Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Movie Review: Munich.

One of America's finest trial lawyers, Vincent Bugliosi, has produced a variety of superb law books. Among them: Helter Skelter (about his prosecution of Charles Manson), And the Sea Will Tell, and Outrage: Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder.

In Outrage, Mr. Bugliosi wrote a memorable, and oft-hilarious piece on rampant incompetence. Here's a snippet:

"Incompetence is rampant in our society.... It is everywhere. In fact, it is so prevalent and so bad that the only adjective I've ever been able to come up with in the lexicon that adequately describes it is 'staggering.' " (p. 32.)

If incompetence has become so ingrained in our society, it logically follows that mastery should equally affect one's equilibrium.

Walking out of Munich, I thought of Mr. Bugliosi's observation, but in reverse. One apt adjective for Munich is staggering, but for its distinctive craftsmanship. It's a rare pleasure to see the best performing at their apex. When Steven Spielberg goes serious, he is a master. Munich is the latest in his trio of serious masterworks joining Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. This movie should be assigned in film schools to show how to direct a dramatic film. While nearly two hours forty minutes, it's taut, layered and engrossing.

Some have criticized the film-makers for refusing to take a stand on the subject matter. I disagree. The film's point of view is as overt as a Christina Aguilera music video.

Note: Munich earns its R rating. Not for the squeamish.

Munich receives an "A".

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Book Review: Courtroom 302.

Journalist Steve Bogira of the Chicago Reader spent a year in a Chicago criminal courtroom in 1998.

He wasn't a defendant. Instead, he observed the proceedings to write, Courtroom 302, published in 2005.

The passage of seven (7) years explains some features of the book. With so much time to write the tome, Bogira unfortunately gets lost in minutiae. While helpfully importing some background information, Bogira includes too much extraevidentiary material, and injects unnecessary political opinions. The book shifts between the objective third-party journalistic voice to the subjective first-person with jarring alacrity.

The book often bogs down in details about people you won't know about. Bogira covers trials that are mostly pedestrian. After all, he covered whatever cases came up on the docket, not necessarily those that might have deserved coverage. However, this focus on the mundane serves Bogira's larger polemic.

Folks, this is agenda journalism. Clearly, the book clearly takes issue with the country's anti-drug policies and uses pathetic stories of people caught in webs of addictions and prosecutions to argue this larger point.

Law students and fledging trial lawyers, this book does not offer any particularly helpful insights into how to be a skillful trial attorney. Surprisingly, the book hardly provides any interesting interrogations from the stand. When Bogira did so, it paid off. Here's the amusing anecdote:

"'Well, this morning, sir you said, "I don't recall" approximately one hundred times. Would that be correct?'"

"I don't recall". (p. 273.)

Not all cases covered in Courtroom 302 were the nickel-and-dime variety. The book crescendos with a "heater". In its parlance, a "heater" is a controversial case garnering a lot of public attention. The book ends with an in-depth look into this racially-tinged case, with Jesse Jackson weighing in, with allegations of mob ties, and even a political campaign to remove the trial judge.

On balance, however, this interesting case does not justify the $25 retail price tag. If you receive it as a gift, or your library has a copy, go ahead and read it. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Amusing Quotes from 2005.

As we approach the end of 2005, here are some funny quotes from the past year.

Matt Lauer: "Pain at the pump. Gas prices are going sky high. I paid $2.94 a gallon over the weekend to fill up the car."

Katie Couric: "It’s ridiculous. I had to take out a loan to fill up my minivan. It’s crazy."

(on NBC’s Today, August 15, 2005.)

Couric makes about $15,000,000 per annum.


Harry Smith to Rick Warren: "Do I need to be concerned that I’m going to go live with a church family, are they going to proselytize me, are they going to say, ‘You better come to church with me or else, I’m, you know, you’re not going to get your breakfast this morning’?"

(Smith asking Warren about church families taking in evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, on CBS’s Early Show, September 6, 2005.)

(Via Media Research Center.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Da Vinci Debate: Let's Be Fair, Part II.

Some point to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code's cover, which says, "A Novel." But, that's not the end of the story.

Others point to the text at the beginning which advises: "FACT: The Priory of Sion-- a European secret society founded in 1099--is a real organization. In 1975 Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale discovered parchments known a Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci.

"The Vatican prelature known as Opus Dei is a deeply devout Catholic sect that has been the topic of recent controversy due to reports of brainwashing, coercion, and a dangerous practice known as 'corporal mortification.' Opus Dei has just completed construction of a $47 million National Headquarters at 243 Lexington Avenue in New York.

"All depictions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." (p. 2.)

But, that's not the whole story.

