Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Film Beyond Belief: Part 2

Here is Part 2 of my critique of Brian Flemming's The God Who Wasn't There. See Part 1 here.
There are zero contemporary accounts by historians showing any knowledge whatsoever of Jesus--even though he was supposed to have attracted crowds in the thousands with his miracles, almost incited an insurrection in Jerusalem, and was put to death by Pontius Pilate--after a Jewish trial on Passover eve.
Zero? None? Well, supposing a "contemporary account" would be anything written within a generation of the time Jesus began his ministry (30 AD; when large groups of people would have began hearing about him for the first time), and that a Biblical generation was 40 years, that would mean that the first 23 works from the list previously cited are contemporary to Jesus. All of these works show a knowledge of Him.
Somehow, historians of the day didn’t notice these remarkable events. And somehow Paul and his fellow early Christians forgot Jesus had lived. And then, apparently, decades later, people suddenly remembered.
If that were true, it would indeed be silly. Thankfully, it is not.
There’s a more plausible theory: That the Christian religion developed in the same way as virtually every previous religion with a dying and rising savior. Attis, Mithras, Osiris and other gods predate Jesus by millennia--but they also bear a striking resemblance to him. The similarities include: Being dead for three days and then rising, healing the sick and casting out demons, a ritual involving bread and wine representing the savior’s flesh and blood. And many more.
It's a nice theory and all, but it doesn't really hold up, as I hope I proved in my post from a few days ago on the truth about religion.
No major event in the life of Christ lacks a strikingly similar precedent in another religion or myth.
Well, once you realize that Jesus actually lived, this definitely sets him apart from the gods of pagan mythology.
Coincidence? Maybe, but Christian apologists of the second and third century didn’t think so. They had to deal with complaints and accusations from actual practitioners of these other religions, and it was common knowledge that the Jesus story was similar to the pagan myths. These early church fathers did not claim this was a coincidence. Rather: They claimed that Satan knew that Jesus would be coming, so he had planted those other gods--counterfeiting Jesus in advance.
Well, you certainly can't deny the possibility....that is, unless you don't believe in the existence of the devil either. I think another explanation is that mankind, in searching Creation for an answer to the yearnings in his heart, is able to grasp hold of some of the truths of God's plan, truths that were not finally realized and definitively revealed until God became man in Jesus Christ.
Bizarrely, this remains the explanation to this day. But, as The God Who Wasn’t There shows, Christian leaders don’t have to use this Satan-did-it excuse very often. The movie interviews several Christians who admit they have never heard of the previous pagan gods who bear such a striking similarity to Jesus.
Like I said before, this only proves the ignorance of some Christians regarding the history of religion.
It seems that mankind has been obsessed with blood sacrifice rituals for a very long time. Christianity is another, relatively new iteration of the ancient ritual in which a designated person suffers and dies, and the others eat his flesh and blood, symbolically or otherwise.

But Christians today aren’t obsessed with blood and violence, are they? If you answered “no” to that, you obviously haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ. Using clips taken directly from Mel Gibson’s film, director Brian Flemming analyzes the extreme gore and shows the steps Gibson took to emphasize blood and suffering as much as possible. This section is not for the squeamish.

What does it mean that the most popular Jesus film by far is one that contains nonstop bloody slaughter? Why was this film the single most powerful spiritual experience of their lives for countless Christians?

Well, Christianity has always had a dark side, and Flemming now explores it. Popular fundamentalist preachers pound their Bibles and exhort their followers to “raise up an army” for God. Christians burn books in a “Burning Celebration.” One regional leader of the Moral Majority calls for laws mandating the execution of homosexuals.

And all of this is a natural outgrowth of faith, not a perversion of it. If God really did write the Bible, as fundamentalist Christians believe, then it would be wrong not to have these attitudes. If everyone who has not accepted Jesus as Lord really is going to a permanent doom, then raising an army for God is a good idea.
So, apparently, the Bible calls for Christians to be "obsessed with blood and violence," to burn books, and to execute homosexuals. All of this is supposedly a natural outgrowth of faith. But the evidence, as usual, is terribly lacking.

