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Guardians of the Galaxy: Nihilism Rejected

Ronan the Accuser, Gaurdians of the Galaxy (copyright Marvel Studios)
Ronan the Accuser, Gaurdians of the Galaxy (copyright Marvel Studios)

One of my initial thoughts about the characters in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy–as a Christian who wonders about my duty and role in the salvation of others–was, “Could those guys’ lives really be turned around like that?” You see, this is the story of how the Guardians met and who they were before being awarded that title.

These characters (Peter Quill/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Groot, and Rocket) aren’t all bad, just selfish with a general disregard for the possessions, and maybe even the lives, of others (oddly enough, Drax the Destroyer seems to have the least of these unpleasant characteristics).  But, of course, as the story unfolds we find that things are not always what they seem.  These characters are rough, violent, and self-serving, but they all have reasons for their behavior–they’re not simply sociopaths.  They were either forced into a life not of their choosing (often brutal) or are reacting to a sense of nihilism.  Those with power control you, even modify you, and no one cares so why not simply do the selfish thing?  But we all are forced into a life we didn’t choose, to some degree at least, and our character is developed and shown by our reactions to life’s crap-grenades.

By the end of the movie, however, the characters have come to know that something exists that they came to think was impossible: there do exist others who actually can, and will, be a friend (you know, a real one).  Their early abuse of each other was just as effective as any armor in keeping others out of their lives, but they learned to let the shield down and not treat others as simply a thing to be used.  I haven’t read the comic that this movie is based on, though I can guess that the story was changed a lot.  It seems to reflect our present socially dispossessed age well.

I’ve only seen the movie once so far and may do a more in-depth article later, but I wanted to “put out there” that the writers of this movie purposefully included dialogue that affirmed an after life.  Many Christians put down Hollywood as wholly ungodly and anti-Christian, but I don’t believe this is justified.  There are script writers, producers, directors, etc., that in their perhaps subtle way acknowledge our spiritual identity.  For any militant atheist, I doubt that the tiny spiritual aspects in this movie seem subtle.

Also, generally speaking, the movie is hilarious and intelligently pokes fun at the super serious and dark sci-fi movie genre.  This movie is different, too, in that it blends ancient myth or legend with the futuristic in a way that can teach any “serious” movie a lesson.  As long as you’re not against some swearing and contemporary crude humor, I highly recommend Guardians of the Galaxy (rated PG-13).  For a ton of details about the film, see its special page at IMDB.

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Bisexual Raised by Lesbians: Thoughtfully Against Gay Adoptions

For a detailed and thoughtful view on being raised by gay parents, please see Robert Oscar Lopez’s Same Sex Parenting: What do Children Say?  Here are some excerpts to give you an idea of his views and experience.

During the oral arguments about Proposition 8, Justice Anthony Kennedy referred to children being raised by same-sex couples. Since I was one of those children—from ages 2-19, I was raised by a lesbian mother with the help of her partner—I was curious to see what he would say.

I also eagerly anticipated what he would say because I had taken great professional and social risk to file an amicus brief with Doug Mainwaring (who is gay and opposes gay marriage), in which we explained that children deeply feel the loss of a father or mother, no matter how much we love our gay parents or how much they love us. Children feel the loss keenly because they are powerless to stop the decision to deprive them of a father or mother, and the absence of a male or female parent will likely be irreversible for them.

Over the last year I’ve been in frequent contact with adults who were raised by parents in same-sex partnerships. They are terrified of speaking publicly about their feelings, so several have asked me (since I am already out of the closet, so to speak) to give voice to their concerns.

I cannot speak for all children of same-sex couples, but I speak for quite a few of them, especially those who have been brushed aside in the so-called “social science research” on same-sex parenting. . . .  I have heard of the supposed “consensus” on the soundness of same-sex parenting from pediatricians and psychologists, but that consensus is frankly bogus. . . .

I support same-sex civil unions and foster care, but I have always resisted the idea that government should encourage same-sex couples to imagine that their partnerships are indistinguishable from actual marriages.  Such a self-definition for gays would be based on a lie, and anything based on a lie will backfire.

The richest and most successful same-sex couple still cannot provide a child something that the poorest and most struggling spouses can provide: a mom and a dad.  Having spent forty years immersed in the gay community, I have seen how that reality triggers anger and vicious recrimination from same-sex couples, who are often tempted to bad-mouth so-called “dysfunctional” or “trashy” straight couples in order to say, “We deserve to have kids more than they do!”

But I am here to say no, having a mom and a dad is a precious value in its own right and not something that can be overridden, even if a gay couple has lots of money, can send a kid to the best schools, and raises the kid to be an Eagle Scout.

