- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

Transcending genre
"Few films actually redefine the way we watch movies in general. '2001: A Space Odyssey,' 'Star Wars,' and 'The Matrix' are exceptions: They all managed to transcend the sci-fi genre, giving us whole new ways to envision the future. Now, Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy seems destined to do the same for the once-moribund fantasy genre. Sure, it was never much of a genre to speak of at its best, there was the Arthurian legend 'Excalibur' and ham-fisted guilty pleasures such as 'Clash of the Titans' and 'Conan the Barbarian.' But that is all the more reason why Jackson deserves praise: This is not easy subject matter to get. But get it, he has. Jackson has done for the bow and arrow what George Lucas did for the laser gun he has gloriously put on screen what was once limited to books and playground imagination.
"Much of the anticipation surrounding 'The Two Towers' centered on whether it would be as good as the first film, 'The Fellowship of the Ring.' Rest assured, it is.
"In a day and age when nothing seems to surprise anyone anymore, it is a rare gift when a film goes beyond our expectations and is so self-assured that it lets a pixel-powered, bug-eyed creature lead the way."
Tom Roston, writing on "The Lord of the Rings," in the December issue of Premiere

Unique Islam
"We Christians believe ourselves to be completing that ancient, Jewish covenant in the new covenant of Christ in an enlargement of the chosen people to include all the elect of God, all who can see the Messiah. The Gospel message is radically anti-tribal, and the apostle Paul carries this into practice in the very cosmopolitan, urban world of late Hellenism and Rome.
"Islam, from its beginnings in the Koran, openly embraces precisely what the Jews and the Christians have through our histories been walking away from: the very thing we left in the desert of our own antiquity. The entire social scheme expounded in Koran and Hadiths, is in its nature neo-tribal. It is not merely built upon Arab-Bedouin tribalism, but stresses genealogy and lineage, in questions that still divide Sunni from Shia today.
"The moral order of Islam, while it overlaps with Judaism, Christianity, and all of the world's great religions in many crucial respects, is nevertheless unique in its emphases."
David Warren, syndicated Canadian newspaper columnist, in a Nov. 21 lecture at St. Michael's College Alumni Hall in Toronto

Atheist obligation
"What does it mean to be an atheist in a God-fearing nation like the United States? Anywhere from 90 percent to 95 percent of Americans profess to believe in a deity. No wonder some self-avowed atheists are proud of their dissident status.
"A Web site of 'atheist celebrities' lists, among others, Woody Allen, Richard Avedon, Marlon Brando, Jodie Foster, Jack Germond, Christopher Hitchens, Jack Nicholson, Teller (but not Penn!), and Gore Vidal. [W]e might expect from them some powerful arguments for the nonexistence of God, arguments that would shake the faith of a reasonable believer. But a look at their public statements makes it doubtful whether they have even earned the honorific 'atheist.'
"Of all the public-intellectual atheists, the most stalwart and lucid is probably Christopher Hitchens. 'I'm an atheist,' Hitchens said in a recent interview. 'I'm not just neutral about religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one.' Being anti-religion, however, is not intellectually equivalent to affirming the nonexistence of God.
"Being an atheist is a philosophical stance. It is not enough simply to declare yourself one: That is mere dogmatism like announcing, without further argument, that you don't believe in free will or objective values. If you wish to be an intellectually interesting atheist, you are obliged to give some evidence for your position."
Jim Holt, writing on "The Atheist Christmas Challenge," on Dec. 23 in Slate at www.slate.com

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