Book Review: Denying the Holocaust, The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory

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In this book, historian Deborah Lipstadt describes a growing movement to defend the idea that the Holocaust never happened, or that it was not as severe as it is purported to be (for instance, some deniers claim that what the Allies did to the Germans is as bad as the Holocaust, or that it is impossible to kill six million Jews because it was mathematically impossible to do so given the number of Jews that existed prior to the Holocaust). This is a fringe movement that utterly lacks credibility. An equivalent belief is that the earth is flat. Holocaust deniers are driven by anti-Semitism and claim that the Holocaust is a hoax perpetrated by Jews to build up the state of Israel or to earn money in the form of reparations.

It was difficult for Lipstadt to decide to write about Holocaust denial. One of the themes of this book is that there is a danger that, just by giving the deniers a platform and seriously engaging with their ideas, they can steadily carve out a space as the “other side,” people who just provide another viewpoint on historical reality. The fact is though that Holocaust deniers cast aside methodological constraints and do whatever it takes to advance their anti-Semitic ideology. They are therefore not to be taken seriously as historians.

A big dilemma is created on college campuses. Free speech is a hot issue right now especially in relation to college campuses. Violent protests erupting over the presence of various speakers on college campuses have led some to chastise overzealous social justice warriors. But, does a commitment to free speech also mean allowing Holocaust deniers a platform in a school paper or a speaking event? Lipstadt does not think so. She criticizes school newspapers who published ads created by Holocaust deniers in the name of free speech. Sticking to a very literal interpretation of the first amendment, Lipstadt claims that the first amendment only prevents government from restricting speech. It is okay for a private organization, therefore, like a campus newspaper, to ban certain viewpoints from their publications.

As we move farther and farther away from the Holocaust and the remaining survivors die off, the deniers attempts to sway public opinion become more and more dangerous. Recently, the Trump administration came under fire for failing to mention, when paying respect to victims of the Holocaust, that Jews were the specific targets of the Holocaust. When pressed, people in the administration stood by their omission. This is problematic because the Jews were singled out by the Nazis as in particular deserving of extermination. Also, there have revisionist renditions of history that claim that Jews were not the primary target of the Holocaust. For instance, some Communists have claimed that Communists were the main target of the Holocaust.

Holocaust deniers engage in every kind of logical fallacy and sophistry imaginable in order to avoid plain facts. For instance, it is a fact that Jews had to wear a yellow star; if they were found not to be wearing one, they could be killed. Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson recognizes this fact but explains it away, claiming that it was a necessary measure to protect Germans. Jews, Faurisson claims, were involved in dangerous activities like espionage, terrorism, and arms trafficking. Another fact is that even Jewish children had to wear a yellow star. Surely, these children couldn’t have been dangerous? But, Faurisson, in the grips of an evil ideology, maintains his theory, Even the Jewish children were dangerous and Germans needed an immediate way to identify them.

Holocaust deniers are committed to their ideology and it is impossible to debate with them. Debating them can actually backfire, as the very act of debating someone implies a certain level of credence for their view. If it has to be refuted, there must be some merit to it. One doesn’t have to refute the idea that 2+2=5. Still, there is a need to defend those who perished so tragically in the Holocaust. As Lipstadt writes, “The still, small voices of millions cry out to us from the ground demanding that we do no less.”

Book Review: The Great Divorce

 

This is another great book in C.S. Lewis’s rich body of work. It depicts his imagination of the afterlife, and a struggle between the forces of good and evil for the human soul. The character is walking through a surreal landscape and is privy to a number of intriguing conversations between the inhabitants. There is symbolism in the arrangement of the landscapes. In one scene, we see a town that is full of people but remains extremely lonely. This is because, with each new influx of inhabitants, the people already living there move farther out to the fringes of the town. Over time, a telescope is required to see the inhabitants of the town at the outskirts, which are millions of miles away. This town is clearly an image of hell, where self-centered decisions have broken apart any communal bonds.