It’s disturbingly classist and elitist for gay men to think they can love their children unreservedly after treating their surrogate mother like an incubator, or for lesbians to think they can love their children unconditionally after treating their sperm-donor father like a tube of toothpaste.

It’s also racist and condescending for same-sex couples to think they can strong-arm adoption centers into giving them orphans by wielding financial or political clout. An orphan in Asia or in an American inner city has been entrusted to adoption authorities to make the best decision for the child’s life, not to meet a market demand for same-sex couples wanting children. Whatever trauma caused them to be orphans shouldn’t be compounded with the stress of being adopted into a same-sex partnership. . . .

The children thrown into the middle . . . are well aware of their parents’ role in creating a stressful and emotionally complicated life for kids, which alienates them from cultural traditions like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, and places them in the unenviable position of being called “homophobes” if they simply suffer the natural stress that their parents foisted on them—and admit to it. . . .

That’s why I am for civil unions but not for redefining marriage. But I suppose I don’t count—I am no doctor, judge, or television commentator, just a kid who had to clean up the mess left behind by the sexual revolution.

two-kinds-of-people-by-cs-lewis_zpsbcb8ec60

 

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“Science & Human Origins” Informational Review

Science & Human Origins cover0001Science & Human Origins, a Discovery Institute Press book (2012) by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin, is a much needed summary of the difficult to understand sciences that are used in the study of human origins and evolution.  The scientific methods used may not be the primary problem in understanding, however, but instead, the politics and emotionalism involved.  For the person who wants to find anything beyond the “party line” in regards to the science, and what we actually know of the hominin (previously “hominid”) fossil record, a source like this may be your best hope.  Popular textbooks, museum displays, and magazines fail to present pertinent facts, and quotes found in this book by the highest of academics in the field can leave you assured of the authors’ assessment.

This small book is not perfect, in my view.  I found chapter two, on one explanation of how there is not enough time to account for the amount of evolution that has taken place, difficult to understand.  Maybe you will not have this difficulty.  It just seems like there is something missing to me.  The way the book is put together seems disjointed to me as well, and while this may be in big part due to the different scientific fields involved, I think that adding a chapter, and dividing the chapters into two related groups, would have made the book more beneficial to readers.

Chapter one combines the lack-of-time problem with the paucity of fossil evidence for ape-like creature-to-human evolution problem.  Chapter three – the longest in the book – provides a detailed account of the deception (willful or not) by some scientists regarding the fossil line of evidence for human evolution, the data we have for that supposed line of evidence, and scientific criticisms of that data from top scientists in paleontology and related fields.  Chapter five is related to these in discussing “The Science of Adam and Eve,” while chapter four provides us information on junk DNA and chromosomal fusion.  For those who want to know more about this subject before reading the book, I present below concise information and quotes from chapters one (II) by Ann Gauger, three (I) by Casey Luskin, and five (III) by Ann Gauger.

I.  Hominin Phylogeny

If you try and talk to an ardent evolutionist, you are very likely going to come across this belief and attitude that the theory of evolution is written in stone, everything that one reads about it in textbooks and in mainstream media is true, that of course humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor, etc. etc.   But as is made abundantly clear in this book, many scientists publish studies in Nature and similar professional journals, who go against this “we know all” flow.  Human evolution is not at all clear-cut and the fossil record is severely lacking.  Many fossils that had been considered within the line of ancestral humans are now held in serious doubt.  Yet, these “negative” findings don’t make the news.  These study results don’t make it on the cover of Time.

I think a significant reason for the publication of this book stem from the false statements made by Professor Ronald Wetherington in 2009 to the Texas State Board of Education.  Either this guy is a liar or he is woefully uninformed of his own line of study.  He just couldn’t say enough about how the fossil record showing human evolution was a complete sequence, how it showed gradualistic change just like Darwin predicted, and how there are no gaps in the record – and those scientists who say otherwise are not telling the truth.  Well!  Sorry to say, but Professor Wetherington is the one not telling the truth, and persons such as these influence what gets taught in our schools and their words are parroted frequently and mindlessly.

Below are synopses of the fossils believed to be within the ancestral line to humans; many of these are actually not considered in line anymore by mainstream scientists in paleoanthropology or primate studies.  A chart showing the traditional, party-line view of human evolution is also shown below (from page 49).

Toumai Skull (Sahelanthropus tchadensis):  This species is represented by one skull with jaw fragments.  ~6.5 million years old.  Reported on in 2002, it is now considered by many to be a gorilla or ape or at least not in the human line.  If this skull is ancestral to humans, then australopithecines can’t be (pp 50-51).

