understand it the best, I'll focus on the impacts on Christianity in particular though). For example, if we discover an intelligent species, then are they capable of attaining salvation (aka, did Jesus die for the aliens too)? Or what if we discover an intelligent alien species which has very similar Christ-like narratives - would this mean that God's son had to come and die multiple times for each species? And if not, then how much sense does it make for Jesus to only come to one life-bearing planet and leave all the others in the dark (this, of course, assumes that all of creation is sinful)? If all discovered species have animal-level intelligence, then can we just ignore them in terms of their theological impact? Will alien life debunk Christian dogma, or are our beliefs meant to be tied to humans and our planet only? Perhaps most dangerous is the following question that all Christians will have to ask themselves: am I just twisting my beliefs so that I don't have to deny them?

In any case, I think that these sorts of theological/philosophical issues would be far more likely to lead people out of religion if we contact alien life, rather than any supposed "incompatibilities" with the Bible and extraterrestrial life. I do find it quite interesting though that, in the past 10-15 years, belief in alien life has gone from being a crackpot idea to a very plausible possibility (that said, believing that Earth has been visited by alien life is in a whole other league - there's a big difference between probability and an unverifiable lack of concrete evidence). Of course, just like how these attitudes have adapted over time, the religious response will surely evolve and become more sophisticated as we inch closer and closer to the possibility of extraterrestrial contact. With any luck, Christianity will be progressive enough to be open to the possibility when the time comes and have the proper responses to deal with it.

Oh, but screw the young earth creationists. They've had it coming for a long time.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 29/07/2015


So I'm trying something a little different this week and going with a bit of a loose theme in my song selection... I'll let you figure it out, because it should be pretty obvious when you listen to them. First up is "Just One Dance" by Caro Emerald from Deleted Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor. This might just be the absolute best Caro Emerald song, and I'm actually kind of surprised that I like it so much. I'm usually not a huge pop music fan, but I can see this slotting into a Top 40 playlist very easily. The song is just really catchy, with Caro's fantastic singing voice and extremely classy style (in spite of the decidedly seedy subject matter) leading the way.


Second this week is "Maybellene i Hofteholder" by Volbeat from Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood. Guitar Gangsters... might just be my favourite Volbeat album, and "Maybellene i Hofteholder" is definitely my favourite song from it. Besides sounding awesome, the lyrics are also really interesting and tragic, in a kind of a strangely pathetic way. The song is told from the perspective of a creepy old bastard who becomes obsessively infatuated over an exotic dancer at the local club, Maybellene. When he tries to tell her how he feels, she rebuffs him. He doesn't take this particularly well, and he chases her back to her apartment, where she locks him out. In desperation, he sets a fire to try to smoke her out of the house, but accidentally ends up burning down her home and kills her in the process. For whatever reason, the fact that the main character is such an obvious idiot endears me to this song quite a bit. Perhaps it is because it's such an unorthodox, self-aware, tongue-in-cheek "love" song.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Album Review: Laniakea (2015)

So I was very excited the other day when I saw that my copy of Laniakea by Sovereign Council had arrived (and earlier than I had expected no less)! I have written in the past about how excited I was for this album, so I busted it out and have listened to it a few times now. Unfortunately, I'm not a very learned music reviewer, so this will probably be more impressionistic and less in-depth than my movie or video game reviews (not to mention that music might be the most subjective medium to attempt to review), but I'm going to try to tackle this anyway.


