“This Dangerous Book”: by the founders of the Museum of the Bible

I visited the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC near Federal Center SW on the first day of Winter, Dec. 21, and after the visit noticed the book by Steve and Jackie Green, founders of the museum, in the museum gift shop. The title, on a brown dust jacket, caught my attention. That is, “This Dangerous Book: How the BIBLE Has Shaped our World, and Why It Still Matters Today”.

My first thought was that Milo Yiannopoulos titled his book “Dangerous” and names his own publishing company that (he has published Pam Geller), and now his own main website, that.  In terms of world history, the Bible is a lot more dangerous than Milo’s work!  I really wondered if this title duplication was more than a coincidence.  As a matter of law, titles cannot be copyrighted, and normally they only become trademarked if they become a series.  (That raises a question about my own “Do Ask, Do Tell”). Business company names (like publishing companies) normally can be trademarked.  So sometimes their accompanying domain names are, too.

Steve and Jackie are part of a larger family, David’s, that founded the Hobby Lobby, which became controversial in refusing to cover the “morning-after pill” for employees claiming it was an abortifacient. So here we go, into the area of how much religious beliefs should affect your treatment of other people (like employees) on their private decisions.

The Museum is quite objective and neutral, covering both Judaism and Christianity well, but Islam much less because Islam has its own texts.

The book is partly about the history of Biblical codices and manuscripts (through the significance of the innovation of the printing press), and partly about the Green family’s own journey of faith and perspective on it.  The Green’s talk about their early life expenses of debt, and how it is hard to avoid when you have five children. (Note: single people, and in the past, many gays, tended to taken on fewer responsibilities for others that can lead to debt.  That’s changing with longer life spans, demographics, eldercare, and marriage law.)  Later they talk about prayer in whether to adopt a child from China, which turned out to be tricky legally.  The oldest natural sibling seemed to think that the parents were morally obliged to try to do so.  This is emotionally a close-knit family, in a way that I haven’t experienced.

I recall a particular moment, the first time I entered my tenth grade English classroom in September 1958, and saw a lot of classic books on a shelf, with a young adult male teacher. (Yes, he had played football but he was academically very well prepared.  This reminds me of a college athlete I met on a Metro in 2014 as he read a philosophy text.  Yup, a lot of “jocks” really are smart, too.  And that happened about the time of GWU’s annual Day of Service.  A lot flashes through the mind.)  Ever since then, I’ve wondered if some books deserve to be thought of as “good” and having more credibility to be believed by the public than others.  I can wonder that about my own “Do Ask Do Tell” series.

I can recall a 90’s book, “The Good Book” (legacy review), by African-American Harvard religion professor Peter Gomes, who also describes his coming out as gay.  I remember reading this book when I wrote my own first DADT book.

So then, I ponder, as the Green book explores, do you look at the Bible as a source of authority on moral judgements?  The Greens get into that, and try to maintain some flexibility.  The assorted literary forms in the Bible (especially New Testament letters) add to the authority.  (The remarks about John’s account of the Revelations seem particularly challenging.)  But for Christians this comes down to a personal “relationship” with and faith in “Him”.

Consider this: for most of my life, Jesus has usually been depicted visually as a slender, physically fit young adult white male.  As a gay white male myself, that image is what I would tend to want “upward affiliation” (to borrow a term from George Gilder) with. Suppose I encounter a young adult white male somewhat like an extension of the teenage Clark Kent in the WB “Smallville” series.  What if the individual shows “powers”.  Actually, I can think of two such persons now.   No, I won’t identify them (and, Milo, sorry, he’s not you). I am very careful about my connection to such a person, not wanting to blow it.  For example, nothing gets carried out on social media (so far). (As far as I’m concerned, we don’t know that “Smallville”, with the help of a nearby wormhole to deal with the speed of light, is impossible.  The legal rights of personhood for an “alien” like Clark Kent would an interesting question for the courts, and challenging to Donald Trump.  We have not treated orcas well.)  But a “Clark Kent” would never ask anyone to drop everything an “follow me”.