Orrorin (Orrorin tugenensis):  Only a few bones are known of this species, and they do not include a skull or jaw.  ~ 6 million years old.  Even though little can be determined about this species’ way of moving, the conjecture by some that it may have walked upright was enough to put it in the human line.  Human evolutionary thinking had made bipedal walking a necessary condition for a fossil to be included in the human line.  However, we now know that this can no longer be a litmus test.  Why?  Because an ancient bipedal ape was discovered, Oreopithecus bambolii.  This creature is clearly an ape, it walked bipedally, and it lived ten million years ago.  We now know that some human-like physical features, that scientists considered unique to our line, developed in other species in parallel.  Nevertheless,if this species is found to be ancestral to humans, then australopithecines can’t be (pp 51-54).

Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus):  Extremely reconstructed from very crushed and very friable and chalky bone fragments (skull and other parts).  ~4.4 million years old.  Even though the reconstruction of this fossil should have raised big doubts about any interpretations regarding it, it was in the news big time.  Even Science magazine joined in in the hype:

Science magazine named Ardi the “breakthrough of the year” for 2009, and officially introduced her with an article titled “A New Kind of Ancestor . . . (p 55).

After other scientists finally got to look at these fossil remains–which took over 15 years to “reconstruct”–claims of its bipedality were not affirmed.  Not only that, but some scientists hinted, and others said out-right, that Ardi was not a hominid, was not bipedal, and was closer to being an ape or orangutan (pp 54-57).

Australopithecines:  Because there are more Australopithecine fossils than any other, and because one in particular had become so popular–Lucy–it’s a bit hard to say only a little about this group of species.  In 2006 there was much hype over two canine teeth found of the species called Austropithecus anamensis.  I will say it again and allow the information to sink in:  there was much hype over only two canine teeth.  In any case, the author of the A. anamensis technical paper is worth quoting since he confirms Luskin’s contention:

Until recently, the origins of Australopithecus were obscured by a sparse fossil record . . . . The origin of Australopithecus, the genus widely interpreted as ancestral to Homo, is a central problem in human evolutionary studies.  Australopithecus species differ markedly from [both] extant African apes and candidate ancestral hominids . . . (p 58).

Let’s look at Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis with purportedly 40% of it’s bones found.   First off, it’s not clear that all the bones of Lucy are actually hers.  The bones were highly spread out over a gully and one of its hillsides.  Many scientists no longer think Lucy walked upright like we do, or even at all, basically.  She very clearly has knuckle-walking hands, which no one denies but some try to excuse.  It is unlikely, from an evolution theory point of view, that she would retain these characteristics if she didn’t use them.  But to make a further argument about her mode of moving, the supposedly evolved form of Homo habilis retains some of these features 2 million years later.  Unused characteristics will not hang around that long in an evolved species.

Also, a whole slew of bodily features show that Lucy was ape- or chimp-like and was not at all adapted to running.  Australopithecine ear canals (for balance and locomotion) are not like humans but similar to apes.  They have grasping toes.  Professional studies and papers from 1975 and 2007 suggest that Australopithecines should no longer be considered part of the human line (pp 57-65).

Homo habilis:  ~1.9 million years ago.  The well regarded anthropologist Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History said this species is “a wastebasket taxon, little more than a convenient recipient for a motley assortment of hominin fossils.”  Besides this suggestive statement (suggestive of the quality of analyses that had gone on), Spoor et al. in Nature (1994) reported that the ear canal of this species was closer that of a baboon, and another study from 1991 “found that the skeleton of habilis was more similar to living apes than were other australopithecines like Lucy” (p 66).  Another scientist stated that habilis “‘displays much stronger similarities to African ape limb proportions’ than even Lucy” (p 67).  This species is therefore not considered to be in the human line (pp 65-67).

Standard Hominin chart Wells0001

[GAP]:  There are no transitional fossils between Australopithecus and Homo.  About 2 million years ago cranial capacity of the human line suddenly about doubled.

Homo and Australopithecus differ significantly in brain size, dental function, increased cranial buttressing, expanded body height, visual, and respiratory changes” and, the authors of the paper said “We, like many others, interpret the anatomical evidence to show that early H. sapiens was significantly and dramatically different from . . .  australopithecines in virtually every element of its skeleton and every remnant of its behavior (pp 67-68). . . .  The anatomy of the earliest H. sapiens sample indicates significant modifications of the ancestral genome and is not simply an extension of evolutionary trends in an earlier australopithecine lineage throughout the Pliocene.  In fact, its combination of features never appears earlier” (p 68; from Journal of Molecular Biology and Evolution 2000, emphasis mine).