For one, just because mankind participated in aminal sacrifices, that doesn't make them blood-thirsty, violent savages. The sacramental eating and drinking of the Body of Christ is neither violent nor bloody. Secondly, The Passion of the Christ was not so popular because Christians are barbarous people. It was popular because it brought people to the very scene of the Passion of Christ, and it did not sugarcoat what really happen to Him. The pain inflicted on Jesus really was that violent. There was no artistic license invovled. You try to carry a cross up a hill after getting whipped, beaten, spit on, and crowned with thorns, and then mount that cross with nails driven into your hands and feet and try not to bleed.
This is where “moderate” Christianity fails. Either God wrote that book or he didn’t. The middle ground simply doesn’t make sense. He only wrote a little of it? Just the parts you like? How could that possibly be true, and how could you know?

God, of course, didn’t write a book. There’s no evidence that he even exists. But by ignoring logic and reason and paying lip service to religious faith, moderate and liberal Christians only empower the fundamentalists they claim to oppose. If faith is right, it’s the fundamentalists who are correct, not the wishy-washy folks in the middle--and that’s why so many people choose religious dogma that has the courage of its convictions.
He's misrepresenting orthodox Christianity here. It is the fundamentalist position that is actually the extreme one, and those who fall into this camp are a minority within Christianity. For example, fundamentalists may hold up signs that say, "God hates fags," but this is not the example that Jesus gave us. Jesus spoke with sinners firmly, yet also with respect and love. He dined with them, healed them in public, and forgave them, all the while never condoning their sin. And thus, the Catholic Church --the largest body of Christians in the world-- teaches that the homosexual lifestyle is gravely sinful, but that homosexual persons should never be abused or harmed in any way. Bloodthirsty violence is also sinful, as seen in her treatment of the Fifth Commandment.
In fact, 44% of Americans believe that Jesus is coming back--from the sky, to judge the living and the dead--within the next 50 years. The movie now examines a member of this 44% close up.
So what??
Scott Butcher operates a web site called RaptureLetters.com. The site is intended to be used by Christians who believe they will disappear from Earth in The Rapture--the End Times event in which all Christ believers will be taken up to Heaven by Jesus. A Rapture-ready Christian can go to RaptureLetters.com and enter the email address of someone close to them who is not saved--and, after the Rapture, the site will automatically notify that non-Christian via email that their friend or relative has been taken up in the Rapture.

Revealing his gullibility, Scott passes along “facts” he’s learned, such as the policy of airlines not to let two Christian pilots operate a plane at the same time--because they both may disappear in the Rapture, leaving the plane in mid-air without a pilot. Scott is a successful contractor, a nice guy with a stable family life and no signs of mental illness. He simply believes crazy things. And he’s not alone. The End Times-themed “Left Behind” novels have sold tens of millions of copies.

But is Brian Flemming just criticizing something he doesn’t understand? Not at all. On screen, Scott Butcher’s face morphs into Brian’s, and the director reveals that he, too, used to be a fundamentalist Christian--who believed exactly the same things as Butcher believes.
Apparnetly, Scott Buther is supposed to be representative of the majority of Christians, in which case we're all just as guillible as he is. Well, for one, this has nothing to do with the arguments for the historicity of Jesus Christ. It's another red herring. Secondly, he's creating a straw man by attempting to refute fundamentalist doctrine when fundamentalism doesn't even possess the strongest arguments for Christianity, nor is it representative of Christianity as a whole (there's two logical fallacies). Finally, how did he get this 44% number? Did he poll every Christian in the world, or at least a representative sample of the entire Christian world? I kinda doubt it. Even if 44% is an accurate number, 44% is not a majority (duh!).

The gullibility of the rapture doctrine is perhaps the only point on which Brian and I agree! Thankfully, most Christians do not believe in it.
Brian learned to be a fundamentalist when he attended Village Christians Schools in Sun Valley, California. The school mascot was the Crusader--because the mission of the school was to battle the secular world. The school handbook even says that Satan works through other versions of Christianity to deceive people, so Village positions itself in opposition to liberal, moderate and Catholic Christianity as well.
Apparently this makes him an expert on Christianity.
But Brian relates that the most frightening aspect of his time at Village was having relentlessly pounded into him the idea that there was one unforgivable sin. Jesus would forgive you for almost anything, but for some reason the Bible says there’s one sin that, if you do it, you can never go anywhere but Hell, no matter what you do.

