Issue 03 | February 16, 2015

Issue 03 | February 16, 2015

SUMMARY: Issue 03 covers the Oscars, 21 men, and blunders on a professional level.


This week's major pop culture happenings:



Do students care about the Academy Awards anymore? Does it actually matter if a film or actor does or does not win?

Some would say the awards themselves are kind of a joke because an elite group of film gurus get to tell us which films and actors are the best each year (best according to what standards?). But it's an interesting history lesson about how culture changes and how traditions die out.

The first-ever Academy Awards consisted of a private dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. 270 people attended at the cost of $5 per ticket, and the presentation of the awards lasted a mere 15 minutes.

This year marks the 87th occurrence of the Academy Awards, which will be held at the Dolby Theatre and cost $69 per guest. The two films with the most nominations are Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the organization behind the awards, is a professional honorary organization that maintains a voting membership of 5,783, and it's these members who ultimately decide the winning films.

Though we'd like to believe that members simply watch all nominated films and vote for the film they believe to stand out above the rest, it's not quite so innocent or simple. Film companies have been known to spend several million dollars on marketing to members of AMPAS for movies in the running for Best Picture in attempts to improve their chances of winning that coveted Oscar. In 2010, a producer of the Best Picture nominee, The Hurt Locker, was disqualified as a nominee in the producer category when he contacted members, urging them to vote for his film instead of another film that was seen as a front-runner (The Hurt Locker was not disqualified for Best Picture and eventually won, however).

In addition, famed movie critic Barry Norman claims that not all members take their membership seriously. In fact, some don't even watch the films before voting, and some even have their maids or assistants watch the films and vote for them. Norman said, “Just being nominated for an Oscar is a victory in itself. It’s only when it comes to picking the winners that everyone votes in every category and the whole thing becomes little better than a crap-shoot. Personal likes and dislikes come into play. You might vote for someone simply because he or she was nice to you on the set.”

As humans, we all want to be remembered for the "good" things we do, and we love giving awards for things that are worthy. In the Bible, God tells His people to remember things by commemorating them. One particular way of doing this was to set up an "ebenezer" (meaning "stone of help"), which was a stack of rocks in a certain place so that people would remember what happened there. (See 1 Samuel 7:12) Yet God also warns in Isaiah not to call good things bad and bad things good.

Ask Your Students: As Christians, what should our reactions be if things aren't noble, good, pure, or lovely (see Philippians 4:8-9)? Do we actually react that way, or do we typically react differently?


21 MEN

Over the weekend, the world was appalled to learn that the Islamic State had beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians.

Reverend Franklin Graham's reaction was understandable: “Can you imagine the outcry if 21 Muslims had been beheaded by Christians? Where is the universal condemnation by Muslim leaders around the world?”

Some have tried to argue that these actions are not condoned by the Qur'an, which necessitates some research on our part to fully understand just exactly what the foundation of Islamic faith is. The Qur'an not only does not regard the murder of "infidels" as sin: It regards it as praiseworthy and actively encourages it. The following are quotations from the Qur'an:

2:191 And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.

2:216 Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not.

There are a lot more verses like these.

How do we argue against these verses in light of similar-sounding verses in the Bible? For example, 1 Samuel 15:3: "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

There are two main differences: First, the Bible is a recounting of God's story for the world; it was not written as an ongoing command, but to show us God's character and give us a glimpse into God's desires for our lives. On the other hand, the Qur'an is very much written as an ongoing command. The only way that some Muslims get around verses telling them to kill infidels and wage holy war is to reinterpret "holy war" as an inner struggle, not an actual war against other people.

The second difference is to look at the "fundamentals" of each religion. "Fundamental" is defined as "a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part."

Some of the fundamentals in Islam are: Prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, to take care of the poor, wealth tax, jihad, to enjoy what is good, to forbid what is wrong, to love and respect fellow Muslims, and to dissociate from non-Muslims. Entrance to paradise is earned through one's good works out weighing his/her bad works OR by dying in Jihad.

Some of the fundamentals in Christianity are: The inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, bodily death, resurrection and return of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross, to share the Gospel, and to make disciples. Salvation is given by grace through faith, not earned through works.

Ask Your Students: How do the fundamentals of Islam and Christianity compare? Contrast? How can we have intelligent conversations with others regarding why Christianity and Islam are not the same?

Resource Recommendation: Need a resource for starting a conversation about the problem of evil and suffering in the world? Axis has created a virtual presentation with additional small group curriculum to answer the question of why a good God allows evil and suffering in the world. If your students are struggling with things like this recent beheading, now may be a good time to start this conversation on a community-wide scale using this unique resource. You can learn more by clicking here.



"People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy." -- Proverbs 28:13

We're all familiar with the saying in Scripture that "your sin will find you out," but it's not always a concept that rings true with students. In today's world, younger generations, including Christians, believe that the end justifies the means in many areas of life, though they may not be able to put it into words. For example, many students believe that it doesn't matter what you do to achieve success, fame, or fortune because the result is worth it. Many of their celebrity role models even seem to condone this mindset through their own actions. But there are two celebrity athletes whose stories show that truth always prevails in the end.

Lance Armstrong won 7 Tour De France cycling championships, but in 2012, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) took away his wins after finding him guilty of blood doping. The dispute started in 2004, when Armstrong sued SCA Promotions for breach of contract after it withheld his bonus for winning the Tour de France. Nine years later, after evidence was produced by the USADA, Armstrong admitted to blood doping in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, and SCA Promotions decided to sue Lance Armstrong for $10 million.

Similarly, Alex Rodriguez, aka "A-Rod," was one of the best baseball players ever and was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. But he threw it away by using banned performance-enhancing drugs. And to add insult to injury, the years during which he used the PEDs ended up being his worst statistically. A-Rod faced the consequences, has apologized, and is ready to get back to playing baseball!

Ask Your Students: Why is cheating a sin? What ways do we try to cover up our sins? Why do we feel the need to cover up our sins? Who are some other examples of people who tried to conceal their sin and didn't prosper?

We'd love to hear from you if there are any topics that you'd like us to address in future versions of the Culture Translator. Please click here to submit your ideas!