The earliest fossils of Homo, Homo rudolfensis and Homo erectus, are separated from Australopithecus by a large, unbridged gap.  How can we explain this seeming saltation?  Not having any fossils that can serve as missing links, we have to fall back on the time-honored method of historical science, the construction of a historical narrative (pp 69-70; Ernst Mayr 2004, emphasis mine).

Homo erectus:  Extremely similar to modern humans – probably only a subspecies (so it was actually human). ~ 2 million years ago.  Cranial capacity is on average smaller, but still within the overall range of modern humans (which is incredibly varied).

Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis):  Very similar to modern humans and now known to be something like a subspecies of modern humans.  In fact, DNA studies show that many modern humans have Neanderthal DNA in them.  ~ .75 million years ago.  Cranial capacity on average was larger than modern humans.

II.  Evolution Time

There are no transitional fossils between Australopithecus and Homo (and some scientists, at least, no longer think Australopithecus should even  be in the homo line).  Ok.  But what time frame is there between these two species of Hominin?  About 1.5 to 2.o million years.  And how many traits arose or need to have changed?  About 16, at least, and many of these have to have occurred together – they won’t work apart from one another, or on their own they could even be harmful to the creature(s).

Based on experiments that test the rate of change at the molecular level, this number of changes within the known time frame would have been impossible.  Considering how slowly, relatively speaking, these hominins would reproduce, evolving even one homo feature from australopithecine would be basically impossible in the time frame we know exists between these species.  Gauger states:

You don’t have to take my word for it.  In 2007, Durrett and Schmidt estimated in the journal Genetics that for a single mutation to occur in a nucleotide-binding site and be fixed in a primate lineage would require a waiting time of six million years.  The same authors later [2008] estimated it would take 216 million years for the binding site to acquire two mutations, if the first mutation was neutral in its effect (pp 24-25).

III.  Are Only Two Human Parents Possible?

In Ann Gauger’s “The Science of Adam and Eve” (chapter five), she presents the history of research into the diversity of certain immune defense genes.  She does this since persons in the past used these genes, which have tremendous variety in our genomes and the genomes of our “cousin” species, to prove that humans could not have come from only two parents (like Adam and Eve).  The science involved is of course specific and complicated and I will not attempt to give am in-depth summary of it here.  What I will say is that an original study (published in 1995) found that chimps and humans shared 32 alleles of this gene (HLA-DRB1), and later study cut that down to seven and showed a whole new complication that was a mystery (different portions of the same gene yielded wildly different results).

The results were mysterious because it turns out that even though the gene has 100s of allele variations (there are a number of HLA genes, and each has hundreds of alleles), most are not recombined and therefore are known as haplotypes.  These haplotypes are inherited in blocks, and there are very few of these in humans – five, in fact.  Three are very ancient and two are, well, not as ancient (~30 mya or more, and ~ 5 mya, based on current evolutionary assumptions), and one is not shared with chimps.  Each person can carry two different alleles of the HLA gene studied.  So it is now known to be in the realm of possibility that we all came from two parents only, each carrying two different HLA alleles.

The later study, and others, provided data that may also force a change in neo-Darwinian thinking.  This newer data show that we share genes with other species that are not common ancestors.  We have some gene sequences that are more closely related to gorillas than chimps, and we have sequences resembling those from macaques – animals that are not in our hominid group.  What does this data do to the whole concept of common descent?  (pp 103 – 121).

*      *      *

So what we end up with is a hominin family tree that, if a number of scientific studies and their conclusions are to be followed (the papers being in the major journals in their fields), would be gutted.  Continuous, gradual, evolutionary change in the hominin line?  No, not at all.  We also have the science of nucleotide-binding mutations indicating that there is no possibility, given the relatively short time frame, that any fossil currently thought to represent an ancestor in the human line could have evolved into a human.  Please read the book for more detailed information, but for checking out the references as well.

Manufactured (Mobile) Home Parks in Orange County, CA

A manufactured home in Southern California, with more trees about it than usual.
A manufactured home in Southern California, with more trees about it than usual.

