Tragic news story about an animal lover, followed by my comments

(I wrote this one a while back, about a pair of ridiculous news stories: a mauling death at a European zoo and an announcement by PETA of their new ad campaign, wherein female PETAns would be doing striptease on videos while talking about the horrors of fur…)

Cheetahs Maul Woman to Death at Zoo in Belgium Tuesday, February 13, 2007 BRUSSELS, Belgium — “An animal lover was mauled to death by cheetahs after entering their cage at a zoo in northern Belgium, authorities and zoo officials said Monday. Karen Aerts, 37, of Antwerp, was found dead in the cage, Olmense Zoo spokesman Jan Libot said. Police said they ruled out any foul play. Authorities believe Aerts, a regular visitor to the zoo, hid in the park late Sunday until it closed and managed to find the keys to the cheetah cage. “Karen loved animals. Unfortunately the cheetahs betrayed her trust,” Libot said. One of the cats that killed Aerts was named Bongo, whom the woman had adopted under a special program. She paid for Bongo’s food, Libot said. Animal rights group GAIA called for the immediate closure of the zoo, located 55 miles northeast of Brussels, saying it was unsafe for both visitors and the cats. Rudy Demotte, the Belgian minister responsible for animal welfare, sent a team to investigate.”

Gee -- I can't wait to meat my adopting mommy! Oh -- did I say MEAT? Of course, I meant meet!

My observations: That’s right — there was no foul play. The cheetahs played fair and square. Cheetahs do not betray trust. In fact, they do not betray anything — including their own natures as indiscriminate carnivores. They do not care if you pay for their food; they do not even know if their food is paid for by anyone in particular, or even what paying is. They do seem to know what food is. In this case, of course, the tragic victim paid for the food in an unexpected way. Well — unexpected by anyone with a mental age of, say, under six to nine months. And, despite the alleged facts of the above story, cheetahs do love people. Bongo just marches to a different drum — and now the adopter has become the adoptee.

However, if someone “manages to find” the keys to a cage with wild beasts in it, it might occur to them that there is a reason that they don’t just leave the keys in the lock. Or give the critters their own keys — you know, on a little chain around their spotted, muscular necks, so they don’t misplace them. Or they might even wonder why there’s a lock in the first place. Especially when those kitties are just so darned cute and loveable. Trust me — the cheetahs did not build the cage.

There is in fact some doubt about whether this zoo is dangerous for cats — they certainly must be frustrated (as the world’s fastest land mammals) when placed in enclosures too small to allow them to attain their top speed. It’s like having a throttle governor on your Lamborghini. Nonetheless, this top velocity does not appear entirely necessary when predation involves either A) inert slabs of meat provided by zoo workers, or B) slow-thinking sentimentalist bipeds. In fact, I imagine these cats actually find the zoo not only safe, but much safer and more entertaining than zoos located in, say, South Carolina, where even the hicks know which side of the bars to stay on, and are heavily armed in any case.

For humans, of course, the Belgian zoo seems to function as a sort-of gene-pool filter. Ever notice how there are no dogs that chase cars anymore? Some of them caught their quarry – from the front. No doubt, if the big cats are sentenced to death — which seems somehow unlikely based on a geographical hunch I have — the outspoken members of GAIA (I will not joke about their name, I will not joke about their name) will throw themselves bodily over the cats to protect them and to protest such a vengeance killing over a rehabilitation program. The cheetahs will no doubt eat up any such support.

On a related note, PETA’s new PR strategy of taking off their clothes in public and on their website (I think they’re protesting fur and Kentucky Fried Chicken, not that those two are necessarily related) is perhaps now being mimicked by excited Belgian cats, who have decided to help humans remove their own outer layers –in protest of Anna Nicole’s tragic death. Or maybe, all the furs she had. Either that or they’re protesting Barack Obama. Or maybe they’re supporting him. It’s so darned hard to figure out what those graceful felines are thinking! There is something oddly seriocomic and sadly gauche about a rather dumpy young woman doing a badly choreographed stripshow with a deadly straight face, absolutely and genuinely convinced that men would never look at her for prurient purposes — no, no they just want to watch her slightly giddy face as she speaks breathlessly about the evils of fur. Now, what I want to know is, is this performance going on her resume? (“No, no, not pornography — I’m a feminist, too, you know! — I stripped to save the animals, and millions and millions went to the website to hear me talk about tarsiers in a state of decreasing undress! Or should I say increasing undress? I mean me, not the tarsiers, of course! Um, decreasing redress…? Wait; wait…”) I’m sure Freud would have something to say about her rather moribund unattractiveness, and how that probably lead to a dearth of promising dating opportunities, which undoubtedly caused her sublimated biological desires to redirect towards halting the onslaught of Colonel Sanders, saving the Chinchillas, and raising awareness … about the animals, I mean.