If you're familiar with Sovereign Council's debut album, New Reign, then the first thing that will probably strike you about Laniakea is just how ambitious it is. It's obvious the band decided to step things up and pour their souls into this release, because it really shows in basically every facet of the production. This shows perhaps most clearly in the lyrics. Most of the songs on Laniakea follow a non-traditional structure (as in, they do not feature rhyming couplets and don't necessarily follow the verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus structure that typifies most popular forms of music). While the lyrics were the sole weak point on New Reign, the songwriting has been stepped up quite significantly, and the non-traditional structure works quite well. There are still a couple awkward moments (most notably on "The Human Condition", where the line "I only see one constant failure to perfect" doesn't flow very well and makes the song stutter for a moment), but these are just as often offset by some very cool songwriting ("Decima" features the epic repeated verse "it's the only way to enjoy the slow ride into the afterlife", which just makes me want to sing along). In addition, Laniakea also happens to be a concept album, a feature which I did not expect going in. This cohesion actually makes the individual songs feel more meaningful. I'm usually pretty bad at deciphering concept albums, but on a very basic level, the album seems to follow the life of a man who seeks knowledge and wants to overcome human weakness - particularly the ultimate equalizer, death. To that end, the album remains quite consistent and slots into the power metal genre very comfortably.

While ambitious is the buzzword that I'd say most clearly typifies Laniakea, Sovereign Council have also clearly matured since New Reign, and wisely keep themselves from overstuffing the album in the pursuit of ambition. They have refined their sound in a very deliberate manner, making Laniakea's sound feel very polished and cohesive, while also allowing for some diversity to keep things fresh from song to song. While the album features 14 tracks, none of them feel like filler. The vocals have also gotten far more diverse. There is far more interplay between Alex and Lisa now, and when they join together in vocal harmony, we get some of the absolute most powerful moments on the album. Also, I have to give a shoutout to whoever the band member is doing the death growls (I regret that I don't know who it is), they really punctuate the lyrics whenever they appear, particularly on "Nona".

As for some track highlights, the album opens with "Rise", which de-emphasizes the vocals in favour of showing off the expertise of the musicians and the guest violins. It's a good preview of the rest of the album to come. "The Burden of Life" is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album, with the vocal harmonies of Alex and Lisa mixing with the death growls to create a very pleasing sound. "The Human Condition" is, I think, meant to be the "Bring It Down" moment on this album, and is probably the most relentlessly heavy and fast-tempo song on the album, while also tackling some pretty interesting themes. However, as far as I'm concerned, the real crown jewel of the album is the trifecta of "Morta", "Nona" and "Decima". While they are technically 3 separate tracks, as far as I am concerned they should be viewed as a single 10-minute epic. "Morta" opens slowly, building up appropriately to make the heavy stuff later more effective, while the death growls on "Nona" are contrasted fantastically with Lisa's much softer vocals. Finally, "Decima" just blows the doors right off as the vocals and music get raised to equal prominence and we get a passionate and aggressive conclusion.

All-in-all, if you have any interest in hard rock or metal music and are in the market for something distinctly ambitious, I recommend giving Laniakea a look. While there is probably still some room for improvement in the future, Sovereign Council has poured their all into creating a really professional product, and the results do not disappoint.

8/10

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Quick Fix: James Bond Will Return...

Way back in my very first post on this blog, I wrote up a short article about how Skyfall killed the "James Bond is a code name" fan theory and basically destroyed any chance of seeing Idris Elba as Bond without breaking with the newly established canon. However, with the Spectre trailer releasing yesterday, it seems like an appropriate time for me to lay down the speculation I have had to legitimize both sides of this argument and make way for far more inclusivity in the Bond franchise from here onward.


Since they very rarely brought up any sense of continuity, the previous James Bond films were able to get away with their changing actors and tones with little suspension of disbelief required. This is where the code name theory came from - each "James Bond" was simply filling in a code name when they were promoted to the position of 007. This theory made a lot of sense and, up until Skyfall, it looked like the most reasonable way to explain why we could have the same M in the Brosnan era and the "origin story" Casino Royale. However, Skyfall unexpectedly grounded the current 007 in a very specific place and time and established pretty conclusively that this Bond actually is named "James Bond". It's pretty well known that Daniel Craig is contracted for 1 more James Bond film after Spectre, but after that whoever follows up him is going to have to figure out some way to keep the narrative intact (while simultaneously having some pretty big shoes to fill in). However, I think that there is a perfect solution that should be pretty easy to incorporate into Bond 25 which will make the series so much more interesting in the future.

