BLACK BOOK — Paul Verhoeven, Holland, 2007, 8
Paul Verhoeven’s BLACK BOOK is the kind of movie that gives me and other Christian critics jock itch. The film’s entertainment and artistic value is, I think, unquestionable but, like the turd in the punch bowl, there’s a couple of “couldn’t leave well enough alone” moments of indefensible Christian-bashing.
In many respects, surface trappings of “Holocaust movie” and the Dutch shadow of “Anne Frank” aside, BLACK BOOK is a throwback to the spy thrillers of the 40s and 50s. Set in a moral muddle worthy of Carol Reed’s Vienna where friend and foe shift from moment to moment, BLACK BOOK mostly follows a single protagonist Rachel (Carice van Houten) weaving her way through wartime intrigue between the Dutch Underground and the Nazis, including infiltrating the SD headquarters, at the very end of the war.
But at the level of a boy’s comic-adventure serial, that might have run in Hotspur or Warlord when I was a wee lad, Verhoeven handles the genre mechanics expertly; I deliberately chose that lead image for its iconic, comic-book visual quality. He also keeps believable the shifts in alliances that take place owing to the war’s fortunes and internal tensions among both the Germans and the Dutch. He handles the set pieces, both violence and suspense, with the aplomb and verve you’d expect from the man who made ROBOCOP and Schwarzenegger’s TOTAL RECALL.
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I’d better give him a hat tip for this New York Times article by Dennis Lim about SECRET SUNSHINE, based on an interview with Lee Chang-dong. When J. Robert Parks and I discussed the movie, we agreed that Lee wasn’t interested in the sort of easy caricature that comes as second nature to Hollywood and Sundance. Several other Christian critics besides myself have noted this film’s interest (thanks Jeffrey and Peter). But it wasn’t obvious what Lee’s personal religiosity was. Here’s the answer (though the Lim article does note this realism):
Asked about his own religious beliefs, Mr. Lee quoted Ludwig Wittgenstein — “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” — and added, “That’s my position on God and faith.”
“Secret Sunshine” ends on a note at once ambiguous and hopeful. Its limpid, humble approach to suffering and grace suggests something like “Breaking the Waves” stripped of mysticism, or a rationalist version of “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”
“Shin-ae is always looking up and never at the ground,” Mr. Lee said, pointing out a recurring motif. The film opens with a wide shot of the sky and concludes with the camera trained on a patch of earth. “I wanted to show that the meaning of life is not far from where we are,” he said. “It’s not up there. It’s here, in our actual life.”
I think what Robert and I were responding to, and this probably says something about the damage the Kulturkampf in the West has done to artists, was seeing a Korean skeptic/humanist able to suspend his disbelief, as it were, and produce a judicious, if critical, movie that Christians could engage with. I even said in my initial review that there is no way SECRET SUNSHINE can be compared to the Samstopher Dawkinses. But an environment where any manner of silliness, as long as it’s anti-Christian, can pass for deep thinking¹ is the cultural air that Western Christians must breathe. Where adolescent Christophobia is normal, films like SECRET SUNSHINE really really REALLY profit by comparison.
But to respond to something to a point Peter raised in that thread at Arts & Faith above (SPOILER warning henceforth):
How one reacts to the film — and its portrayal of Christians in particular — may depend to a great degree on a particular scene between a man and a woman, roughly halfway through the film (I think). … But what did you make of the fact that the “forgiven” man shows pretty much zero remorse or zero felt need to be reconciled with the woman? I really like that scene and the direction in which it spins the plot, on a number of levels, but there was something about that part of the scene that didn’t feel quite “right”, quite “real”, to me. It is scenes like this that people probably have in mind when they (or should I say, we) point to the “superficiality” of the film’s depiction of evangelical faith (or should I say, the evangelical faith depicted in this film).
I don’t agree that the child-killer shows little remorse or felt need to be reconciled. He’s calm and not playing up the sackcloth and self-flagellation angle, sure. I don’t recall his precise dialogue, beyond thanking her and welcoming her into the “Christian fold” and thanking the Holy Spirit for bringing them together, etc. For me at least, the entire energy of the scene was on her reaction, her shock. She (and I, quite frankly) expected some snarling brute and we didn’t get it; she can’t quite process that, so she takes out her disappointment on God. We have an easier time processing that surprise, and thus “judging her” … because … well, it wasn’t our child, so it’s easier for us to see the principle at stake beyond the personal (aside: this is why I oppose victim-impact statements during criminal sentencings).
