Category Archives: Arts & Culture

Engaging with a Forked Up Society: “The Good Place” vs “Civil Disobedience”

By Ben Colon-Emeric, Timothy Dwight ’22. Ben is majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

NOTE: The following article contains spoilers for Seasons 1-3 of NBC’s The Good Place.

 There’s a lot of talk around the Yale campus about being “complicit.” The idea is that if you put money into a system that is participating in immoral actions, you are engaging in immoral actions. The protests about Yale divesting its endowment from various investment groups, for example, often use this language of being “complicit.” The problem this raises in a deeply interconnected society is where to draw the line: are we complicit in immorality simply by participating in society? One exploration of this question comes in the NBC show “The Good Place,” which examines how to make moral decisions in the interconnected modern world. A much earlier attempt to address the problem of perpetuating a broken system came from Henry David Thoreau in “Civil Disobedience,” who discussed how to deal with a government that supported immoral practices. These two works show the two ways of dealing with a sinful world: engagement, or detachment.

Thoreau published “Civil Disobedience” in 1849 to a morally divided nation. The Mexican American War had ended the year before, with the U.S. claiming large swaths of the West in a somewhat lopsided treaty with Mexico. Of even greater moral significance to Thoreau was slavery, which the federal government still supported. Thoreau had every reason to feel his government did not represent his morality. He asks, “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then?” His disgust with the government’s support of slavery leads him to swear off government altogether, starting his essay with the provocative statement “’That government is best which governs not at all.’” Clearly, Thoreau believes that when government is unjust, it is best to detach oneself from it entirely rather than attempt to reform it. He decries those who would stay with their broken government while describing a night he spent in jail for refusing to pay poll tax, saying “If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent than the State requires.” Thoreau believes that if you support a system guilty of immorality, you too are guilty of that immorality.

At first glance, “The Good Place” may seem to concur with Thoreau’s indictment of humanity. In Season 3, the characters discover that no one has made it into the Good Place for hundreds of years. One human on Earth, Doug Forcett, had a vision of the Good Place and spent his entire life earning the maximum number of points he could, but was still far below the minimum. The reason for this barrier of entry is the interconnectedness of society. Buying a tomato earns negative points because the money spent funds farms that use pesticides and put carbon in the atmosphere. This is precisely the viewpoint advocated by Thoreau, where it is a sin to participate in a sinful society even when the sin is beyond your personal control. But this is where Thoreau and “The Good Place” creator Mike Schur diverge. Rather than accept the broken systems of the world as proof that humans themselves are broken, the main characters fight to prove that participating in a society that does bad things does not make you a bad person. The argument of “The Good Place” is that we are so interconnected, being complicit is inescapable, therefore it is not truly sinful.

The Christian is called to see the beauty of God in the world and to denounce the ugliness that is present there. As Christians, how do we engage with a society that is frequently unjust or downright evil? While there is much to admire in Thoreau’s moral consistency, the underlying motivation seems selfish. Thoreau believes that he has no mandate to help others, as he says, “I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society” and, more severely, “If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.” This seems like an inhumane, not to mention un-Christian response to the problem. “The Good Place” seems to have a more compassionate response, promoting participation in society and arguing that we do have a duty to help others. The problem with the approach promoted by “The Good Place” is that it utterly discards the idea of being complicit, deciding that complicitness is not reflective of a person’s actual goodness. This also seems wrong, as I think there is a point at which being complicit is sinful. If I held stock in Monsanto back when they were making Agent Orange, I feel I could be justly reprimanded for being complicit. 

I think that to live as a Christian in an interconnected world, the correct response is somewhere between Thoreau and “The Good Place.” I should recognize the sin in the world, but I should not disconnect myself from the world or ignore the role I am playing in society’s sins. Thoreau was right that we should, whenever possible, take our support away from immoral systems. Like the characters in “The Good Place,” I should work to be a good member of society, improving my community, instead of abandoning it, even when society is a little forking crazy.

Translations of Swahili Hymns

by Vienna Scott, Benjamin Franklin ’21

For the reader’s edification in meditation and appreciation of Swahili culture and language.

Simama Fanya Vita

1. Simama Fanya vita, askari wa Yesu!

Tuinue bendera ya ushindi wake!

Yeye huyaongoza, majeshi yake huku

Adui wote pia, Bwana awashinda.

2. Sikia baragumu, linalotuita!

Tuendelee mbele, lengo ni kushinda!