For someone who lived and experienced his own personhood at the time of Christ however, the miracles, including resurrection and ascension, would seem to be unchallenged and ultimate factual truths. There would be no other frame of reference for knowledge, like modern physics and cosmology. And there could be no nuclear weapons. No dependence on technology to be wiped away by an enemy with some unprecedented act.

I want to note with some interest that the authors consider the course of American history as underlined by the contents of the Bible, from the American revolution (they even make observations about the end of the French and Indian Wars) to the story of Amistad (the book and 1997 film by Steven Spielberg, legacy review), two decades before the War Between the States.

Here is my legacy review of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life” (2002). The problem is, sometimes, it really needs to be “about me.”

Author: Steve and Jackie Green, with Bill High; Foreword by Rick Warren
Title, Subtitle: “This Dangerous Book: How the BIBLE Has Shaped our World and Why It Still Matters Today”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-310-35147-4
Publication: Zonervan (Harper Collins); 5 Parts, 18 Chapters, 251 pages, hardcover (also audio and ebook); many color photos and color maps.
Link: publisher 

(Posted: Friday, January 5, 2018 at 1:34 PM EST)

“The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”: was she an angel warning us?

The 1952 film “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”, by John Brahm, is of some special interest to me right now, with my own fiction project.  The film, in “Warnercolor”, predates the religious spectacles that would start a year later with “The Robe”, when Cinemascope would introduced;  this film is in the old 4:3 aspect.  And it looks a little hokey by modern standards.

The film opens in 1910 with the revolution and establishment of the First Portuguese Republic, which was definitely authoritarian, with mixtures of fascism and communism. Most notably, it as anti-Church.

Fast forward to 1917 when the Catholic churches have been begrudgingly allowed to reopen. Three grade-school-age shepherd children one day in May encounter, in a dry thunderstorm, an apparition hat seems to be the Virgin Mary or some related angel. The angel warns them to say their rosaries and to be careful but to return regularly.  Media accounts often maintain that she was the Virgin Mary.

The family and local priests try to get the kids to remain quiet, but word gets around and soon pilgrims start to arrive to the hill to see the angel again, especially in October.  The kids are arrested and jailed and terrorized, and told they will be responsible for the deaths of their families (a common tactic of totalitarianism). But Hugo (a very hairy-chested Gilbert Roland) gets them out of jail, and the authorities cannot stop the pilgrimage, which assembles in another storm in October 1917. The angel appears and warns everyone that a second great war may happen even though the current World War will end soon.

The Sun comes through the cloud as if it were going to burn up the landscape and then recedes. This conclusion reminds me of the end of a short film “Anton Bruckner’s Ultimate Finale” (Dec. 3, 2016) where an angel or extraterrestrial appears over Vienna with blazing light, burning off a young man’s chest hair in the very last shot.

The style of writing in the script, however, emphasizes simple, almost naïve Christian faith and loyalty to the authority of the Church, with no respect for independent thinking — this stands in contrast to the stark warning of the film.

The film has an epilogue in 1951, showing the modern day church and grounds at Fatima, which I visited myself in April 2001.  The grounds are massive, and various pilgrim groups appear.  There are unusual candles in large quantities.

The music score by Max Steiner is impressive, with choral passages that remind me of Vaughn Williams.

There are various Catholic churches around the world for which claims of miracles around Virgin Mary statues are made.  Two of these are in Aliquippa and Ambridge PA, north of Pittsburgh;  I visited the Aliquippa church briefly in 1989.  Another may be in Harlingen, Texas (near Brownsville), which I think I visited with the help of Southwest Airlines “peanuts fares” when I was living in Dallas, in 1980.  The Church generally does not verify these claims or continue to publish them.

Catholic churches and schools, to a Protestant, seem to have their own world. I can tell that from visits to an “Our Lady of Good Counsel” school in northern Virginia for “Chess for Charity” Sunday afternoon events in the past couple of years.

Fatima church and grounds today (wiki).

