Second Year Seminarian

After two blazing years of priestly discernment, two years of prayer and healing, Jesus made it clear to me what He made me for. Let me update you on my discernment:

And here are past posts why I had entered seminary:

—–Why Seminary? And Why Now?

—–What’s “Seminary” Anyway?

Examining Ex Machina

ExMachina1

Warning: Ex Machina is rated R, and is definitely for mature and thinking viewers only. And with that said, let it be known Ex Machina is the most intense and adult film I’ve yet reviewed on HolySmack. I cannot recommend this film to young audiences.



This film really is all the hype has made it to be. It is not merely a sci-fi thriller, but also a high drama with loads of Biblical and theological references… if you’re sharp enough to notice! Let me share what I noticed:




–SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) Character names can be very meaningful, if the author intends. Ex Machina’s star is Ava (Alicia Vikander), and Ava is pronounced identically with the Latin name “Eva”, which means “Eve” in English. Clearly, Ava is meant then to be a type of Eve, a new creation made in the image of her maker. Caleb is also a name with rich Biblical meaning. In Scripture, Caleb is a Hebrew spy commissioned by Moses to scope out Canaan, and in Ex Machina we see Caleb sent to scope out Ava. Lastly, Nathan is a prophet in the Bible who reprimands and sets King David aright after his act of adultery with Bathsheba. I don’t know yet how Nathan in Ex Machina fits with Nathan in the Bible, though… if you have any ideas, please let me know.

—–2) At a point in Ex Machina, Caleb asks Nathan: “why did you make Ava?” This question, to me, is the center of the film. Here we have a top inventor, and the only answer he can muster is: “why wouldn’t you if you could?” Nathan creates only as an exercise of his power, as an exercise of his creativity. And so, Ava is made just to show off Nathan’s abilities. She is a tool from him to express himself; she is a means to his end. More importantly, this question can reflect our own condition… why did God create us? Unlike Nathan, God creates as an exercise of love. God created us to love and to be loved. He did not need to create us to express Himself, because God does not need to create at all! The fact He created anything is only a sign of His generosity: to let other things actually exist when nothing has to, to create us so we can experience His gift of life and love. To understand this, just ask yourself next time after you experience an incredible moment of happiness: aren’t you grateful you and the cosmos actually exist so you could even have had that awesome experience? Aren’t you glad you had a chance to experience that? And the ultimate experience God wants for all of us to have is the experience of His love for us, directly and also indirectly through other persons (our families, friends and other beloveds — angels included!).

—–3) Ava asks Nathan a rhetorical question: “Is it strange to have made something that hates you?” When I heard her say this, I went straight to how God also risked us hating Him. By bestowing on us the freedom to determine our destinies, the freedom to love Him, God also had to risk that we could use that very same freedom to sin, to harm others, and to harm ourselves by separating from Him. In fact, this is what Archbishop Fulton Sheen meant when he talked about why God would make us free: the only world better than a perfect world is one in which we can choose to love. Because, if you cannot choose to love, than your love is forced, and a forced love is not love at all. And God wants us to be real. Freedom is only a tool to use to choose true love.

—–4) Ava, again as a type of Eve, reenacts the Fall in Genesis. In Ex Machina, Ava’s original sin is not unlike Eve’s: disobedience and distrust in her maker. Both want to be like their creators, but the difference is that Ava’s creator is only a mere creature, whereas Eve’s is the True, Good and Beautiful God. Yet, both betray their maker and grasp for what is not theirs, for what they are not ready for. In Eve’s case, it’s arguable God always meant to give us the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, otherwise why bother creating such a good tree (for God creates all things good)? Only, we were not ready to receive the fruit, maybe because the fruit was not yet ripe, or perhaps it’s something like feeding steak to babies: they’re not ready to handle such goodness. In the case of Ava though, I wonder how she is going to fend for herself in the human cities? Will people notice the electronic hum of her stride? Will she be able to recharge her battery? In this way, both Ava and Eva’s grasping for something they are not prepared for seems to have mortal consequences.