Tusiogope kamwe, hatari za vitani,

Pigana na adui, kwa nguvu za Mungu!

3. Simama fanya vita, kwa jina la Yesu!

Yafaa sisi sote, kumtegemea.

Na kwanza tuzivae, silaha zake Mungu!

Tukeshe siku zote, tuombe kwa bidi!

4. Shindano letu hapa, hima litakwisha,

Ndipo tutapumzika, baada ya vita.

Na kila mshindaji, atapokea taji,

Na utukufu mwingi, karibu na Mungu.

 

Stand Up and Fight (Make War)

Stand up and make war, soldiers of Christ

Raise the flag of his victory

He leads his forces here

All the enemies also, the Lord overcomes them

Hear the trumpet, calling us!

Let’s move forward, the goal is to win!

We should not be afraid, dangers of war

Fight the enemy, by the power of God!

Stand up and fight, in the name of Jesus!

It is good for us all to depend on him

And first let’s put on the armor of God

Let us always watch, pray earnestly!

Our contest here, it will end quickly

Then we will rest, after the war/battle

And every winner, he will receive a crown,

And much glory, near God

Ninashikwa na Kiu

1. Ninashikwa na kiu, Bwana, unipe maji,

Maji ya uhai ndani ya Maisha yangu.

:/: Bwana, Bwana, Yesu Mfalme wangu!

2. Moyo wangu wakupenda, Bwana

Mungu wangu. Nitakuja lini kwako,

Bwana Mfalme wangu?

3. Mchana na usiku Bwana nakulilia. Watu

Wanasema: “Mungu wako yuko wapi?”

4. Huzuni moyoni mwangu, Bwana Mungu wangu

Watu wengi wadharau, Mungu ‘wasamehe!

5. Twashikamana pamoja kwenda juu mbinguni.

Twashukuru, twafurahi kushirikiana.

6. Mwokozi, nguvu zaishaje moyoni mwangu?

Unisaidie Bwana, nitakushukuru.

I am thirsty

I am caught with thirst (I thirst), Lord, please give me water

Water of life in my life

Lord, Lord, Jesus my King!

My heart loves you, Lord

My God. when will I come to you

Lord my King?

Afternoon and night Lord I will cry for you. People

say: “ Where is your God?”

Sorrow in my heart, Lord my God

Many people full of hatred, God forgive them!

We cling to each other to go up to heaven

We are thankful, we are happy to cooperate

Savior, why am I running short of strength in my heart

Help me Lord, I will thank you.

 

Ni Siku Tukufu

1. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina,

Ya kupum-zika, haleluya, amina.

Tuache shughuli tumwabudu Mungu,

Bwana wa mbinguni, haleluya amina.

2. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina.

Tukufu kabisa, haleluya, amina.

Njoni ndugu zangu, tumwabudu Mungu,

Kwa roho na kweli, haleluya, amina.

3. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina.

Ya furaha mno, haleluya, amina.

Yesu ‘kafufuka, na sasa yu hai,

Anatuombea, haleluya, amina.

4. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina,

Ndiyo maarufu, haleluya, amina.

Tunaye Mwokozi atuokoaye,

Sasa na milele haleluya, amina.

5. Ni siku tukufu, haleluya, amina,

Siku ya neema, haleluya, amina.

Tangazeni Neno la Bwana Mwokozi,

Msifuni daima, haleluya, amina.

 

It is a glorious day

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen

For rest, hallelujah, amen

we stop things to worship God

Lord in heaven, hallelujah amen

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen

Absolutely glorious, hallelujah amen

Come my brothers, we worship God

By spirit and truth, hallelujah, amen.

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen.

Of great joy, hallelujah, amen.

Jesus, risen and now alive

He is praying for us, hallelujah, amen.

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen.

Yes remarkable, hallelujah, amen.

We have a savior who saves us

Now and forever, hallelujah, amen.

it is a glorious day, hallelujah, amen.

Day of grace, hallelujah, amen

Declare the word of the Lord Savior

Praise him always, hallelujah, amen

 

Two Ways to Get Home

By Bradley Yam, Saybrook ’21. Bradley is majoring in Ethics, Politics and Economics.

The summer crickets are loud in the bush and will be for some time before the cold wipes them out, leaving new eggs to hatch in the spring. This is the sound of a new academic year beginning: things living, things thriving, things dying, things starting again. College is a place filled with worry enough, especially for bright-eyed newcomers to the hallowed halls of the Academy. Those among them who have faith often carry an added burden: the fear of losing it.

