Thursday, August 06, 2009

Two "Sacrilegious" Films for Christian Heretics

I've occasionally wondered if my vocabulary ever augments. It seems that I usually just replace some old items with new ones. I'm constantly making trades. Hopefully, I'm making good trades...

Netflix successfully stirred my soul this week. The two films it sent me were kind of blasphemous, but I don't think cinema has ever made me think harder about faith and spirituality than these two works of art.

First up, a long and provoking piece of fiction from Martin Scorsese. The Last Temptation of Christ. Controversial not only in its content but in its style as well, Scorsese becomes an explorer-director in what was probably the best "Jesus Movie" I've ever seen.

Last Temptation shows us the humanity of Jesus. We are put in his shoes, where we experience the torment of individual responsibility and are reminded of the confusion and difficulty that is the spiritual life. Jesus is not an icon of perfection in this film, but rather a man like any other. An existential man. The result of this gritty affinity is a greater respect and appreciation for Jesus' life. Instead of seeing him as an all-powerful God who rises from the dead with the greatest of ease, we relate to his weakness.

Temptation. We all know it. It is absolutely Biblical that Christ was tempted. Scorsese runs off with this. He visually wonders how Jesus dealt with temptation, and puts Jesus into created dilemmas. And he does this with immense esteem for Christ. There is no intention of offense in Last Temptation. So when you watch it, dear Christian, do not be offended. Think about Christ's humanity. I mean really think about it. Don't let yourself do the Christian thing and switch between his divinity and humanity whenever it's more convenient to attribute certain contradictory passages to one side or another. Wrestle with the doctrine you adhere to.

If Christ was fully human, Last Temptation is the only film that does this theology justice.

There were versions of Biblical accounts in Last Temptation, but most of them were re-interpreted through white, English-speaking actors. In Luis Bunuel's The Milky Way, however, almost every line of dialogue is theological verbatim. Whether it's coming straight from the Bible, various councils or marked heresies, it's all legitimate here.

I've never heard more historical theology in a film, ever. The Milky Way could only be understood by seminary students. But. It will not be understood by them unless they are heretics. It's a satire of church history, too dense to be understood by anyone unversed in Christian theology, but too surreal to be understood by the average Bible scholar. The audience for this film is incredibly small, but I feel privileged to have somehow found myself playing around with my new form of Gnosticism in time to "get" this one. I was raised up in Christianity, and currently dwell in surrealism. I thank you, Bunuel!

So, regarding my title. You Christians should watch these films because they are about you. They are about your history, and the confusing, scary, dangerous, problematic and absurd aspects of it. Now, nobody should give up a faith because of its former ills. On the contrary, be aware of your wounds so that you do not bleed to death!

One thing an artist will always do is tell the truth. Bunuel's tone in The Milky Way is both cynical and serious. You laugh on occasion, but you can feel how pissed off Bunuel is about the history of Christianity. Listen to him! His anger is not inappropriate. Give this artist credit for putting his feelings on display. And Scorsese, well, he is an explorer. He even said, when asked why he wanted to make this film, "I want to get to know Jesus better." When an artist explores, he does so without guile. There is nothing more noble, nothing more unworthy of condemnation than artistic exploration.

The Passion of the Christ has some nice costumes, but its copy-paper effect is dull. It is the gospels, transcribed for the screen. Great. We don't have to read the Bible anymore, we can just watch it.

The Last Temptation of Christ and The Milky Way ask questions. They are thinking about and challenging doctrine for the sake of spiritual (and artistic) progression. These films are not adding to the gospel, nor are they dismissing it. They are exploring. They are peaceably coexisting in two worlds of metaphysical torture.

If a Christian ever stops exploring his faith, he has ceased to be a Christian.

(Eternal security my ass...)

I am certainly a heretic in many ways, but I have enough faith to know that my heresies are worthless compared to the power of God. If I were a heretic in any other country, I would probably be a lot less comfortable. But who knows, if the old church leaders told me to renounce my heresy or be burned at the stake, I'd probably just renounce. Whatever they want to hear to make themselves feel better, whatever guys.

But I'd rather be a sincere and faithful heretic than a naive and hypocritical saint. I have no intention of intellectualizing any part of my faith anymore. If you disagree with me, I am not opposed to having some discussions, but, I will not argue with anyone about spirituality. If you haven't been called a heretic, that doesn't mean you're not one. If you're not a heretic in one denomination, you're a heretic in another. You just have to find the right denomination.

There is, was, and will be doctrine. In the beginning, none of it existed. In the end, all of it will cease to exist. Don't be afraid of your heresies, embrace them.

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