That said, I’ve already noted that I see her subsequent reaction is evidence of a certain spiritual immaturity — not in her failure (she was doing something that would try the greatest saints) but in her very attempting it and being encouraged in that by her congregation (“fighting for the title right out of the Golden Gloves”). It is a true test of sainthood: can we be happy for the forgiveness received by those who have wronged us? To take it to the logical end: do we *want* Hitler to be in Hell. It’s hard to say “no” to that, but Christians must. The breadth and depth of God’s forgiveness is not a particularly interesting theological question; the answer is cut-and-dried obvious: “we must be happy for the killer” (and must not want Hitler in Hell). But it’s much more interesting as an existential dilemma: “can we be,” or “can she be.” In fact, the existential questions make for far more interesting drama, though it always has to dance at the edge of orthodoxy, precisely because the acting-out of something is neither the same thing as nor so easy as the affirmation of something (one reason I had no interest in people who dismissed BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN based on the sinfulness of homosexual sex). And this is a far broader and deeper point than the particular extremes of dealing with a child-murderer or of sodomy — in fact, it’s the one that all of us sinners face every day.
¹ At the E Street Theater in downtown Washington at the weekend, I saw a “Coming Soon” poster for FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO, which looks like a veritable Summa of this sort of stuff. The film (which Peter has apparently seen) is playing at the Vancouver International Film Festival, which describes the film thusly: “The hermeneutics of hate are given a precise translation in director Daniel Karslake’s look at how a literal reading of the bible has been the justification for centuries of persecution, violence and hatred.” I’m almost tempted to see the film just to have the privilege of slamming it.
Bilge has put up on his Nerve.com blog, The Screen Grab, my worst filmgoing experiences. If you want to read all about Victor being accused of committing the solitary vice in public, or how and where he concluded that God is dead — here is your chance.
Addendum: Why the there-referred-to McNamara line in THE FOG OF WAR is retarded. “Nations with similar values” doesn’t mean anything. Looking at how nations lined up vis the U.S. on the Iraq War — set aside Britain and France (they’re special culture-driven cases). By what standard is Canada (opposed) a “nation with similar values” but Australia (supportive) not? By what standard is Germany and Belgium (opposed) “nations with similar values” but Spain or Italy (supportive) not? Russia, but not Poland and Bulgaria? Turkey but not Kuwait? And if the UN’s gonna get into the act, nothing would be done on anything at all without the approval of Communist China, about whose “similar values,” the less said, the better. Looking at the European and Commonwealth nations named above, with the Anglo-frog exceptions — support entirely turned on whether the government in power at the time was left-led (in which case it opposed the war) or right-led (in which case it supported it). Support for the was pretty much a partisan affair (in the US too). “Nations with similar values”? My tookus.
A couple of nights ago at about 230 am, I was driving back from church and listening to JACK-FM on the car radio, when I heard one of the station’s witty promo bumps. The station’s slogan is “playing what we want” and the point of these bumps is to display the station’s (within the universe of hit popular music) democratic and catholic playlist. These were the songs that the piece played a few bars, in every case surrounding the song’s title:
- “Amy” by Pure Prairie League
- “Rosanna” by Toto
- “Janie’s Got a Gun” by Aerosmith
- “Oh, Sherrie” by Steve Perry
- “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister
Then came the punch line “Chicks dig JACK” — a reference to a famous Nike ad campaign. And with most of these songs, the point is obvious … there is a female name in the title. Except one. Can you guess which one it is? If you’ve ever been in a liturgical church — or even most non-liturgical ones — you know what “Kyrie” means. And it’s not a mispronunciation of Kylie Minogue (who IS a chick who could, in principle, dig JACK or the long ball).
No … “Kyrie” is the Greek word for the rather non-feminine term “Lord.” It is part of the Catholic Mass (and quite a few others), in the prayer “Kyrie Eleison/Christe Eleison/Kyrie Eleison.” Or in English “Lord have mercy/Christ have mercy/Lord have mercy.” Further the Mr. Mister song itself rather obviously deals in religious imagery. “Kyrie” is NOT a woman’s name, like Rosanna, Sherrie, Amy and Janie.