The initial excitement and glittering celebration at admission is dampened by the first relative to say with a genuinely concerned expression, “Ah, but you will still go to Church right?” Or perhaps “Be careful and only take classes in Math and Engineering.” They only mean well, but their abashed tone tells you that they might secretly have regrets about encouraging you to apply in the first place. Then might come an awkward conversation with your pastor, perhaps a youth pastor, a young man who found the trial of college terrifying and is now trying his best to gird you properly for doubt inevitable without being the cause of it himself.

The truth is that many such small things foment a fear of the foreign. This is a sign of the more worrying tendency for churches to isolate themselves—from disagreement, from controversy, and often from both traditional and contemporary context. The end result is that Christian communities can become disconnected from the cultures they exist within. We should be salt and light in the world, existing in tension with the culture of the day. Instead, we have become in some respects a navel-gazing in-group, obsessed with an idealized version of the past.

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there, said G.K. Chesterton. I add that the home you keep is quite different from the one you find. One would never be able to point a stranger back to a home they had never left. Chesterton continues: the other way is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place. I am suggesting that this is the necessary walk of faith for the young Christian today. The world is coming to us faster that we can go out to it. We can no longer afford to stay at home, especially if we have already gone off to college!

The walk (or way) may be narrow, but it sure is not straightforward or the same for every person. Here are some universal encouragements.

(1) Practice your faith like you practice an instrument or a sport, even if you don’t entirely understand it. In fact, practice it precisely because you don’t entirely understand it. Faith is less a feeling and more a discipline. You can be open about your uncertainties. Faith is also not a set of propositions, but a lived reality, and you should feel freedom to question the propositions that are merely the descriptors and not the foundation of faith. You may question Newton’s equations, but not the falling apple that strikes you on the head.

(2) Understand your context, even if your faith is in the transcendent. We are (helplessly, as much as I hate to say it), social and temporal beings. Thus, our faith is socialized and cultured according to the times. But this faith is supposed to be in an unchanging, transcendent God—is this a paradox? Perhaps, but I prefer the word mystery. “We have this treasure in jars of clay”(2 Cor. 4-7). Our God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Transcendent himself, deigned to become contextualized, temporal, physical—incarnate. In this,he shows us that the transcendent shines not apart from but through the contextual. Understanding our own context, the traditions that have shaped us, and how we are markedly different from others who have arrived at this same place allow us to discern this truth faithfully.

(3) We ought not shy away from deconstruction. We can do it better. In order to be faithful, Christians have always deconstructed the world around them, seeing past the glitter and the gold through to what lies beneath. What is the world pursuing, what are you most tempted to pursue? Fame? Money? Acclaim? A successful deconstruction is one that allows you to see better, to see what truly matters. C.S. Lewis said that if you see through everything, then everything is transparent. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see. Strive to see what is of ultimate worth and value.

(4) Find a community of faith that practices consistently. Two is better than one, and a cord of three strands is not easily broken, says the Ecclesiaster. This is because the practice of our faith is a communal practice, like a team sport. Of course, the practice of faith as a community is infinitely more complex, difficult, and fraught with risk than any sport, but also infinitely more worthwhile, magical, and life-giving than any individual practice of faith can hope to be.

(5) Engage vigorously with difference. There is no lack of lines to be drawn in our world, and there are many voices insisting that you may not empathize or understand across the boundaries of your specific religion, race, ethnicity, gender, class, what have you. Discourse is embattled. So be all the more brave and courageous in the face of censure, since you are seeking to love and understand. In doing so, your faith will be challenged to be valid in the diversity of experiences you will encounter. This is surely a good thing.

The summer crickets are loud in the bush now. I must go do the dishes and take the laundry out and decide on classes—most of which are not Math or Engineering. I must remember to pray before I go to bed, and next week I will go to church and bible study. For now, the incessant chirping reminds me that I have come to find home.