Inside, Teabing, a purported Holy Grail expert, lectures protagonists Robert Langdon and Sophie with some unconventional theories, for example: "The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagean Roman emporer Constantine the Great." (p. 231.) Teabing asserts: "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.'" (p. 233.) Teabing continues in this vein: "Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of the Church and state. Many scholars claim that the Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking his human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power." (p. 233.)

However, that's not the complete analysis.

The ineluctable fact is that The Da Vinci Code is a novel. The words spoken about Jesus' purported marriage, the canonization process, and Church history come from an unsavory character, who is actually the book's villain. Teabig's hardly a credible source, even within the microcosm of the Brown's story. It's doubtful that a quasi-erudite reader would take such opinions as gospel (sorry). That there are secret societies, real art, and a $47 million edifice erected by a modern Catholic organization do not remotely support Teabig's pontifications (sorry, again).

Let the marketplace of ideas decide whether Teabig's ravings are worthy of acceptance. I don't think any one with a modicum of critical-thinking ability would be persuaded to adopt them because a lunatic character in a novel has opined them. If more than a few are, we are doomed for other reasons.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hot Air Balloon.

A man in a hot air balloon realized he was lost.

He reduced altitude and spotted a woman below. Descending a bit more he shouted, "Excuse me, can you help? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I do not know where I am."

The woman replied, "You're in a hot air balloon, approximately 30 feet above the ground. You are between 40/41 degrees latitude, north, and 59/60 degrees west, longitude."

"You must be a paralegal", said the balloonist.

"I am", replied the woman, "How did you know?"

"Well", answered the balloonist, "everything you told me is technically correct but I have no idea what to make of your information and the fact is, I am still lost. Frankly, you've not been much help at all, if anything, you have delayed my trip."

The woman below responded, "You must be an attorney."

"I am," replied the balloonist, "But how did you know?"

"Well," replied the woman, "You don't know where you are or where you are going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problem. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now-- somehow--it is my fault."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Movie Reviews: Syriana and Narnia.

A tale of two movies. A dichotomous review follows.

One movie traffics in despair; the other in hope.

One weaves a complex plot; the other a simple story.

One incorporates talking land sharks; the other talking beavers.

One references World War II; the other the Gulf Wars.

One features mega-stars; the other actors you won't recognize.

One is based on a thinly-veiled novel; the other a thinly-veiled allegory.

One presents humanity as powerless; the other shows it empowered.

Both deserve an "A-".

For a singular review of Narnia, see my Biola University colleague Dr. John Mark Reynolds' here.

For a singular review of Syriana, see Dr. Ben Witherington III's here. (Note: I reviewed Dr. Witherington's book, The Jesus Quest, here.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Book Review: Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life.

“For the scientist the formulation of questions is almost the whole thing.
The answers, when found, only lead on to other questions.”
--D.W. Winnicott

Robert Banks’ Redeeming the Routines: Bringing Theology to Life serves as a case in point of Winnicott’s observation, but in the context of a theologian. Dr. Bank’s text’s greatest strength is also perhaps its most frustrating weakness.

On the one hand, the book does a superb job asking probing, practical questions. In so doing, Banks connects theology to what might be considered mundane and perhaps ostensibly insignificant activities of modern life, such as commuting and even sleeping. He correctly diagnoses the deep chasm that often exists between beliefs and everyday lives. (pp. 66, 139-40; 142.)

On the other hand, Banks got carried away when he strung together overwhelming lists of questions. In one instance, Banks rattled off a staggering litany of seventeen (17) questions in a row. (pp. 18-19.) He didn’t pause to suggest answers, and didn’t pause to suggest even how to approach answering them. He didn’t pause at all.

Like Winnicott, Banks makes the asking of questions “almost the whole thing.” Perhaps worse, Banks correctly concedes that the questions, or at least some of them, are unanswerable as ambiguous (p. 122) and largely without explicit Biblical guidance. (p 137.) Further, Banks’ proffered solutions really only lead to more questions. Bank suggests as antidotes house churches, workshops, and work groups.

However, in making his suggestions, Banks acknowledges that there are questions in how to make these pragmatically work. (p. 109.) I agree. Under Banks own observations, “it is difficult to find other people” to form such groups. (Id.) Then, to compound matters, as Banks has argued, people are overly programmed. How are such time-poor people going to be able to commit to and then conduct yet another regular meeting, interactions and relationships? Banks does not really provide any practical answer.

Nevertheless, Banks’ message of the “house church” resonated with me in a certain respect. While I wouldn’t subscribe to a view that the house church should supplant the formal congregation, it is, in my opinion, a necessary supplement. Banks is on to something when he criticizes the traditional church model of the professional ministers as performers while the laity are audience members. (pp. 155-56.) The reversal of this scenario is one primary merit of small groups or house church models. They allow for personal interaction and involvement that a “service” at a formal church does not. Each person in the small group has an opportunity to speak and to listen to others in the group. In so doing, the level of intimacy, connection and involvement that cannot possibly by obtained simply watching others—the professionals—conduct the service. Banks is spot-on when he argues for such small groups or house churches can form the basis for connecting theology to everyday life. (p. 103.) The other people in the group are usually similarly situated as they too have to deal with everyday issues such as making mortgages.

