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John Mitchel, impervious ideologies and the value of doubt

28/08/2015

The other night in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast Anthony Russell gave a lecture on ‘John Mitchel; less revolutionary than the average English shopkeeper?’. [for other posts on this most remarkable of relatives see here, here, here and here)

Russell has just published Between Two Flags: John Mitchel & Jenny Verner and it is a very good book indeed.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the rebel’s birth but it is passing largely unremarked. Mitchel, once one of Pearse’s ‘four gospels’ of Irish nationalist literature and inspiring hero to De Valera, has long since become an embarrassment for nationalist and republican Ireland – and in his lifetime of course was already an embarrassment for his Protestant and Unionist kin whom he tried, vainly, to win over to the republican cause.

Russell’s lecture title is taken from a critical assessment made by Emile Montegut exactly 100 years ago. At first glance it seems a rather preposterous notion.

Not sure what the politics of an average English shopkeeper are these days, but let’s assume Montegut had in mind a quiet, no-nonsense, small businessman happy to make a modest living  from a local market of loyal customers.

What would such an icon of the status quo have to do with Mitchel the romantic, impetuous, ferocious, physical-force republican man of letters who rebelled against just about everyone and every movement he ever worked with? Who sacrificed his own life as well as two sons killed and one maimed in the uncompromising pursuit of political ideals in Ireland and Confederate America?

Well maybe more than you’d imagine at first glance.

What Russell brought out convincingly was how it was Mitchel’s fierce and violent tunnel-vison hatred of English rule in Ireland that was the driving force behind his elevation to rebel hero. At heart however he was no social or political revolutionary.

His was a classicist mindset of fixed hierarchies. Mitchel belonged in Rome where slaves remained slaves and social boundaries were maintained by a ruthless lack of sentiment. It was no accident that in his writings the English were the enemies of Rome – the Carthaginians

So negro slaves were to remain negro slaves – it was the good and right and proper order of things. The Confederacy’s way of life was to be preferred and defended (whatever it cost Mitchel and his family) against the industrial barbarian North. Likewise, lower-class convicts in Van Diemen’s land would be better off hanged. Epidemics were inevitable and natural ways to rid the world of the weak and the sick.

The Ireland he dreamt of seeing one day ‘free’ was, as Russell puts it,

“a rural hierarchical Ireland, peopled with fair landlords and well-treated tenants, an Ireland were crime and misdeeds were to be punished with the lash, if necessary.” (212)

This unlocks why Mitchel so despised capitalism and industrialisation. His vision of an independent liberated land was a romantic, classical, rural and simple pre-Enlightenment Ireland of “innumerable brave working farmer rising from a thousand hills” who would never trouble themselves about “progress of the species” and such worthless ideas. (213) Sound familiar? De Valera’s famous 1943 St Patrick’s Day speech is pure Mitchel. It was no accident that De Valera went on pilgrimage to visit Mitchel’s cell on Spike Island in Cork Harbour – the last place he was imprisoned before his transportation.

Anthony Russell described Mitchel’s one ‘moment of doubt’. As the Confederacy stared defeat in the face in 1864, it was proposed that slaves could be conscripted to fight. Later in the Confederate Act of Congress freedom was allowed to be a reward for faithful war service.

Mitchel’s entire worldview was threatened by such notions. With typical relentless honesty he reasoned

Now, if freedom be a reward for negroes – why, then it is, and always was, a grievous wrong and a crime to hold them in slavery at all … If it be true that the state of slavery keeps these people depressed below the condition to which they could develop their nature, their intelligence and their capacity for enjoyment, and what we call “progress,” then every hour of their bondage for generations is a black stain upon the white race.

But this wasn’t so much a moment of doubt as self-reinforcing rhetoric. Mitchel knew (as always) the answer to his own question. The black slave should remain a slave because he is not fit for freedom or equal in value to a white person. Case closed.

He was a man entirely free of the awkward encumbrance of doubt. To his dying day he despised any form of negotiation or compromise on England’s presence in Ireland.

Now I don’t know about you, but as I have grown older, I value doubt more.