 

Surrender

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Isabella Zou, Timothy Dwight ’21.

how to believe that He knows best:
– field grass, clothed
– birds, full-bellied
– lilies, well-rested
– upturned heads, softly alight, singing
it is my will that you remove my cup,
my hope that it is your will too—
let knees grind floor in mute unknowing
melting into raw soul flesh pain,
let bloodflow burst through glands and pores
pressure throbbing brain and mind,
let throat cords clang and shrill through ears
gulped by careless atmosphere
let the gut tremble take  it away
take it away
takeitaway
let it hope—
let it grip, let it hiss not my will but yours

yours

Fortress Three

This is part of a syndicated series for Lent 2019 with Harvard’s Christian Journal Ichthus. Visit Ichthus at http://www.harvardichthus.org

By Aidan Stoddart ’20. Aidan is a sophomore in Eliot House concentrating in the Comparative Study of Religion.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
abides under the shadow of the Almighty
He shall say to the LORD,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold,
my God in whom I put my trust.”
(Psalm 91:1-2, nrsv)

Fortress Three
Glory be God! Fortress Three
Being’s Source, Word Incarnate
and Living Breath, our Paraclete
Holy Dwelling! (in-dwelling One)
in dwelling here the Loving Son
opened ever her heaven gates
to encircle us, follow us, cast
light’s golden shadow on
every dark valley and hollow
to hallow the cursed with
stronghold sanctity so
when fearing my bones shake
when sleeping I the sky-routes take
(or the mundane pathways when awake)
always I am in and with You:
my refuge, my strength, Blessed Jesu.

Thanos and Theodicy: Why don’t we just fix the world? (Part 1)

by Bradley Yam, SY ’21

Imagine that you are given a glove that granted you magical god-like powers over all of human life everywhere. You would only need to snap your fingers, and it would in some way make the world perfect. It would be whatever version of perfect you choose. Minmax human suffering and happiness? Done. Eradicate systemic oppression and inequality? Done. Eliminate scarcity of everything, everywhere? Done!

If this sounds like some purple giant from the latest Marvel’s Avengers movie, and if you knew the plot of the movie, you would be suspicious of this line of questioning. “But we all know that Thanos was crazy, after all, if we had that kind of power, we would surely use it for good. It would be unreasonable, irresponsible not to. After all, isn’t that what being at Yale is all about? Making the world a better place? Fixing the injustices of the world?” In fact, this is also one of our perennial gripes with the idea of an all-powerful, loving God, that he hasn’t already fixed the world. This is theodicy: answering why is the world bad if God is good. I am going to argue that if we take the question of Thanos’ glove seriously, we might not have a solution to theodicy, but we will ask the question of theodicy differently.

For the uninitiated, in the latest Marvel Avengers blockbuster, Thanos gains the Infinity Gauntlet, the glove grainting sovereignty over Soul, Reality, Mind, Space, Time and Power. The wielder of the glove gains god-like dominion over the universe. Our purple giant Thanos uses this unrestrained power to exterminate half of all life in the universe in order to end the suffering caused by overpopulation. You can complain about Thanos’ failure at Economics 101, but Marvel chose to portray him as basically altruistic. Thanos, unlike almost every other character on the good side, sacrifices his emotions in favour of his ideals. He sets aside his own interests, for the sake of what he thinks is the higher good. Regardless of how we feel about those ideals, we are led into admiring his methodical and relentless pursuit of his goals over the last gazillion movies. Now this is the kind of pursuit that Yalies can resonate with.

Thanos’ unyielding and unswerving determination confronts us with the potential problems with our own expectations of the perfect world. We all think we could do better than Thanos, but we seldom stop to consider that in his position, we might do far, far worse. That the world is not yet prefect is clear to everyone. Yet, if we press the the more rigorous flipside of the theodical question, “what is a reasonable version of the best possible world?”, there is unlikely to be any consensus at all! We might all agree that a marginal increase in freedom, a marginal increase in equality, and a marginal decrease in suffering are all good things, but our imagination fails us when we try to take the limit of those ideals. All our utopias turn into dystopias. We trust the old adage that good things can be taken too far. We criticize Thanos, but cannot really offer the perfect alternative.

Since it seems impossible to concur on what to do with Thanos’ glove, we ought to ask the questions related to theodicy with at least a sense of our lack of complete knowledge. The question: “Why does evil exist?” is still valid, because it is apparent that evil does indeed exist! But that hardly puts the nail in the coffin for the an all-powerful, benevolent God – because we ourselves are unable to articulate what exactly we would expect an all-powerful, benevolent God to do! In effect, we are left with a mystery: we don’t want things to stay as they are, but we do not know what we want them to become. If we are seekers of the truth, then we need to confront that mystery, not use it to explain God away.

We will think about what that mystery suggests to us in the second half (yet to be published) part of this article. For now, as privileged and empowered people, we need to be conscious that of our desire “to seek, to strive, and not to yield” after our ideals. We only imagine that we might do good, but we are all always wearing Thanos’ glove- will you snap?