The Intersection of Religion and Reality Examined Through Culture and Art

Francis Schaeffer, in his book titled How Should We Then Live?, has a portion where he describes the control over the thoughts and emotions that the new technology of television and film can have. Throughout the book, Schaeffer is supportive of good art of all types, but he has a special qualifier for television and movies—the editing crew, director, and even the camera angle all factor into creating a certain perception, reaction, and set of feelings in the viewer that may not correspond to fact and reality due to not showing the whole truth or because of purposeful misrepresentation of the truth. Over the course of time, he also worried that this would reshape how Western culture interacts with reality and diminish our understanding of truth and ability to discern truth from error, good from evil, fact from fiction, partially true from totally true, etc. Similarly, ancient philosopher Plato, in his book Republic, has a few portions where he worries that bad art will foster impiety, irreligion, ignorance, and incorrigibility through a manipulation of emotions.
Enter the beautiful movie, The Last Samurai. Edward Zwick directed a technically excellent film, which I have watched numerous times, which no doubt has many truthful elements in it as well as a certain nobility and honor as it pays homage to the positive aspects of the samurai mentality and resolve. When I was younger, at age 20, in the winter of 2003, I saw the film in the theater. I remember thinking, based upon the movie alone, that the traditional samurai and Buddhist culture seemed so much more . . . honorable, peaceful, simple, prosperous, stable, and settled than the Pentecostal–Charismatic Christian culture in which I was raised. This was on the twilight of my days as a lost man and close to the dawning of my Christian conversion, because I became a Christian at age 21 or 22 through a desperate studying of the Holy Scriptures.
Having been a practitioner of Korean and Chinese martial arts for years, along with my brother, we practiced in such a way on both our instructors’ part and our part, that we avoided participation in Buddhism or its religious practices—for martial arts can be practiced physically without the religious elements (the exception being Hinduism’s religious connection to yoga, for yoga is designed to be inseparably linked with Hindu worship of the gods). But, man O man, Buddhism seemed attractive for a short while in my young life, especially based upon this movie’s presentation of it with all the nobility of the religious and civil culture surrounding it which was being corrupted by Western culture’s influx into Japan (and by some traitors among the Japanese who prostituted themselves to Western money, technology, and power). While the inroads of the Western world into Japan surely produced some of the upheavals presented in the film, this simply is not the entire story that Zwick presented us with—intentionally or unintentionally.
Enter the fortuitous (Providential) events of seeing three more films of traditional samurai and Buddhist culture made by actual Japanese directors instead of American directors. I had the privilege of watching them with my new wife, Valerie, during the first year or two of our marriage and during the first year or two of seminary at Southern Evangelical Seminary. These are films that were much more historically accurate in their presentation of the samurai and of Buddhism, and also the highly structured civil culture tied to Buddhism which placed heavy, heavy burdens on most of the people (similar to Jewish Pharisaic religion in certain ways [Matt. 23:4]). The three films, in the order I watched them, are The Hidden Blade, Twlight Samurai, and When the Last Sword is Drawn. Surely, the first was a gut wrenching fluke! Then I watched the second. Then, the third. We were struck by the heaviness of it all, and I was smacked by the larger picture of reality being presented. There was a pattern emerging. Though there were individuals that were honorable within that system as it stands, overall, Buddhism was not as freeing as The Last Samurai projected it, and traditional Japanese culture was not as beautiful as the cherry blossom trees which dot the landscape—in fact—it was oppressive as any of the worst elements of all world cultures, Western and Eastern, American or Japanese. I have not seen it yet, but the new movie Silence portrays the Japanese persecution of Christians in Japan during the 1800s, in their reaction to anything perceived to be Western. Further, in seminary after my conversion to Christ, I was privileged to be taught World Religions by Richard Howe, and we had a textbook written by another Christian professor named Winfried Corduan. He, through study and life, deeply explored the other religions, Buddhism included.
Alas! The Christian doctrine of total depravity extends to all men, in all cultures, in all times, as cursed sons of Adam, scattered at Babel, who need redemption and forgiveness, who need truth and reconciliation, who need a relationship with God restored rather than either a system of rituals without relationship to the one true God, or a religion, like Buddhism, which lacks a proper Deity and instead fosters an inward looking and a self-salvation through the elimination of all desire and the working off of bad karma through reincarnations. Instead of repairing damaged humanity, the goal is to slowly deny and destroy your humanity and consciousness through an elimination of all desire and a ceasing of the activity of the mind, with an extinction of being itself as the goal in the atheistic strains of Buddhism, or a merging with the Buddha nature in the more theistic strains. Either way, it is the cessation of your consciousness and the end of the cycle of rebirths and reincarnations which is the goal. In Christianity, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” In Buddhism, the chief end of man is to become a God (god?) or to cease to exist forever. All religions do not lead to the same God.
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