Conversations take place between people of varying solidity and brightness. Some people are solid and bright–these are clearly the souls who have repented and gone to heaven. Other people are insubstantial and dim, to the point that they are ghostlike. These souls have made poor decisions and are often stuck in self-defeating patterns of thought. The insubstantial souls find the reality of heaven intolerably hard–literally. The rain in heaven feels to them like bullets. One ghost says, “First of all tantalize you with ground you can’t walk on and water you can’t drink and then drill you full of holes.” One conversation is between a man who has committed murder and another man who employed the murderer while they were both alive. The employer feels as though he is more deserving than the murderer and refuses to accept salvation on the pretext that he won’t put himself on the same level as the murderer. The murderer has repented, and, according to Christian theology, can still go to heaven so long as he confesses that he is a sinner. But, this offends the sense of justice of the employer. He feels a sense of humiliation about being seen as equal to a murderer. He says, “And what I don’t see is why I should be put below a bloody murderer like you.”

There is another ghostlike character who is overweight and has a cultured voice. It seems he is guilty of sins of the intellect. He takes a critical approach to traditional theological doctrines. For instance, he questions the idea that there is a literal Heaven and Hell. He also rejects the doctrine of the Resurrection. This individual fell prey to these ideas because, while he was maturing, they were fashionable. He said what would allow him to be a successful and popular intellectual. The intellectual questions whether all knowledge can be revealed in heaven. “For me there is no such thing as a final answer.”

The damned souls would rather cling to their vice than admit their sinfulness and allow themselves to be saved. Lewis quotes Milton: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” At some point, after the initial thrill of sin has worn off, people still hang onto their sins out of sheer pride. They’d  rather be in charge of their own lives, even if they have ended up as failures.

Book Review: The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism

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Timothy Keller tackled a seemingly insurmountable problem and has had tremendous success. He wanted to start a Christian church in New York City. He was able to convince the sophisticated, educated young people of this great city that Christianity is viable, in spite of all the objections they had against it. In this book, Keller, who has an encyclopedic and broad grasp of philosophy and literature, as well as other disciplines, Keller breaks down a series of objections he has continually encountered in his ministry. I really enjoyed the depth and scholarship of this book, and Keller’s extremely thoughtful Christianity.

The book is structured in two parts: first, a part devoted to the defense of Christianity against a series of objections, then the second and final part of the book is devoted to reasons why one should be a Christian. In the first part of the book, Keller takes objections from people he has actually met in his ministry. These are sophisticated young professionals living in Manhattan who have been exposed to Christianity while growing up but who later ended up leaving the faith.

The first objection is, there can’t be just one true faith. It’s arrogant to say that one religion is true and all the rest are false. This is such a common objection. Many people have absorbed cultural relativism. This is the idea that there is no absolute truth. Truth is defined according to the standards of one’s culture. This idea is prevalent in anthropology, a discipline where people prefer to study another culture without the patronizing assumption that the worldview they had formed in their own culture is the correct view. This objection, though, is illogical because one cannot really have a religion without rejecting other religions. If one is to have a religious belief at all, one must reject other beliefs that conflict with it. To be a Christian, for instance, means taking a certain stance on who Jesus was. Taking such a stance would necessarily put one in conflict with Judaism and Islam. Furthermore, some people who are motivated by a wishy-washy sense of fairness like to claim that each religion has a part of the truth, but none has the entire truth. The famous image for this position is blind men touching different parts of the elephant. But, this position itself presupposes an absolute vantage point, i.e the vantage point from which one is able to see the whole truth and so can tell that each religion only has a partial grasp of the truth.

The next objection is the all-too familiar one that there cannot be a God, because there is too much evil in the world. There are many possible ways to address this alleged contradiction. One is to note the intellectual arrogance the claim presupposes. People who think the problem of evil holds water conclude from the fact that there seems to them to be no good reason for evil in the world that there is no good reason. But, the human intellect is obviously finite. The human intellect has no ground to stand on when it tries to make grandiose metaphysical judgments about whether or not there is a good reason for the presence of evil in the world.

The third objection is, Christianity is a straitjacket. This to me is a more interesting, because more compelling, objection than the previous two. If there is one truth, then there is no room to think for oneself. What if the ethical restrictions make some people uncomfortable? There really is no way out, because Christianity is presented as universally true. Keller cites instances of Christianity grafting onto different cultures in a way that creates a nice blend of the original culture and the incoming Christian doctrine. Keller writes, “When Africans began to read the Bible in their own languages many began to see in Christ the final solution to their historic longings and aspirations as Africans.” It is true that Christianity can fit into some pre-existing cultures, but the moral restrictions are presented as blanket statements in a way that is sometimes unhelpful. Is abortion an intrinsic evil, such that it is never alright to have one? This seems dogmatic and inflexible. What about situations in which the mother might die through pregnancy? Can people use contraception when there is risk of spreading serious congenital defects through something like the Zika virus?