And what about Namibian ringed tree sloths, and the endangered hairy slugs of New Guinea? Why do folks only strip for koalas and cute owls and adorable cheetahs? The moles of Mauritania need you to go natural, too, you know! I reckon that Cheetah had ever even heard of PETA, despite the marvelous internal rhyme. I doubt he would be interested even in their webpage stripteases. These would probably appear to cheetahs sort of like the removal of butcher shrinkwrap from a fine ribeye just before it hits the grill, sizzling. First Cheetah: “Man, that was really good! Tender outside, crunchy center!” Second Cheetah: “Yeah — but I just hate getting all those poly-blend threads in my fangs. Wouldn’t it be great if they’d just strip for the animals???”

Belgians: now, aren’t they one of those quaint European peoples convinced that Muslims practice a great and peaceful religion?

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One-hour live radio interview today, just posted


I was interviewed today by Kevin Boling of “Know the Truth” about culture, discernment, and movies, and my new book. The podcast is here:

We had a great talk and it was a lot of fun!

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Wholesomeness = Hotness


Donna Reed, aka ‘Mary Hatch’ (you know, crazy about George Bailey, of Bedford Falls?) is so much a hotty that she’s even gorgeous as the frumpy, classic librarian-spinster in the alternate George-less universe near the end of the film. I’d be screaming “GIVE ME BACK MY LIFE!” too, George — and not just so I could give Zuzu back the petals in my pocket.

Wholesome is always more beautiful. This doesn’t mean a girl has to look like a refugee from the the Little House on the Prairie; it just means that the animal attraction spawned briefly by a sleazy or too-revealing or too aggressive appearance is a flash in the pan that actually defuses real femininity and God-designed sexiness. Muslims and pole dancers both get it equally wrong, and in opposite directions — which is why the 9/11 terrorists’ last few nights on the town is such a fascinating thing to think about (without letting the imagination roam too widely, of course.)

Leaving a man guessing always beats “full disclosure advertising.” It also suggests that he may not be able to catch her like a trout in a barrel. Now that … is hot.

That useful invention by A G Bell -- it brings us closer together.

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A few thoughts on Europe ….

Last Spring I taught Art History in Europe, travelling through Germany, Austria, and Italy. A few brief observations ….

How do all those women walk in high heels on cobblestones all day long? Are they genetic mutants?

The only thing I saw the locals drink were coffee and alcoholic drinks — both highly diuretic. No water — ever. You can spot the Americans — they carry water bottles. Isn’t the EU concerned about the collapse of the economy due to dehydration?

Gasoline and diesel are very expensive. And people drive like lunatics, from narrow city streets to terrifying mountain roads. Is there a correlation between high fuel costs and suicidal psychosis?

In the US it is hard to find really good food in a restaurant. In Italy it is the other way around. Yet the Italian Communist Party members were marching in the streets of Florence, whining. They should be given travel vouchers to Santa Clarita and gift certificates to Stonefire and the Elephant Bar.

The highly socialistic Italians are passionate about their leftist politics. But when we were stuck on the motionless Autostrada in a sudden snowstorm, and unable to cross the Apennine range to Florence without tire chains, we had an interesting experience. The price of all chains suddenly went from 20 Euro to 100 Euro. While pointing this out to a shopkeeper, I noticed that he failed utterly to get any of my Milton Friedman jokes. I think he was too busy learning about capitalism’s dark side.

