Concerning Great Literature, the Movies, and How the Bible Fits In

Isn’t it great when filmmakers put forth the effort to bring our favorite works of literature to the silver screen? I view this as an effort to breath life into the stories that intrigue us most. An author takes hold of an idea that invariably derives from their experience in the world, formulates a narrative, and when that author succeeds in their craft, the results are dumbfounding. People attract to the outcome like crazy. They see themselves in the work; they observe circumstances they can relate to; they become intrigued by behaviors and actions that are unexpected; and they use the experience to form judgments about the world around them.

The interesting thing about a filmmaker’s job is the duty they owe to the integrity of a text. Is it even possible to do so? Or are we perpetually having to deal with a filmmaker’s interpretation based on the era in which a film is made? And what does this tell us about a text?

BBC’s 1995 version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) would have us think of the novel’s protagonist, the endearing Miss Elizabeth Bennet, as a tightly-knit young woman, not to be viewed as indecent or immoral. We gain this perception by the nature of the clothes she wears, and we connect this fashion to the seeming warmth and virtue she expresses in her facial features.

Lizzy 3

I don’t particularly recognize the filmmaking of 1990s as immersed in conservative principles, but this filmmaker’s interpretation seems surprising; the overall aspect of it seems more akin to something the 1960s would have produced. Ten years later, the Grand Millennial Age, and matters look different:

Lizzy 1

Elizabeth is endowed with the same facial warmth, but her dress looks a bit more liberal. It would appear that audiences in the year 2005 are more willing to accept a less cultured version of the famous heroine; or maybe the filmmakers are trying to tap into some sense of realism. Whatever the case, filmmakers have to do what they can with the text to produce something that audiences will be interested in viewing. What is particularly interesting about this process is that the filmmakers are trying to represent what Jane Austen is trying to represent in terms of her fiction. That is to say, her representations are open to interpretation because her ideas are documented in the form of written language.

A couple of other examples give us a lens into how an author’s words are translated into pictorial imagery.

In the 1956 movie of the same name, Herman Melville’s master work Moby Dick (1851) is brought to us in black and white, the great Gregory Peck endowing audiences with his skilled portrayal of a stern and determined Captain Ahab.

Captain Ahab

The incomparable Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel received similar treatment, in modern form, when Hollywood Pictures brought us The Scarlet Letter (1995). Harsh criticism of the movie reveals how difficult the task of producing a film from the descriptions of a literary text can be. This is Arthur Dimmesdale pondering his problem with hypocrisy:

Dimmesdale

Where does that leave us with a text like the Bible? The makers of Bruce Almighty (2003) would have us believe that the Bible’s primary character is an aged black man decked in a fancy white suit.

God 1

How’s that for channeling the interpretive framework? It’s actually a far cry from what people would have thought God should look like during earlier times, as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel conveys circa 1512.

God 2

Here God is sporting the classic full beard, so indicative of what is fashionable for a god, especially when we consider how the trend did not originate with the god of the Bible. Here is Zeus from Greco-Roman antiquity sporting much the same look.

Zeus

What is interesting about the bust of Zeus and Michelangelo’s fresco is that they follow in a line of artistic attempts to bring to life that which can only otherwise, be imagined according to what is written textually, or in the case of the Egyptians (Greeks and Romans too), both textual and oral. The images and hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt seem embedded within mankind’s most distant endeavor to produce a narrative in the form of pictures. In this scene Osiris, one of the earliest gods known to the planet, receives worship according to texts and stories dating to 2400 BC. Can you imagine how much of his character bears resemblance to his successors found among the modern religions of the world (beginning with the beard)?

Osiris

Having seen how the relationship between artist and textual production stretches into time immemorial, where does that leave us with the latest in filmmaking, biblical interpretation? Apprehend no longer as I present to you the whole of literature’s man among men, chief among chiefs…Here he is folks:

SoG 4

Isn’t he a gem? I’m not exactly one for being hip as to what constitutes a good looking male, but reviews of Son of God (2014) have led me to the humorous term “Hot God,” with pleas from the actor Diogo Morgado himself asking that audiences notice him for his acting skills and not the way he looks. What stuck out to me was how the J-man was introduced; the filmmakers felt the need to have him appear onscreen immediately following a close-up of this depiction of a biblical age fisherman:

SoG 3

Why the stark contrast? Of course, we don’t get to the introduction of the J-man, in all of his astonishing sexual appeal, without getting a zoom-in on his ancestral roots. Here we have Eve in all of her sensuous, sexually-charged Garden of Eden energy, poised to ruin the whole of man with her fruit eating habits:

SoG 1

The filmmaking urge to sexualize the Bible is actually quite fascinating, considering its intended moral effect. Additionally intriguing about this film is the presence of Mary Magdalene. No longer is she on the outskirts of the group, the men taking charge as they moralize the land — no. She is front and center, side by side with the main man as he moves about in his mission.