The sin? Denial of the Holy Spirit. Deny the Holy Spirit, and you are doomed, according to a literal reading of two New Testament verses.
Brian misunderstands why it is that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable. It's not because God won't forgive it. God will forgive any man of any sin, as long as he turns to God with a repentant heart and true intent to change. "A broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psa 51:17). The sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable because any man who rejects the Spirit in such a way will surely never avail himself of the avenues of grace and forgiveness that the Holy Spirit provides. He who sins against the Holy Spirit is doomed only as long as he remains indignant of the Spirit.
Of course, the Holy Spirit is the easiest thing in the entire doctrine to doubt. Jesus was 2000 years ago, God is out of your reach, but the Holy Spirit is supposed to be with you right here, right now.

So you’d better feel it. And if your mind wanders to the fact that there’s no more evidence for the existence of this “Holy Spirit” than for the existence of unicorns? That in and of itself may be denial of the Holy Spirit, because Jesus is in your thoughts, and he knows.
Only fundamentalists would go to this extreme. God is patient with those who have occasional doubts about Him, or who struggle to understand and accept the truths about Him. After all, the world is against the Christian, always trying to convince him that there is no God. It's tough to stand firm sometimes, and no one denies that. It's only when you abandon the struggle and assert with firm conviction that there is no God, or no Holy Spirit, that you commit the sin in question.
In school, Brian was paranoid that he’d accidentally denied the Holy Spirit by doubting its existence. He spent a lot of time in the school chapel talking to Jesus, asking if Jesus could still save him, even if he’d broken the one unbreakable rule.

Curious about why the caring adults who run Village Christian Schools would teach their 1800 students these terrifying ideas, Brian heads to the school, to interview the man in charge, superintendent Dr. Ronald Sipus.
Perhaps if Brian had not grown up in a fundamentalist setting, and if someone would have shared the love and mercy of Christ with him, he may not be in the situation he's in today. His paranoia is obviously not healthy, nor is it grounded in true Christian teaching.
In the superintendent’s office, Brian asks Dr. Sipus to lay out the Christian doctrine taught at Village Christian Schools, and Sipus says the school only teaches that which is absolutely necessary for salvation--the need for the Holy Spirit, and the need for a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Then Brian asks a simple question: What evidence do you have that the world works this way? Sipus’s answer? “It’s a faith issue.” He admits he has no “empirical data.” Brian asks, then, if it isn’t irresponsible to teach children a theory that he has no evidence to back up.

Sipus disagrees but can’t explain why. And then he shows what someone in his position does when even mildly challenged to support their religious ideas instead of getting a free pass--he ends the interview. The man in charge of the education of 1800 children can’t explain why he teaches them what he does.
Like I've already said, just because Sipus couldn't come up with an answer, that doesn't mean that there isn't one, nor that most Christians are unable to stand up to criticism of their faith.
On his way out, Brian notices that the school chapel is open. Inside, he turns the camera on himself, looks into the lens and says, “Here in the chapel where I first accepted Jesus as my personal savior, I just want to say one thing: I deny the Holy Spirit.”
And in turn, I, on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration, shall affirm him.

Veni, Creator Spiritus

Creator Spirit all Divine,
come visit every soul of Thine.
And fill with Thy Celestial Flame
the hearts which Thou Thyself did frame.

O Gift of God, Thine is the Sweet
consoling name of Paraclete.
And spring of life and fire of love,
and unction flowing from above.

The mystic seven-fold gifts are Thine,
finger of God's Right Hand Divine.
The Father's Promise sent to teach,
the tongue a rich and heavenly speech.

Kindle with fire brought from above
each sense, and fill our hearts with love,
And grant our flesh so weak and frail,
the strength of Thine which cannot fail.

Drive far away our deadly foe,
and grant us Thy true peace to know,
So we, led by Thy Guidance still,
may safely pass through every ill.

To us, through Thee, the grace be shown,
To know the father and the Son,
And Spirit of Them Both, may we
forever rest our Faith in Thee.

To Sire and Son be praises meet,
and to the Holy Paraclete.
And may Christ send us from above,
that Holy Spirit's gift of love. AMEN.

Father, forgive Brian, for he knows not what he is doing. His documentary, with all of its errors and logical fallacies, is indeed "a film beyond belief."

Pax Christi,
phatcatholic

1 comment:

Amy M. said...

I love you.

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