There’s more here to chew over, I think, than mishearing a simple pop song (like the classic mishearing of the gay Jimi Hendrix: “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy”). The Get Religion team has had great fun in the past with the way that media ignorance of religion — the basic facts, the ABCs — has resulted in some embarrassing mistakes that Christians can’t help think results from insularity. Once upon a time, people could assume a certain religious literacy, by default, even among people who are not religious. Even the atheists Camille Paglia and Christopher Hitchens have lamented the decline in Biblical literacy in culturalist terms, pointing out (correctly) that you cannot understand Western literature without at least *some* understanding of its dominant religion. Hitchens even has said he teaches the Bible to his children.
This radio ad is, I think, another example of what happens when education and the social environment becomes totally secular. Was there nobody in the offices of JACK-FM or its ad producer who had ever been a member of the Catholic Church, or any other “high church” religious body?
Forget the DA VINCI HOAX. Madonna, in her latest attempts at shocking, cutting-edge … yawn … envelope-pushing is having herself tied to a cross for her performance of “Live to Tell” on her latest tour. According to the New York Daily News, she defending herself by saying Jesus would forgive her (which is a reason to piss Him off in the first place, I guess).
But anyway, those journalistic pikers at the Daily News were not able to reach Jesus to confirm or deny this statement. But thanks to my brilliant journalistic acumen and deep sources at the Vatican, I was able to ask Our Lord to comment. He said:
Of course, I forgive her. But for SWEPT AWAY and SHANGHAI SURPRISE, the slut has to burn in Hell
*I stole that joke from a DC radio station. I forget which one.
My reactionary papistbud Michael Gerardi saw THE DAVINCI CODE.
I have spent time more productively — watching “Man Show” reruns on the G4 channel. One of the sketches they had was “Movies Men Don’t Want to See.” And after describing such fare as ROSEANNE GETS NAKED, either Jimmy or Adam (whoever didn’t describe the movie) would say something disgusting or humiliating like “I’d rather wear Sally Jessy Raphael’s thong underwear as a ski-mask. While she was in them — than see that movie.” So in that spirit, these are:
Things Victor Would Rather Do Than Watch THE DAVINCI CODE
I would rather receive a pair of boxing gloves from Mike Tyson, with a card that says “let’s whisper sweet nothings again, Evander” — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather go to Mecca during the Hajj and smear myself in bacon while wearing a burkha patterned after the Danish flag — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather moderate a debate between Fred Phelps and Rosie O’Donnell in the Tehran University student union while eating shards of broken glass so small they only leave paper cuts on my tongue — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be the unborn child of Chelsea Clinton after Hillary finds out about her daughter’s affair with Sean Hannity. Which included a threesome with Rush Limbaugh — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather take a class on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion under Juan Cole’s new post at Yale, with Sayed Hashemi as his TA and Sami al-Arian as guest lecturer. No pass-fail allowed — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather have the Confederate flag tattooed onto my face for a Nation of Islam convention. While wearing an LAPD uniform with the badge marked “Fuhrman” — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather give Larry Flynt a piggy-back ride to the top of a Mayan temple, on the honeymoon cruise after our “wedding” sanctified by the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather lead a caravan of Toyotas sporting Wal-Mart stickers while wearing a frilly waitress outfit at an AFL-CIO convention that the Hell’s Angels are crashing — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be Jane Fonda’s PR outreach guy to the VFW and American Legion. And be paid from the grosses from MONSTER-IN-LAW — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather have my Cancun timeshare be next to J-Lo’s during the week she has PMS and sees the grosses from MONSTER-IN-LAW. And GIGLI — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather go to the Centre Pompidou during the Jean-Luc Godard retro and use a toothbrush and my tongue to clean the outhouses (that’s where the film prints should be) — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather glue my testicles to my penis with Krazy Glue. During a worldwide shortage of nail-polish-remover — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be stationed at the one-mile mark of the New York City Marathon and have to massage and apply ointment to the inside thighs of a just-collapsed Michael Moore — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather get a ride home over the Potomac on St. Patrick’s Day night from Ted Kennedy. Without there even being a chick in the back seat — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather watch a stripoff between Bea Arthur and Roseanne. With the loser nursing the winner — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be the first 12-year-old Bahraini boy to spend the night at Michael Jackson’s new pad, on the day after FedEx delivers his monthly supplies of Jesus Juice and Cialis — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather have Lars Von Trier tell me I’d be ideal for the lead of his new movie. Once I had a sex change — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather watch the “uncensored” video of what really happened “behind the scenes” during Cindy Sheehan’s visit to Hugo Chavez — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be a drummer for Spinal Tap — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be married to OJ Simpson — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be OJ Simpson — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather wear an external scapular, an alb and chasuble, and have rosary beads hanging from my waist pocket a meeting of the Jack Chick Admiration Society — than see THE DAVINCI CODE. (Well actually, that’s pretty much the same thing as my seeing to THE DAVINCI CODE.)