To be without doubt is to be like Mitchel – never wrong, completely sure of your own rightness whatever the cost, impervious to other’s opinions (and often feelings), not needing to say sorry, and certainly not to repent (turn around) from actions, attitudes or words. (Mitchel had no time for Christianity’s call to confession, humility and forgiveness. The life and teaching of Jesus, as far as I am aware never appears in any considered way in all of his many writings). An inflated sense of self-importance coupled with a lack of self-depreciating humour make the no-doubter someone who will continually fall out with anyone who does not agree with him (and it usually is a him and that’s a whole other discussion).

Do you know some no-doubters? I suspect you do. In figuring out who I can work best with it is the no doubter I will avoid like the plague (if I can!).

No doubters can be personality driven – they are just right about everything by default. Mitchel, there is good evidence, was engaging, loving and loyal. He was more an ideological no doubter – and they are the most dangerous of all.

For an ideology without doubt can become a truly monstrous thing.

‘Hot’ nationalisms are a form of ideology that allow no doubt, no questions, no complicating alternative points of view that dilute their pure and simple utopian vision.

We’ve had our fair share in the last couple of centuries or so – British imperialism, American exceptionalism, German national socialism and the Holocaust, Serbian ethnic cleansing, Hutu ethnic genocide, Turkish genocide of Armenians, Communist eradication of millions of people in China and USSR for the greater good of the state, IS ethnic cleansing of Shia’s and any others outside their version of pure Islam, American and European no doubters who arrogantly thought they could bring Western democracy to Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Afghanistan, and various tribal, ethnic and religious cleansings in Africa, Asia and India …

Just to be clear, I’m not equating these morally. There are different temperature levels within and consequences of no doubt ideologies.

Back in Ireland, Mitchel helped to inspire Pearse and his ‘pure’ blood-sacrifice for Ireland on Easter Sunday 1916 – a centenary that I for one will not be celebrating next year.

Notice that the one thing in common with all political no doubt ideologies is violence. ‘No doubt’ legitimizes physical force. it did for Mitchel, it does for all others as well.

So, what do you believe in? How deeply and passionately do you believe? What room is there for doubt in your beliefs? What is doubt good for? Where does it become damaging?

When it comes to Christianity,  believers are to proclaim and share the universal ‘gospel truth’ that Jesus is Lord of all. What place is there for doubt in how Christians engage in this task? In how they read the Bible? In other words, is Christianity just another ‘impervious ideology’ or something else?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

A farewell

29/07/2015

After 25 years in the Republic of Ireland – 20 of those in theological education with Irish Bible School and later Irish Bible Institute – I’m moving North across the border to become Principal of Belfast Bible College.

It’s an honour and a challenge – one which is both exciting and daunting at the same time. BBC is one of the larger Bible Colleges in the UK and has a crucial place in broad evangelical theological education and training in Northern Ireland; it is linked with Queen’s University Belfast (post-grad and undergrad) and Cumbria University (undergrad); has earned an excellent reputation for Christian training; has a global missions perspective and has a very strong team, both teaching and support staff with whom I look forward to working and quite a few whom I know already.

The Board and staff have been very welcoming and my prayer (which you are more than welcome to join!) is that I will be a blessing to the college: in leading the team; in strategic direction; in teaching and working with students; and encouraging personal, academic and spiritual development.

That’s ahead. This post is looking back to say farewell.

Saying goodbye to many dear friends in IBI and in Maynooth Community Church is something that I didn’t think I would be doing.  We were married in Tipperary, our children have been born and raised in the Republic, we were settled in work, church and community and I had no plans to return North.

But I am sure that God has been gently pushing, directing and then opening the door to BBC.

So this is a very fond farewell to students, staff, teachers and volunteers at IBI with whom I have had the privilege of working, laughing, praying, hoping, planning and sometimes lamenting with. I will miss you all deeply. It has been quite a journey and I pray for God’s generous provision and blessing on the Institute in the years ahead as it continues to serve a vital function of training and leadership development within the Irish church.

Also farewell, in a more drawn out way as I commute for a while, to fellow elders and members of MCC. You have been and are close family who enrich and bless our lives beyond measure. I am deeply grateful to have been involved in MCC since its inception over 10 years ago under the leadership of Rev Keith McCrory. We’ve gone through a lot together and it’s a place where God’s Spirit is at work doing what he does best – creating self-giving loving relationships.

