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God movies: the book is better

"Noah" Movie Poster
Paramount Pictures

The immediate irony about the current spate of Bible-themed motion pictures is the apparent endorsement of many fundamentalist groups. The very folks who insist that the Bible was written by God are happy to let Hollywood spread fantastical, computer-enhanced, high definition recreations.

When we read it, we can use our imagination.

These movies are essentially about two things: sex and death. People are ambivalent about these issues when reading the actual text but they flock to the theaters to see and hear about these categories. In that sense, the cinematographers are literally on the money: coitus and murder are the bookends of the Bible, the streak marks of religion, so people buy tickets and let the art houses present their versions.

The book is better because when we read it, we can use our imaginations. Even more importantly, we can mix our visions of the stories with faith, if we choose, or skepticism if we need to—and then come to some kind of thoughtful conclusions. Do we learn from what Noah did? Was he truly a righteous man or, as Genesis actually tells, simply “the best of his times?”

Read with reason, this makes the discussion of Noah’s character and motives lively and provocative. If he was the best in his time—a time so dreadful in terms of human behaviors that God decided to destroy the earth—then maybe he wasn’t so terrific. Context is a much better rationale than celluloid imagery is a temporary diversion.

What kind of a righteous man wouldn’t even put up an argument with a deity out to drown the world?

What kind of God would do such a thing?

No one really has the answers to these kinds of questions but everyone can ask the questions. That leads to moral equations and philosophy and even poetry. Bible movies lead to spiritual popcorn. You sit and watch and let a team of artistic merchants negotiate your relationship with something that is sacred. Or at least truly time-honored.

We’ve dissolved from the boredom into the biblical and it satisfieth us not.

Faith-skewed material lends itself easily to the box-office because it loves high-tech visuals, feeds on the deep dreads a lot of folks don’t even realize they carry these days, and we’ve already seen everybody’s butt and breasts being exercised on all the available screens.

The only thing left, the only mystery, the only nourishment for human curiosity, is what God thinks, wants, expects, disdains, or loves. It’s all here for several bursts of Hollywood smoke. Better to read it and wonder—or even reject. At least you are applying curiosity rather than just waiting for the sequel.

See my new book, 'DANGEROUS FRIENDSHIP: Stanley Levison,
Martin Luther King Jr., and The Kennedy Brothers'

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