I would rather have to pick Cynthia McKinney out of a lineup the day after she had a new hairdo — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather get a 100 score from match.com as the perfect partner for Liza Minnelli — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather tell the Mississippi KKK Kleagle that his 11-year-old runaway daughter has been recovered, thanks to a tip from someone who saw her in an R. Kelly video — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather be a fly stuck in the mashed potatoes, on the spoon of Oprah Winfrey after she learns Steadman had an affair with Paris Hilton — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
I would rather drink a quart of Rohypnol an hour before my date with the Duke lacrosse team — than see THE DAVINCI CODE.
A bunch of news on THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST these past few days (while I struggle over my Top 10 post), not including the latest words from Abraham Foxman and Marvin Heir, on whom I will waste no more bandwidth as their latest words (especially the former’s) are inexplicable except as an unadulterated blood libel from anti-Christian bigots.
ITEM! I’m surprised I haven’t seen more about this at St. Blogs. A Texas theater chain is refusing to run a pre-film ad, timed to coincide with THE PASSION, from the state Baptist Convention. According to the church spokesman, AMC Theaters has said the 30-second ad is, among other things, “too Christian.” Um, yeah. The Pepsi ads are too capitalist too, I guess.
This is a common demand made of Christians — that our speech (in this case commercial speech) and access to public forums is conditional, second-class or somehow suspect. As a college student, I once distributed fliers at some University of Texas academic departments and student/professor boxes for a speech being given at a Christian off-campus ministry. I had to assure several of the department secretaries, whose permission I needed, that the speech would not be religious, as though that mattered.
ITEM! While the response by Heir to this interview was contemptible, I don’t think Gibson does himself any favors by engaging in the relative martyrdom game, defensible though it may be in itself.
The filial devotion aside, he has enough to do to defend THE PASSION from the (apparently absurd) anti-Semitism charges and really shouldn’t be a soldier on these historians’ wars. It raises eyebrows and is really hardly better than having to listen to the Dixie Chicks, Michael Moore, Martin Sheen, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Ed Asner, Alan Alda, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, Rosie O’Donnell … (NOTICE FROM BLOGGER: List too long and an abuse of free bandwidth. Cease forthwith.) Yes, people can debate the uniqueness of the Holocaust, and I suspect Gibson and I would have a lot to agree on about the shameful relative whitewashing of Communist genocides (not the plural).
But Mel … choose your fights.
ITEM! Maia Morgenstern, a Romanian Jew whose father died in the Holocaust, defended Gibson and THE PASSION, in which she plays Mary. Interview is here.
ITEM! The New York Times reports that Gibson decided to delete a scene that tested poorly — the “his blood be upon us and our children” line, from Matthew 27:25. This is probably the Gospel verse that Jews consider the most anti-Semitic, and defenses of Gibson from Christians who had seen earlier cuts of the film had specified that this notorious verse was not in the movie. So he was tinkering. Again, bad move in adding, Mel. Though maybe this was the old bargaining technique of putting in something you don’t care about in order to get praise for relenting on it later. A tactic not unfamiliar here inside the Beltway.
In the truest of mutual back-scratches (and maybe more), Salon interviewed (link requires that you look at an ad) an Episcopal clergyman from San Francisco who wrings his hands over how “an unsophisticated audience” might take THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.
Or as Dale Price put it: “At this point, your septum should start deviating as a result of the derisive snorting. This is what the hoi polloi think of you, folks. They’re the sophisticates, you’re the extra y-chromosome types who blather on endlessly about your Bronze Age Palestinian sky god.”
For a sense of the article’s flavor (and a superhuman test of endurance), try to read this sentence from the Salon interviewer while holding down your last meal:
“Mel Gibson is a Catholic Traditionalist, an offshoot of Catholicism that rejected the papacy and the reforms of the Vatican II in 1965, which, among other things, repudiated the charge of deicide against the Jews.”