And, at the risk of getting too verbose (again), this brings to mind how, about 26 years ago at London Bible College (now LST), little notes with a cryptic imperative appeared in the students’ pigeon holes. They said

“Take Care of Tomorrow’s Memories.”

No-one had an idea what they were about until the next chapel service when Dr Peter Cotterell (one of my favourite teachers and supervisor of my undergrad dissertation in missiology) spoke. The notes were his typically creative way of getting people interested and thinking beforehand (must have worked – I still remember it).

His text was Romans 16 and Paul’s long and rich list of people he has worked with. It’s a fascinating glimpse of  the relational network of the apostle. We love to abstract and theologize Paul as if he was some sort of disembodied mind producing finely crafted systematic theology for scholars to write books about. But here he is commending, thanking, greeting and encouraging; talking fondly of numerous ‘dear friends’, co-workers, fellow apostles (including Junia) – as well as Rufus’ mother who had been like a mother to him.

Peter’s theme was the importance of loving, deep relationships at the heart of all Christian ministry. His cryptic imperative was always to keep working at relationships, not as an optional secondary aspect of ministry, but as the actual context in which authentic Christian ministry takes place. For how we relate today soon become tomorrow’s memories.

Thank you to all who have given me good memories to treasure.

Faith in the Real World

03/06/2015

This Friday and Saturday we are holding a two day conference on ‘Faith in the Real World’

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Pastor Steve Vaughan has a post interviewing Sean Mullan, Damian Jackson and me about the event – good job Steve!

The quotes below give a flavour of the themes that we will explore together. If they capture your interest, book in and bring others in your church along as well.

“Jesus speaks to the world about everything that really matters in life. It is our responsibility to follow him and be with him in this difficult, delicate, and crucial work.”  (Dallas Willard and Gary, Jr. Black, The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth)

“‘Mission’ is the calling of God’s people in the world to witness to the salvation accomplished in Christ in the whole of their lives. It involves every part of their life and is in life, word, and deed.” (Michael Goheen)

“Our increasingly complex society is one in which we operate in close proximity with people at work, in our neighbourhood, on the bus, in the classroom and possibly in the same house who regard our own world view as nonsense. We need to understand what we believe about God, ourselves, other people and the world around us.” (Simon Smart. A Spectators Guide to Worldviews).

“For this, in the end, is what the Christian faith as a prophetic religion is all about—being an instrument of God for the sake of human flourishing, in this life and the next.”  (Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith).

“If we ignore the world we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world. Justice and justification by faith, worship and political action, the spiritual and the material, personal change and structural change belong together. As in the life of Jesus, being, doing and saying are at the heart of our integral task.” (Micah Declaration on Integral Mission)

Pentecost Sunday

24/05/2015

The Spirit is first and foremost the eschatological presence of God in the here and now. A couple of quotes for reflection this Pentecost Sunday.

First from JDG Dunn

“for Paul the gift of the Spirit is the first part of the redemption of the whole man, the beginning of the process which will end when the believer becomes a spiritual body, that is, when the man of faith enters into a mode of existence determined solely by the Spirit.” Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, 311.

Second from Max Turner

“We conclude that for each of our three major witnesses, [Luke, Paul and John] the gift of the Spirit to believers affords the whole experiential dimension of the Christian life, which is essentially charismatic in nature. The gift is granted in the complex of conversion-initiation. The prototypical activities of the “Spirit of Prophecy” which believers receive – revelation, wisdom and understanding, and invasive speech – together enable the dynamic and transforming presence of God in and through the community. These charismata operate at individual and corporate levels, enabling a life-giving, joyful, understanding of (and ability to apply) the gospel, impelling and enabling different services to others in the church, and driving and empowering the mission to proclaim the good news.” Max Turner, The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: Then and Now. 155.

Faith, hope and love in South Tipperary

22/05/2015

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a profoundly Christian funeral.

The beautiful church was packed with all sorts of people – including family, friends, colleagues, carers from the local hospice, local people whose lives had been touched by the remarkable woman whose life we were remembering and celebrating.

There were tears, there was fond laughter, there were songs, there were prayers, there were wonderfully well-spoken words.

Framing all of this, for me anyway, was a deeply tangible sense of St Paul’s great triumvirate of the Christian life: faith, hope and love.