Update:  A little while ago I noted that a rent control law was going to be on the next ballot in Huntington Beach, and that I’d write about it soon.  I went to do this today, only to find that the city council actually voted to take the measure off their ballot.  This is what I wanted to say in the comments section, but their comments are via Facebook only, so I didn’t submit them there.  But, for your consideration, I post them here:

People need to stop moving into MH parks – this is such garbage. I’ve been looking into MH parks for about 18 months now, and the way they are being run is bizarre–they are just a money-sucking form of profit.  If you buy a condo (or house, of course), you own the property and your monthly payments are always the same.  In MH parks, you have to buy the home but pay yearly increases on the rent of the land.  If you are like most lower income people (or are on a fixed income), your pay doesn’t go up yearly anywhere near the amount that the vast majority of MH park owners raise the rent.  I only know of one park that raises their rent based on the Consumer Price Index (actual inflation).  After a number of years of steady 5% (or higher) increases, I don’t see how anyone would be able to maintain living in a park.  On top of that, mobile homes go down in value, especially so in parks with high and increasing rents.  MH parks are draconian in their present form (at least here) – people need to be able to own the lots their homes are on.

_______________

I don’t know about where you live, but in my urban region there is not a comprehensive list of manufactured (mobile) home (MH) parks that I’ve been able to find.  If you know of one, please inform me!  My intention here is to compile information on any and all MH parks in Orange County, California, for the benefit of anyone trying to make a good decision in buying a MH.  If you have anything you want to share about a specific MH park, please comment below.

I have spent a great deal of time trying to find MH parks in my area and researching the ones I know about.  It is quite the frustrating time-consumer, and the results dismal.  I have talked with four real estate agents and have had two be my agent in the last several months, and no one can provide a list so you can check out the parks.  In fact, people seem kind-of tight-lipped about the whole thing.

Why is knowing of all of the parks important?  If location is important to you, and certainly it will be at some level (length of drive to work, value of property in the area, etc.), then it’s not very helpful to just wait until a unit becomes listed in an MLS.  For one, not all MH’s are listed in the MLS, but on sites like Mobile Home Village; in fact, the only way you’ll find out that certain homes are for sale is by driving by and seeing a sign.  Two, the best thing to do would be to check out the MH parks in your area of interest first, since you need to apply to be accepted to lease a lot in the park.  You need to know if you’d even qualify, and perhaps more important, you need to know if the terms of the lease are acceptable to you.  You could get your list down to only the parks you could afford and be willing to live in, then only look at homes for sale in those parks.  I think this makes sense, right?  This would save both you and your agent time.

That is, if a seller will even accept you–the buyer–having an agent.  The commission on the sale of a lower priced home is obviously not the nice chunk of change that agents are looking for.  I have had more than one seller’s agent not want to do business because I had my own agent.  However, with the high rate of foreclosures in the manufactured home realm, it is important to get good advice and assistance of some form when buying a mobile home and leasing in a park.

A word of warning about Orange County.  More and more, there are nightmare cases where a park is sold to a corporate owner who raise the rents and add fees to a ridiculous level.  This also sometimes happens when the children of the original owners take over.  The state does not see fit to enact any kind of rent control, even though you own a large and normally expensive piece of property on someone else’s land.  The situation is not anywhere near the same as renting an apartment, where you can leave without any other financial consequence.  But in parks, if rents are increased significantly and you feel you need to sell, your chances of selling are lower and you will invariably get less–maybe far less–for your home.  All due to no fault of your own.  It’s a risky business owning a MH on someone else’s land.

The El Monte article referenced below provides an example of immoral and seemingly illegal rent increases.  Large rent increases happened in Fountain Valley not too long ago, too, when a corporation took over a MH park there; the home owners claim that they were denied lease renewals–which is illegal–and that they would be forced to sign new leases with large rent and fee increases, or leave (a link to an article on this is given below).  There is no relief for home owners when these laws are broken, unless they take the time and expense to take the park owner to court.  Even then, without rent control, the owners can raise rents basically with impunity.  (Since this article was originally written, a park in Huntington Beach suffered the same fate.  It was sold to a corporate owner and lots that were $1000 a month were raised to $1700.)

So why am I, and my family, interested in a mobile home?  Well, prior to starting this post, I was told by agents that there is some kind of rent control, around 10% maximum per year.  This is not the case at the state level, and I have not found any rent control measures in the cities we are interested in living.  This makes me even more leery than before.  We would need to thoroughly check out the lease agreement and the park ownership/management before leasing with them.  Obviously this takes a lot more work and consideration than buying a condo or house.  And besides that, any built-in rate increases that are more than inflation need to be carefully looked at (who can afford 10% increase every year when their pay only increases by 0%-2.5%?).