Aliquippa (wiki)

Harlingen (wiki)

Name:  “The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima”
Director, writer:  John Brahm
Released:  1952
Format: 4:3  WarnerColor (an old proprietary process)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD, 2017/12/29
Length:  102
Rating:  NA (probably PG-13)
Companies:  Warner Brothers
Link:  Washington Post 2007 article on the Miracle

 

(Posted: Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 at 10 AM EST)

Pamela Geller’s book “Fatwa” published by Milo

Most trade publishers declined to offer Pamela Geller’s brazen book, “Fatwa: Hunted in America”, and I rather agree, there may have been an element of fear in their declinations. So Milo Yiannopoulos made his little publishing company called “Dangerous Books” (founded after his own fallout with Simon and Schuster over the bad “rumors” about his own supposed advocacies last February) a multiple author one, and took up the project himself, publishing (Miami) her 251-page epistle, which includes endnotes but no index.

The book is not particularly polished and tends to be a bit repetitious, sometimes screed-like; Milo’s own writing skills seem superior to Pamela’s.  But she hits hard the point of drowning free speech with tribalism and intimidation, and the book needs attention.  The book includes a foreword by Geert Wilders, “the Dutch Donald Trump”, who, like Geller, was banned (in his case temporarily) from entering the UK purely out of fear that his presence would agitate violence.  Wilders writes quite succinctly that the Left has turned its head on its traditional causes (especially gay rights) to defend Muslims as a minority.

Pamela Geller is probably best known for her May 2015 “draw the prophet” contest, which was attempted at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.  Having lived in Dallas myself from 1979-1988, I am familiar with the area, on the northeast side of the city, just north of I-635, to the east of the wealthier Richardson and Plano suburbs along 175.  Two extremists attempted to attack the gathering and were shot by security and police, and later killed by a swat team.  Geller only briefly mentions the 2010 “Everybody draw Muhammad Day” organized by Molly Norris, which resulted in her disappearance into hiding in something like a witness-protection program (CNN).  The Norris narrative really would justify the title of the book (as well as reminding me of the 2006 Lifetime movie “Family in Hiding”).  Of course, Norris followed on the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy in Denmark .  That would culminate in the terror attack and assassinations at Charlie Heebdo in January 2015 in Paris (and generate the documentary film “Je Suis Charlie”).   The book includes an inset of colored photos, including a copyrighted image of Bosch Fawstin’s winning cartoon in the “AFDI Muhammed Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest”.  The Danish controversy has inspired other books, such as Flemming Rose (now at Cato), “The Tyranny of Silence“, which examine the problem of religious combativeness to silence speech. Let us also remember Bruce Bawer’s earlier “While Europe Slept“, which had covered the assassination in Amsterdam of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh for the short film “Submission“.

Geller does cover in detail the radical Islamist idea that non-Muslims cannot be allowed to draw the Prophet (as Muslims cannot) and points out that no other major religion enforces this kind of idea.  The Mormon church did not react violently to the popular Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”.  Judeo-Chrisitianity has never embraced such demands even though the Old Testament is filled with concerns over “idol worship” which seemed quite important to me as a child.  Geller sometimes tries to have it both ways, seeming to imply that she sees all Islam as a political entity (seeking political control “for its own sake” of the world, like fascism and communism) rather than just a religious movement. In other places she faults moderate Muslims who simply practice a “personal” faith as not calling out the extremists in the faith (and evangelical Christianity has its own share of violent extremists – in the US sometimes connected to White supremacists, as we all learned from Charlottesville).

But it is the free speech idea toward the end of the book that hits the hardest.  Her writing comes to a head at the top of p. 126 when she (in a section about the cartoon ads), writes, “We cannot submit to the assassin’s veto”.  Indeed. If a person gives in to that, he is nothing (other than someone else’s pawn or prole) and becomes personally dishonored.  But then what about his family?  This is “alternative morality”, like “alternative facts”?  A lot of people don’t get the fracture in our culture over individualism v. tribal loyalty.

