Sunday, May 21, 2006

Protecting the Ignorant

I haven't read or seen the "Da Vinci Code" but I feel the need to weigh in on what borders on hysteria. Christian leaders are creating their own counter-Da Vinci Code films and have actively campaigned against the book and the film in the media. They say that people will loose faith or become confused by the story. What they really fear is that the reaction to this story exposes how tenuous most "Christian's" faith really is. It reveals that the vast majority of the American public is far less wedded to dogmatic religious beliefs than many Church spokespeople are.

If certain individuals decide that they no longer wish to practice Christianity because of Dan Brown's novel or Opie's movie- it's a good bet that they weren't devout followers in the first place. If I were a religious Christian I would just assume weed these people out. But for these Christian "leaders" the story is just too confusing and some may mistaken it as fact.

First of all, facts have little role in a theological debate. The historical merits of Dan Brown's claims are not as important as the ideas themselves. What if Jesus was married? This questions "Christ's morality" according to Jerry Falwell. Aren't the evangelicals the ones forcing the "sanctity of marriage" down everyone's throats? They are also upset that the story "questions the divinity of Christ" because it calls into question the exclusion of many early gospels and the purges of alternate Christian sects such as the Gnostics. This is one historical fact that no one can refute. There were alternate views of Christianity that have been suppressed  by the Catholic Church.

What they really fear is that people will question the authority of current Christian leaders. Perhaps some will interpret the Bible in their own way- instead of swallowing the force-fed interpretations of others. God forbid people actually think about their religious beliefs. They are really concerned because the impressionable people that organized religions pray on are now not engaging in critical thinking!

You shall reap what you sow as the Bible says.

2 Comments:

Blogger adiloren said...

My friend Josh wrote in a post on his blog:

Yes, I went to see it.

And no, I did not mind watching this movie. Obviously I went in with severely diminished expectations but no, I didn’t mind it.

It was, more or less, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade meets The Ninth Gate. It was probably not as good as either of those movies - not as good as the first because I’m no longer 12, and not as good as the second because, well, Roman Polanski seems to have a better sense of things, at least as they relate to making an understated Hollywood-ish movie attempting to trade on Americans’ ideas of European intellectual subculture.

Nonetheless, this movie was actually mildly diverting. I know it was over 2 hours long, but it certainly didn’t feel like that. Video game fans may have been reminded of the opening sequence of Ultima 7, in which a naked body is found in a barn, ritualistically murdered, adorned with a pentagram of blood… Perhaps Lord British should hire an intellectual property lawyer and seek out this Dan Brown character…

At any rate, what I really wanted to write about -

The movie was punctuated by several moments of annoying banality, delivered, of course, by Tom Hanks. The worst of these moments comes just at the end, when we are told that “all that really matters is what you believe,” effectively undercutting all the even mildly appealing radicalism of the previous 137 minutes.

Holy Grail? Knights Templar? Opus Dei? Mary Magdalene’s child the legitimate heir to Christianity? The Council of Nicea? The Apocrypha? “All that matters is what you believe.”

What’s amazing about Hanks’s final monologue is that even with such a dime-store historical conspiracy theory, things can’t finish without that annoying GI-Joe moment at the end - you know, where they put their arms on their waists and exchange generalities about life, knowledge and being an individual.

I think this shows us that Hollywood just doesn’t do history. History that might jeopardize anything that would prevent Tom Hanks from standing in for his next “performance” and reaching the same conclusions, even if he’s in an airport, he’s on an island, he’s floating around with massive matched luggage in the South Pacific, he’s a 12-year-old in the body of a 30-year-old, he’s a cardiovascularly gifted retard, he’s in love with Meg Ryan, or he’s in love with Meg Ryan- “all that matters is what you believe.”

What is so threatening about allowing one’s historical circumstances to, oh, I don’t know, change one’s beliefs? What is so hard about admitting that the world sometimes poses complex questions that require complex answers? And do people really not want to see this? Of course, in the case of the Da Vinci Code, it’s probably just caving to the idiots - you know, the ones who think that if Jesus is shown to have human qualities, the whole house-of-cards will tumble, or whatever.