Europe is schizophremic. It is openly post-Christian, and incredibly beautiful. Gorgeous old chapels have been turned into nightclubs and souvenir shops; cathedrals are places to worship only architecture;  John Knox is buried under what is now a parking lot. The separation of Beauty from the Divine is nearly complete there; the Holy is now considered ugly, and one of the top tourist destinations are the death camps. I heard a large group of high schoolers giggling on their tour through Dachau. The tour guide quietly responded that the only one laughing here is the Devil.

My daughter Rachel, next to a medieval carving of King Death in a Salzburg Monastery cemetery

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A snippet from the opening of the final chapter of “Meaning at the Movies” (Crossway, 2010)

  The End of the Matter:

Movies and Meaning, Memory and Man


Memory is a mirror.

It reflects the past forward to us. Memory is inextricably tied up with consciousness and with both knowledge and belief. You only know what you remember. The same can be said of belief. You can’t believe anything you’ve forgotten.

Strangely enough, the earliest memory I can recall and place in the timeline of my life involves a motion picture. I distinctly recall a series of images – in crisp black and white – on our family television in an apartment in northern Virginia. I was perhaps four. On the screen (all the world’s a screen) is a room, in some kind of old house or castle. There is a large table in the middle of the room and a wild-eyed man is chasing a terrified woman around and around the table in a classic pursuit scene. It was not an amorous chase but a scary one. I have no further recollection of this scene – I don’t even know what it is from — yet it is burned into my memory for some reason. It may be because it is the earliest example of a moving picture I ever saw as a self-conscious human being. I sometimes find myself wondering if I would recognize this scene if I was to see it again. Would I remember? Would I believe my own memory?

Photography, and motion-picture photography especially, also functions like memories. Both capture and reflect. Memory is a kind of organic technology that allows us to travel elsewhere, specifically to the past. Or perhaps we should say the past travels to us. Either way we are not limited to the present. I want to think in this final chapter about how memory, film, and human consciousness can be seen through a theological worldview grounded in the ancient revelation of scripture, for scripture says much about memory.

The Bible teaches constantly that man falls into grief when he forgets God. The Jews are admonished over and over to remember always the great works of God. The whole Old Testament is essentially a history of forgetting, if you’ll allow the phrase. Christians of course do the exact same thing. Jews were to teach their children this lesson about remembering above all else, and when they asked questions about why certain things were done and said and believed, they were taught to recall God’s great work in history. In Exodus 12:24-27 Moses teaches the Israelites how to handle the natural curiosity of children who wonder about certain beliefs and practices, in this case Passover: “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.” People are naturally curious; they want to know what things mean, and why things are believed and practiced. There is nothing wrong with this. The past must be brought to mind, brought to the present. This is the essential function of both history and doctrine in the Bible – to remind us of things that were done, and things that were said – in the past. Memory of the past is as much a key to faith as is looking forward to the future.

Memory is crucial to theology (you have to remember a doctrine to believe it). It is central to faith (you can’t trust someone you have forgotten about.) This is why there is such emphasis in the Old Testament on the importance of Jewish remembrance of the Lord. Similarly the New Testament constantly enjoins Christians to learn (and by extension remember) the teachings and examples of Christ. You can’t revere what you don’t recall. Don’t forget.

Suppression: Memories and Memory

I have built the argument of this book on a reading of Romans 1 that emphasizes the human suppression of the truth of God. It would be foolish to contend that every element of culture down to the finest degree is a result of this suppression and I have endeavored to avoid that extreme. Nonetheless, I think a strong case can be made that many of the most prevalent, powerful, and regularly repeated currents in human cultural production have their roots at least to some extent in this suppression of truth. But now I wish to provide a clarification, a turn or nuance to the argument. In the largest sense, it isn’t just content knowledge about God that is suppressed. Suppression involves much more than just content. The knowledge we have of God according to Romans 1 is not simply a set of abstract concepts that can be differentiated from our being. These truths about God and His world are built into us at the deepest possible level. They are bound intimately to us through a central part of our consciousness, through who and what we are. I am speaking here about memory.