Later she will describe the DDOS attack on her own original blog (“Atlas Shrugs”) so severe that her hosting provider dropped her. She reinvented her web presence with the “Pam Geller Report” (link in table below).  Geller accuses big tech companies of colluding to protect themselves from radical vetoes by taking down hate speech – and indeed we saw this with the way Daily Stormer (however extreme in the white supremacy area) got knocked off the web by private companies, as did some Airbnb accounts, after the Charlottesville riots – but this had little or nothing to do with Islam.  She then presents her lawsuit attacking Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (the so-called “Communications Decency Act”, the censorship portions of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997). She complains that Section 230 allows big private tech companies to censor (anti-Islamist) content out of fear and intimidation. But in a broader view, Section 230 is part of the legal landscape that allows user generated content on the Internet to flourish because by and large, hosting companies and service providers are protected from most downstream liability for what users do. (The Backpage (sex trafficking) controversy and proposed legislation could present a serious challenge to 230’s effectiveness, but the whole idea of “knowingly”, as with child pornography, would seem to be a critical concept).   Section 230 does allow service providers some discretion in monitoring content to comply with their own terms of service.

Geller is right, however, that the Left as a whole is becoming strident in shutting down speech that the Left believes “legitimizes” certain groups, like neo-Nazis, on the theory that even “meta-speech” from those not directly affected becomes viewed as a kind of incitement (related to what I have called “The Privilege of Being Listened to” elsewhere).  I am concerned myself about this idea.  Could “community engagement” be required to accompany the speech?

Geller covers a lot of other issues, including the banning of “all political ads” by transit systems supposedly because of protests of hers.  That’s true:  I can’t buy an ad for “Do Ask Do Tell” on the DC Metro because it would be viewed as “political advocacy”.  She covers her battles in San Francisco and New York.  San Francisco is particularly in a bind as a “ gay” city.  She points out that in Iran, homosexuals are required to go trans and have sexual reassignment surgery (I had never heard that before).  She is critical of some well-known organizations (CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations, not to be confused with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. . She describes her opposition to the Park51 Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site in New York.  She claims that stores enforce Halal standards for meat against non-Muslims.

She also promotes her American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI)   At the end of the book, she makes a plea to join her cause collectively. She ends with “I am one person. So are you. Together we are an army”.

Wiki picture of Chris Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.

Author: Pamela Geller
Title, Subtitle: “Fatwa: Hunted in America”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1947979000
Publication: Dangerous Books (Miami), 251 pages, endnotes, hardcover, 11 Chapters, color photos, Foreword by Geert Wilders
Link: Author

(Posted: Wednesday, December 6 at 2 PM EST)

“The Big Sick”: romantic comedy about caregiving covers Muslim assimilation

The Big Sick”, directed by Michael Showalter, written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, does, even as a romantic medical comedy (if there is such a thing) lay out the issue of assimilation for religious minorities, especially Muslims.

Kumali, playing himself as having come with his parents as a little boy from Pakistan, does comedy gigs at Chicago nightclubs, more or less on Rush Street. His more conservative but well assimilated Muslim parents urge him to go to law school and become respectable.

Kumali falls in love with a (Gentile) girl Emily (Zoe Kazan), and they start sleeping together.  One day Emily twists her ankle in a supermarket, and a few days later is in a medical coma with what looks like a life-threatening opportunistic pneumonia.  Kumali is the only one present until family arrives and pretends to be the husband.  The doctor asks if she has HIV, which could mean that Kumali has been exposed to AIDS himself. (Yes, heterosexuals can spread it.)

But it turns out that Emily has an unusual automimmune disorder, related to genetics (and probably an earlier infection like mono).  Eventually she pulls through, and the end of the film will deal with whether they still have a relationship.

The film presents a few social issue confrontations. Early in the film, when Emily shouts out at him, he scolds her for harassing a  comedian, which is considered rude behavior in comedy clubs.  (Ask Kate Clinton, whom I have watched on Netflix.)  Nevertheless, that helps start the relationship.

While Emily is in the hospital, a caricature of a while nationalist and “Trump supporter” harasses Kmali in the club as a recruiter for “ISIS”.  The boorish troll gets tossed by security, but not before he is told he is  “bad person”, part of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”.