In one recent example, I was part of a discipleship group where we discussed the Christian response to the workers’ strike against the grocery chains in Southern California. It was truly eye-opening to get different perspectives (one was a member of another union), and also to try to connect one’s faith to this tangible issue.

I recommend this book, despite its flaws.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Book Review: Jesus, CEO.

"If God has created us in His image, we have more than returned the compliment."

Laurie Beth Jones’ Jesus, CEO regrettably serves as an expansive exercise in delivering this compliment. In other words, the text largely constructs Jesus in the image of Ms. Jones, or as Ms. Jones would like Him to be.

Ms. Jones provides 85 dimensions or characteristics of Jesus as a “CEO” or leader. These qualities are organized into three (3) major categories: strength of self-mastery, strength of action, and strength of relationships.

While promoting laudable attributes, Ms. Jones’ book is flawed for at least three (3) fundamental reasons.

First, Jones has taken a biblical record that is relatively thin on leadership tips and extrapolated it into a primer on Jesus’ executive or leadership wisdom. In so doing, Jones has painted on a nearly blank canvas and created a portrait that she wants to see rather than what was originally intended or purposed. In other words, a serious exegete of scripture must ask, What are the purpose and context of these sayings and stories? Jones nowhere demonstrates any background or desire to approach these texts in a proper hermeneutical fashion.

Did Jesus live and die to leave behind an example of how to run a company effectively and efficiently? I doubt it. Reading Ms. Jones’ book, one might legitimately form the impression that she believes it. While it is true that we can draw some conclusions about how Jesus conducted His ministry and how He empowered those around Him, this is far removed from Jones’ extrapolation of nearly 100 characteristics of CEO leadership.

Second, while not overt, Jones demonstrates an apparent inconsistency in her approach to Scripture. On the one hand, Jones’ book purports to be based on a reliable biblical record. She cites Scripture extensively to build her case or portrait of Jesus. (pp. 306-09.) On the other hand, she evinces a low or fungible view of Scripture. She speaks of “Higher Power(s)” (p. 296), a freedom to seek one’s “own path to God” (p. 318), and eschews a “literal, exact” translation of the Bible. (p. 304.) These admissions disclosed that Jones’ approach to the biblical texts is essentially outcome-determinative or results-driven. In other words, Jones had an idea of what Jesus as CEO should look like, and then hunted for scriptural references that might support her thesis. In some cases, however, this agenda led to some bizarre interpretations or misplaced citations, which will be discussed in the third criticism.

Third, related to the second point, Jones employs some acrobatic Scripture twisting to reach her desired result. Two examples come readily to mind. In the first (blasphemous) example, Jones argues that leaders are to follow Christ’s example by making the “I AM” affirmation. (p. 295.)

Here, Jones egregiously fails to recognize the meaning of Jesus’s “I AM” sayings in John, in view of their Old Testament and New Testament contexts. It was an affirmation of Deity, as I wrote about here. To suggest that leaders affirm their strengths and talents by following Jesus’ example when He said His name was “I AM” calls into serious question Jones’ ability as an exegete and frankly the credibility of the balance of her text.

As a second example, Jones states: “Jesus hated to eat alone.” (p. 275.) This is a clear example where Jones constructs attributes using arguments from silence or otherwise out of whole cloth. What is her evidence that Jesus “hated” to eat alone? The biblical record nowhere says this and similarly does not record all of his eating arrangements. While Jesus may have enjoyed social settings, this does not translate into a uniform rule that he “hated” to eat alone. Unfortunately, this type of reasoning is not unique or isolated.

For these serious deficiencies, I could not recommend this book as a serious study of Jesus’ attributes as a leader or otherwise. Instead, I suggest my pastor and (former) professor Dr. Mark D. Roberts' Jesus Revealed, which I reviewed here.

Monday, December 12, 2005


I've been reading up on Mars Hill Bible Church and its pastor, Rob Bell, who authored Velvet Elvis : Repainting the Christian Faith. Intriguing.

The intrigue continued when I went to listen to one of Mr. Bell's sermons online. Before accessing the sermon, I was asked to agree to some terms of service. Here's my favorite part:

"3. Objectionable Material. You understand that by using the Service, you may encounter content that may be deemed offensive or objectionable. Nevertheless, you agree to use the Service at your sole risk and that Mars Hill shall have no liability to you for content that may be found to be offensive or objectionable."