But with Hollywood more generally, what is so hard about people not reaching relativistic pseudo-Candide-ish “tend your garden” conclusions about life, no matter what the genre, no matter what the setting, no matter how many Oscars are at stake? What is so damned interesting about vague generalizations about “the human spirit”? You can see this from The Da Vinci Code to The Passion of the Christ, despite the ostensibly different metaphysical commitments. The Passion of the Christ, in a strange way, succombs to this generic storyline despite being avowedly particularistic in its approach - and why?

Maybe I’m just tilting at windmills here, but it’s gotten to the point where I just don’t want to sit through most of these movies anymore. I was willing to see The Da Vinci Code beacuse it seemed relatively insulated from the choke-hold that about 4 genres seem to have on the industry - romantic comedy, oddball comedy, espionage-”political” thriller, and horror. I mean, at this point, how are you supposed to get excited for those things? What are you supposed to be suspenseful or scared about? And at some point, I imagine, I won’t even be able to laugh at Will Farrell or Owen Wilson anymore.

Would someone give me one good reason I should pay $10 for these things, and waste 2 or more hours of my life? I’m willing to admit that every now and then I can take a chance and enjoy something, but by and large, it would seem, I’m destined to walk out of a movie feeling mildly titilated and $25 poorer, never really wanting to talk about or see this movie again.

And don’t start up with the “I quite enjoyed the ‘production values’ / ‘performances’ / ‘cinematography’ / whatever / whatever else” talk, about Mission Impossible 3, X-Men or anything else. I protest once again, I just don’t understand what people are talking about when they deploy these terms of pseudo-criticism, or perhaps more importantly, why they feel the need to, when they could have spent their time doing any number of other things.

2:50 AM  
Blogger adiloren said...

I responded:

This is an interesting post- you should take Ebert’s job- or better yet that idiot Wilmington’s at the Tribune who said “Alexander” was a “breathtaking ride” and recommended it.

I think Opie put that “all that matters is what we believe” business in to ensure people that they shouldn’t take the historical elements to seriously and instead think about what they believe- the film serving almost as a thought experiment.

Is it a cop-out? To be sure. The authors of “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” would certainly think so. However, ultimately, the beliefs are more important in a theological sense. Religions by nature are irrational. The historiocity of Jesus himself is untenable when applying the standards of modern historians. The aim of the story, I don’t believe, was ever to disrupt the historical foundation of the religion- as some Church leaders would have you believe. That foundation was never stable in the first place. The Da Vinci code, at least the movie it seems, was less a rational assualt on the religion and more of a theological exploration using historical debates as a device for provking thought. “The Last Temptation of Christ” sets out to provoke similar theological self-quetioning without the pretense of historical inquiry - an approach that I found effective given the subject matter.

What we “believe” as a culture does have importance. If the book and film help people to question relgious dogma and religious authority- they have done a service. They also revealed many to be wedded to beliefs that they couldn’t reasonably defend beyond faith. Bringing religion, at least to some degree, into the realm of rational debate in our culture is a good first step. The legions of Chritian spokespeople attempting to “debunk” the code is both comical and pardoxical.

The belief that Jesus being married calls into question his morality or divinity makes the sanctity of marriage seem counter-intuitive. The fact that Church leaders are encouraging critical thinking in regards to the story is ironic considering that critical thought largely undermines religious faith.

In this way, the idea that beliefs are more important than their historical basis is at least theologically consistent and forces religious leaders to defend their beliefs intuitively if not rationally. Engaging religion on its own terms may undermine the historical attack, but it has actually, in this case, led many religious leaders to attempt a rational defense of their religious beliefs, exposing flaws in the larger belief system.

I haven’t read the book or seen the film- so this post relates more to the public debate than the content of the story itself. I suspect the story itself isn’t as interesting as the debate that it has spawned. That Chistian “authorities” are so bent out of shape about this has likely been more damaging to organized religion than the film itself. They come accross as vulnerable and rather pathetic. Of course they will have their minions, but I think a lot of people are thinking about religion at least- instead of blindly swallowing it as a result of tradition.

2:50 AM  

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