At some point I might have a bible movie night

Or at least a night of Christian-themed movies of dubious quality. One of the libraries in the city buy a lot of religiously inspired low budget ones and I might even attempt some Bibleman.

I tried watching The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston once and got horribly bored, and I never did watch Mel Gibson’s homage to Christ. It just did not appeal to me. Jesus Christ Superstar, on the other hand, was quite terrific.

The Vancouver Sun has an article exploring the use of gods in films.

Critiques have a habit of being called blasphemy — just ask Salman Rushdie — which means most Bible, Torah or Koran stories tend to be infused with musty earnestness to ensure all viewers read them at face value, and the studio buildings are not firebombed by angry believers.

Pagan mythology isn’t subject to the same brand of inquisition.

That would be because the cultures that used to follow those gods are dead or simply don’t bother anymore because those gods have been cast aside in favour of the Christian one (the only “right” one, to some people’s way of thinking. For countries that went from pantheons to Islam, the same impression of Allah would hold true).

We can poke fun, dismiss and completely mock old myth without risk to life, limb or the bottom line, which explains why ancient mythology has been used as movie fodder from the very beginning.

From The Thief of Baghdad’s flying carpets and magic lamps to The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, Hollywood has taken a shine to ancient content from the very beginning of the motion picture era.

Not only does the cinema possess the power to tell epic stories in monolithic formats, but as the surrealist Luis Bunuel put it, the “white eyelid of the screen. . . possesses the light to blow up the universe.”

Movies let us imagine the unimaginable, and in so doing, let us “see” so that we can “believe.”

True enough. Without mythic storylines to fall back on, we’d be left with documentaries, cars blowing up, and romantic “comedies” starring Jennifer Aniston.

That said, movies could, and in many ways should, be the best vehicle to spread any given gospel, but the honest truth of the matter is they remain the most awkward tool in the proselytizer’s tool kit

Here’s the thing though. People don’t tend to choose movies with the intention of learning something or improving themselves. They just want to be entertained. Generally speaking, they want to put their minds on stand-by while their bodies ingest and digest the extra-large popcorn and drink. Why else would anyone spend money on Fast Five or Battle: Los Angeles? Sure, movies come around that stretch the brain a little and make it go “Ooh!” Inception and The Matrix are two off the top of my head. I don’t think Avatar should be counted in that, but District 9 might be another that deserves some credit for making people think. The argument’s been made by others that this is what makes science fiction good.

When it comes to movies with a point, the best lessons (including propaganda) are often the most subtly handled ones (Invasion of the Body Snatchers was meant to reflect fears of communism, the real “aliens” among the godly, patriotic Americans at the time), and that’s seldom the case when looking at films deliberately religiously leaning. Christian movies are not subtle at all and for the general population, even if they are Christians, it can be a turn off. The aim in those is never to tell a good story with great actors who can carry their roles. The aim in those is to give people some Jesus. Theatres running those shows often wind up relying on local churches to buy tickets in order to get enough butts in seats to justify buying the film in the first place. The majority of the movie going public would rather see some nudity and explosions, ideally in the same film at the same time.

When it comes to god stories, we need distance — and a little tongue-in-cheek — because motion pictures are inherently secular. We know they are fake. We know the actors are acting, and all “miraculous” activity is merely the result of special effects.

Good lessons can still be had from secular films and people who want to teach ethics and morality can look to any of them for terrific examples of what to do and what not to do. For a while last year I had a series going called Morality Movie Monday where I’d watch a film and comment on what I got out of it (including Jesus Christ Superstar, mentioned above). I might have to start that up again at some point. It was kind of fun.

Yet, because we have an innate desire to understand the divine tingles within us — whether it’s the awe of standing on a mountain top or feeling connected to something larger — we need stories that address matters of faith, divinity and the perpetual gap between the ephemeral human condition and the timelessness of the universe.

The only way to really do that, in movies, is through mythology — and by using the old gods to enlighten us about our feelings regarding the new ones.