Keller gets kind of annoying in his constant appeal to new literary and philosophical references. He brings in, it seems, five or so different quotes and references per page. This creates breadth, but also a lack of depth, since his reference to any of these thinkers is superficial. But, this book is a great start for anyone who seeks to be an erudite Christian or who wants to engage in philosophical speculation about issues related to Christianity.

Movie Review: The Case for Faith

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Lee Strobel has spent a large part of his career defending Christianity against some of its most sophisticated objections. This movie is framed around Charles Templeton, a former Christian preacher who was a rising star at one point along with Billy Graham. Templeton, however, became consumed with doubt and came to abandon the ministry along with his Christian faith. There are two major objections that drove Templeton away from his belief in Christianity. The first is, by what right does Christianity claim to have an exclusive hold on the truth, making it superior to other religions? The second objection is, how can there be a good God, given the overwhelming presence of evil in the world?

Strobel interviews various scholars and gives cogent answers to both of these questions. The upshot of the movie is that neither of the objections seem compelling at all. The first objection comes from a vague sense of fair-mindedness. If Christianity alone is true, then all the other religions, at least in part, are false, and this is unfair. The fact is, though, that the various religions–Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.—make contradictory claims. Unless we water down each one of them to the point that they are unrecognizable, then they all make exclusive claims to having the truth. Islam cannot accept the doctrine of the incarnation because its notion of divine unity forbids any attempt to associate God with something that is not God, e.g. flesh. Judaism cannot accept that Jesus was the Messiah since for them the Messiah is an earthly ruler and not someone who ended up being crucified at a relatively young age. In sum, there is nothing wrong with a religion making an exclusive claim to truth. This is what religions do. People like to adopt a relativism these days in order to appear tolerant, but they can only maintain this at the cost of losing any robustness with which they hold their religious convictions.

As for the second objection, I am beginning to think that the problem of evil is really a pseudo-problem, at least as far as its alleged conflict with religious belief. Strobel’s panel of experts go through the standard and compelling ways for dealing with this issue. One of them is that we have free will. Without free will, we would not be able to genuinely love God. We would just be puppets. The downside of free will is that we can abuse it and do evil. But, this cost is worth it when one considers the great good of people who are able freely devote themselves to love of God.

A great moment occurs when Strobel discusses the objection of the famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell. Russell claimed that no one who had knelt besides the bed of a dying child could still believe in God. But, the Christian actually has a lot of resources with which to cope with this tragic circumstance. He can think about the afterlife, for instance. He can think of he Resurrection, by which Jesus defeated death. The atheist, on the other hand, has nothing to offer to those who witness the death of the child. All the atheist can say is, this is the way things are, deal with it.

God’s Reply to Job in Chapter 38

 

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Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size; do you know?

 

Job was a pious man for whom everything was going well. Then, a series of tragedies struck him in rapid succession. This led him to ask one of the most fundamental questions of human existence, i.e. why do bad things happen to good people? Many times in life, there are circumstances that are offensive to our sense of justice. We try to assign punishment and reward in a merit-based way in our society. The criminal has to spend time in prison, the exceptionally good person who serves society is rewarded with money or some honor. But, there are circumstances that are out of our control: getting sick, getting in a car accident, or losing one’s home to fire, to name a few. These things can happen to us without any culpability on our part. Many people get sick who have been doing a great job taking care of their health. Many people get in car accidents who are extremely safe and prudent drivers.

These situations are especially poignant for the believer in God. Someone like Job, who structures his life around his belief in God, might find a series of tragedies as out of step with what he feels he has a right to expect. Some believers expect God’s protection from the vicissitudes of life in exchange for their constant devotion. There are many verses, after all, in the psalms attesting to God’s special concern for pious believers.

In chapter 38 of the Book of Job, we encounter God’s majestic response to Job’s metaphysical questions and complaints. God takes a haughty tone, like a father who has been listening to petulant queries of his son for too long. The passage is long and poetic, but it contains one basic idea: that God, being the creator of the universe, is in a much better position to make judgments about how that universe is run than Job, a mere finite creature.

God lists all the vast and grand stretches of the universe of which he is in charge and of which he is the creator: the sea, the sun, the gates of death ( some sort of entranceway into the afterlife). This passage is one of the most beautiful and amazing passages in all of Scripture.