If I was in charge of writing Bond 25, I would have the film end with Craig-era Bond dying. Yes, for real, especially because this is a fate that has been foreshadowed throughout his tenure, and would fit his arc pretty well (or, if we can't have him die, then at least have him fake it for good). As a result, M declares that from this point forward, all agents with the 007 rank will be known by the code name "James Bond", in honour of their greatest fallen agent. It could even end with the next James Bond being introduced if they have them cast by then, similar to what they did with Ralph Fiennes' M.


This proposed ending would be perfect for a number of reasons. First of all, it would shake up the series quite a bit and probably break the Internet if they kept it secret. Secondly, it would keep the character development that has been built up throughout the Craig era intact, while also paving the way for future James Bond films to do something different. Thirdly, making the code name theory official opens up the Bond series to so many possibilities. There have been rumblings about casting Idris Elba as Craig's follow-up for years, and serious discussions have been brought forth even within Sony Pictures. Having Bond's character rooted in a very specific person kind of ruins this possibility, and you know that if they went forward with it then there'd be lots of asshats saying that Bond is white and therefore can't be played by a black man. However, if this development went forward and the code name theory became canon, then I imagine that significantly more people would be accepting of non-traditional Bond portrayals. Suddenly, it wouldn't feel out of character for the new Bond to be non-white, or asexual, or less serious... hell, we might even see a female Bond someday if this were implemented. The possibilities are endless, and I'm going to be absolutely grieved if EON productions don't go forward with this proposed ending. It just seems to perfect to me and sets up Bond's future to go forward indefinitely.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 22/07/2015


Starting off this week with something a little different for me, we have "Southern Man" by Neil Young from After the Gold Rush. Considering that my last post was all about the current Confederate Flag controversy, I felt that it was an appropriate and timely inclusion. It might also be my favourite Neil Young song (although "Powderfinger" is up there too), and is just such a scathing indictment. It's unfortunate that things haven't gotten much better in the last 35 years...


Moving on to something a tiny bit more upbeat, we have "Paperthin Hymn" by Anberlin from Never Take Friendship Personal. I have always considered NTFP to be one of Anberlin's lesser albums, so I actually don't listen to it all that often. However, I listened to a live version of this album recently and it reinvigorated my feelings towards this album and "Paperthin Hymn" in particular. That said, I still think it's one of their weaker albums, but the fact that I quite enjoy NTFP just shows how solid their entire catalogue is. I'm still pretty sore about the shitty weather that caused them to cancel their last live show in Toronto though...

Geez, all of that and I haven't even gotten to the song itself yet. Lyrically, it's very well-written and sombre. It deals with the sense of loss, and apparently it was written as a response by lead guitarist, Joey Milligan, to the death of his sister (hey, I did say it was only a tiny bit more upbeat).

Friday, 17 July 2015

Quick Fix: The Times They Are a Changin'

All the fuss about the Confederate flag seems to have been getting peoples' noses out of joint. Even some people who agree the Confederate flag is a negative symbol and supported that it should be taken down are getting annoyed as the story progresses, with people now getting pressured to stop displaying the Confederate flag in public settings. While there has been some overreaction in regards to the flag on both sides (banning iPhone games that depict it, repainting the General Lee, etc), I would hope that most level-headed people would realize that the flag carries some really negative connotations. In general, people just hate being told what they can and cannot do, especially if those things were absolutely fine a few years earlier (this is a key reason why there is often such a huge disconnect between the younger and older generations).


The obvious issue that this way of thinking ignores is that all of human society has been changing in this way and will continue to do so inevitably. Think about it for just a moment - your sense of what a "normal" society and belief system is would have been completely foreign to your grandparents. At some point we're all going to find ourselves becoming the angry, racist grandparent* at the family Christmas who no one wants to talk to... unless we keep an open mind and are open to change.