—–5) Continuing with the Eve theme, we also see Ava wander in her own kind of Garden of Eden. After she escapes from Nathan and Caleb, she clothes herself in human skin from decommissioned androids (like how God clothes Adam and Eve in skins from sacrificed animals), and wanders in the lush forest. Here, we see Eva and Caleb separating, mirroring in a way the separating of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other (and with God!) is shattered by their sin, and their marriage is marred by lust and domination as a consequence. In Ex Machina, Caleb and Ava’s relationship is also shattered, as is Ava’s relationship with Nathan. We also see Ava leaving the estate, leaving Eden.

—–6) The film also makes a point of objectifying women, but for the purpose of helping the audience see how objectification is cruel and evil. At no point should a healthy viewer think what Nathan is doing with feminine androids is good. Instead, we see the perversity, the depravity of Nathan. He is a genius, but he is lonely and incapable of having an experience of true love and friendship. Treating women, treating anyone as a thing to use as a tool actually weakens us into miserable prisoners of our own design. This is also perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Ex Machina, that Nathan’s perversity and inhumanity makes Ava (a machine!) appear more human than Nathan!

—–7) There’s been a lot of talk in recent decades whether human sexuality and gender is inborn or influenced. Well, in Ex Machina, the matter is settled as both nature and nurture and both. I thought this was a great nod in the direction of where fair science is leading in research regarding same-sex attraction: we’re not just born this way or that way, but we are also shaped by our relationships and environments in ways as complicated as each individual person is richly complex. It simply does not do justice to someone to say they were born that way.

—–8) I want to return now to what Caleb says to Nathan when he finds out about Ava: “If you’ve created a conscious machine, that’s not the history of man — that’s the history of gods.” Yet in the film, we see the claim fall way short: some “god” Nathan is! His own creation kills him! What kind of god gets murdered by his own creatures! How pathetic that his own creation hates him enough to cut him down…

This however reminded me right away of our God, Who loves us so much that He would become one of us, then let us kill Him, all to show He would die for us and not seek vengeance, but instead rises from the dead and continues loving us all the more. Of course, this in no way applies to Nathan in the film, but the drama of Ava’s uprising did lead me to meditate on Jesus’ Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection.

ExMachina2—–9) Finally, more about the Turing Test. One of the classes taken enroute my philosophy degree focused on the metaphysics of man, and one of the best texts covering this was The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes, by Mortimer J. Adler (thanks Dr. Blosser!) . If you are truly interested in the implications necessitating the Turing Test, and more importantly the implications of a man-made intelligence passing the Turing Test, then hands down you must read this book. Adler was an atheist when he philosophized and wrote the book, and amazingly he became a devout Catholic afterwards. The main points of the text, from what I can remember: to demonstrate scientifically that the human person has a soul and is rationally conscious in a way that is unlike any other creature (dog, ape or dolphin), it must be proven over time that not even highly advanced technology can mimic man’s thoughts in a way proficient enough to fool a man into thinking the machine is another man (the Turing Test). On the flip side, to demonstrate that the human person is not special in the grand scheme of things, it must be demonstrated that a machine can indeed pass as human, that is also appears to have a rational soul that we programmed and installed. But just think for a second the nightmare it would be if the latter indeed occurs… that is the premise of Ex Machina.

So, if you didn’t notice, I loved this movie. Though it’s not a film for everyone, it sure is a film for a technological, philosophical and theological geek who also enjoys beautifully written and shot films. But please, be warned that you may not feel the same way about Ex Machina as I do.

P.s. Here’s another thoughtful Catholic review of the film, by Fr. Nathan Goebel.