Then there is the scene where Kumali is confronted by his parents.  Why doesn’t he think about his family instead of himself, they say.  Why is an arranged marriage to a Muslim girl not god enough for him?  Why won’t he grow his beard?  (He looks quite handsome and charismatic as he is, clean-shaven but with his hairy body;  most middle Eastern people are actually “white”, a fact that gets lost on a lot of people.)  Why won’t he kneel and pray five times a day facing Mecca?  Kumali does not such formality is necessary to have the personal faith.

I worked in I.T. or 30 years, and I always encountered software people from India and Pakistan. Until 9/11, nobody thought about religion in the office.  Everyone was assimilated. The parents are shown as well off, with beautiful Islamic interior decorations and art work in the house, and well assimilated into American capitalism and business.

At the end, Kumali moves to New York to start in a new club, and Emily has to make a choice.

Chicago picture (wiki).

There was a short film called “Murphy” about a boy, a dog and an animation in the pre-show (M2M).

Name: The Big Sick
Director, writer:  Michael Showalter, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/9/10
Length:  120
Rating:  R
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, Apatow
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, September 11, 2017m at 12:30 PM EDT)

“A Ghost Story”: what to expect during your own “life review” when you pass away

Richard Lowery’s new little “horror” film and Sundance hit, “A Ghost Story”, does indeed provide an interesting theory about the afterlife.  In a sense, heaven is for real, and not just in the Christian sense.

The basic idea here is that C (Casey Affleck, covered in an inexpensive bedsheet as a prop, right out of the morgue) goes through a “life review” (the Monroe Institute talks about this) first, experiencing his widow’s (Rooney Mara) grief as he mopes in their rented house in exurban Dallas.  But, since they weren’t together long enough to have kids, he has to find some other chains of “space-time boxes” to connect his own lifeline to.  These tesseracts are connected to the rural house itself, it’s history (back to the days of the pioneers and Indian attack) to the future, when the house is torn down and replaced by commercial real estate as the Dallas area keeps expanding.  The same fate as the gay club Town DC a year from now.

The film has a bare-bones look in the beginning, shot 1.37:1, to create the feel of old movies (though in color) and enable closeups, At a critical point in the screenplay, twenty minutes into the film, we see the aftermath of C’s fatal car wreck in front of his house (he was T-boned getting out of his driveway, but we don’t see the accident in motion).   But toward the end, as M does his time travel, the visuals get quite impressive.

There are some other social gatherings, as the Hispanic family that rents the house after M leaves, and the kids play with Brio toys – and people try the out-of-tune piano that never leaves the house (right out of Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck”).  Then there is a pot party with some other people, where Prognosticator (Will Oldham) gives a monologue on whether consciousness lives forever through music – using Beethoven’s Ninth as an example.  I thought he could try the completed Bruckner Ninth as an example (Dec 3 posting).

I thought particularly about Casey Affleck’s earlier tragic film “Gerry” (2002) , Gus Van Sant’s film where he and a friend played by Matt Damon face loss in the Mojave Desert.

Also, I remember Peter Straub’s mammoth 70s novel “Ghost Story”, with its long middle section about Anna Mobley, and the character Stringer Dedham, who didn’t die when the “life ran out of him”.  The movie (1981, John Irwin) was underwhelming.

Name: A Ghost Story
Director, writer:  Richard Lowery
Released:  2017
Format:  1.37:1 (old-time aspect for close-ups)
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic Fairfax VA 2017/7/14 late night small audience
Length:  91
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, July 15, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

“The Story of Ruth”: Fox 1960 CinemaScope spectacle plays up the issue of idol-worship in presenting a maternal ancestor of Jesus

In the 1950s, 20th Century Fox promoted the spectacle genre after it premiered Cinemascope in 1953 with Llyod C. Douglas’s “The Robe”.  I saw it at the old Jefferson in Falls Church, one of the first “neighborhoods” to be converted to wide screen, and, yes, I cried at the end.

The Story of Ruth”, directed by Henry Koster, appeared in 1960 and is somewhat lower keyed than earlier spectacles, yet the film, with very crisp cinematography, makes the ancient world of the Judges in the Bible look interesting.

Ruth, as we remember from Sunday school perhaps, was the humble woman who became an ancestor of David and therefore eventually Jesus Christ himself.