There are two ways to react when you find yourself getting left behind by society. One: you let it pass you by, complaining bitterly the entire time, annoying everyone around you, and isolating yourself to avoid the changes. Or, two: keep and open mind, be willing to continue to interact with the world and be open to the possibility of change. I have said in the past that I have changed my views on many things quite significantly over the past few years for the better (politically, philosophically, socially, religiously, etc), and hope to continue to be open to such adaptation in the future.

Just remember, when you see something like the current distaste for the Confederate flag occurring, you're seeing history begin to unfold. All of humanity's biggest social accomplishments have been met with resistance from the status quo, but through chipping away at little things like this ultimately will make society a better place in the future.


For another current example, just look at the current attitude towards Iran. It's totally reasonable to be cautious about the current deal with them, but I think that they have ultimately made the right decision. If we don't establish communication and dependence, then Iran will continue to be seen as our enemy and will have no reason to listen to us. Furthermore, increasing their peoples' prosperity is a good thing - a contented people are a passive people. It's easy to pull people into extremism when they are in a seemingly unjust situation and have little to hold them back... but if they suddenly find themselves with something to lose, then they're going to be far more reserved. It's going to take a willingness from both sides to change though if this is going to all work out, but we might soon be back to the point where we consider Iran an ally in the Middle East again.

Ultimately, what this refusal to change comes down to is a lack of understanding. People didn't want to abolish slavery because they didn't understand that black people were equally human in God's eyes. People didn't understand that women had the same mental capacity as men. People don't understand how awful we have made life for LGBTQ people, that Palestinians are real people and not just some Calvinistic, savage mass spurred on by divine purpose, that racism still is a reality for minorities... but they seem to be coming around to it finally. Keep your beliefs in humility and be willing to at least consider seemingly outlandish views.

*Or, in a modern extrapolation, you will probably be the homophobic, sexist, Islamophobic grandparent embarrassing everyone with your ignorant outbursts.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

IC2S Playlist Update 15/07/2015

You've probably noticed that my writing output has dropped somewhat lately. Honestly, this is partially due to a bit of writer's block - I have been plugging away at a third part of the Christian media industries series for a few weeks now, but I have been coming to the realization that it's basically just a series of rants about aspects of Christian culture that I don't like. If I can't get it to a reasonably objective standpoint, then I'm either going to drop the article entirely, or strip it down to a more essential core.


Anyway, first up this week is "Hard Sun" by Eddie Vedder from the Into the Wild soundtrack. I have been hearing this song on the radio for years now, but it wasn't until the past couple months that I realized that I really liked it. Whenever I hear it, I just love to sing along; it's extremely catchy. I didn't realize it was off the Into the Wild soundtrack though, I would have thought it was significantly older than that. It has been a really long time since I watched Into the Wild, but I quite enjoyed it. It's a rather tragic film where the protagonist thinks that he knows everything and desires existential enlightenment, but fails to see the blessings in front of him until it's far too late. I'd highly recommend it. It also happened to be the first movie I saw with Kristen Stewart, which made me realize that absolutely no one was actually trying in the Twilight movies... not that it matters what I think, the poor girl's career is probably never going to go beyond "awful actress from Twilight".


Secondly, we have "Take the Hill" by Project 86 from their album, Wait for the Siren. I'm starting to get into the point where I'm reusing artists on the playlist, so I figured that I should start with Project 86 since the blog's name comes from one of their songs (not to mention that they're just really freaking awesome as well). "Take the Hill" is the closing track from Wait for the Siren, which is easily one of their top 3 albums. I'd personally argue that "Take the Hill" is one of their best songs, full-stop. It's quite heavy and aggressive, but knows well enough to build up to that payoff. It also has quite an interesting sound - Wait for the Siren was their first independently-produced record, and as a result, was a little more experimental than most of their previous efforts. Throughout the album, they utilize such non-traditional hard rock/metal instruments as the uillean pipes, mandolin and hammer dulcimer. Of course, I have said for many years that Project 86 would be absolutely nothing without Andrew Schwab's poetic lyricism, and this song is characteristically strong in that regard. It uses Project 86's familiar themes of revolution and is just a great culmination to one of their strongest albums. So yeah, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do!