Faith

In focus was the faith in Jesus and subsequent life of the lady whose earthly life had drawn to a close earlier this week: a vibrant, active, transforming faith that motivated her life.

As someone said, “she walked the walk” right to the end. Everyone who spoke, from young to old, talked of the impact she had had on their lives – nurturing, encouraging, caring, daring and challenging. A faith that trusted God, took risks, lived boldly and fearlessly fought injustice wherever she saw it.

Linking to the last post, here was faith made manifest in a life of good works. There was even a standing ovation by the congregation. And while she would have been horrified at the thought, it seemed perfectly right and fitting to applaud such a life.

Hope

Yet this was a funeral with a coffin and a grieving husband and children. Hearts were heavy with the damage that death does to those closest. There had been weeks and months of suffering and caring culminating in a final parting.

In John 11 we are told that ‘Jesus wept’ at the grave of his friend Lazarus. Verses 33 and 38 tell us that Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. The Greek has a sense of his indignation, outrage or anger at death – that bringer of grief and loss.

This, I think, carries with it a profound and deep hope. Jesus has just told the grieving Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. Yet a moment later he is in tears. This Lord of Life is not some dispassionate force or distant Deist God. He is with his friends in their grief and sadness. Paul talks about death as the last enemy; it is not a thing to be welcomed and embraced.

The whole Bible can be read as the story of God conquering death and its root cause, sin. The good news of the gospel is that the one who is the Resurrection and the Life undoes the power of death once and for all. At the cross he atones for sin and dies in our place. And at the resurrection he is shown to have defeated sin and death decisively and completely.

All this means that at the very core of the Christian faith is a deep and sure hope – the hope of resurrection life to come. Yes, Christians, like anyone else, cry out in lament and pain when death comes calling. But they can also look forward to, and pray for, the ultimate healing and restoration of a broken painful world. For such ultimate restoration is precisely God’s agenda.

It was this specific Christian hope that pervaded the service. Death did not have the last word.

Love

The third thing so powerfully evident during the funeral was an overwhelming testimony of love.

Moving words of love from a dying woman to her husband; words of love from husband to wife; a deep and tenacious mother’s love that so obviously sustained, formed, empowered and liberated three children to be who they had been created to be; love of grandchildren for their grandmother; love of a pastor for a friend; love of a woman for those in need whoever they were; love of colleagues for a nurse who needed care herself after a lifetime of care for others; tender and sacrificial love of hospice carers for a mortally ill patient; self-giving love of a daughter nursing her mother to the end.

It is for good reason Paul says love is greater than faith and hope. I like to call him the apostle of love. Love pervades his teaching and ministry, but that is only in keeping with the whole witness of Scripture. Love is lifeblood of the Christian faith. God himself, John tells us, is love. Love fulfils the law. Without love, all the good works in the world done in God’s name are a waste of time. The evidence of the Spirit’s presence is love. The call of God’s people, OT and NT, is to love God wholeheartedly and love their neighbours as themselves. Love alone is eternal – it is the language of the new creation to come.

Christians are taught by their Lord to pray ‘May thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.’ What I witnessed just a little bit of yesterday was a slice of kingdom-come life here on earth.

There were also stories of her sheer love of life, including love of the natural beauty of South Tipperary in particular. After the funeral, on the way home, I was passing the lovely mountain of Slievenamon. It was a sunny warm afternoon and, unplanned, I stopped and took a couple of hours out to climb the mountain and soak in the familiar scenery of a place that I used to know well.

Here are a couple of pictures of that walk.

Near the top someone had etched a simple prayer on a rock in the path – I can’t think of a better tribute to a truly Christ-like life.

 

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Faith, effort, works and the Protestant psyche

19/05/2015

IMG_4489Last Sunday was the annual Maynooth 10K run. Yours truly participated, although ‘run’ is probably a generous description of my progress around the course.

The worst part of the run for a total running amateur like me was between kilometres 4 and 7. Up to 4km, no great problem. After 7km the course turned through the gates of the magnificent Carton House Estate and it felt like a (long) home straight back to the town. But between 4 and 7 was a dead zone of feeling increasingly knackered yet with a long way to go.

