By Victoria Priest April 25, 2022 (c) [small changes made on April 29, 2022]
The year is 1998. The Big Lebowski hits theaters, but, I miss it. My son, an infant that I was busy taking care of at the time, in recent times told me I needed to see it as it’s one of his favorite movies. So watching it, I was half-way enjoying it and not knowing what to think of it, really, until the very end when I literally reacted with: “. . . what?!” Why, you ask? Because the movie isn’t just a comedy, but some kind of philosophical religious commentary. I immediately realized that watching the movie once, especially without subtitles on, was only the beginning of the Lebowski experience. I didn’t watch it again right away, but ordered the screenplay and read that. What follows are my own observations and commentary after doing some (but not too much) research and giving it some thought. And I shouldn’t have to say this, but there are spoilers ahead.
A note on a result of waiting so long to comment on an older popular movie: I’m quite aware that the movie has been studied a lot, commented on a lot, and that those studies and commentaries often relate to the background of the Coen Brothers, who wrote and directed the movie. By their name you can guess they’re Jewish, and they are—Coen is Hebrew for priest. They were raised Jewish in America. They have made a number of movies that deal with religion is some way or another, with one in particular—A Serious Man (2016)—being very critical of modern Jewish faith (from what I’ve read). While I have read some reviews and analyses of The Big Lebowski, I’m presenting my own take on the movie here. I plan on delving into the Coen Brothers more and their “religious” films, and will hopefully write the results of that here at a later time.
The story starts out by confusing us about when exactly it takes place, in 1990 or 1991? And this seems to be important since the narrator tells us it is: the main character, the Dude, is a man for his time and place, the narrator tells us. In a grocery store, George H. W. Bush is on the news concerning the Gulf War, and the broadcast is from 1990. But the Dude’s check he writes for buying milk is dated September 11, 1991. Eerie, isn’t it? Gulf War and an arguably later effect, the 9/11 attack of 2001, coincidentally predicted in a movie from 1998.i Despite the movie starting out this way, it doesn’t seem to follow through. There are tiny glimpses relating to The Gulf conflict, but that’s it, with nothing tying it to the end. Interesting, but let’s move on.Continue reading Another Commentary on The Big Lebowski→
God According to God, by Gerald Schroeder (HarperOne 2009)
If the discoveries in physics over the past century are correct, then that physically condensed energy of the big-bang creation is totally the expression of metaphysical wisdom (cited in Gen. 1:1) or information (J.A. Wheeler) or idea (W. Heisenberg) or mind (G. Wald). Physics not only has begun to sound like theology. It is theology (p 156).
God According to God, written by a MIT trained physicist and applied (Jewish) theology professor Gerald L. Schroeder, is a fascinating read (even if the subtitle, A Scientist Discovers We’ve Been Wrong About God All Along, seems a bit of a stretch). It’s an important read, too, if one takes the accolades on the cover seriously. For example, “A remarkable book. The science as well as the meaning of this universe and of life are discussed with insight, rigor, and depth,” says Nobel Prize (physics) awarded Charles H. Townes.
What’s really amazing about this book is that it combines modern science with theology in such a human way. It’s written for the layman, yes, but it is written to show that not only is belief in God not inimical to science, but that modern science is actually proving God (or at least the metaphysical), and that taking God and the Bible seriously (and not simplistically or superficially) reflects reality and how we are to live in it. The God of the Bible is simply not the god the critics so energetically and often vehemently criticize.
“The world gets its share of free reign and when a mess arises, the God of the Bible may enter to aid in the repair. Nipping the potential evil before allowing it to flourish would be a compassionate world-management system, but that fails to match the blueprint brought by the Bible. The logic lies in the need for an unhampered free will. God hides the Divine presence sufficiently to allow each of us to make our own choices, for better or worse, freely within the confines of our physical and social landscape . . .“ (p 205).
After the introductories, Schroeder presents issues regarding the origin of life, and how much “science” popularly held is not accurate or true. For instance, there is no logical reason why RNA would have developed on its own in our prebiotic world; everything is against it happening. He refutes Stephen Hawking’s (and Scientific American’s) embarrassingly optimistic view of life happening on its own, providing data on how it would be impossible for random mutations to create the variety of proteins used in earthly life.
Earth itself is unique and improbable. The elements in our universe that make life possible are surprising and improbable too, with carbon being the most unlikely. While carbon is common, it is not at all easily made. The astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, who was an agnostic before the means by which carbon could be abundantly formed was discovered, later said: “Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly miniscule” (p 62).
For the Christian who has read other layman-oriented resources regarding origin of life and evolution issues, and facts about the specialness of earth, I recommend reading this book as well. In combination it is about the most informative and wonderfully written as you’ll find. Also for the Christian, Schroeder offers some eye-opening insights into Genesis and the possibility of nature as rebel (his other biblical interpretations from the Jewish perspective are also very much worth chewing on). He ties in the possibility of nature rebelling with what we are learning of nature at the quantum level. We now know that atoms are not the smallest units of matter, but the particles that make up atoms do not behave like matter. They may even be waves, and they seem to behave in way that indicates “mind.”
The European conception of “evolution” includes the metaphysical, and apparently many leading scientists are leaning toward the view that nature has “mind.” Neurosurgeon Frank Vertosick, Jr., talks of the “microbial mind,” Freeman Dyson (physicist, Institute for the Advanced Study, Princeton) and others show that “Atoms are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances. They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities . . . . It appears that mind . . . is to some extent inherent in every atom” (p 95). Mathematician and physicist Sir James Jeans wrote (pp 90-91):
“There is a wide measure of agreement which, on the physical side of science approaches almost unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail mind as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.”