Ok, so the reasons for wanting a MH instead of a condo (we can’t afford a house here whatsoever) are:  we would be on one level and not be upstairs; hopefully the park would be quiet; we might have a little yard for a little dog (we are trying for this, yes); we would have a washer and dryer – believe it or not, no low-end condos here have those (many or most are converted apartments – woohoo!!); and, we would probably have more in the way of household amenities than a condo, depending on the unit.  So it’s a a matter of quality of life vs. return on investment.  A condo that we could afford here would be in an outright slummish place, or a not much nicer white-washed slummish place.

Thanks for reading.  Please write comments or questions below.  I will be compiling park lists with information about the parks.  This will be an “ongoing” project, as I think this information is urgently needed.  Many people have lost, and many continue to lose, their homes and all the money they invested in them, while the park owners sit secure and do virtually nothing for the money they receive.  The only real solution, it seems to me, is to make any form of leased land homes illegal.  Perhaps after reading this and any of my other real estate related posts (particularly, America the Greedy I: Homes on Land-lease Land) you will feel motivated to ask your representatives for this change in law.

Below are charts I’ve worked on enough to post; Santa Ana is coming soon.  I’ll update them as necessary.   The charts are by zip code and include family parks only, not parks for seniors.

CM & NB MH parks 6-20-13

HB & FB MH Parks 6-20-13Last updated and edited on 10/05/13.

Resources:

El Monte Mobile Home Park Residents Outraged by Sharp Rent Hikes (2013)

Fair Housing Council

F.V. mobile-home residents seek rent relief (2012)

Golden State Manufactured Home Owners League

Mobilehome Residency Law (California)  There is NO limit to rent increases per state law

Rent Control in Orange County (index page of articles in the Los Angeles Times)

Great and informative comments after the article:  Why Mobile Home Park Rents Can Be Pushed Higher Than Others

Concerning the weirdness of mortgages “after the ‘recession'” Can the Real Estate World get any Weirder?

On Skyrim: A Vent from a Christian Parent (a mom who plays)

Fighting a dragon in Skyrim.  From http://www.industrygamers.com/news/ps3-skyrim-its-not-nearly-as-bad-as-it-seems/
Fighting a dragon in Skyrim. From http://www.industrygamers.com/news/ps3-skyrim-its-not-nearly-as-bad-as-it-seems/

Maybe you’ve come here before and read one or more of my posts on Skyrim.  If you haven’t, and you’re a parent interested in knowing more about the game, please also read my earlier review for parents.  It would probably be better if you read that one first, actually, since it presents the positive aspects of the game.  And just by way of warning, there are all kinds of spoilers in both posts.

I decided to write this not because I didn’t know about some unpleasant things about Skyrim before (though I know more now) – from a Christian perspective – but out of frustration over the questions presented on a major website.  A great percentage of these questions show that a lot of young people like to play all of the bad aspects of the game, and miss the complexities.  If you are a Christian and let your teen play without watching and knowing what they’re doing, maybe you’ll want to.  My son hasn’t played lately, but when he did, he liked to play bad characters once to see what they were about.  I didn’t like that he played some of the roles he had, but I talked with him about it.  It gave me an opportunity to find out what he thought of things presented in the game, and if he did something bad in the game, how that might or might not reflect on his real-life actions and attitudes.

There are certain things that I really didn’t want him doing, and he didn’t – like selecting the perk where your character will be able to cut people’s heads off.  This is bad enough in quick game play, but in Skyrim slow-motion, close-up cut-scenes happen randomly and they would include the slicing off of heads.  If a parent is concerned about what their child can select as perks, they can easily see all available perks from the perk trees, viewable after selecting the Skills menu.

The problem with Skyrim is that it is made by a corporation seeking the largest possible market (the Elder Scrolls series did not start out this way, and previous games were more specifically moral).  While the Dovahkiin – your character, the Dragonborn – is SUPPOSED to be a good SAVIOR type of figure, the player can choose to do all kinds of evil things.  Not only that, but there is quite a bit more to do in the game if the player decides to do these bad things.  Please watch the video below to hear the theme song, which is awesome, and read the words of the song.  They talk of the character of the Dovahkiin and of the main quest of the game (though there is a secondary main quest too).

As a parent, you may want to know more specifically about what I’m talking of in order to decide if you want to limit your kid’s game play in these areas.

1)  The Thieves Guild.  In past Elder Scrolls games, the Thieves Guild was more like a Robin Hood sort of organization.  In Skyrim it is not, and it is controlled by Mavin Blackbriar, a super evil, powerful, business woman who has a whole heck of a lot people fooled.  The most disturbing thing about Skyrim, when I first started playing, was finding out that you cannot get rid of Mavin and stop her murders and mafia-like activities in Riften – even though it seems like the game-makers intended to let you do something.  By the way the characters in Riften talk, and by the notes you find, it seems as though bringing Mavin to justice will be a quest . . . but in the end you can’t do anything about her.  In any case, there are lots of quests to do with the Thieves Guild and lots of items unique to the guild to be had, so it would be tempting to a lot of people to be in this guild.