But the film adds a lot of material in the beginning to the Old Testament book “Ruth” which is complicated enough in all the migrations and family ties.  “The Story of the Bible” by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, 1936, a favorite of my late father (p. 143, Chapter 10), and Egermeier’s Bible Story Book, 1939,  Story 21, p. 196, “The Young Woman Who Forsook Idols to Serve God”, give the details with some variation.

The film starts with presenting Ruth (Elena Eden) as an idol worshipper, preparing a Moabitess girl Tebah (Daphna Einnhorn) to be sacrificed to the pagan god Chemosh.  Quickly the film presents the obvious dilemma:  idols can indeed have clay feet and break, and, well, and idol is only what you see;  beauty is only skin deep.

The complications of the story, as the film returns to the Biblical text, involve Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and worshipping the one god Jehovah, accepting poverty and returning to Judah out of family loyalty, and gleaning in the fields.  Accepting the charity of others becomes part of moral purification.  The film covers how easily inherited wealth can be lost, and also the idea that men were expected to marry widowed family members.  At the end, Ruth turns down a man she does not love, as a good man named Boaz (Stuart Whitman).

Back around 1952, public schools were allowed to have religious classes after school, and I can remember confessing “I have idols” in writing in a note to the teacher.

“Boaz” happens to be the last name of a prominent libertarian writer and officer at the Cato Institute in Washington DC.  In the film, the character seems to be the most respectful of all of the liberty of others.

There are several newer versions of the story, as one from Pure Flix.

Name:  “The Story of Ruth”
Director, writer:  Henry Koster
Released:  1960
Format:  CinemaScope (slightly wider than the usual anamorphic today)
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD
Length:  123
Rating:  PG
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  Pinterest

(Posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at 1 PM EDT)

“The Discovery”: a mad scientist develops TV to look at the afterlife and finds it a strange loop

The Discovery”, directed by Charlie McDowell, and produced by Endgame and Protagonist,  is Netflix’s proudest release for this spring, a science fiction film about layers of reality that seems inspired a bit by Christopher Nolan’s “Inception”, and some ideas (for the straight world) borrowed from the gay time paradox film “Judas Kiss”.  But it doesn’t have the visual sweep of either of these films.

The Discovery of the mad scientist Thomas Harbor, played by Robert Redford with all of his conservative charisma, is that the Afterlife of people after brain death has been recorded.  (There is some record of this sort of thing like in Eben Alexander’s book “Proof of Heaven”).  In a guarded mansion on Newport Beach, Rhode Island, Harbor carries out his work, with a machine than can render paranormal experiences on a 50s-like black and white TV, shaking, and no Philco Halo Light.

The film opens with a broadcast interview (with Mary Steenburgen), where a production assistant commits suicide on camera.  Pretty soon Thomas’s son Will (Jason Segel) and a soutmate Isla (Rooney Mara, of course) take a ferry to the place, where they are escorted by Will’s long-haired, chain-smoking brother Toby (Jesse Plemons).

In the mansion there is a whole “family” of subjects, in orange uniforms, rather like a cult in a horror film. As the film progresses (the details of the plot, in Wikipedia, are lengthy and somewhat convoluted, as in a Nolan film) bad family secrets crawl out of the metalwork like blobs.  The equipment is 50s stuff, with electrodes and mesh that would threaten a male subject’s chest hair (and there’s plenty of the stringy stuff attached to pates, too).  In time, the controversy seems to be, are the visions just dreams (like “Inception”) or are they really alternative reality paths in parallel universes that your consciousness jumps into when you die.  “The end is only the beginning” and maybe everyone really is a strange loop.

Indeed, the film will take some twists as Will and Isla fall in love, that only quantum paradox keeps from becoming tragic.

I think there are more interesting ideas to try, like merging together into group consciousness, for future redistribution (like in my “Angel’s Brother”).

It’s interesting that Netflix picked this up, because the Sundance film would seem to be capable of attracting a theatrical audience in chains like Landmark or Angelika.