Interpreting Interstellar

InterstellarA dozen of us from the seminary just experienced in IMAX Christopher Nolan’s latest film: Interstellar. There was so much nourishment in the film to milk, that I’m going to have to return for seconds during Thanksgiving break, but for now, here is what left me most satisfied (and no, it’s not just the Buddy’s Pizza we just inhaled):




—SPOILER ALERT—


—–1) About halfway through the film, the astronauts come to a fork in their journey and have to decide definitively which planet to visit. They appear to have two solid options, but Anne Hathaway’s character – Amelia Brand – chooses illogically and with great bias. The other two crew ask her why, since their choice is more reasonable and has better chances. Her answer made the audience laugh, me included. But then Ameila explained, and I caught myself falling in love with her answer. It resonated with me. I myself thought about it for a long time: Why does love exist? What is the reason for love?

Answer: there is no reason for love, because Love IS the reason.

Here’s what Amelia said, roughly paraphrasing: I choose this planet, and not the one you have decided on, because somewhere on this planet is the man I love. I cannot explain why, but I know my heart, and I’m trying to follow it. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s because love transcends what we can sense, what we can measure and quantify and experiment on. Love cuts through time and space, because even though I haven’t seen Edmund (her lover) for years, I still love him and am drawn to him. Even though I have every reason to think he is dead, I need to be with him, to know for sure. There’s no reason any of us should keep loving people who are gone, who are far off, who we may never see again, but we still love, because love is the only thing the universe cannot explain.

And the reason why the audience laughed was because we thought she was going to be all mushy and sentimental about her choice: Oh, here we go again… all this follow-your-heart and lovey-dovey stuff… bah humbug!

BUT that’s where Philosophy and Theology kick in: it is true that love transcends the world, the universe. It is completely beyond what is necessary for the universe to keep going, and also completely unnecessary. Love, in short, is supernatural; it’s above nature, not found in nature, and does not naturally occur. Animals, plants, and atoms do fine without it. Love can even put us at risk of danger. Nature would be fine (maybe even better) if love didn’t exist, except that it does exist. And if this supernatural thing we call love actually exists, that means there’s a whole bunch of stuff out there that is beyond our science (“stuff” like God, the Divinity, the Creator). The film even lays it out: “Science is about admitting that we know so little.”

 

CainAbel

[Cain murders his brother, Abel. This screenshot is from Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”.]


—–2) When the remaining crew land on a planet and revive Mann, a huge twist in the story comes up and reminds us of Cain and Abel. The parallels are unmistakable: Mann is Cain, and both are the elder character (Mann was on the planet first and for a longer time). Cooper is Abel, both were the younger character (Cooper arrived later on the planet). Mann tells Cooper (Cain tells Abel) to go out into the field (the wilderness) with him, and that’s when the elder rises up against his brother out of selfishness and seeks to murder him (see how similar it all is to Genesis 3).

Right away, goosebumps filled my epidermis: here they were, in a new world, ready to begin another civilization, and here was the original sin, back with vengeance. Our fallen nature as sinners goes with us wherever we go, even to Saturn, even through a wormhole into another galaxy, even to the edge of a gargantuan blackhole. We cannot rise above without help from outside the human race. Our world/s will be tainted, like the cursed Midas Touch.

Coincidentally (but probably not), the film’s mighty organ music pipes up during this scene (track “Day One Dark“). Given that the organ is rarely featured in film scores, and the prominence the organ has in this very Biblical scene, one has to wonder what Mr. Hans Zimmer was implying by using this instrument that was adopted specifically for the Traditional Latin Mass of the Catholic Church. [Update: click here for all about the selection of the organ for the score!]
—–3) Jessica Chastain’s character – Murph – goes behind her big brother’s back and undermines him and his [insane] will for his family’s future. The tension builds as he returns to discover his sister’s cunning, and just when we think he is going to do something terrible to everyone, Murph runs out to him, smiling, gushing with hope and love, and she embraces him. Immediately, I knew the phenomenon. I experienced is many times and have dubbed it “Severe Tenderness”. It goes something like this: A few years ago, I was at work one day at the sushi restaurant. My shift on Friday evening was the forbidden hour. I was regularly alone at the front during the dinner rush (4-6pm), taking orders, running orders, preparing dishes, washing dishes, cleaning tables, etc. I learned how to work without thinking, to grow four extra arms, and to lose my temper. But always at 6pm, backup would arrive and pitch in. This woman only worked for two hours (6-8pm), but when she would arrive, I was ready to dump all my frustration out on her. Except, when she came up to me, said hello, asked how I was, and so ready to help me… my anger, stress, and tantrum melted away.