2)  The Dark Brotherhood.  These are assassins for hire.  Mavin is in with them too.  You get the picture.  Again, quests and loot . . . so it’s tempting to play as a bad guy.

3)  Vampires.  The Dawnguard expansion allows the player to be a vampire, but the main idea is to be a part of the Dawnguard – vampire slayers.  The castle with the vampires is pretty disgusting and I think the game makers did an OK job of making vampires a negative thing, while still providing a mass-market expansion.  Vampires of course feed on humans.

4)  Werewolves and the Companions.  Being a werewolf in Skyrim can be only a matter of being stronger once a day, but there is the option to feed off of a human (cannibalism) in order to maintain the form a bit longer. With the Dawngaurd expansion, however,  it can get nastier.  Dawnguar adds a werewolf perk tree, and unlike the other perk trees, perks can only be ge gained by eating human hearts.  Yeah, gross.   There is a non-Companions quest in Skyrim that conveys the evilness of lycanthropy.  I not only included the Companions here because it is the group where you acquire lycanthropy, but I wanted to mention the less than charitable intentions of the Companions.   They only do good works if they’re paid, and one gets the impression that the more they are paid, the more likely they will be to go out and actually do the job.   A good thing about the Companions is that you get the opportunity to cure the leader of his werewolfism, which he very much desires.

As discussed in my original review, Skyrim is a complex game if played the way it was meant to be played.  One quest that I found to be bad, that seems like a good thing to do at first, is the Gildergreen quest.  In this quest, you are to recover an evil blade (hey, a clue there), which is needed in order to collect the sap of a certain tree.  The reason you need this sap is to revive the Gildergreen tree in Whiterun.  Before you revive it, it looks dead; afterwards it looks alive and vibrant, with purple flowers.  So WHY would that be a bad thing?  Well, you wouldn’t really know at first.

The first hint is the evil blade, but then, a lot of things in Skyrim are just things and don’t necessarily live up to their names.  But there is another hint.  When you go to where the mother tree is, which is in a very large, beautiful, and tranquil lit cavern, you encounter some people there enjoying the sanctuary.  When you talk with the lady there, you can ask her about the tree and the blade, and she responds very negatively to you.  Ok.  So . . . what do you do?  It doesn’t seem that bad or anything – you just want to revive the tree in Whiterun.  But what happens, no matter how hard you try to control the situation, is that the persons in the sanctuary get killed by the guardian Spriggons when you cut the mother tree for its sap.  Is reviving an old tree in Whiterun worth the lives of those people?  Not in my book.  The Whiterun folks can get a new tree!

I think the Gildergreen quest is actually a good lesson in deciphering information and choosing to do the better thing.  Skyrim is full of mental and moral exercises such as the Gildergreen quest.  A problem with this, however, as with the evil groups and quests in Skyrim generally, is that the player must choose not to do a lot of available game play.  As an adult I’m not very tempted to join the evil groups and do evil things, but for a lot of young people these might be tempting (especially in the presence of peer pressure).  I do think Skyrim has A LOT going for it compared to other games: visual and musical beauty, complexity (good luck trying to decipher all the purposefully conflicting books and dialogue regarding the history and religion of not only Skyrim, but that of the continent it’s on, Tamriel), historical and mythological aspects, etc.  As a Christian parent, I think it’s OK for older kids to play as long as the parent(s) knows about the game and is at least somewhat involved with their kid’s gameplay.

[Section on lycanthropy updated on Jan. 23, 2013]

A Beautiful Life: Amanda Berry Smith, 19th century black female evangelist

Amanda Smith (Wikimedia Commons).

I’ve always wanted to write about Amanda Smith, and here I’ll introduce her.  I’m sure she must be known in some circles, but when I first read about her over a decade ago, I was actually shocked.  I had never heard of her, even though she was an international evangelist and missionary.  Why is that?

Generally, we tend here, in America, to not learn much history, and when we attempt it, it seems all stale and dry, and no one seems to remember much.  Otherwise, I think we are still a male dominated culture, no matter what people say or how we can point to how long respect and equality have been taught in schools.  Amanda was black and female, and she experienced much prejudice on both counts in this country.  During her stays in other countries, including Great Britain, she was treated with respect and without prejudice.  Also, religious history and biography are not taught in school much, and churches basically stick to teaching the Bible or their own flavor of doctrine, and ignore historical and biographical lessons.  You can find quite a few references to Amanda online, but I read of her in Six Qualities of Women of Character by Debra Evans (Zondervan Publishing House 1996).

