Sunday, September 1, 2013

Dogmas, Beliefs, Ideas (Part 2)

Uncomfortable Truths: [part 1, part 3, part 4]

Metatron: [God's] got a great sense of humor. Take sex for example. There's nothing funnier than the ridiculous faces you people make mid-coitus.
Bethany: Sex is a joke in heaven?
Metatron: The way I understand it, it's mostly a joke down here, too.

Many of the insights and jabs in this film are right on the money regarding our culture. The exchange above is a good example. Not everything in this story is critical of the opinions religious people hold. Not everything is aimed at religion. Negative aspects across all of culture are fair game. Even though one of the main characters is in all likelihood a sex addict and utterly disrespectful of women, the film itself has room to point out that our culture is not mature, enlightened or respectful when it comes to sex. Another area where Dogma shows a great deal of respect is regarding God. For all of its jabs at religious systems and people, it takes place in a world where God is real and good. This is something one often finds in satire aimed at religion.

One aspect of faith that is challenging for anyone who believes is the highly personal aspect of spirituality. Mysticism is easy to accept in one’s personal experience, but letting someone else’s experiences govern our own lives—allowing someone to speak to us on God’s behalf—is another thing all together. This is a common problem for religion. How much do we trust people who are claiming to be God’s messengers? In “Dogma” the angel sent to charge Bethany addresses this challenge:

Metatron: Metatron acts as the voice of God. Any documented occasion when some yahoo claims God has spoken to them, they're speaking to me. Or they're talking to themselves.

One reminder “Dogma” offers is that God does indeed use flawed people in His plans. If He were to merely use “saints” in the Catholic sense of the word, He would have a very short supply indeed. Metatron’s statement is a bit simplistic, but it does remind religious snobs that the Bible is a story of God using messed up sinners. And that is certainly the case in this story as well.

Metatron: I am to charge you with a holy crusade.
Bethany: For the record, I work in an abortion clinic.
Metatron: Noah was a drunk, look what he accomplished. And no one's even asking you to build an ark.

There is even some theologically sound “teaching” in this movie. OK, the details are off here and there. For instance the two fallen angels in this story are not demons for some reason, but as their plan develops we see a good representation of the pride of rebellion and an eloquent discourse on human sin:

Bartleby: In the beginning, it was just us and Him, angels and God...and then he created humankind. Ours was designed to be a life of worship and servitude, and bowing and scraping and adoration. He gave them more than He ever gave us — He gave them a choice. They can choose to acknowledge God, or choose to ignore Him. But us? All this time we've been down here, I have felt the absence of the divine presence, and it has pained me, as it must have pained you. Had He given us free will, we could choose to ignore the pain, like they do. But no — and why? Because of the way He made us! We're servants!
Loki: [alarmed] Okay... all I'm saying is that maybe one of us needs a little nap...
Bartleby: Wake up! Humans have besmirched everything God has bestowed upon them. They were given paradise — they threw it away. They were given this planet — they destroyed it. They were favored best of all His endeavors, and some of them don't even believe that He exists! And in spite of it all, He has shown them infinite ----ing patience at every turn.
Loki: [horrified] My God... I've heard a rant like this before.
Bartleby: What did you say?
Loki: I said I've heard a rant like this before. You sound like the Morning Star!
Bartleby: Don't you say that to me! You shut your ----ing mouth!
Loki: You do, you sound like Lucifer, man!

But the best insight this film has to offer is tied into its name. Dogma is only mentioned by name in the film once. For some reason Smith decided to use the term "belief" the rest of the time. Perhaps it was to help the audience see the point, but it muddies the waters in a way. A character named Rufus explains the difference between belief and ideas. What he is getting at is the difference between rigid, sure dogma and trusting faith.

Rufus: His only real beef with mankind is the s--- that gets carried out in His name. Wars, bigotry, televangelism. The big one, though, is the fractioning of all of the religions. He said mankind got it all wrong by taking a good idea and building a belief structure on it.
Bethany: You’re saying having beliefs is a bad thing?
Rufus: I just think it’s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea, changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it. The whole of existence is in jeopardy right now, because of the Catholic belief structure regarding this plenary indulgence bulls---. Bartleby and Loki, whether they know it or not, are exploiting that belief. And if they’re successful, you, me… ALL of this ends in a heartbeat, all over a belief.

This is not all accurate, of course. God has a problem with sin in general, not just religious pride. However, Jesus always had the harshest statements reserved for the religious people of His day. God’s approach to sin is that He sent His Son to die for the world. God wants to save people from sin. The problem with religion, and dogma in particular, is that they see sin as someone else’s problem. The religious think they have all the answers and that they can stand in judgment of others. They have faith in belief systems—dogmas—not trust in a person. (False dogma is allowed to bind God in this story because of an actual Catholic dogma that believes the church can dictate what God can do. Just another problem exposed when you replace God’s Word with religious systems. They don’t make sense!)

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