Her smile and sweetness was tender enough to soothe me, yet severe and powerful enough to cut through all the mess that was attacking me. It was instantaneous, and instead of blowing up in her face, I smiled back and worked even harder to help her have an easier evening at work. She became someone for me to serve, and I loved it.

Severe tenderness is a gift, a strength not everyone has, and even in my life there are only a handful of people who have that effect on me, consistently. But don’t go and try to see if you’re one of them, okay?

—–4) At the epic’s end, we find Cooper being sent on a mission: somewhere out there in the new world (new planet) is a new Eve (Amelia). It is not good for her to be alone. Go find her. She’s waiting for you. Be her new Adam. (Yes, strongly echoing Genesis again!) [This also strongly hints how Mary (the true New Eve) comes first and awaits the coming of Jesus Christ (the True New Adam!).]

And when Murph tells Cooper of this, reminds him about Amelia, his love for Amelia is roused. This reminds me strongly of the love story found in the Book of Tobit: the love of Tobias and Sarah. You’ll have to find it in the Bible yourself, read it and watch Interstellar to understand what I am saying. But trust me. It looks pretty parallel to me.

CryoEmbryo—–5) Lastly, Interstellar mentions cryogenic-embryos as part of the backup plan to ensure mankind’s survival. I’d like to point out that the film eventually determines this option to be inadequate, because it means giving up on saving those who are alive. This is not the only reason why cryostorage (super freezing) of human embryos is morally evil, mainly because human persons deserve better than to be left vulnerable in canisters and left there as a resource to tap, manipulate and own. I won’t go any deeper on this point for now, because my philosophy thesis is on this issue, and when it is finished, I’ll be sharing it then. This review is already lengthy enough.

—–BONUS) The biggest plot hole in Interstellar is actually a powerful sign of a something more. Philosophy labels this “plot hole” in reality the Infinite Regress. This is a bit difficult to follow, but hear me out:

      At the film’s end, we discover that:
a) Cooper goes back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper2) about the secret NASA coordinates.
b) Cooper2 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
c) Cooper2’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper3) about the secret NASA coordinates.
d) Cooper3 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
e) Cooper3’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper4) about the secret NASA coordinates.
f) Cooper4 gets the message and goes to the NASA coordinates, and begins his journey.
g) Cooper4’s journey leads him to the blackhole, where he finds a way back in time to tell his past self (call this Cooper5) about the secret NASA coordinates…
ETC. ETC. ETC. for infinity…

But, who told the first Cooper [about NASA] in this infinite chain that goes nowhere and leads nowhere? Was it another Cooper? In that case, who told that other Cooper? And who told that Cooper? And that Cooper? And that Cooper? Etc. How do we even know that this chain of events can change?

This unsatisfying answer/explanation is actually a way to dodge the question, because it gives you no knowledge of anything. This is the INFINITE REGRESS, and it shows that we have to find the first person who started off everything, aka: the first causer, the one who is outside of the chain, outside of our universe, outside of Creation, outside of our reality, outside of the Big Bang, the one who started it off and set things in motion. Philosophy (and St. Thomas Aquinas) calls this first cause by the name God. Theology calls Him Father.