It undercuts attempts to condemn God in the name of evil. Many believers, non-believers, theologians, and philosophers over the centuries have raised the question of whether or not it is possible to believe in God given the overwhelming presence of evil in the world. How can anyone, they ask, believe in God given all the suffering there is? At the base of this question is the belief that, if a good God were in charge, then would not be nearly as much, if any, evil. Something like the Holocaust, for instance, would never have happened.

But, as we know from chapter 38 of the book of Job, this question is arrogant. An analogous situation might help. Imagine a kid walking into a restaurant. The kid has never been in a restaurant before. The owner of the restaurant walks past. This individual not only owns the restaurant, but also was the person who founded it. The owner has to make decisions about the functioning of the restaurant on a daily basis, and has gained a lot of wisdom through his experiences over the years. The kid gets his attention and says,  “Why have you hired so many people?”

Of course, the kid’s question is arrogant. He’s trusting in his own paradigms and judging the restaurant owner, when he really should humbly acknowledge that his paradigms and mental schemas are limited. In other words, just because the kid doesn’t understand something about the restaurant does not make that aspect of the restaurant actually incoherent or wrong.

There is a similar failure to acknowledge the limitation of our mental framework when people doubt the goodness of God’s plan and interventions or lack of interventions in the world. Such people conclude that things are wrong because they seem wrong to them. But, the proper conclusion from the fact that things seem wrong to them is that there is something limited about their mental framework.

In the end, God’s majestic argument in chapter 38 of the book of Job seems like common sense. On what basis can a finite creature condemn an infinite one?

Movie Review: I’m Not Ashamed

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This is the powerful and true story of Rachel Joy Scott, a high school student at Columbine in Littleton, Colorado who ended up dead during the massacre that happened in 1999. Rachel is a spiritual girl who is going through the travails typical of a high school youth. She is interested in a boy who does not agree with her views on sexuality and gets rejected because of this. She is interested in acting and feels anxiety about landing a lead role in the school play. She is part of a Christian group called Break Thru, where she helps in particular a young man whose parents are such a mess that he is homeless. Rachel is a very considerate person in general, and practices her faith by listening to the problems of other students. For instance, she agrees to go on a date with another student who appears to have downs syndrome. She also helps a young man who had just relocated to the Columbine school district after the divorce of his parents.

In the background of the typical back and forth of cliques and unrequited crushes of the high school, two deeply disturbed young men are planning a vicious attack on the school. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebod take in interest in Hitler’s thoughts on natural selection as presented in his autiobiography Mein Kempf. According to the move, Hitler sought to apply natural selection to humanity by culling out people whom he considered unfit to survive, a group which includes disabled people, religious people, and Jews. Harris and Klebold are the victims of bullying and are cut off from the social life of the high school. No one pays much attention to them and Rachel Joy Scott shows no awareness of their steady decline. It would have made sense, given her tendency to reach out to students going through problems, for her to reach out to these youth, but it seems like they are so odd and isolated that even she doesn’t even think about them.

After the breakup with the guy she was heavily interested in who did not agree with her views on sexuality, Rachel becomes more and more overtly Christian. This is the basis for the title of the film. Her openness about her faith led to her death, as the shooters approached her first, held a gun to her head and asked her if she believed in God. When she defiantly said yes, they shot her ruthlessly.

Rachel always had odd premonitions about not having much time to live on this earth. Often, her character in the movie says that she cannot see herself getting married or having a family. Another theme in Rachel’s conversation is a desire to change the world. She really does, even though her life was tragically short, since her story has inspired millions to practice the Christian virtues of forgiveness and charity. There is actually a website that sprung up in relation to the movie for people who are inspired to make a difference in the world in light of Rachel’s story: https://wavesinaction.com/ina-adults/.

The Columbine massacre is such a sickening tale. I believe the two young men who committed these heinous deeds are in hell. As a society, we have had a discussion about the proper way to prevent problems like these from happening. Some people blame guns, some people say we need to have more awareness of mental illness, some say it’s violent video games. This is complex debate and probably all of these positions have some merit. What I am focusing on is the clash of ideas that is evident in this movie. Rachel and the two shooters represent two different worldviews. On the one hand, there is compassion, inclusion, and love, and on the other is a ruthless competitiveness that seeks to achieve this illusory perfection through murderous violence. We need to be watchful of the spread of ideologies like this, which are out there, though not always as overtly as we saw in the Columbine massacre.

