Why I like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

To show that I’m not just a philosophical and theological stick in the mud, devoid of pop culture savvy, I’m going to do something a little new in this post. With The Avengers: Age of Ultron released Thursday, I thought I would take the time to come out and say that I am thoroughly a fanboy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spider-Man has been my favorite superhero since childhood, but Disney/Marvel just got the licensing rights to put the web-head back on the silver screen — and hopefully well compared to the dreadful Amazing Spider-Man 2.

The MCU character I really connect with is the quintessential super-soldier himself, Steve Rogers, a.k.a Captain America (Chris Evans). In a time when the Left controls all the mass disseminators of culture — Hollywood, TV, news media and academia — it’s fantastic that a character that represents old-time American values isn’t just rewritten to accommodate today’s rampant moral relativism and politically correct Orwellian doublespeak. He actually is extolled and portrayed sympathetically as a paragon of moral fiber and virtue. His man-out-of-time schtick has never come off as a goody-too-shoes boy scout to me but rather as someone who has moral convictions, plants his feet and says, “I believe in x” or “y is wrong, and I won’t stand by it.” This is refreshing and appreciated.

For instance, in the original Avengers, somehow this exchange (if you want the actual scene) got into a movie: Not only did director Joss Whedon, a self-avowed atheist, stayed faithful to the character, but he showed he actually understands Christian theism better than many of today’s New Atheists. The sophisticated theist (here, here, here) does not hold God to be anything like Thor, Loki, Zeus, Ra, Ganesha, Quetzalcoatl, etc. Even though philosophically-minded theists disagree among themselves whether God is ipsum esse subsistens — Subsistent Being Itself — or is the necessary, infinite and maximally great being amongst contingent, finite and imperfect ones, comparisons to Odin, Vishnu, Marduk and the like are mere caricatures. As Edward Feser pithily puts it: “When you understand why I dismiss all other gods, you’ll understand why I dismiss your ‘one god further’ objection as puerile.”

Contrasted with the Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier inculcates some good political wisdom instead of theological thought. As a brief synopsis to add context, after the events of the Battle of New York, as depicted in the Avengers, Cap has gone to work for S.H.I.E.L.D, an advanced and clandestine intelligence agency headed by the sometimes shady super-spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Cap finds himself clashing with Fury due to his manipulations, lack of honesty and his plans to execute a morally ambiguous answer to a 21st-century problem that should resonate in this post-9/11, Patriot Act, drone-warfare age. Not to give the details away, but Cap calls him out on it, describing Fury’s plans as such: “I thought the punishment came after the crime…By holding the gun to everyone on Earth and calling it protection?…This isn’t freedom. This is fear.” The whole scene needs to be watched to see how Cap responds to Fury’s retorts. Our hero recognizes that big, sweeping governmental solutions, where the ends justify the means, aren’t enlightened nor do they preserve liberty.

Cap’s criticisms are inherently conservative in nature, not progressive. Ahem, cue up Grubergate, “If you like your plan you’ll keep your plan” and Marxist eschatology, where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat to immanetize workers’ paradise, as a few examples that come to mind. See, agents of the Left operate under the delusions that they know best, that their utopias are not only true but achievable and that these axioms absolve the lying, defamation, bloodshed and domination of every facet of human life and will to get there. Don’t believe me? Who wants to tax soda? Who wants to introduce legislation to dictate what is considered officially consensual sex between a man and a woman? Who wants ensure that the appropriate numbers of people of each sex, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation are on TV, hired by employers, distributed correctly among professions or admitted into college? Who wants to implement policy to address the issue of racism despite there being no overt racists, i.e. correct thought-crimes or subconscious crimes? Who wants to re-educate people via “sensitivity training”? Who looks to punish those who refuse to bake a cake for a ceremony because of sincere religious and moral convictions when this spiteful patron could easily go somewhere else? Who demands the state step in to remove religious symbols from public ground lest the non-religious or those from different faiths take offense and feel stigmatized? Find those who call upon governmental force, that by its nature is always backed by a barrel of a gun, or other formally coercive and direct means like boycotts or terminations of employment as a first resort to confront every problem or diverging of opinions under the sun. Good, now those are your totalitarians.

