Andres: The ghosts that haunt us

Apr 24, 2017 by

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Last month, the live-action remake of the 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell hit theaters. Set in a future when many humans are augmented with cybernetic enhancements, the story follows Major Mira Killian, whose body was mortally injured in a terrorist attack. Her brain is experimentally integrated into a robotic body called a “shell.” With no memory of her life before the attack, Killian uses her enhanced abilities as part of a counterterrorism team.

Carmen Andres

Andres

The film explores themes related to integration of biology and technology, what makes us who we are and the mystery of consciousness (referred to as one’s “ghost”).

A central theme is Killian’s struggle with identity and purpose. In a way, she is haunted by her own ghost as she experiences “glitches,” or flashes of memory, leaving her feeling isolated from herself and others.

She longs not only for understanding of who she is, where she came from and her purpose, but also for connection.

Stories like this feel like explorations of our modern age, trying to make sense of life in a secular culture — particularly the isolation and the yearning for something more than a materialist worldview offers.

Recently, I ran across James K.A. Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Smith guides us through A Secular Age by Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, who gives a map of today by chronicling changes that led to a default worldview of self-sufficient humanism, lacking transcendence or religious belief.

I resonated with Taylor’s idea that we live with a plethora of contestable worldviews — religious and quasi-religious beliefs regarding what it means to be human. As a result, says Taylor, “we never move to a point beyond all anticipation, beyond all hunches, to the kind of certainty we can enjoy in certain narrower questions, say, in the natural science or ordinary life.”

This uncertainty can leave us feeling “cross pressured” between faith and doubt, belief and unbelief. Believers wrestle with doubt while unbelievers feel the nagging sense that there might be something that transcends the material world — a “fullness of the cosmos that keeps pushing back on us,” as Smith puts it in an interview.

This leaks through in Ghost in the Shell. Such stories confront us with glitches in our age’s default worldview and reveal pervasive longings and questions. That can be valuable not only when we contemplate how this affects the way we understand the world but also how we think about and live out the gospel.

People are asking how to make sense of hungers and longings, Smith observes: “I don’t think the gospel is offered primarily as a set of intellectual answers to propositional questions. I think it brings us to an encounter with a person who is the lover of our souls and answers to the deepest hungers and longings of who we are as humans.”

Smith says if we are to counter the narrative of secularism — the march of reason and science that has enabled us to leave religious beliefs behind — “it’s not enough to offer rival evidence and data. You need to tell a different story.”

And live it, so that together we are like a haunting glitch that wakes people to the reality of Jesus.

Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.


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