As I gasped, red-faced, the road felt a lonely place, even if surrounded by lots of other runners. I guess that is where the evening training runs kicked in. My simple goal was to finish without stopping in under an hour – achieved, just.

High speed motion capture

High speed motion capture

Each runner had their own race to run and personal goals to aim for – whether the guys trying to win or slow-coaches like me plodding on behind. But whatever sort of runner you are, no-one else can run a race for you. No-one else can do the training. No-one else can force you to keep going when it would much easier to stop.

And this got me thinking about individual effort and the Christian life (anything to take my mind off how I felt!)

1) The cost of discipleship

As I understand it, the ‘cost of discipleship’ is a summons to voluntary self-giving of one’s life to God out of thankfulness and worship. It does not take the form of coerced obedience but rather is inspired by God’s own self-giving love.

The depth of that discipleship will depend, to a significant amount, on the degree to which someone has experienced and appreciates the extraordinary depth of the redeeming love of God.

The shape of that life is imitation of Jesus, the risen and reigning Lord who washes his followers’ feet. The ultimate purpose of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8.29).

And while we don’t run alone and need the encouragement of other runners alongside us, the Christian life can’t be lived vicariously.

To live such a life day by day requires large doses of determination, personal responsibility and perseverance.

2) The necessity of effort and works

In other words, there is no contradiction in the Christian life between grace and effort; between an experience of unconditional love and a response of disciplined obedience.

Historically, Protestants have had a hard time reconciling salvation by the grace of God alone with the necessity of ongoing determined effort to live the Christian life in such a manner as to produce good works.

Instinctively in the Protestant psyche is a logical jump that goes something like this: – if we are justified by faith alone apart from works and salvation is all of God’s grace, then our ‘works’ are ‘secondary’ and, strictly speaking, therefore ‘unnecessary’ for salvation. Our effort and subsequent ‘works’ may be good in and of themselves, but they can’t and don’t ‘contribute’ to our salvation because that is completely God’s work not ours.

The problem with this sort of logical jump is that it doesn’t do justice to what the Bible actually says about faith, effort and good works.

Take Paul for example; in all his letters he demonstrates an overriding central concern for the moral development and transformation of the believers under his care.

To the troubling Galatians he says

“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!”

In 1 Cor.7:19 he says

‘circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping God’s commandments is everything.’

For Paul, moral effort, obedience, perseverance and good works are integral to God’s saving agenda for his people.

Living the Christian life, like running a race, requires effort and that effort actually gets you somewhere. It results in visible ‘works’ that are actual ‘hard evidence’ of an internal newness of life.

For Paul, such works and obedience are both expected and necessary. They are not an optional and secondary ‘add on’ but are intrinsic to God’s work of salvation (Phil 2:12).

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.

This is why he (and other NT writers) teaches quite unambiguously that future judgement will be according to works (e.g. Rom 2:6, 13 and elsewhere).

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”

13 “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”

Such works require effort, intention, active obedience and discipline. The NT knows nothing of ‘cheap grace’ that leaves people with little or no motive or desire for living a life pleasing to God.

But here’s the key thing – and where the parallel with the lonely slog of the runner begins to break down. The effort of living the Christian life does not consist of a solitary autonomous individual trying harder to be better. The problem with that image is that God is left out of the picture altogether.

Instead, the consistent message of the NT is that a Christian is someone who has, by grace, been united to Christ through the Spirit, the ‘empowering presence of God’. It is out of this living union with Christ that the Spirit enables believers to live a transformed life. Good works are the result of the ‘fruit’ of the Spirit’s presence in someone’s life.

Take Ephesians 2:10 for how God is the initiator and empowerer; a changed life flowing from union ‘in Christ’.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Or to finish Philippians 2:12 with 2:13; individuals work out their own salvation but it is

“God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.”

It’s that tension of the Christian ‘race’ that I was wrestling with between kilometres 4 and 7. God elects, saves, redeems and empowers. But each Christian is called to obedience and moral effort. No-one else can decide to keep ‘working out your salvation’ or pressing on to the future prize promised in Christ. No-one else can make those daily moral choices that each of us face. No-one else can resist temptations that only you or I experience. No-one else can doggedly persevere when the going gets hostile and discouraging.