Let me count the mistakes and irrelevancies. 1) Gibson’s own affiliation is not definitively known, unlike his father’s; 2) no anti-V2 Catholic Traditionalist groups of my acquaintance “reject the papacy,” though some (but not all) reject the last several popes and believe Peter’s Seat is vacant; 3) V-2 did not repudiate the deicide charge in any sense that would necessarily bind a Gospel period piece; 4) in my experience of Catholic Tradionalism (which is limited, but I’m guessing is a bit greater than the Salon interviewer’s and interviewee’s put together), the Jewish deicide issue is about #186 in their list of (often reasonable) complaints, which much more commonly focus on liturgical issues, ecumenism, and authority within the Church. And that’s just one sentence.
I have a year-end ballot to finish filling out, so I can’t give this any more time than I already have. More-thorough dismantlings of this ridiculous love-in can be found here from Dale Price and here from Christopher Johnson. But the mother of all fiskings, as said by even Messrs. Price and Johnson, is by Secret Agent Man.
Ridley Scott’s upcoming film on the Crusades will probably not get 1/10th the criticism as anti-Christian that Mel Gibson’s got as anti-Semitic, but some British historians are at least fighting the good fight in warning that the film, at the basic plot level, is “rubbish”, “ridiculous”, “complete fiction” and a pander to Muslim self-glorification. And some Christians are refusing for whatever reason to cooperate with Scott in his effort to “hope that the Muslim world sees the rectification of history.”
Obviously “panders to Osama bin Laden” in the first Telegraph piece is a crude bit of oversimplification, but as crude bits of oversimplification go, it’s not inaccurate. Scott’s movie seems to accept the basic narrative of the jihadis (and much of Islam) about the Crusades — namely that they were an act of Christian aggression and a humiliation of Islam.
I wonder whether Scott will ever ask how the Muslims came to be in control of Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the first place (hint: Muhammad wasn’t born in Nazareth). Although the specific timing issues are more complex, in the broadest sweep of history, the Crusades were basically counterattacks against an Islam that had been expanding for 400 years, not Christian aggression — unless you subscribe to some al-Brezhnev Doctrine of permanent Muslim expansion and fated dhimmitude. And although the Christians were sometimes successful for a time, Islam emerged victorious in the end. It wasn’t for 300 or 400 years after the final Crusade (Lepanto 1571 and Vienna 1683) that Christendom no longer had to seriously fear conquest by Islam. The Holy Land itself was ruled by one or another Muslim group until the 20th century; the narrative of all-conquering Christian bullies and weak, peaceful Muslim victims only reaches the level of laughable in the past 200 years.
But as long as artists from the nations of Christendom present the Muslim view of history and show positive images of warriors for Islam, said artistes will be the happiest heathen Crusaders in the grave.
Probably reacting to this article in the New Republic, Howard Dean last week played the God card. And God is not mocked.
- First of all, he says he leaves the Episcopal Church and becomes a Congregationalist over … I am not kidding … a zoning fight concerning a bike path.
- Then, the Boston Globe describes him as “a committed believer in Jesus Christ” — a man who married a non-Christian and who let his children choose their religion.
- Then, he describes Job as his favorite book of the New Testament (really) and also mangles a (perfectly legitimate in itself) issue of Job scholarship in trying to prove how smart he is.
- Then, when asked again about the New Testament, he says “anything from the Gospels” (like, he couldn’t cite a single verse).
- Then, he says God couldn’t possibly condemn homosexuality because homosexual persons exist. St. Blog’s parishioner David Morrison deserves time off in Purgatory for taking this on with a straight face.
- Then, in that selfsame planned interview, he cites God as one of the reasons he signed the Vermont gay-marriage-in-all-but-name bill. And not two days later, hold onto your hat, he attacks George Bush in a spontaneous forum for deciding as he did on stem-cell research for religious reasons.
Dean should just can this God-talk in my opinion. It’s not convincing anybody who’d give two hoots about his religious beliefs, because it’s so obviously a recent addition to his portfolio and the mask slips so easily.
I don’t think someone as obviously secular as Dean should be U.S. president (though my reasons for saying that ), but whatever my objections might be on that as such, last week was just aesthetically pathetic. I’d rather have Dean be Dean and then force a clear choice in November (we’ve had triangulation in the Oval Office for 12 of the last 16 years; clear choices are more aesthetically pleasing and have more civic virtue).