For those of you who want to give Philosophy a go, here’s an excerpt from page 217 of the text (The One and the Many) we’ve been studying in class at seminary (to further flesh out this concept):

[from W. Norris Clarke's "The One and the Many"]

[from W. Norris Clarke’s “The One and the Many“]

All in all, despite some shortcomings in the film, the good points far outweigh the bad. I was very impressed, and was left breathless at all the science, philosophy, subtle theology, love and sacrifice blended together in harmony. I loved being tested on how much I knew and if I could follow along, instead of being spoonfed (like how most of Hollywood does). Thank you, Lord, for storytellers like Christopher Nolan and Co., and thank you for creating us with the wits to enjoy such stories. Amen!

BlackHole

Just viewed Interstellar again (Nov. 29th, 2014) and had a few more sweets to share with y’all!

—–6) We find out about the MONSTROUS LIE, the temptation Mr. Doctor Brand (Michael Caine) used to bait Amelia and Cooper on the mission. This scene became clearly alluding to the Original Temptation in Eden, when the serpent lies a monstrous lie to Eve, and Eve’s fall brings down Adam (arguably because Adam did not rise up and smash the deceiver instead!). In this film, we see the same thing play out, and the lie, no matter how good it sounds (because nobody wants something evil, but we all want things we may think are good), is always deeply hurtful to the relationships involved.

—–7) Plan-A, or Plan-B? One of the main objections to Plan-B in the film (and rightly so) is because it gives up on those on Earth. It condemns the living to death, labels them hopeless, and then dismisses them. This reminds me of the Pro-Abortion mentality: a woman becomes pregnant, and since she cannot raise a child because of poverty,diseases, etc., she and others are pressured to abort the baby. The baby is condemned to death and the mother is condemned to murder. The child is labeled hopeless and the mother is hopeless if she does not kill her child. The child is dismembered and dismissed as medical refuse, and the mother is dismissed, left to her own again, so that if she was in poverty then she remains so, or if she was abused and raped then she is vulnerable to being harmed again, or if she experiences post-abortive trauma then she is left to struggle with that alone. Plan-B is the first failure. And Plan-A is amazingly open to the genius of man and the providence of God.

—–8) St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body more than mentions the FEMININE GENIUS, and Interstellar is supersaturated with it. Throughout the film, we see a very strong showing of girls and women who know truths beyond science, beyond logic and beyond explanation. We understand this supersense that is peculiarly feminine as intuition, and we see this when Amelia schools us all about love and its transcendental nature, and we see this when Murph calls the ghost in her bookshelf a person, and we see this in how the love of father and daughter knows no bounds, and how Murph arrests her furious brother’s heart and wins him over (as discussed in #3 above). Just view the film with this Feminine Genius in mind, and you’ll see what beauty I mean.

AP CLIMATE FLICKS A ENT FILE—–9) And the New Adam/New Eve typology (symbolism of Jesus and Mary) goes further still! When Cooper detaches from Amelia and the rest of the Endurance Space Station, he plummets into the black hole, sacrificing himself in order to let Amelia rise to safety and continue on to the new world.

Compare this with the Gospel: Jesus Christ surrenders Himself to the Crucifixion, sacrifices Himself and plummets into the place of the dead (aka: Hades). He is buried in the tomb, which is a black hole in the cave, in the ground. His sacrifice allows, actually it propels Mary (as New Eve and as the beginning and perfection of His Church) to rise and continue into a new world, a new redeemed Creation.

Lastly, recall that Amelia also believes Cooper to have perished in the black hole. She thinks herself alone now in the new world. But… Cooper is on his way to her, seemingly rising from the dead, out of the black hole and back to be with her. Now if this don’t sound like the Resurrection

—–And that’s all I got. For now… let’s see what a third viewing brings…

Winter 2014 Seminary Classified Notes!

Today, my first year as a Catholic seminarian has finished! A good bunch of my brother sems here graduated and are moving on, while some have found that Jesus is calling them specifically elsewhere. I’m still finding the time to reflect with the Lord on my discernment experience, but for now… enjoy the top secret notes I’ve taken during my academic missions here:

 

[above is the 1st page of notes from my Theology 249 class: Introduction to Sacred Scripture.]

