Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dogmas, Beliefs, Ideas (Part 1)

Rufus: Why, Bethany Sloane, are you saying you believe?
Bethany: No. But I have a good idea.

Introduction: [part 2, part 3, part 4]

The 1999 film “Dogma” may be one of the more controversial films ever made. It is a satire, one of those stories designed to comment on things in society and culture that are broken or simply don’t make sense. Satires generally rub some people the wrong way, especially people who are happy with the things being critiqued. In this case the whole satirical arsenal is being squarely aimed at religion—something most people are sensitive about. The whole idea with satire is to get the audience to think about and even question the status quo. When it comes to religion some think that thought—and most definitely questions—are not allowed. In a way the film is most concerned with this aspect of religion, thus the name: “Dogma.” Dogmas are beliefs and teachings that are authoritative. You are not allowed to question them, they just are. They are not exclusive to religion, but they are a dangerous aspect of any ideology where they are found. More on that later.

Some took this film way too seriously for all the wrong reasons. Attempts by the Catholic Church to boycott the film and ruin it financially likely saved it a lot on advertising. Many felt that it was not enough to avoid seeing the movie themselves—no one should ever see it! Like the film or not, and it is a very offensive film beyond all the religious satire, but you are not defending truth by muzzling people who attack it. It is either true or it isn’t. And, uncomfortably for some this story does expose some of the problematic aspects of the religious side of Christianity. Mostly though, this film does not take itself too seriously. In one exchange it even reminds the viewer that fictional stories are not wholly reliable:

Bethany: What exactly brought you to Illinois?
Jay: See, all these movies take place in a small town called Shermer, Illinois where all the honeys are top shelf, but all the dudes are whiny pussies… we could live like fat rats if we're the blunt connection in Shermer, Illinios, so we collected some money we were owed and caught a bus. You know what the ---- we found out when we got there? There is no Shermer, Illinois. Movies are ----ing bulls---.

In another instance, though, it points out how much people who think they are religious and devout really only amount to pop-culture theologians. They don’t know their Bibles (or to be fair in this case their archaic Jewish lore) as much as they know Hollywood Christianity:

Metatron: Say you're the Metatron, people stare at you blankly. Mention something from a Charlton Heston movie and suddenly everyone's a theology scholar!

In fact, this film is a fantastical adventure story set in an imaginary version of reality. Some of the points it makes hit the nail on the head. Other things are way off on their interpretation of most Christian ideas, and certainly regarding what the Bible has to say for itself. But before we get into the uncomfortable truths and the missed marks, a simple outline of the story may be helpful:

According to the imdb: “An abortion clinic worker with a special heritage is called upon to save the existence of humanity from being negated by two renegade angels trying to exploit a loophole and re-enter Heaven.” That is over-simple but it will do. It depends on some confusing plot necessities like God being trapped in an unconscious body He has incarnated and the idea that God would be bound by “fallible, man-made” rules, but this plot simply serves to set up the satirical commentary that Smith is trying to communicate. In several places, he has some good points:

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