Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Kingdom of Heaven

Gabe and I watched "Kingdom of Heaven" last night. It takes place during the crusades, about a hundred years after the Christians have occupied Jerusalem. Orlando Bloom is a blacksmith in France who discovers his father is a knight of the Crusades. After his wife commits suicide over the loss of their child, and he kills a priest who mocked her fate, he decides to follow his father to Jerusalem in pursuit of forgiveness for him and his wife (who is thought to be in hell because of her suicide). Rather than discovering forgiveness, he decides that God has left him.
He refocuses his energy on being a great knight as his father was in the service of the Christian king. There are two main factions of Christians - those who want peace with the Muslims, and those who are war hungry and continually kill all the Muslims they see. Eventually Orlando's character comes to see that really all that matters is doing good, protecting the people. All that extra religious stuff just creates hate and evil.
It is an interesting commentary on todays situation - with the Christians as the terrorists. However, the movie lacks any sublety or complexity - the Muslims are portrayed as wholly virtuous, religious Christians as wholly evil and bloodthirsty. Christians who do display compassion and care for the people and their enemies do so only as they minimise or dismiss their faith. For a movie critical of the effects of religion, it is quite preachy.

One of the most disturbing/powerful scenes from the movie for me was when one of the bad guy Christian Knights is in negotiations with the Muslim King, and he does something to really offend him. The king pauses and then pulls out a sword and slashes his throat. As he staggers off, covered in blood, dying, the music swells up with a choir singing, "O sacred Head now wounded", a beautiful hymn about Jesus' suffering. The link between this nasty character, his bloody death, and Jesus' crucifiction and the Christian religous experience was for me incredibly disturbing. It made me sick.

I don't know how to react to this movie. On one hand, It really saddens me and angers me to see the Church portrayed in this way. Jesus is made to represent hypocrasy, evil, selfishness, greed, and elitism. Commitment to God is shown as the cause of war and hate and death. On the other hand, how much do we the Church support this? I'm sure much is an accurate (albeit one sided and incomplete) portrayal of how Christians have acted through history. What does this mean for current attitudes about terrorism, Iraq, and other issues of justice? Jesus himself made a lot of people angry preaching against false religion.

Ultimately, though, the movie fails to provide a satisfactory answer to these questions. Its ethic is correct (people are what counts, leaders ought to serve those they lead, we ought to seek out peace). However, it assumes that the only hope we have to acheive these things is to leave our religion behind us. The reality is that humanity will always be like this, and the only hope we have is in Jesus. Rather than leaving our faith behind to discover righteousness, we need to pursue more deeply and be committed to the teachings of Jesus. It is Jesus who teaches us to love the poor, the evils of hypocrasy, loving of your enemy. The answer to false religion that produces evil is not no religion, but true religion.


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