But what about Amanda; what is her story?  Amanda was born into slavery, in Maryland, in 1837.  Thankfully, her family was one that was permitted to stay together.  She knew her grandmother and her father, although her father worked so incredibly hard, she probably saw him little until their eventual freedom.  Her parents were faithful Christians, and her mother and grandmother prayed for the salvation of their young mistress, Celie.  Celie indeed became saved, but soon after contracted typhoid fever and died.  Her death bed wish to her parents was to let free her slaves, who were her Christian siblings.  Her parents granted her request and Amanda became free at the age of 13.

While she experienced the faith of her immediate family, she felt that she needed a conversion experience.  She needed to make a commitment herself.  This she did at a Baptist revival meeting in 1856; she was forever changed and strengthened by relationship with Christ that began then.  Her life was hard and she needed the Lord’s strength!  She married a man at 17, and he turned out to be an alcoholic.  Their marriage was full of strife, but it didn’t last long as her husband was killed in the Civil War.    She had a daughter by this marriage, Mazie, and Amanda worked hard indeed for her well-being.

Her second marriage wasn’t much better.  The man she married tricked her into thinking he was going to be appointed minister in a local church, which Amanda was thrilled about.  But after the marriage, she found that he in fact had given up the thought of ministering for Christ.  Can you imagine this deception, how it would feel to one who was overjoyed at the thought of being able to serve her Lord fully, and in fellowship with a group of other passionate believers?

After this, desiring affirmation from God, a confirmation of her salvation and desire to be close to God and serve Him, she prayed.  She encountered the Holy Spirit twice one night in September 1868,

. . . a wave came over me, and such a welling up in my heart . . . . How I have lived through it I cannot tell, but the blessedness of the love and the peace and power I can never describe.  O, what a glory filled my soul!  The great vacuum in my soul began to fill up; it was like a pleasant draught of cool water, and I felt it.  I wanted to shout Glory to Jesus!  . . . . Just as I put my foot on the top step I seemed to feel a hand, the touch of which I cannot describe.  It seemed to press me gently on the top of my head, and I felt something part and roll down and over me like a great cloak!  I felt it distinctly; it was done in a moment, and O what a mighty peace and power took possession of me!  (Amanda Smith, in An Autobiography:  The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Amanda Smith [1894], as quoted in Evans pp 180-181.)

Amanda now felt that the Lord was with her, in control of her life no matter how hard it was, and she prayed constantly and learned from her Lord during the most tedious of times.  She talked with anyone she could about Christ, finding it easy after taking the effort to start.  While her husband was alive, her ministry was local, but after he died things changed.  She began ministering at meetings in New Jersey, and soon found herself being invited to speak and sing at revival meetings all across the U.S.  She soon felt God telling her to minister in Africa and India, but she was to go to Great Britain first.

While fearful of crossing the Atlantic, she finally realized that her fear showed a lack of trust in God.  She eventually repented and made the watery trek.  God had a surprise in store for Amanda, and no doubt a confidence boosting mission it was:  the captain of the ship asked Amanda to conduct the ship’s services.  Though there was prejudice against her on that voyage, she won everyone over by the time the trip was over.

In Great Britain, she was welcomed with open arms.  It didn’t matter that she was black, or female.  She had thought that her time there would be about three months, but she preached around the whole of England and Scotland for two years.  She met and was respected by those in the upper class, and these helped her in her future work for the Lord.  Her daughter’s room and board in America were paid for, so she needn’t worry about that, and her trip to India finally became a reality.  The poverty and the very poor treatment of women she saw there “gripped her heart instantly.”  The experience made her realize something that affected her ministry the rest of her life–that evangelism must be coupled with the meeting of practical human needs as well.

Next, she ministered in Liberia, touching and influencing many lives there for eight years.  When she came back to the United States she worked with African-American orphans and opened an orphanage in the Chicago area.  She was able to do this with the funds garnered from her memoirs.  In her final few years of life, Amanda was able to enjoy Florida in a donated home.  She died in 1915, having lived a beautiful life of giving and loving.

A missionary to India, Bishop James Thoburn, said this of Amanda:

Through my association with her I learned many valuable lessons, more that has been of actual value to me as a preacher of Christian truth than from any other person I have ever met (Evans p 186).

Thank you, Lord, for blessing Amanda and blessing us through her example!