Functionally, what is actually suppressed is memory itself – not just specific memories. We could say: “Memory” is “memories.”Our in-built memory about God has informational content, of course, but what seems to have happened is that the very function of memory itself is suppressed. We didn’t just forget stuff as a result of the Fall: we forgot remembering, period. This is why mankind does not just forget the information about God that is built into us – our very nature as rememberers has changed radically. We are made for remembering – for memory of God — but our memory is broken. We become, in Paul’s words from Romans 1, “fools.” This does not mean we are not intelligent – it means we cannot connect the dots of the universe because we have forgotten the purpose of the universe. It is precisely memory about God, and implanted by God, that fallen humans cannot bear. Hearing about Him in the present life produces either rage, ridicule, or conversion (see Acts 2:37 and 8:54). What may be known of God[1] – some of it by observation of Nature, some of it revealed internally, some of it perhaps even by faulty human reasoning – is cached in the human memory. If it is retained there, we must deal with it. But if it is suppressed, “quarantined,” we can ignore it, at least temporarily. In a sense then, memory is the organic and spiritual “technology” by which we should know God. Because Fallen Man has made God his enemy, this knowledge, this memory of God must be suppressed. Furthermore I think a case can be made that is it is not just knowledge of God, but the entire human function of memory that is suppressed, crippled. If we are to function as conscious beings, we must have memory. But the core of memory – its original and ultimate purpose — is the knowledge of God. When we hold this knowledge back, we also severely restrict the very purpose of memory. Think of memory as muscles in the throat: they are designed specifically to swallow food, prevent choking, and keep the airway open. If we decide to suppress their use for either food or air supply – the muscles themselves will slowly atrophy. They will weaken and eventually die. Similarly, we tend not to use our memory to remember God, which is its main design purpose. As a consequence, we function far below our intellectual and spiritual capacity, because both capacities depend on memory. But as we begin to function as maturing, increasingly self-aware humans – forming our self-consciousness by building up our memory cache as we leave infancy and become children, then adults – we inevitably dredge up our suppressed memory of God.

This is why motion picture narratives that deal with memory are so fascinating to viewers, and why they are so important in a theological analysis of film art. Narrative film itself functions like a kind of memory – it is a record (albeit manufactured, manipulated, and constructed) of something other than the present. And, like a memory, it pushes itself into present consciousness and takes us somewhere else. The more effective the film, the more effective the “transport” to whatever place it is the movie is designed to take us. Pictures take us places, including the past and the world of imagination.

Photography is a kind of “memory technology.” I have seen photos of relatives and ancestors whom I have never met; I have a visual link to my own origins. “Motion photography” is even stranger. It copies reality with incredible precision and is uncanny in its effects on us. I have copies of old Super8 family movies from my childhood, now stored on video. It is an otherworldly experience to watch myself interact with my parents in their early thirties, or my grandfather teaching me to fish for trout in 1975, or see what I got for my birthday when I was nine. It is a form of time travel. I also have very recent video of my own family; I can relive last Christmas, my daughter opening presents, my two sons laughing next to her, my wife glowing from giving. I watch these not on a projection screen but an LCD computer screen that would have been quite unimaginable back when I caught that poor wriggling fish with my granddad. Human memory has always been heavily augmented by technology; in fact we might say that in some ways our technological memory – these days stored in digital bits – is now supplemented by our feeble organic memories, stored in biological neurons by a process that is intensely mysterious. We have to ask — how can the immaterial “past” be stored in a piece of the “material present?”


You can purchase “Meaning at the Movies” and see editorial reviews here:

[1] (Romans 1:18-22) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Memory, mirrors, tattoos, & the visual space


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Well, in response to the frenzied clamor of somewhat less than two dozen people …

…. I decided to start a blog.

We’ll start off with a sweet little excerpt from my book. That way I don’t actually have to write anything serious tonight!

By the way, my header photo is of me at nearly 14,000 feet on a winter ascent (rarely done) of Mount Tom in the High Sierra. We were caught by a surprise storm and had winds of about 70 mph on the massive, exposed North Ridge. Here I am enjoying the relaxation.

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Welcome …. to the Prof Horner Blog!

Where you will be able to enter the labyrinth of my thoughts on any number of subjects … Cultural commentary. Theological musings. Art, movies, philosophy, literature, book reviews, maybe political observations. Biblical-critical discernment type stuff.

The Sphere which is Blogo, I have now entered. ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.

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