It’s clear that Dean understands religion only as a hobby, like restoring old cars on the weekend. As an interesting character quirk, he gets it. As the center of one’s being, as the defining feature of the universe, as something that might “inform my public policy” (in Dean’s own incredible phrase) or as something really true … you might as well be speaking Latin. But he’s trying so hard and the more he tries, the more pitiful and painful it becomes. It’s like watching the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit try to drag race with the Teddy Boys. Or the professor on the cabaret stage at the end of THE BLUE ANGEL. Or Al Gore trying do Al Sharpton in his 2000 campaign appearances in black churches.
Anybody who’s spent any time in academia, the media, or among blue-state professionals can type Dean in an instant — the secular, progressive, bourgeois man of science (M. Homais in MADAME BOVARY is an early example of the type). But because he has political ambitions in the United States, Dean cannot say what he actually thinks.
In fact, just for aesthetic reasons and basic honesty, he should just say something like:
“y’know, I’m just not a religious man. Belief in the Xtian god makes no more sense to me than belief in the Greek gods. I never think, speak or act with God on my mind. If you think it works for you, fine. And if you think your God is telling you to do something I think is good, I won’t reject your support (unless you have a Confederate flag on your pickup). But I think society is healthier the more secular it becomes, because faith is contrary to reason, and claims of absolute truth are divisive. I think ‘God’ is basically like ‘Santa Claus,’ both as regards individuals and societies. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.”
I’m not saying this is a theologically-coherent or -correct position mind you. Or that it would matter at the end of DOGVILLE. Or that he would necessarily gain politically (I think it’d be a wash because it would merely confirm what anyone who cares to think about it already knows). Or that he wouldn’t be blazing the trail for, 20 years down the road, a more aggressively atheistic Ayn Rand or Madalyn Murray O’Hair type, as opposed to the basically easygoing secular agnostic I’ve sketched above. But I could retain a minimal amount of respect for the guy. As it is, I’m salivating at pondering whether the landslide will be 40 states or 45.
Andrew Sullivan finally notes the increasing trend of gay activists trying to silence, prosecute or psychologically “re-educate” dissenters.
Good that he’s acknowledging this, I suppose. But even here he sneaks in his “our freedom is their freedom.” If I thought for one second that Sullivan’s proposed “liberal” tradeoff (also made explicitly in “Virtually Normal” — gay marriage and open military service in exchange for an end to hate crime laws, pressure on the Boy Scouts, the Church and other private institutions) would hold, it might be worth considering. But it wouldn’t hold. For one thing, Sullivan’s own life refutes it — he’s made the cause of advancing homosexuality within the Catholic Church practically his vocation, so the kulturkampf would continue in private institutions. Call me cynical, but I frankly doubt he would be less perturbed by and opposed to certain Church teachings if the state let him marry his boyfriend, but the Church didn’t.
“It’s also vital for people of good will to understand that civil rights for gay people in no way should affect the rights of others, especially in religious denominations of all kinds, to loathe, disdain, pity or malign homosexuality,” he says. The key word here is “should.” This is less than reassuring. I would be tempted to say that Sullivan simply doesn’t know what illiberal Jacobins fill up the gay activist movement. Except that he perfectly obviously does — and arguably no journalist/public intellectual has suffered worse public humiliation at their hands than Sullivan has.
I’m sure Sullivan says what he does sincerely and in good faith, but to put it bluntly, how many divisions does he have? Which attitude is more common among homosexuals — his or ones like this in which a high-status comfortable homosexual tells a mainstream gay group in the pages of the most serious gay journalistic outlet that “We as a group have become tolerant of intolerance. Whenever anyone justifies their bigotry with what I call DHRB (deeply held religious beliefs), we roll over as if that were the end of the discussion. We have confused respecting a person’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose with respecting those beliefs. … Is no one willing to say forcefully that homophobic DHRB have no place or value in a civilized 21st century?” And Episcopal gay activists are already demanding in Sovietized terms for bishops to “make sure” that a dissenting priests get “appropriate pastoral, episcopal, and psychological care to help him understand” the “embarrassment to himself, his diocese, his superiors, his Church, his vows, and his Lord” that opposition to homosexuality is. Andrei Sakharov didn’t hear it any better.
