Monday, September 2, 2013

Dogmas, Beliefs, Ideas (Part 3)


Missing the Mark: [part 1, part 2, part 4]

The goal of this film (aside from entertaining) is to provide commentary on the problems Smith and others like him observe in religions and religious people. Some of the observations are pretty accurate highlights of things that need to be addressed. Others are simply things that they don’t like or agree with. This is not a theological exercise in orthodoxy, of course. Some of the details in this story are wrong because they are made up. Other things are a little more problematic because they are built on faulty criticisms of Christianity. For instance, Rufus claims that Jesus was black. The issue of racism in Christian history, especially in America, is a very real problem. However, the Bible never says that Jesus was white. He was also not black. He was in fact Jewish.

Another issue in this film is sexism. Ultimately it is handled correctly. God is neither male nor female. The Bible tends to refer to Him, but female imagery is also used. The character in the film named Serendipity sounds a lot like feminist theologians that err in their efforts to counter sexism they perceive in religion. He claims that the Bible is anti-woman are false. Yes there are bad female characters, but there are many many more evil males. Also, the way Jesus and Paul valued and interacted with women was very much out of step with the way their culture did. The Bible and Christianity helped change the world for women in a very positive way.

Serendipity: The whole book's gender-biased. A woman's responsible for original sin. A woman cuts Samson's coif of power. A woman asks for the head of John the Baptist. Read that book again sometime. Women are painted as bigger antagonists than the Egyptians and Romans combined. It stinks.

The most interesting erroneous representation of Christian belief in the story comes in a speech from the demon Azrael that didn't make it intact from the script to the film. He starts out giving a pretty good characterization of hell and evil:

Azrael: Human, have you ever been to Hell? I think not. Did you know that once, Hell was nothing more than the absence of God? And if you'd ever been in his presence, you'd realise that's punishment enough. But then your kind came along, and made it so much worse.
Bethany: Humans aren't capable of one hundredth of the evil a s---bag demon like you is!
Azrael: [furious] Evil...is AN ABSTRACT! It's a human construct! But true to his irresponsible nature, man won't own up to being its engineer, so he blames his dark deeds on my ilk! But it's not enough to shadow his own existence: he turned Hell into a suffering pit! And why?! Because it is beyond your ability to simply make personal recompense for the sins you commit. No, you chose rather to create a psychodrama and dwell in a false belief that God could never forgive your grievous offences! So you bring your guilt and your inner decay with you to Hell, where the hoarded imaginations of so many gluttons-for-punishment gave birth to the sickness that has infected the abyss since the first one of your kind arrived there, begging to be punished! And in doing so, they've transformed the cold and the solitude to pain and misery! I've spent eons privy to the flames, inhaling the decay, hearing the wail of the damned! I know what effect such horrors have on the delicate psyche of an ANGELIC BEING! [calms himself] I'd rather not exist than go back to that...and if everyone has to go down with me, so be it.

Where Azreal errs is in his description of the human condition and its solution. He says humans should simply pay for their sins. This is a religious idea. That we have missed the mark and should pay for our errors is exactly what every religion teaches. It is what allows people to be self-righteous and prideful. They can imagine that they are “good enough.” Real Christian teaching says that we are truly incapable of paying our debt. God has paid it for us, but He will not force anyone to accept a salvation they don’t want. The true response of belief is to realize we are helpless and trust God to save us. Only in a relationship of trust with Him, made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, can we become the people we were created to be.

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