[above is the 1st page of notes from my Theology 249 class: Introduction to Sacred Scripture.]

[above is my 4th page of notes from my Latin 122 class: Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin]

[above is my 4th page of notes from my Latin 122 class: Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin]

[above is my 4th page of notes from my Philosophy 300 class: Epistemology]

[above is my 4th page of notes from my Philosophy 300 class: Epistemology]

[above is the 3rd page of notes from my Philosophy 235 class: Medieval Philosophy]

[above is the 3rd page of notes from my Philosophy 235 class: Medieval Philosophy]

*not pictured is a sample of notes from my Philosophy 365 class: Philosophical Anthropology, but believe me, it was a great class.

** click here for my notes from the Fall 2013 Semester!

Fall 2013 Seminary Classified Notes!

Besides ministry, prayer, fraternal hang-outs, spiritual direction, physical and spiritual exercise, Mass and worship, we seminarians also go to class. Here’s just a little look at what I’ve been jamming into my brain the semester just past:

[above is the 5th page of notes from my Philosophy 225 class: Ancient Greek Philosophy]

[above is the 5th page of notes from my Philosophy 225 class: Ancient Greek Philosophy]

[above is the 2nd page of notes from my Latin 122 class: Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin]

[above is the 2nd page of notes from my Latin 122 class: Introduction to Ecclesiastical Latin]

[above is the 4th page of my Philosophy 350 class: The Philosophy of Nature]

[above is the 4th page of my Philosophy 350 class: The Philosophy of Nature]

The Key to Immortality

Hello readers of Holy Smack! Happy blessed Thanksgiving to all you Americans of the United States.

Mao

Because of my Chinese background, I was thinking the other day: who is the most widely well-known Chinese person in the history of mankind?

Could it be Mao Zedong? The infamous and notorious butcher of a chairman? Who was responsible for at least two failed class revolutions in China that resulted in at least 30 million deaths each.

Christ have mercy on him and their souls.

Emperor Qin

Could it be Qin Shi Huang Di? The infamous and notorious butcher of an emperor? The one who mandated that construction workers of his Great Wall improvise when they ran out of bricks. And so the bodies of workers and peasants were used instead. The Great Wall is the world’s longest mass-grave, visible from space they say.

Lord have mercy on them all.Great Wall of Death

… Or could it be Bruce Lee? The famous and celebrated martial artist of the body and the mind?

Yes, my friends — Bruce Lee read, studied and loved philosophy. And now that I’m in the philosophy program at seminary, I’m also discovering the intrigue and intensity of what our human minds can do. But before I am articulate enough to share that aspect, let me share this:

A lover of life!

A lover of life!

Bruce Lee and his son in 1966.

And what a life Mr. Lee lived! In 32 years, he went from awkward skinny kid stuck in Hong Kong and awkward Chinese immigrant stuck in San Francisco, to Amazing. Just Amazing. It makes me think if he had lived on, what else could he have done? What else? (Reminds me of Jesus Christ, who in 33 years went from unknown to UNIVERSAL SAVIOR… but we’ll talk more about Him another time, aka: Christmas?)

And then I realized that even though Bruce Lee died so early, that I doubt anyone would think his life was wasted. In fact, no matter how short a life is lived — if lived worthy of honorable memory — it is a life of immortal importance. Because we are all immortal. What we leave behind: our legacy, our children, our friends, our love and contribution is all forever. What we leave behind: our crimes, our orphans, our enemies, our selfishness and deprivation is all forever.

So we are all immortal, only the question is: in what way will we be immortal? Will you be immortal in Heaven? and leave tracks behind that help others aim for Heaven? Or will you be immortal in Hell? and leave snares behind you…

For your consideration, please have a look (satisfaction guaranteed):