Thus, however hideous they strike Sullivan as being, we have decisions like the Colorado case Sullivan cites in which a judge forbids a Christian parent from indoctrinating a child with homophobia, including going to a church where they hand out “homophobic material.” They happen from the perfectly reasonable demand in shared custody cases that one parent not poison the child’s mind against the other. Add onto that (uncontroversial) premise merely the secular religious belief that homophobia is an irrational prejudice that has no public standing and deserves no public acknowledgement, like racism. That latter premise is quite widely held by our judicial masters, and endorsed by Sullivan and used by him as a weapon in the discussions over gay marriage and the like.
Sullivan himself once defended on “Crossfire” the use of books like “Heather Has Two Mommies” in public schools on the grounds that an increasing number of the kids in schools will have gay parents. And thus, he understands perfectly well that because some homosexuals want to redefine family for themselves, obligations and burdens are imposed on others that share the public sphere and must drink from the same cultural well, contrary to their religion.
Well, the same day that someone starts a thread at Dom’s blog on “Where has The Passion gone” there was a forum at the ADL on The Protocols of the Elders of Mel Gibson, and this news account makes it sound like a total love-in.
One interesting thing though — the grafs near the end indicate to me (again) that Paula Fredriksen, the author of the New Republic attack on THE PASSION OF CHRIST, will never understand why she was rebuffed and why people like Gibson (and myself) pay no attention to her.
“Fredriksen said Gibson feels he is being persecuted by the scholars, but she said their intention was only to correct mistakes.
” ‘He doesn’t understand the difference between criticism and being attacked,’ she said.”
She doesn’t understand the difference between interpretation and error, I say. Now I realize the phrase I’m gonna jump on is the AP writer’s not hers, but her New Republic essay has examples of the same thought process. The phrase “only to correct mistakes” is high-handed, arrogant and a complete overplaying of what it is possible for higher Biblical criticism, of the kind Fredriksen performs, to do. No wonder Gibson told her and her acolytes to shove it; she and her ilk simply have no standing to talk about Gibson’s “mistakes.” Partly because the very category “mistake” presupposes an infallible measuring stick to determine veracity (which is to say, judging according to some other Gospel); but also partly because Gibson and Fredriksen mean completely different things when they talk about Biblical accuracy.
The contemporary world of academic Biblical scholarship is atheistic — not in the sense that only atheists practice it, or that only an atheist could practice it, or that it is an atheist plot to undermine the Church. Rather it is atheistic in the sense that it approaches the Gospels (and the rest of the Bible) as merely a human artifact, a historical-literary text, which certainly testifies about human beliefs about gods certainly. But not anything supernatural. The Bible being in some decisive sense divine or inspired — the revealed word of God, in some sense true (if not necessarily “infallible”) and reliably so — is simply a hypothesis that cannot be entertained within the rules of modern scholarship. It’s like asking to roll dice to determine how many spaces a chess piece can move — that’s just not how the pieces move or the game works.
But this approach is totally removed from the world of Christian belief and the world of the Church teaching, which is that the Bible is … true. The Higher Critics operate in ways that (try to) bracket the question of “truth” (which they varyingly consider perspectival, a patriarchal plot, a metaphysical delusion, an epistemological dodge, any number of things) in order to consider the Bible in the manner they wish. I’ll leave it to them to ponder whether the question of truth *can* be bracketed (if Jesus actually did rise from the dead, surely that’s something that *can’t* be set aside). And whether, in the absence of metaphysical, absolute truth (the presence of which would make nonsense of their method) it makes any sense ever to speak of someone’s “mistakes.” Suffice it to say that when many believing Christians, such as Gibson, see this approach, the reaction is simple: garbage in, garbage out. The method is so far gone, and so obviously inappropriately applied to something divinely inspired, that it has no more standing before them than reading tea leaves or bird entrails would have in a modern court of law. Gibson and Fredriksen are quite literally speaking different and untranslatable languages.
Breaking news on several fronts over the last few days (when I was away for a film festival) and on which I have posted here before:
First, Mel Gibson landed a distributor, Newmarket Films, and confirmed the planned release date for the newly titled THE PASSION OF CHRIST as Ash Wednesday. I’ve already made my predictions — a firestorm of anti-Semitism charges (the Lent opening will give another excuse … er … news peg to accuse the Church of anti-Semitism and assorted other bestialities), and a negative critical reception since some critics already have their leads written, and I refuse to believe this is an isolated attitude. Box office, we’ll have to wait and see, but subtitled films just don’t do well in the United States. I think only two, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and CROUCHING TIGER, have ever even broken $50 million. (And if it’s not two, it’s no more than three.) Any good? I’ll get back to you.