Name:  “The Discovery”
Director, writer:  Charlie McDowell
Released:  2017/3/31
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant Play
Length:  102
Rating:  NA (PG-13)
Companies:  Endgame, Protagonist, Netflix
Link:  Facebook, Netflix (requires logon and subscription)

Picture: Bridge near Newport, my visit, Aug. 2015

(Posted: Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 10:30 PM EDT)

“The Case for Christ”: a journalist (Lee Strobel) becomes Christian after a rigorous “fact check” of the Resurrection

The Case for Christ”, directed by Jon Gunn, is based on journalist Lee Strobel’s own autobiographical book.

Lee (Mike Vogel), a graduate of the University of Missouri journalism school, in 1980 was working as a high profile crime reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  His wife Leslie (Erika Christiansen) congratulates him as a “published author” for “Reckless Homicide? Ford’s Pinto Trial”  (I had owned a Pinto myself in the mid 1970s in New Jersey).  Remember, this was in the days just before the PC (like the TRS80) as available, and writers still used typewriters. Self-proclaimed atheists, they seem to be doing a good job as parents of a young daughter.  Vogel is also working on a complicated story about a shooting of a policeman, with informants and other crooked cops and fall guys – which will turn into a major subplot worthy of the Innocence Project (or maybe of Andrew Jenks’s new series “Unlocking the Truth”, Oct. 29).

One evening at a restaurant, daughter Alison (Haley Rosenwasser) nearly chokes on a cookie in a restaurant. The movie doesn’t explain why the parents didn’t know the Heimlich maneuver (there’s an example of it in my first “Tribunal and Rapture” novel document where a Christ-like young man rescues a child at a Texas barbecue).  But a nurse Alfie (L. Scott Caldwell) appears and saves the child with the maneuver.  Leslie believes, with a little prodding from Alfie, that this is a miracle from God, and begins to attend church and is baptized.

Lee goes on a journalistic voyage to look at the real evidence for Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross and his Resurrection.  One of the most interest aspects of the evidence is the number of eyewitnesses (up to the time of Pentecost), and of the ability to track actual original handwritten documents almost to the time of Pentecost. (The movie points out that the Koran would not be written for another 500 years.)   He e travels to California to talk to a med school professor about the evidence that Christ really died.  In the meantime, his marriage almost falls apart. At times, the film takes on the adventurousness of an Irving Wallace novel (like “The Plot” or “The Prize”).

What he winds up is a journalistic “proof beyond reasonable doubt” based on witness testimony that Jesus rose from the dead.

Vogel would eventually become a pastor and major best-selling author of Christian books. ‘

Had I lived at the time of Christ and been one of the 500 witnesses, the experience would have defined my own intellectual world.  That still fits in to my modern idea of cosmology.

The movie seems to be more about whether faith must become personal.  But what I find difficult is the faith required to accept the vulnerability involved in really serving other people with their “real needs” and letting them be important.  That takes real hands on skill, not intellect.  It gets personal.  It’s more subtle than the collective faith you see in praise services.

But what I want to see is someone live up to the ideal that Christ created – whether another young Clark Kent (even “alien”) or a filmmaker like the second (reincarnated) Danny of “Judas Kiss”.

Name:  “The Case for Christ
Director, writer:  Joe Gunn, Lee Strobel
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, Alexandria VA, fair crowd
Length:  111
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  PureFlix
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, April 14, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

 

“Last Days of Jesus” gives a new theory on the politics of the Crucifixion

The documentary “Last Days of Jesus”, from Blink Films (114 minutes, apparently an Australian produce, no director named) aired on PBS last night and will air numerous more times until Easter.

The film advances an interesting theory about the political struggle that led to the crucifixion of Jesus.  The documentary style is one of narration with actors.  A UNC religion professor gave a lot of commentary.

It starts by tracing the boyhood of Jesus, and showing the remains a of a stone house in Nazareth that suggest that Joseph and Mary were economically better off than generally believed.  Jesus developed the skill to become a building contractor.

But as a young man he was always are of his mission, and as in the Bible, his personal epiphany came from meeting John the Baptist.