In other words, how much progress a Christian makes in ‘running the race’ of the Christian life is still, to a significant degree, up to the effort, discipline, passion and focus of the individual believer. The Spirit may regenerate and empower a believer to live the Christian life but he does not control or manipulate. God is deeply and essentially non-coercive.

The Christian may be saved by grace but still has individual responsibility in living a life of faith and good works that are both necessary for salvation and are the basis of future judgement.

That’s a message that I suspect tends to get glossed over in a lot of evangelical Protestantism. What do you think?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

The Coldest of Cold Capitalist Hearts

04/05/2015

Watched Nightcrawler (2014, directed by Dan Gilroy) the other day.

Spoilers ahead!

nightcrawler-posterJake Gyllenhaal (Lou Bloom) is a sublimely sinister guy on the make. There is an unnatural stillness in the way he stares and talks; like someone who instinctively knows they scare normal people and has learnt to try to minimise the creep effect.

He’s already ‘fallen’ when the movie begins – he starts bad and gets a lot worse. This is the story of his evolution from petty thief to finding his true ‘calling’ – a descent into the netherworld of ‘first on the scene’ news chasers.

This is a vocation of heartless voyeurism sold to the masses who consume others’ suffering from the comfort of their sofas.

Lou falls into his new career literally by accident. Out of curiosity he stops are a car crash and sees a film crew at work, catching the blood and pain for TV and he’s hooked. The next step is a low budget camcorder and radio and a relentless determination to work long night hours.

Lou is completely free of conscience or remorse, he will do (and does) virtually anything to get the video story.

He blags he way into the local TV news station where Rene Russo is the producer desperate for ratings who will take his material no questions asked – apart from ‘Are we going to get sued if we show this?’

A ‘Viewer Discretion Advised’ tag is added to the graphic stuff just to spark viewer desire.

So develops a symbiotic relationship but one where the power gradually shifts to Lou due to the quality of his ‘product’ and the need of the buyer (Russo).

Never slow to exploit an opportunity, Lou uses his power to coerce Russo into a sexual relationship (the film goes curiously coy here – just was well) as well as negotiating better pay and conditions. She’s outraged, exclaiming that friends don’t force each other to have sex. But of course, Lou doesn’t do friendship or ethics.

While Nightcrawler isn’t a great film, there are echoes of Taxi Driver. But where De Niro’s Travis Bickle raged violently against the world, Lou is consumed with calculating self-interest. He has a business plan and plots a route to profitability while manipulating the violence of others to his own advantage.

Lou is capitalism personified and his is the coldest of cold capitalist hearts.

The ‘virtue’ of ‘pure’ capitalism is that it marginalises and makes irrelevant things like compassion and mercy and social justice.

Lou knows that death, violence, fear, disaster and blood sells – and sells well. He knows how to produce what the market wants and is willing to put in the hours because he believes that “good things come to those who work their asses off”.

He also knows that the key to market success is creating a restless, unquenchable desire for more – and more.

And so the stakes continue to get raised – how can Lou top the last bloody offering to the masses? Without new product both he and Russo are going to be out of work.

And this leads to the climatic set-piece where Lou stage-manages certain death and violence between LA cops and drug dealers all simply for the lens of his (new bigger and better) camera.

It’s not often you see a film that follows capitalism all the way down to its logical end.

Lou has no ethics because ethics get in the way of what the market wants. Any competition – either in the form of other news chasers (Bill Paxton) or his Lou’s expendable partner with an inconvenient conscience – are ruthlessly eliminated.

In capitalism everything can commodified; here it is human suffering that is for sale. Lou’s competitive edge is that he is willing to go further than anyone else to exploit that market opportunity.

Lou’s genius is that he is able to offer the market a new choice – one that consumers willingly select. He can’t force anyone to watch what he films, but he knows the desire is there freely to choose to see real blood, murder, fear and tragedy – and his vocation is to oblige.

I liked how the film kept its nerve to the end. Lou’s aggressive entrepreneurial drive bears fruit. He is in the process of becoming a ‘self-made man’; a ‘success’ in business and ‘respected’ because he knows how to earn money and keep the corporate machine (TV station in this case) and himself in profit.

If ever a movie exposes the ludicrous idea that capitalism is a benign ‘neutral’ force and that markets should just be left to themselves to deliver the best of all possible worlds, this is it.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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