Movie by Faith

Yesterday’s New Jersey Star-Ledger carried an article by film critic Stephen Whitty entitled, “Where script meets scripture: Recent films take a leap of faith.” The phenomenon he observes is that mainstream, big studio-backed film-makers are more and more turning to plots and scripts that emphasize faith. It is not always standard, revealed religion-type faith, but a belief that there is something else. Something beyond that with which our daily lives presents us. People are seeking, but traditional religions are having a hard time convincing them that they have the answers.

In a striking contrast, films that present a spiritual danger frequently revert to the stock image of a Catholic priest as the means of deliverance. When is the last time a Protestant exorcist took on a demon on the big screen? Torn though it is with its long and checkered history of imperialism, exploitation, and scandal, the Catholic Church with its obscure rituals is effective where the machinations of the Protestants are not. This too is a leap of faith, one that believes in the efficacy of ritual despite its origin or lack of scientific theory. Science provides a way of understanding the world that many people experience as cold and comfortless. Even many scientists choose simply to trust in what their spiritual guides teach them.

Over the weekend my wife and I watched Sleepy Hollow. It is an annual tradition; it is our October movie. In this film Tim Burton plays off the superstition of Sleepy Hollow – in fact real, in the movie – against the science of Ichabod Crane. In the end, Ichabod has to face the supernatural on its own terms in order to bring the world back to science. Having sent the headless horseman back to perdition, Crane once again returns to a New York City at the start of a new millennium, full of the optimism of science. It is the dilemma of the modern western world. People are tugged, torn even, in two diametrically opposed directions. Our experience leads us to believe in a “demon haunted world” while science placidly informs us that all can be explained. Movies do reflect the human outlook in many respects, and the end sequence has yet to be shot.

One thought on “Movie by Faith

  1. I think that you will find this more and more. In fact, christianity, fought from the start against gnostic christianity and other gnostics groups. Gnosticism is very appealing, since it is personal, compared to what christianity has become. In fact, while Irenaeous was able to create a type of christianity that with his influence in government, and then later the roman empires finding that form very appealing, and then thousands of years where that group was able to jail and kill those that deviated from that form… It seems that gnostic or personal revelatory christianity is a hard thing to stamp out. Heck, it might not even have to be a gnostic christianity that people turn to in the next 50 years or so, simply a gnostic generic religion in general.

    As historians show that much if not most of old church dogma that got carried over into academics is mythology, the traditional form of christianity will probably decrease over time as well.

    The real question is, will people in western society try to modify christianity so that they can continue to use it as it’s historical basis is shown more and more to by mythical and not historical, or… will folks simply move to a more generic gnostic, new age, or whatever form of religion?



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