Second, the screener issue was “solved,” with the MPAA agreeing to lift the ban, but only for Academy members. This solves some of the problems, but leaves critics groups, primarily those for critics working in smaller markets, out in the cold.
Third, Michael “Killer” Schiavo is starting his Public Redemption Tour facing the tough, incisive questioning of Larry King. “My girlfriend supports my stance on Terri because the kind of care I want to give her will remove Terri as an obstacle and we’ll be free to marry.” Or something like that. And of course, the Atheist Press is spinning this story as a “right-to-die” case, when curiously, the person who will die never herself asserted that right.
Finally, on the Canadian tolerance beat, theological liberals in the Episcopal Church prove their open-mindedness, Celebrate Diversity and fight the forces of inquisitorial reaction by threatening heresy trials for those who repudiate the One Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Be Intolerant Of Mine Approved Groups.
- Disagreement over the U.S. Episcopal Church’s ordination of a homosexual bishop inspired a couple of Anglican clerics to give a Kenyan bishop an example of the warmth and hospitality that the English are noted for exhibiting toward Italian soccer fans.
- Canada’s reputation for Tolerance marches forward, with The Latest Word being that no teacher may, in any public space, express any disapproval of homosexuality (or “two-spirited people” even). If the teacher had been suspended merely for graduating illiterates and innumerates, the union would kick up holy hell. Here, it’s his chief persecutor.
- At the bottom of the Canada link (and it’s a sign of the times that this is now considered worthy of a mere aside), there is this: “Meanwhile, a Commons committee is considering a bill that would make the reading of biblical injunctions against homosexuality in a church a ‘hate crime’ under the Criminal Code.” This is a spreading phenomenon in the countries that used to be Christendom. Even if everything in THE MAGDALENE SISTERS were holy writ, it should have been long-ago obvious that Ireland is no longer your grandpa’s beloved Erin or the theocracy of Sinead O’Connor’s mind. Yes … the Catholic Church is being warned about the potential criminality of a Church document. We have seen the future.
- This desecration of a conservative parish happened the night that the Episcopal church ratified Gene Robinson’s election as New Hampshire bishop. Perhaps it was just like ripping up a city block when your sports team wins the title. I should note that there’s no actual evidence that this was gay activists, but the details of the crime have to make that the default assumption for now.
- At least these demonstrators were peaceful and stayed outside when ordered to (though some of the quotes in story are just sad … “this is my birthright as an Irish Catholic”). But I will never forget serving as a lay communion minister at a parish in Austin, Texas, during the heyday of ACT-UP and having a significant part of the training devoted to “this is what you do if demonstrators come to desecrate the Host.”
Does five in one week constitute something more than anecdotal evidence?
Here is the trailer for Mel Gibson’s upcoming movie on the Crucifixion.
I was initially a skeptic about this film, when Gibson was saying he wanted to release it in Latin and Aramaic without subtitles. That strikes me as wack, and I’m glad Gibson has relented. Also, from the looks of the trailer, Gibson has decided to portray the Crucifixion in terms rather like the climax of BRAVEHEART — which means that whatever else we’re gonna get, it’s not gonna be a watered-down bit of triumphalism. Two of my favorite religious films just about ever — THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and BREAKING THE WAVES — are both about [female] Christ figures that are quite heavy on the suffering, but even they didn’t get as bloody as THE PASSION looks to be (though Gibson as a director is in the league of neither Dreyer nor Von Trier). Cheap grace is such a pet peeve (a Resurrection and forgiveness without the gory execution is a contradiction in terms), but now that that is off the possibility charts, I’m genuinely psyched about this film’s 2004 release.
I already know what some of the reaction will be — Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Center already have attacked the film, based on a script draft, as anti-Semitic. The New York Times Magazine did a hatchet job on Gibson’s octogenarian father as an anti-Semite. And I can’t wait to see the reaction of the feminists to the portrayal of Satan as a woman. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver got the best line … in the Denver Catholic Register: “When the overtly provocative ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ was released 15 years ago, movie critics piously lectured Catholics to be open-minded and tolerant. Surely that advice should apply equally for everyone.”
But bishop … you’re talking as though “tolerance” is actually a moral principle, rather than a political weapon. How naive can you get?