The second gem of conservative virtue, which is very much related to the nefarious nature of the Left as described above, comes in one of those cliche scenes when a villain monologues about his scheme to our plucky protagonists. Within this one, this evildoer waxes:

…humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom. What we did not realize is that if you try to take that freedom, they resist…Humanity needed to surrender its freedom willingly…[We’ve] been secretly feeding crisis, reaping war. And when history did not cooperate, history was changed…[We’ve] created a world so chaotic that humanity is finally ready to sacrifice its freedom to gain its security. Once the purification process is complete, [our] new world order will arise.

I would replace “chaotic” with “unfair” or “unjust” and “security” with “equality” in order to apply it more accurately to designs of the Left. But this is another apt characterization. As I argued earlier, the Left does not believe in the liberty of free-market solutions, permit dissenting ideas to challenge its own in the marketplace of ideas or think the rule of law and its system of checks and balances, constitutional or otherwise, will right itself. It ultimately does not trust us with our own freedom, as evidenced by the perpetual attempts to regulate everything and politicize anything in everyday life as justification for its interference.

I maintain these machinations really picked up steam when Marx’s intellectual successors like Gramsci, Adorno and Horkheimer were puzzled as to why the apocalyptic communist revolutions never occurred like Marx and Engels had predicted. After all, white Russians opposed red Russians; Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists fought again Mao Zedong’s communists; and the United States and its Western allies challenged the Soviet Union and its satellites. Therefore, these Marxist philosophers set out to determine why the popular uprisings struggled to even spark, let alone why heaven on Earth had not occurred as forecast, i.e. “What we did not realize is that if you try to take that freedom, they resist.” In the 1930s, Gramsci focused on what is known as cultural hegemony, where the ruling class transmits its values and beliefs, via educational institutions and mass media, to the exploited classes for the downtrodden to adopt them against their better interests as a means of control. Adorno, Horkheimer, Mercuse and others submitted a critical theory of Western civilization, which I believe has proven as one of the most influential contributions of philosophy in the last century. Critical theory is not only alive but has thrived on college campuses in its relentless pursuit to chastise the West, breeding and festering in university departments like African-American, gender and queer studies. Though I also submit the conditioning starts in earlier education, however, where do you think the myths of the wage gap and 1 out of 5 college girls are sexually assaulted exactly are born from? Moreover, gen-ed courses feature curriculum that indoctrinates students to believe that America is still fundamentally racist, white Christian males are the great oppressors, capitalism is the great evil and American imperialism is as heinous if not worse than the forcible subjugation of foreign peoples as perpetrated by ancient Rome, the Mongol khanates or Hirohito Japan. Meanwhile, the critique — if you can really call it that — ignores the inconvenient fact pertaining to all the cultural, intellectual, technological innovation, individual wealth and personalized autonomy in a nation that has never been so populous and ethnically and ideologically diverse in history. Reveling in both its shrillness and simplicity, this appraisal of America and the West thoroughly has been reinforced and perpetuated by our popular media and culture, which curiously also was a locus of scrutiny for Gramsci, Adorno and other Marxists from the Frankfurt School.

Isn’t it interesting that what these philosophers identified as weapons against the weak, within a generation of their writings, have become magically the inverse: tools to promote “social justice”? What a convenient and fortuitous reversal, unless its just the Hollywood and other media creme de la creme decidedly projecting their values onto the common person to adopts as his or her own, another manifestation of Gramscian cultural hegemony coming from a direction that heavily veers to the Left. Based on what we see on TV, doesn’t the outside world seem so “chaotic,” “unfair” and “unequal” that many of our “liberal” friends have mistakenly bought into it all and are unwittingly “ready to sacrifice their freedom” to ensure “equality”?