Wait a second: it's a sermon, not a pornographic site. Maybe that's the point. God's Word is scandalous at times; maybe there's something quite intentional with this legalese warning. Caution: offenses dispensed--at Church.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Barred by the Bar.

She can argue before the United States Supreme Court, but she cannot prepare a simple will for a Californian.

Most people's failures on the California Bar exam are essentially private. Not so for Kathleen Sullivan.

"[Ms.] Sullivan is a noted constitutional scholar who has argued cases before the Supreme Court. Until recently, she was dean of Stanford Law School. In legal circles, she has been talked about as a potential Democratic nominee for the Supreme Court. But Ms. Sullivan recently became the latest prominent victim of California's notoriously difficult bar exam. Last month, the state sent out the results of its July test to 8,343 aspiring and already-practicing lawyers. More than half failed -- including Ms. Sullivan." (J. Bandler and N. Koppel, "Raising the Bar: Even Top Lawyers Fail California Exam", The Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2005, p. A1; here.)

Ms. Sullivan attempted the Bar because she needed to be licensed to practice with a California law firm. When she failed to surmount the Bar exam, one of the firm's named partners came to her defense. Check out his spin: "The problem is not with Kathleen Sullivan, it is with the person who drafted the exam or the person who graded it."

Those of you in college, high school or grade school, you too can use that tact if you fail an exam. Attack the teacher. Yeah, that'll work.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Win Lottery, Then Lose Your Life.

Gregg Hoffman hit the big-time in Hollywood.

Eschewing the comfort of employment at Disney, he and a few partners formed a film company. They also abandoned the conventional wisdom and self-financed the film, Saw. This high-risk strategy could have resulted in a loss of their million-dollar investment or provided returns approaching Himalayan heights. When 2004's Saw became a $102 million grosser, Hoffman and his partners earned monies perhaps beyond their wildest imaginations.

In fact, on November 16, 2005, the L.A. Times featured Hoffman and his business partners on the front page of its Business section. The thrust of this intriguing (and highly-recommended) story was their staggering financial success attained through Saw and this year's Saw II , which directly emanated from their high-risk/reward, unconventional self-financing strategy.

In his own words, Hoffman characterized his good fortune, thusly: "We've won the lottery."

Three weeks later, Hoffman died. At the age of 42.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Book Review: One Man's Wilderness by Sam Keith.

The ground has been trod before. Henry David Thoreau's Walden traversed it skillfully, for example. Nevertheless, One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith stands on its own as a text exploring an isolated life.

The book records Richard Proenneke's 16-month adventure living off the land in an Alaskan wilderness.

While the book is written in the first-person ("I"), it was actually authored by Sam Keith. The jacket indicates however that it is based on the journals and photographs of Richard Proenneke. I make this distinction because the book is quite well-written. It communicates in a simple style reminiscent of Hemingway. Unfortunately, it's not clear who really deserves the credit for the elegantly economical prose. A representative sample:

"After a supper of navy beans, I sat on my threshold and gazed off toward the volcanic mountains. I had been close to them today. The Chilikadrotna River showed me the beautiful fish and I returned them to her. I thought of the sights I had seen. The price was physical toll. Money does little good back here. It could not buy the fit feeling that surged through my arms and shoulders. It could not buy the feeling of accomplishment. I had been my own tour guide and my power had been my transportation. This great big country was my playground, and I could afford the price it demanded." (pp. 207-208)

Most of the book narrates Proenneke's experiences in this rough country. He describes how he constructed a log cabin alone the shores of one of the Twin Lakes. He also provides routine interactions with the area's wildlife. The text's apex in this regard occurs when he observes a bear stalking a mother caribou and her offspring and what he did to intervene. You'll also learn what happens to boiling water when it is introduced into a 45-degree-below temperature. It "turns to a cloud of steam with a loud hissing noise." (p. 31.) Imagine what it would do to a human operating at 98.6 degrees.

While these exploits are interesting, the end flourishes. Proenneke provides his insightful reflections on his experiences. He waxes philosophically on worrying, work and wanton solitude. He concedes that he actually didn't do this alone, as he had regular supply visits from his friend, Babe. A religious man, Babe worked to convert Proenneke to Christianity. While Proenneke treats Babe respectfully, it is an enlightening bonus to see how the nonconverted view evangelism (or at least one experience with it).

I recommend this award-winning book.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Reality Television.

An acquitance told me about her appearance as a witness on one of those courtroom shows that run on daytime tv.

Since she had witnessed an altercation in a church parking lot, she was conscripted into testifying. However, she was flown accross country to do so before a national television audience.

In the preshow prep, she was instructed to interrupt anyone testifying falsely in her opinion. Generally, this is considered poor form in a conventional trial, but in television "reality", it makes for really good conflict and is apparently encouraged.

Your Honor--"She's lying"!