Here is a picture of the real Rachel Joy Scott:

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As you can see, she was becoming a beautiful young woman before her life was brutally taken.

Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

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The work of C.S. Lewis is so rich and is the proper subject for lifelong study. The Screwtape Letters are a series of letters written by a devil who is in charge of another devil who is trying to corrupt the soul of an anonymous individual the devils refers to as the “patient.” We thus have a picture of human life as contested over by two warring spiritual factions. On the one hand, there is God, which the devils refer to as the “Enemy.” On the other hand, there are the devils, who are determined to trip up the patient as he tries to live a Christian life in the hopes of having a tasty soul to snack on when the patient enters Hell after his death.

There are many brilliant psychological and philosophical insights in this book. It can surely illuminate one’s encounter with various people in one’s life. Religion, we learn, can itself become the source of corruption. People who are very religious become full of hate and cliquish, as they look with scorn on people who are not members of their religion. Lewis has a critique of democracy which is particularly appropriate, I think, for the millennial generation. Democracy, Lewis thinks, breeds a mindset in which everyone is fearful of standing out from the crowd. So, people feel reluctant to seek learning because this make them distinct from others, and ignorant people are immune from criticism–after all, everyone is equal. This reminds me of participation trophies which are handed out to teams regardless of their effectiveness on the field, and also the oft-heard criticism of millennials to the effect that they are entitled and think of themselves as special. Lewis also critiques political philosophers who had a collectivist vision. Rousseau, for instance, comes under fire for claiming that the individual has unknowingly willed what the government has told him to do. Rousseau of course invented the convoluted notion of the general will, by which there is a will that represents the collective interests of society, and when an individual obeys the general will, he/she is really obeying himself. Rousseau, and later thinkers like Hegel who had similar views on the absorption of the individual into the state, are propagandists for the devil.

There is a contrast between different types of sinners. The worst sinners are slightly dangerous for the devils, since these people are people of tremendous willpower and talent. If properly oriented, they could become great heroes of virtue. Less dangerous are people who are weak and who therefore commit more petty crimes. They will never amount to great saints because of their limited willpower and abilities. They become adulterers, for instance, not because they have a great appetite for pleasure and have developed a philosophical orientation under which adultery is permissible. Instead, the mediocre sinner falls into sins like adultery because there is nothing better to do.

It is fun getting to know these devils, since their whole approach is the normatively topsy-turvy. They like and welcome what we should fear and loathe. Another interesting angle has to do with what we should be most afraid of in life. Screwtape at one point mentions how the ravages of World War II are in a way good, but also dangerous, because it reminds people that their lives on earth are limited. This realization might lead to an increased reliance on God. Death in the war, then, might actually be the pathway to salvation. If the soul is in the proper state at death, the devils have lost, even though the premature ending of life in war is tragic.

The essence of life, then, in Lewis’s worldview is a struggle for spiritual righteousness. Many people direct their energy to extending our material comfort on earth. This is good, but it can be harmful if we forget our ultimate purpose. If a doctor who makes a great medical advance is a serial adulterer or emotionally abusive to his children, his great achievement ultimately does not matter and his life is a failure.

Opera Review: Orlando, by George Frederic Handel

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I saw performance of Orlando in New York City put together by a nonprofit known as the Cantanti Project. The plot involves four characters involved in a love quadrangle, and one wizard who oversees the action with his wise recommendations and helpful interventions.

Orlando is a great warrior who is also madly in love with a woman named Angelica. Orlando has to make a choice between pursuing glory in battle and pursuing love with Angelica. He naively thinks he combine the two competing drives, and ends up in near-catastrophe. Angelica does not reciprocate his love, and is herself infatuated with Medora. Dorinda is a shepherdess who observes the action and is also in love with Medoro. Zoroastro is the wizard who tries to protect these mortals from their own intra and interpersonal conflict.

At one point Orlando sees an inscription on a tree made by both Angelica and Medora that signifies their love. He becomes unhinged by jealousy. Now illicitly combining his roles as warrior and lover, Orlando becomes dangerous, desperate to seek revenge on Angelica for spurning him for another man. Orlando is unjust, since he has no claim on Angelica’s affection–they are not married and so Angelica is free to give her heart as she pleases. Zoroastro tries to bring Orlando back to sanity, but for much of the opera he is in a state of intense mental torment, at one point imagining himself descending into Hades and at another mistaking Dorinda for Angelica.