Let’s go through another litany of examples to demonstrate what I mean: Who wants to drastically raise the minimum wage even though it naturally will result in a sharp drop in jobs?; who wants the government to provide for entitlements to education and housing and more benefits to the unemployed despite that such initiatives impoverish cities like Detroit and Baltimore; who wants to redefine marriage, rendering mothers and fathers as optional to their children in the view of the state?; who wants to ban assault rifles and enact other gun control measures that likely will be ineffectual on gun violence, in general, because handguns are overwhelming the deadliest firearms in the country?; who demands that the Washington Redskins change its name because some people in a minority find it racially insensitive, despite such a change would fail to address the real empirical problems within their communities? Doesn’t it seem like an extremely bad, crisis-steeped world that requires decisive, comprehensive action from Big Brother, as everything from video games to “mansplaining” is somehow a form of overbearing oppression and injustice?

Furthermore, for the Left, “when history did not cooperate, history was changed”: Travyon Martin, the teenager who pounded “white hispanic” George Zimmerman’s face before being shot in self-defense, is Emmett Till; Ferguson, when a community abandoned all counsel from Rev. Martin Luther King to flaunt the rule of law and further impoverish itself, is Selma. “Hands up, don’t shoot” was and is a lie, yet demonstrators continue to repeat it to protest racist police brutality even though the evidence shows Michael Brown’s slaying was not an example of racist police brutality. Illegal aliens are now “undocumented workers,” and “global warming” has become “climate change.” A University of Virginia fraternity’s members gang-raped a girl, except that they didn’t. Orwell: War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.

As for the purification process, look no further than Memories Pizza which apparently deserves to be threatened out of business because its owners wouldn’t service a same-sex wedding if they were ever asked. A gay hotelier must pay penance for meeting with “anti-gay” Ted Cruz. Actress Alice Eve is harangued until she recants for stating the irrefutable truth: Bruce Jenner is a man whether or not he feels like he has the soul of a woman. More Orwell: “…we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

Anyway, I could go on ad infinitum chronically how today’s mainstream Left and progressives are the antithesis of what they claim to be. With Marvel in mind though, I summarily find it absolutely great that Cap finds that it his duty to say the Orwellian obvious like “This isn’t freedom. This is fear” to the “enlightened” Fury. I’m ecstatic that Cap fights against those who have lied, slandered and manipulated their way to cajole people into endorsing things that makes government bigger for no real purpose or reason other than some elite agenda. I find it hilariously ironic that all this appears in and can be gleaned from a singular work within one of the propaganda engines that the Left uses to “win young hearts and minds.”

Oh, and if you disagree with me, and or this analysis rubs you the wrong way, you should still give the film a try anyway, as it’s highly entertaining. Like the best superhero movies such as The Dark Knight or The Avengers, it not only stands alone but actually transcends the genre. Captain America: The Winter Soldier has elements from spy thrillers and 80s action fare. The fight sequences are arguably the best Marvel has ever produced, and I propose could be the best in recent memory. For the most part, they’re less CGI, more hand-to-hand combat and practical effects. Plus, this is the best iteration of the Winter Soldier I’ve ever seen. He’s a Terminator, not a whiny brat — at least so far — and actually a physical match for Cap. Overall, strongly recommended.

Enjoy (***Major spoiler after 02:57***),

Modus Pownens


Atheism is NOT a “lack of belief”

One of the tactics new atheists (i.e., those who think drink the infantile swill of Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Dan Barker, Bill Maher or Jerry Coyne as if it’s the Kool-Aid of Jim Jones) employ that just aggravates me more than the Seahawks not giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch at the goal line in the Superbowl is defining atheism as a “mere lack of belief in God.” Frankly, it’s intellectually lazy, intellectually dishonest and utterly unacceptable.

Isn’t this assessment a little uncouth and uncivil, Modus Pownens? Well, those who claim to have the market cornered on reason and wax on about how they sit at the intellectual big kids table in contrast to us delusional, superstitious faith-based types should behave as exemplary masters of incisive and profound erudition. If you talk big game and belittle, you better bring it. If you’re a superior thinker, conduct yourself accordingly. And those who repeatedly lord their alleged cerebral advantage over others yet continually produce hollow rhetoric deserve to be exposed similarly like the ancient sophists were appropriately trivialized by Socrates. In the words of Bill Vallicella: “Civility is for the civil.”

