Monthly Archives: February 2014

House of Cards: Hard to look away

Kevin Spacey / Steve Jurvetson

Kevin Spacey / Steve Jurvetson

House of Cards, a Netflix miniseries, pulled me in like a book you can’t put down. The main character is Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey. Underwood is a shrewd U.S. congressman with a perverse moral compass. He worships no god other than himself and his almost-as-ruthless wife, Claire. Frank and Claire have strong feelings for each other, though their marriage is atypical in that it is a marriage for political advantage and selfish ambition. Season two, which recently came out, has a darker tone than season one.

The acting is very good though there are few redeeming qualities about Frank and Claire. The series prompted some uncomfortable questions for this viewer, such as: What is the allure of watching the schemes of someone in high office who makes immoral decisions solely for the sake of selfish ambition? Perhaps the allure is the open display of crossing boundaries of decency that society has traditionally held in high regard. Maybe it is simply that we are fascinated by people who appear good yet are utterly pernicious. I started out liking Underwood because I thought he was a flawed person who would eventually do something noble. But like a classic tragedy, his character digs himself into an ever deeper hole while leaving a growing pile of human wreckage behind. I don’t know if I can bear to watch any more episodes. Hopefully our real-life elected officials do not rise to the level of evil personified by Underwood, but some probably come close.

Perhaps the series provides viewers with an addictive feeling of moral superiority (if so, Underwood is terrible benchmark) or confirmation that what we have occasionally suspected about some of our leaders might contain grains of tantalizing truth. The latter is a disturbing thought. Whatever the allure, House of Cards will not improve the public’s perception of our real political leaders.

All stories have just a few possible outcomes, such as: Evil prevails, good prevails, evil partially prevails, good things happen despite the evil, or a greater evil overcomes the evil. I wonder which outcome the writers for House of Cards will choose.

If you are thinking about watching House of Cards, be aware that it contains rough language and strong sexual content. Maybe I will skip to the last episode to find out if good prevails. Or maybe it is better not to know.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman: The long fight

Philip Seymour Hoffman / Justin Hoch

Philip Seymour Hoffman / Justin Hoch

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an excellent actor, in my book, partly because he was unencumbered with dashing good looks like Tom Cruise, George Clooney, and Pierce Brosnan. While Hoffman surely used his physical appearance in his craft, he had to develop strong acting skills to connect with audiences. In a culture enamored with beautiful people, it was good to see a guy who didn’t fit the mold make it in the entertainment industry. I don’t know if he was a good person or if he had a faith in God. I don’t know if he struggled with mental or physical ailments, though it would seem so. Certainly his death was tragic. It was self-destructive and will affect his family for the rest of their lives.

In Christendom, we tend to react to the type of death suffered by Hoffman as sad but also confirmation of our opposition to the evils of alcohol and substance abuse. Read Proverbs 23:31-32 and Proverbs 31:6 for a Bible perspective on substance abuse. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the abuse of alcohol and drugs can indeed have tragic consequences for many people. Addiction is a lethal enemy that comes dressed in many disguises. For instance, I knew a wonderful Christian man who ate so much food and put on so much weight that it resulted in his early death.

Stories like Hoffman’s beg some uncomfortable questions, such as: What is a person supposed to do if they are in constant mental or physical distress for which modern medicine has no cure? What is a person afflicted by chronic pain supposed to do when God does not heal in response to prayer? Sure, there are trite answers that we Christians offer in an attempt to comfort the suffering and guard our faith. Answers like: “Because Jesus was also human he can relate to your suffering.” If I am in chronic pain, hearing clichés like that does not help. Chronic pain (whether physical or mental) walks over reason, morality, and the ability to choose wisely. Pain is an adversary that is often beyond our ability to cope with. Even so, we must continue petitioning God for relief. God does not react to us the same way we react to a child who keeps pestering us for a new toy. We are told in the Bible to keep asking God for what we need.

Here is where I have a problem with some people in chronic physical pain or mental distress—when there is a cure or treatment that can reduce or eliminate their suffering, but they reject it. Hoffman at least tried to defeat his addiction using the tools available to him. Many people don’t even try, or they try by using the wrong tools. Anyhow, knowing Christ doesn’t guarantee we will overcome our addictions, pain, and all problems in this life. If that were the case, the entire human race would flock to Christ for the wrong reasons. Our biggest problem is our sin and separation from God. And Christ, if we let him, always forgives our sin and leads us back to God. Forgiveness of our sins and friendship with God are what improves our odds of overcoming addiction, pain, and life’s problems.