Orlando goes so far as to burn the cottage of Medoro, killing him in the process. He is in a state of murderous rage until Zoroastra heals his mind. Orlando looks upon his work with horror, but finds that he was lucky enough not to have murdered Angelica.

This opera is, at least in part, a critique of love. What really is love? Does Orlando love Angelica? He often claims he does, but, judging by his actions, he does not. Or, is Orlando’s great passion evidence of love? Also, does love really provide us with happiness? Or, does it make up dependent on other people, and so, if they are not cooperative or have to leave us for some reason, we end up falling apart? Is it better to remain cool and detached like the wizard Zoraster?

I really enjoyed this opera and I would like to know more about the art form. It requires a lot of study, including mastering a foregin language, as this opera is in Italian. The singing is also very advanced, more so than Broadway singing or that of popular music.

Movie Review: Arrival

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Amy Adams plays a character, Louise Banks, who is leading an ordinary life as a linguist when she is suddenly contacted by the U.S military to take on an enormously challenging task: dealing with an alien species that has landed at different locations around the globe. Along with a physicist, Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the aliens. The aliens communicate by spraying a black mist into the air that slowly forms into some sort of shape, usually a circle with various embellishments. The aliens are called heptapods, and they resemble gigantic walking octopi or squid. Banks develops a uniquely sympathetic relationship with the aliens as the rest of the world grapples with how to deal with them. Finally, things reach a crisis when Banks asks the aliens what their purpose is. The reply is to “offer weapon.” The world is sent into a panic, and various countries prepare for war.

But, Banks is convinced that the aliens are friendly, and wonders whether the weapon is actually some sort of tool. Eventually, Banks comes to the conclusion that the so-called weapon the aliens are offering is actually their language, which is somehow outside of time. Grasping the language gives one the ability to see one’s entire life in panorama, rather than in the linear fashion which is typical of the human perspective. Banks has a vision of herself in the future talking with a Chinese general about how she uses his private number to talk him out of initiating a war. With the knowledge she derives from the vision, Banks actually makes the call and the war is stopped. The countries of the world unite in an effort to work on the alien problem and what their presence means for humanity.

I thought this movie was beautiful and full of philosophical depth. Especially interesting was its mention of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea, roughly speaking, that our language determines how we think. Of course, a major theme in the movie is how the brain acquires new capacities through the assimilation of the alien language, as Louise Banks shows. I really loved Prisoners, another film directed by Dennis Villanueve, and I love this move as well.

Movie Review: Snowden

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Snowden, as one might expect, is about the controversial historical figure, Edward Snowden, an employee who worked in various capacities in the intelligence community who eventually exposed massive and possibly unconstitutional surveillance of ordinary American citizens. The movie depicts Snowden as an awkward but highly intelligent young man who fails high school but is nevertheless able to gain employment with the CIA. He has deep knowledge of computers and rises up in the agency, receiving special tutelage from agency leaders. Snowden becomes aware of the extent of the surveillance that is going on and becomes increasingly preoccupied about it. His obsession leads to alienation from his girlfriend. At one point, Snowden is having a conversation with his coworkers about which country receives the heaviest surveillance from the intelligence community. It turns out, shockingly, to be America. Snowden at times comes across as a paranoid schizophrenic: he keeps thinking that people are watching him, and he ends up putting duct tape over the webcam on his girlfriend’s computer. Snowden also has epileptic seizures.

Snowden eventually determines to reveal what he knows to the press. He is galled by the obvious lie of James Clapper, who told Congress that the intelligence community never wittingly gathered intelligence on ordinary American citizens. At various points in the movie, we see Snowden holed up in a hotel room with the journalist, Glen Greenwald, and a woman who is making a documentary about him. Here, Snowden tells the world what he knows about the American intelligence community. And the great moral controversy begins here: did Snowden do the right thing in revealing to the world what he knew? Critics think he is a traitor, someone who disclosed highly sensitive information that, once in the hands of enemies, will damage national security. Intelligence officials claims that awareness of what ordinary people are doing is needed because, for instance, two travel agents who are simply trying to make a living might be connected unwittingly to terrorist activity. Others defend Snowden, calling him a hero who gave up his girlfriend and his personal safety in order to let Americans know about the overreach of their intelligence community.

I will not make a judgment about Snowden’s monumental decision here. Oliver Stone, who directed this film, portrays Snowden in a cautiously positive light. Stone doesn’t go overboard, though, leaving viewers some moral ambiguity to work through. This is a quality film.