Now that that’s out of my system, I don’t think of myself as Socrates. I’m no more intelligent than the average person, and I’m always still learning and refining my views and argumentation. However, it’s no braggadocio for me to claim that I’m more initiated in “the love of wisdom” than the typical online, armchair philosopher of religion. I’m far from an expert, but my prowess in the subject likely extends beyond my undergraduate minor, as I’ve taken non required upper level courses in ethics and metaphysics and continue to keep my skills sharp by reading the writings of professional philosophers when I can. I present all this modestly, yet accurately, as I’m about to put this irksome meme — because that’s what it really is — into the ground.

Let’s start with the commonly articulated reasoning to this claim of “lack of belief” — if any is given at all — which is based in etymology. Basically, it’s the prefix “a” refers to a lack thereof, and “theism” means belief in God, ipso facto, atheism is a “lack of belief” in God with no positive beliefs of its own. Apart from the latter part of the conclusion being patently false as atheists appeal to positive claims about reality when they argue for atheism against theism, the breakdown of the word is equally egregious.

Theism also isn’t strictly confined to meaning a belief in God, as the suffix “ism” has other connotations. As per Wikipedia, “Ism is a derived word used in philosophy, politics, religion or other areas pertaining to an ideology.” By their nature, ideologies or philosophical positions are not devoid of beliefs. But more importantly, theism, loosely speaking, can and has been accurately defined to remove belief from its articulation to the philosophical position that God exists. If atheism is derived from how theism is defined as the New Atheists seem to do, then why can’t atheism, loosely speaking, be expressed as the antithetical philosophical position that God does not exist?

Moreover, the more we scrutinize here, the New Atheists’ semantic game appears more and more questionable. Even if we define theism in the terms of a belief in God, beliefs are often held by philosophers to be propositions, meaning they express statements that are either true or false. As atheism is held in direct opposition to theism, yet if it is a “lack of belief,” then it can’t be either true or false. But this can’t be right, as it doesn’t square with the behavior of atheists, who maintain both the claim that God does not exist  — and by extension, atheism —  is true and conversely the claim God does exist — and again by extension, theism — is false. Simply, “lack of belief” is a psychological state or a property. A property is not the sort of thing that can be true or false. Atheism clearly is considered to be either true or false. It’s not a property like having blueness or sadness, and anyone who argues otherwise clearly brings into doubt as whether or not they should be taken seriously.

What’s also worth talking about is the host of ideologies and positions that feature the suffix “ism.” Why are these never defined as an “absence of belief” in something? Conservatism isn’t considered the “absence of belief” in liberalism and vice versa. Likewise, communism isn’t deemed a “lack of belief” in capitalism, and we can go on indefinitely. What about atheism makes it different than every other “ism” out there? Even in the case of positions that make statements about what or what not exists, the position defending the negative claim is never defined as a “lack of belief.” In philosophy, nominalism is the view universals don’t exist, but it is never posited as being a “lack of belief” in universals. It seems to me, the new atheists reek of special pleading.

Then there’s philosophy of religion and philosophers of religion. Shouldn’t the very discipline and its experts, the people whose livelihoods are based on their ability to think critically and be rational, likely know what’s best? Here’s some quotes:

Atheism is the view that there is no God.

Matt McCormick

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.

J.J.C. Smart

An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not.

Bertand Russell, the father of analytic philosophy

I anticipate there will be those who will bring up strong/weak varieties atheism. Oh, I’m well aware, but I find the strong and weak forms of atheism as problematic to establish a presumption of atheism not only for the above reasons, but it also obfuscates perfectly good terms like atheist and agnostic, puts an unreasonable burden of proof on the theist and distracts what’s at issue, i.e., whether or not God exists.

I suppose I always can redefine theism as the lack of belief in metaphysical naturalism and see how the atheist likes it.

That’s only fair, right?

Modus Pownens