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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"Kingdom of Heaven" and the Kingdom of Heaven

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

— Brennan Manning

I just saw Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom and a bunch of really good actors like Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, and Edward Norton. I was a bit underwhelmed. Some would kill me for saying this, but I actually liked Bloom's other epic, Troy, which did a better job of character development with a lot more characters. I actually liked Troy, although I may be the only one in America who did. With Kingdom, the characters generally fell flat. It didn't help that Bloom's character, whom we are supposed to identify with, begins the film in shock after his wife's death and generally keeps his own counsel (read: has few lines) for the first 40 minutes or so. Not much of an emotional hook.

The battle scenes were amazing though. True Ridley Scott style. (Though, again, he did just as well in Gladiator, and that was a more engaging film.) And Bloom acquits himself well once he actually starts talking. What I'm trying to say is the film got better. It's worth renting and watching on a big TV. I'm a sucker for a sword-fight, and I got my fix.

I wanted to comment on one theme in the film. On both the European and Arab sides, there are Christian and Muslim extremists who clamor for war (calling it "God's will" and proclaiming with absolute certainty that they will win) as moderates, while willing to fight, make some effort to avoid it. Clearly, Scott is preaching a message of tolerance. It kind of annoyed me, though, that he did so by going for the old Hollywood cliche: the more religious a character, the more he/she is a hypocrite or worse. The noble characters preach agnosticism at most. But the way Christians act, sometimes I can understand why your typical Hollywood writer sees Christians in this light (not that it doesn't still annoy me).

I am reminded of the following quote by Jim Wallis:

Several weeks ago, Episcopal priest and former Republican Senator John Danforth began an op-ed in the New York Times by writing: "By a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians." And, I would add, some Religious Right leaders are trying to transform the church into the religious arm of conservative Republicans.

[emphasis mine]

Whether they call it a Crusade or "Justice Sunday", history is full of people who have made naked power grabs, cloaked it in the name of Christ (or Yaweh or Allah....but my biggest concern is with the perversion of my own faith), and fooled people into following them. In the aftermath, atrocities often follow and the name of God is always smeared.

The problem isn't that Christianity is taking too much control of the world. (That has never actually happened, even in allegedly "Christian" countries. I cannot find a time in history where a society has ever lived according to the sacrificial, loving values of the Sermon on the Mount or truly sought Jesus. In other words, where a society has lived like Christ.) It's that Christians are allowing the world and its power-mad values to take control of them. In the process, the people of the world see a brand of Christianity that looks exactly like the greed and lust for power that has dominated history....only with more "Amens."

If you're wondering what the REAL Kingdom of Heaven is like, and how contrary it is to the world's values.....the values of the power-mongers behind The Crusades and their modern counterparts.....well, Jesus said it best....

Matthew 19
1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.


  • Intriguing that someone would try to preach tolerance by making an action epic about one of history's most celebrated orgies of intolerance. Usually the epic movies are a little bit more laudatory than that.

    It's interesting that Hollywood portrays religious figures as more intolerant. This is not true in today's culture, to be sure - there are probably as many secular people hostile towards religion in general as there are religious people hostile towards outsiders. But back in the day of the Crusades, when hostility and hatred was spewing from the Church itself, the trend was almost certainly reversed. Sure, there were a few bishops who sheltered Jews from the Crusaders, but I would wager that on the whole, the more religious a layperson was, the more intolerant they would be.

    In this sense I cannot say I disapprove of an unsympathetic portrayal of religious people for the purposes of this movie. Viewers must keep in mind that the religious people in "Kingdom of Heaven" are more representative of the institutional attitude of the 11th-century Catholic Church than of the attitudes of either modern or 2nd-century Christianity.

    The kicker is that this is a fact that will be lost on most of the audience of the movie, and so your point still holds. People will draw parallels between 11th-century Catholicism and 21st-century Christianity in general - entities that bear little resemblance to one another. That's the tragedy.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 5/19/2005 2:40 PM  

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