In some ways, they should also serve to remind us that gods depends on humanity to believe in them, to give them meaning and purpose. We set their acts and ambitions up in a way that will help us gauge ourselves and our own acts and ambitions. This is why the Old Testament God gives atheists the heebee jeebies. OTG does not behave like something smart, sensible people should want as a guide these days. To see Christian apologists justify those acts and approve of them.. it’s stomach curdling, frankly. It’s one thing to look at the book as a historical document outlining how people lived and thought in the past. It’s quite another to parrot Leviticus today to prove that gays will still be undeserving of rights tomorrow.

Pagan myth lets us tackle such themes as divine rights, being “chosen” and codes of belief without incendiary consequences — but to achieve the right mix, there has to be the right balance between camp and core story.

At some point, perhaps bible stories will be treated as campy myths instead of honest-to-god truths, too. Goliath getting his ass kicked is a good story. Jonah and the whale is also. The day the sun stood still (Joshua 10-1-15) is another entertaining tale. But tales is all they should be, on par with 1001 Nights or Aesop’s fables. Find some morality in them if you want. Teach a lesson if you find one — just so long as it speaks to today’s audiences without requiring a return to yesterday in order to apply it. Feel free to look back, but keep moving forward, you know?

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About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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5 Responses to At some point I might have a bible movie night

  1. Laurance says:

    Hey there, here in central Pennsylvania we’re going to celebrate the Rapture by going over to the Unitarian-Universalist fellowship building and having a movie. “The Rapture”, 1991, with David Duchovny in it. We’ll be having snacks, and of course popcorn. What’s a potboiler movie without popcorn? And then we’ll have a discussion (freethinkers like to do that). I’m looking forward to it. And I want to see what happens when Sunday morning comes and everyone is still here.

  2. 1minionsopinion says:

    I had to look that one up. I won’t be able to get that from my library, unfortunately, but it sounds like a great idea for a discussion.

    If you remember, stop in again and update me after the meeting, please. =) Cheers!

  3. Laurance says:

    Hello, Minion…yes, I’ll check in again right after the failed Rapture and let you know how the Rapture party went and how the movie was.

  4. Laurance says:

    Hi, Minion…just got back from the Rapture Party and I’m checking in like I said I would. The movie was *dreadful*, which we all expected it to be. Totally lame, stupid as the dickens, with unbelievable dialog – and four horsemen as well and Gabriel’s trumpet, and the woman doesn’t get into heaven after all because she’s pissed off at god. I left during the discussion and chatting afterwards, because I needed to get back home to a sick Sweetie who couldn’t come with me. My diet has gone to hell with all the popcorn and chips and salsa, and best of all, Flying Spaghetti Monster cookies. Chow mein noodles rolled in some sort of peanut butter stuff, and eyes made out of malted milk balls cut in half with chocolate chips for pupils.

    I don’t know where they got that lame-brained movie from. Maybe Netflix? I looked it up on Amazon, and saw that it actually got a bunch of five star ratings. I’m dumbfounded at that. There were christians who gave it a one star rating because of the lousy theology.

    And I heard the news about why the Rapture didn’t happen. My best friend (who is my ex-husband – Laurance is actually an old woman, not a young guy) was there and told me that our daughter’s boyfriend’s sister-in-law got involved with a group of people who were praying to god to postpone the Rapture. They prayed and god listened to them and did what they asked. I hate to think of what this woman’s ego is going to be like now. She and her friends saved the world and us infidels with her prayers. Wow…to be able to tell god what to do and what not to do, and have him obey…jeez…

    I’ll bet this scene has happened in other places besides central Pennsylvania. I’ll bet there’s a whole bunch of people who now believe their prayers were answered, and that god did what they told him to do.

    Whatcha gonna do? Keep on living, and I’ll have to go and thank Jennifer for saving us with her prayers. ;-P

  5. 1minionsopinion says:

    On the “postponement” — I think a lot of people will be convinced that God stayed his hand today rather than accepting the more likely scenario that the whole damn thing was a sham from the get-go. Cognitive dissociation or whatever? Sad and disheartening but such is the human condition, I guess.

    I’m hoping to catch the post party my local Freethinkers arranged for Sunday night. No terrible movies planned for that one, but lots of good beer and food, I’m sure.

    Thanks for letting me know how you spent your rapture =). Mine was called on account of rain.

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