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A good portrayal of a lost dream

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I recently watched a film that commanded my interest even though I came across it while channel surfing. Its title is "Courageous," and it suggests the fortitude that we expect from committed Christian people. This film breaks your heart; it was produced in 2011, during the time when the evangelical Church was convinced that all they had to do was deliver their message and America would convert.

There were the Promise Keepers and the Million Man March, designed to prompt the American man to step up to his responsibilities as husband and father. I am sure that hopes were high across America when this motion pictuer appeared to be a brilliant call to manhood for all the unreached, unsaved and irresponsible men who were going around acting like human men will act.

Many cultures have adapted to the roaming instincts of men. Some provide them unfettered access to women in the form of harems and serial monogamy, while others seek to restrict their access along with many forms of punishment and ostracism. Inspiration works as well as anything--that is to say, it doesn't work any better than other systems.

But this film was made when it was believed that the primitive Christians had the answer: read the Old Testament and get the last word. One of the characters also states that if you do not accept salvation, you won't get it. This is clearly un-biblical:

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."

This quote from St. John appears in the New Testament, though, and because of that I believe that is hardly ever read or preached in the fundamentalist churches, who are always emphasizing that you must buy their product in order to be saved. But what the film really gives us is the vision that the evangelicals had some years ago, that this movement would sweep across husbands and fathers all over the nation and bring their new day of authority and godly discipline.

One of the characters mentions that their message may be mocked or ignored. It was, in some quarters, but not all. That did not do them any harm, actually. What hurt this mission was, and remains to this day, the abuse of the message by evangelical men themselves. We get constant revelations of abuse and irresponsibility among evangelical ministers, especially the televangelists who have not yet been scared straight. There is a creepy scene in "Courageous" in which one character gives his daughter one of the virginity rings, which she is supposed to wear, virginal and untouched, until her father hands her over to another man.

I don't know what the producers were thinking, but the scene comes across more like Saudi Arabia than a posh restaurant in Anytown, U. S. A. The idea that a daughter belongs to her father, to give away in the wedding ceremony in much too literal a way, is disturbing and actually the trend has died down if not out (as it should have).

Giving a young woman a crutch in the form of a pretty bauble does not give her the wisdom to make good choices. She has to learn that from both her father and her mother, not by considering herself to be in thrall to her father until she acquires a new owner. This scene could only pass muster because of the talent of the actors, not because of its content.

As it is, "Courageous" remains a testimony to a dream, much like the speech given by now-President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention when he burst upon the scene a decade or more ago. It shows all the promise and good intentions of the preachers who came up with the idea--the idea that foundered because, as I write again and again, there is no such thing as Old-Testament Christianity. The idea of God punishing you for your wrongdoing and ignoring your good deeds makes no sense. The idea of God as a "good judge" does not transcend human justice, which it should.

You simply cannot take the broad outlines of Christianity and fit the Book of Leviticus into them and come up with a new religion, not because there is something wrong with Christianity but because there is quite a lot wrong with Leviticus. As long as evangelical Christians cannot face that simple fact, they will wander into the wasteland that gives them no clear basis for making any judgments at all.

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