We cannot see or understand this “mind” in nature, and we cannot even understand our own brain-mind connection. We may know that chemical reactions take place in our brain that are related to specific activities, but we still do not understand how we remember, think, or imagine. Just as there is something else to nature than predictable natural laws, there is more to us than the physical. “The dogmatic myth of materialism has been proven to be wanting, more fantasy than fact. . . . in the words of Nobel laureate and biologist George Wald, ‘The stuff of which physical reality is composed is mind-stuff. It is mind that has composed a physical universe’” (p 151).
Schroeder’s thesis can be summed up thusly:
“Within the subatomic world, there is a probabilistic pattern established by the laws of nature. Individual quanta, however, may ‘choose’ not to follow the given path. So too is the history of humanity. Torturous though the trend may be, God has a plan for humanity. The microengineering of that plan is largely up to us. There is a flow from pagan barbarity toward the elusive goal of peace on earth, goodwill to all. Each of us, as individuals, chooses whether to enhance or impede the flow toward the Divine goal” (p 215).
Dyson, Freeman. “Progress in Religion” (acceptance speech, Templeton Prize), March 2000.
Heisenberg, Werner. Physics and Beyond (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).
Vertosick, Jr., Frank. The Genius Within (New York: Harcourt, 2002).
Wald, George. “Life and Mind in the Universe,” Quantum Biology Symposium, International Journal of Quantum Chemistry 11 (1984): 1-15.
This is the crime against humanity of our time. It is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing. It is deliberate, it is brutal, and it is systematic. And I, as a Jew, want to say that I stand solidly with Christians throughout the world in protest against this crime. And I am appalled that the world is silent.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (2013 Erasmus Lecture)
. . . the Jews seem to be the ones most outraged by it. . . . It’s shades of the past that a world that is indifferent to such brutal actions becomes indifferent to anybody’s suffering.
The White House—the whole Western community—ought to be taking action, as we would against any country that engages in this kind of action. Look, overall the West is muted in their response to the killings of Christians by the thousands, from Indonesia to Nigeria to Tehran to Damascus. Where is the outcry? Christians and Copts [are being killed] in Egypt, other countries—and hardly any response to it. . . . Where are the [United Nations] Security Council resolutions? Why aren’t the condemnations coming from them?
Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
. . . the Middle East [was] once home to countless thriving Jewish communities, only for them to have been decimated in the mid-twentieth century. With the rise of hardline Islam and growing turmoil in many of these countries, Christians risk sharing a similar fate. . . . A century ago, Christians constituted 20 percent of the population of the Middle East; today, that number stands at just 4 percent.
Jews care. A lot of Jews get it. What is with us? Why does our own country, and the West, not care? The western media is biased in its reporting when Christians are killed in countries like Sudan. They seem to be ashamed that Christians even exist and that violent-minded Muslims are justified in doing evil. But where is the Christian response, the Christian outrage? If it doesn’t exist, then it can be surmised that Christians don’t really exist. At least, our own government’s weak response against the atrocities can certainly be viewed as nothing but hot air. But why should our government do anything about it or care, when we people of faith don’t even seem to??
Churches are our gathering places. Why aren’t churches organizing anything to raise awareness about what is going on in the world? If they don’t know . . . what excuse can be given? Maybe some pastors are writing newspaper editorials and encouraging action by their flock–I don’t know. Feel free to let me know of examples of such action in the comments below, or provide links there to Christians groups and organizations that are trying to do something about this (I don’t mean groups that report on it only). Thanks.
In the Old Testament, Micah tells Israel, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Indeed, chapter six of Micah concerns the Lord’s decision to punish Israel because of its practices that opposed God’s laws and intentions: Israel was full of those who used dishonest scales, who lied, and who were violent.
Many of God’s OT regulations were meant to protect those in weaker social and economic situations. Psalm 146 is a praise to God who, unlike mortal men, “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked” (7-9).
These ideals are certainly carried through into the New Testament, where it is emphasized that all are to be treated with respect and as one would like to be treated themselves, and that all persons are equal in God’s sight (Matthew 7:12; Galatians 3:28; 1 Peter 3:8). So what did God command concerning the rights of workers? What was expected of the employer (or master)? For one, all persons, including hired people and servants/slaves, were to have the Sabbath day for rest (Deuteronomy 5:14). Second, workers were to be paid at the end of the day (Leviticus 19:13b; Matthew 20:1-16). Third, employees are to be treated with gratitude, respect, and good will, as this verse from Ruth 2:4 exemplifies: “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, ‘The LORD be with you!’ And they answered, ‘The LORD bless you.’”
Verses that continue with this idea, but also provide the reason – that all humans are equal – include Job 31:13-15, Colossians 4:1, and Ephesians 6:9. For example: “Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him” (Ephesians 6:9).
God also gave warnings to those who would disobey His will and laws in the employer-employee relationship. In Malachi He says, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against . . . those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me” (3:5). There’s more in Jeremiah: “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing and does not give him his wages . . .” (22:13). James did not pull any punches when he wrote:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you (5:1-6).
One law made it illegal to return runaway slaves to their masters! “If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master. Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses. Do not oppress him” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). Laws such as these (and there are more) provided a big incentive for masters to treat all in their household fairly. In contrast, there is hint about how poor persons were treated elsewhere.
In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), the son receives his inheritance from his still-living father and then moves to a far-off country. He soon finds himself without any money left, “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (15-16). If the prodigal were paid every evening, would he be without food? If he had been even a slave in Israel, would he be without food and shelter? I am not advocating slavery (!) but am pointing out a result of our practice and attitude toward the less successful in our country (the United States): the slaves of Israel were better off than the jobless/homeless in America.
(c) Vicki Priest 2014 [edited on September 1, 2014; previously posted by the author at Examiner.com, in 2011]