I didn’t much like The Passion of the Christ. Besides its anti-Semitic undertones, it struck me as having a very shallow view of Christian theology. Jesus’ greatest sacrifice wasn’t being scourged and crucified. It was giving up a “normal” life with a wife, kids, and a steady job as a carpenter. Martin Scorsese dramatized this beautifully in his superior The Last Temptation of Christ, and while I won’t give away the film’s main plot twist, I will say that by the time Willem Dafoe declares that he wants to be the Messiah, I was deeply moved. The strongest emotion I felt during The Passion was boredom. Seriously, it takes twenty minutes for Jesus to carry the cross to Golgotha. Is Mel Gibson presenting the crucifixion to us in real time? In that time, I could watch an episode of The Colbert Report. Hell, Colbert has as much to say about Catholicism as Gibson does.
Religion and politics are two of the hardest topics to tackle in an artistic medium. Both lend themselves to beating the audience over the head with one’s message. One film to get it right was Amazing Grace, an underrated movie about William Wilberforce, the Member of Parliament who motivated the government to end slavery in 19th-century England. It’s a surprisingly warm film, showing that one does not have to become a priest to be doing God’s work. I believe that, and I don’t even believe in God. (Well, mostly. It’s kind of complicated.) The fun part of religious belief is that you can define it however you want. I thought about labeling myself an “atheist”, but that word just seems cold. If there is one thing that religion is good at offering, it’s reassurance. That’s why many non-believers have adopted the label of a humanist, saying that since they don’t believe in God, they believe in the power of humanity to solve its own problems. It is, as one of my favorite humanists pointed out, an astonishing leap of faith.
This of course, is difficult to do when one is presented with the continued existence of terrorism, poverty, and Kate Hudson. I haven’t seen any of her movies since Almost Famous, but there is not a more useless genre than the modern romantic comedy. It used to be that the best romantic comedies starred Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant. Now they star Matthew McConaughey and whatever blonde actress needs a quick paycheck. Why is it so hard to make a love story that has an element of comedy? I write love stories sometimes, and it saddens me that the best contemporary cinema has to offer in the romance department is sad or bittersweet movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Once, and Weekend. Love can be funny sometimes. In fact, it’s one of the funniest things there is.
Part of the problem is fantasy. All entertainment is a form of fantasy, offering people a world where the answers are somehow simpler than they are in real life, where even moral dilemmas are calculated to split the audience right down the middle. But shitty romantic comedies do something different, offering us a protagonist who is nothing more than a blank slate into which female viewers can project themselves. It’s ironic that so many of these women name Pride and Prejudice as one of their favorite books, as that novel cleverly subverts its readers’ expectations by making the protagonist as much a source of the conflict as her seemingly-difficult beau is. Perhaps the women who see Pride and Prejudice as nothing more than Mary Sue escapism are reading selectively. If you do that, you can justify almost everything.
There was a conservative Christian group several years ago that was considering rewriting the Bible to leave out all of the liberal bits. That would eliminate virtually the entire New Testament. Their reasoning may seem convoluted, but it’s actually quite simple: conservatism is always right, so if God seems to be espousing a liberal point of view, he must be mistaken. What’s that you say? God is perfect? Yeah, but even a Supreme Being can be misquoted. Jesus wants us to screw over anyone who is different. It says right there in the…actually, it doesn’t. Wait, let me pencil it in.
In a way, I admire the brazen attitude of the people who continue to hold onto beliefs that the Bible explicitly contradicts. What they’re saying is that they love their prejudices more than anything else, including God. I wish Democrats believed in anything that strongly. God may love everyone equally, but I’m pretty sure there are times when He is banging His head against the wall. Hey, He created us. As imperfect beings, I would imagine that we are the only things that an omnipotent, omniscient entity can’t comprehend (assuming, of course, that He exists.) It’s like Doctor Who (you didn’t think I’d make it through an entire post without mentioning that, did you?). For the first season of the New Series, Rose Tyler is a pretty good audience surrogate, providing the white, female twentysomethings in the audience with a vessel through which they can imagine themselves traversing space and time with a charming older man. In season two, she becomes downright insufferable, jeopardizing the entire universe so that she can see her father one last time and moping endlessly when her story finally comes to a close (for the time being, anyway.) Yet I know people who insist that she is still likeable then, even going so far as to call her relationship with the Doctor one of the greatest love stories. That’s only true if you like to imagine yourself as a flawless person who will inspire devotion in others no matter what you do. It requires endless justification, but isn’t that what love is all about?
Love is never easy. It requires sacrifice and making tough decisions instead of convenient ones. Jesus understood that, preaching that no matter what, you must love everyone including and especially the people who hurt you. Ayn Rand didn’t, seeing love as something to be doled out at her pleasure. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’d rather read the Bible than Atlas Shrugged.