When Jesus was a teen, a political struggle in Rome developed that would have a bearing on how his own life would end.  This had to do with the rise of a young man and soldier with Shakespearian ambitions, Lucius Aelius Sejanus.  Apparently he arranged the poisoning of political rivals and became the top confidant of Tiberius, who even wanted to build a city in his name on the Dead Sea.  When he became deputy emperor, he became somewhat friendly with the Jewish establishment in the Holy Lands because he wanted stability. But a few months before Jesus’s Passion, he was summoned by the Roman Senate, expecting a “promotion” but instead was imprisoned and executed for the murders.

The Sadducees, as a conservative sect of Judaism at the time, emphasized the written law of God and were somewhat unpopular with the people in the various towns around Jerusalem.   The Pharisees, often reviled I Sunday school as wanting to be heard “for their much speaking” were actually somewhat populist in some sense.  (I mention the Pharisees at the opening of the last story in my “Do Ask. Do Tell III” book, that is, “The Ocelot the Way He Is”;  I’ll take this up soon on my DADT Notes blog.)

In the meantime, Herod had wanted to become viewed as “King of the Jews”.  He liked working with Sejanus.  After the execution of Sejanus (the political scandal somehow remind me of the 2016 elections) perturbed the political climate in such a way that Herod and Pilate were affected, as well as the relationships among the various religious groups.  Herod had even supported the idea of a separate religious “kind” (that is, “two kings”).  That also upset the political situation of Judas, among the disciples, in particular.

The film supposes that “Palm Sunday” really happened in the fall, and that Pilate took some time before deciding to jail Jesus, who would not be crucified for several months.  The political story of Judas many vary somewhat from previous accounts (like the 2006 NatGeo film “The Gospel of Judas”). It may even bear on the plot ironies surrounding a short film called “Judas Kiss” embedded in the controversial 2011 gay science fiction film by that name (the lead character Danny (Richard Harmon and then Charlie David), a filmmaker, is presented as having a Christ-like charisma but yet is troubled by a certain paradox).

The film notes that writers in the first centuries may have avoided mentioning Sejanus out of fear and self-censorship, so his narrative did not make it into the New Testament.  Sounds familiar?  Like Trump’s battle with journalists?

PBS program link.

PBS DVD sales link.

Modern view of Nazareth, wiki.

(Posted: Wednesday, April5, 2017 at 12:30 PM EDT)

“Finding Altamira”: discovery of prehistoric cave art in Spain in 19th century triggers a science v. religion controversy

Finding Altamira” (2016), directed by Henry Hudson, about challenging religious precepts with science, something quite daring in the 19th Century.

In 1879, explorer Marcelino Sanz de Sautuloa y de la Pedrueca (Antonio Banderas), an amateur explorer, investigates a vaguely known cave in northern Spain.  His daughter Maria (Allegra Allen) notices the prehistoric paintings and in time makes the discovery known.

The local Catholic church establishment sees this as a threat, as personified by the Monsignor (Rupert Everett).  Pretty soon Marcelino is pilloried and “unpopular” in a way common today for people who don’t go along with their peers.  This film certainly seems timely given Donald Trump’s populist strategy and his apparent disdain for science as privileged and elitist.

There is plenty of dialogue about the tension between individualistic rationalism and the ability to “love people”.  There are lines to the effect, that God made the world, and created it for his own glory; to maintain otherwise (including questioning the virgin birth) is anathema, to demand excommunication from the church.  Even Picasso would see this as “decadent”.  Marcelino’s wife, Conchita (Golshifteh Farahani) challenges the monsignor, saying she will place her husband before God but not before “you”.

The cave art is thought to be 35000 years old, maybe Neanderthal.

The piano music background includes Mozart (Sonata 15), Scarlatti (who draws comment), and a transcription of the Prelude to Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”.

The film has some interesting animation sequences of the bison in the drawings as the child dreams.

Wiki picture from cave.

Wiki picture of Bilbao, east of caves, which I visited in April  2001.

Name:  “Finding Altamira”
Director, writer:  Henry Hudson
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD 2017/3/28
Length:  93
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Samuel Goldwyn
Link:  official;   NY Times

(Posted: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)