SoG 5

So not only are we seeing the need for sex appeal in the battle to win over modern audiences, but the attempt to heed the advent of feminism seems to be making an appearance as well, though to what end, this I cannot determine. Lastly, but not in the least, we have the filmmaker’s interpretation of a supernatural event, for what biblical movie would be right without one? Of all the dramatic instances of supernaturalism occurring throughout the Bible, I’d have to say that Moses parting the Red Sea is among the most widely known.

SoG 2

The point of view is highly personalized in that we can feel the water rise in vast walls as we are situated directly behind Moses himself as he works his miracle. Simply breathtaking, isn’t it?

The bottom line here is that in the dance between ideas and pictures, text and film, artist and artist interpreter, we understand the whole of the phenomenon to be grounded in what the mind can imagine — and what this imagination says about self and society.

What’s important to remember, with regard to the Atheism/Theism debate, is that just because the Bible fuses moral instruction with characters and events that may or may not have existed or occurred, this does not give it a free pass in the dictation of truth and justice as it applies to the human condition. The Bible is a work of literature that should be studied for its value as a cultural record, just like Pride and Prejudice or Moby Dick. Indeed, the material is great fodder for storytelling, which gives it additional value for filmmakers who want to entertain their audiences — as they rake in huge sums of money. And even such moral maxims such as “do unto others as you would to yourself” (a.k.a. The Golden Rule) should be examined for their worth. But to give credence to the unverifiable claims made in a literary text such as the Bible, is to corrode the nature of truth. The reason why an ancient text like this differs from, say, documentation of the life of Cicero, is because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The account of Cicero does not boast aspects of the supernatural. Because biblical accounts do, this renders the text a work of literature; a crafty one at that, in which its writers sought to capitalize on the skill of obscuring the truth — that is, mingling fact with fiction (or even better, mingling dogma with fiction) — so as to gain control over a body of people.

Since this is what we know about the Bible, that it is a unique body of literature, then it should be categorized as thus, and shelved along with its other literary counterparts which count themselves in among the great works of literature.

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Isn’t Congress Full of Religious People?

I happened to be tuned into the radio when a new statistic caught my attention.

Congress 1

I guess only 7% of the American population have faith in the legislative body that governs them, Congress. Amazing. When I googled the story, I had to read to get more clarity and found, “There’s also the fact that just 8% of Americans believe Congress is honest and ethical” (USA Today).

Congress

As a citizen of this country, of course I have my opinion on the matter, but as an Atheist, it took me about twenty-four hours to realize, isn’t Congress comprised almost entirely of religious people, Christians to be specific?

Congress 2

Source: Pew Forum

When I came to this stark realization I had to laugh, but there is an undercurrent here that is quite disturbing. With all the hoopla about how it is the religionists who are supposed to be endowing the world — chock full of its illiterate plebs and peasants — with their divinely inspired abilities to dictate and uphold the moral standard, how is it that no one finds them to be “honest and ethical” when they are doing their jobs?

As someone who’s been down the religious road, who understands that religious people can be weak and have their moments just like anyone else, I’m not really buying into this philosophy as means to judge them. Why? Because the statistic is a little drastic. It speaks of behavior that is questionable on a continuing and ongoing basis.

How does this look from my perspective? Have these religionites stumbled into the reputation that situates them down there in the gutter with those awful Atheists?

The rationale I adopt from all this leads me away from the aspect of human behavior and back to that question that ever plagues the never-ending debate between Atheists and religionists: Does the supernatural even exist? I see a syllogism here that I believe characterizes religious thinking:

a) Degenerate thug robs liquor store.

b) Degenerate thug has strayed from religious principles.

c) God exists.

The theory here is that a supernatural force is responsible for providing a moral framework that humans can access to be better people. Here’s the syllogism reworked:

a) Degenerate thug finds his religious principles.

b) Degenerate thug becomes a respectable person.

c) God exists.

But what happens when the terms of the deal are altered?

a) Degenerate thug robs liquor store.

b) Degenerate thug is an Atheist.

c) God exists.

In this fashion, the person is a criminal because he has no god; but notions of a supernaturally-charged moral framework become complicated when the syllogism is reworked:

a) Degenerate thug gets caught and does a prison sentence.

b) Degenerate thug changes his ways and becomes a respectable person.

c) God unnecessary.

The point of all this is to suggest that being a morally upstanding citizen does not constitute elemental criteria in the litmus test that determines whether or not the supernatural exists. Religionists are untrustworthy in office, but even if they were not, would that mean the supernatural is something we as humans must believe in order to be seen as respectable people?

What this boils down to is that in order for the Atheist to gain traction in their endeavor to fit in with the world, they have to go around saying, “I’m a good person: I donate, I help at the shelter, I’m perfectly happy, etc.” But this, to me, is not required. Atheists, like members of Congress, can be hypocritical and deceptive and untrustworthy, but no matter how the moral fabric is shaped within a person, it does not establish whether or not there is a god.

 

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Christopher Hitchens Documentary

In my browsing activity the other day, I ran across this video. For some reason I knew I wanted watch it, though I admit I had to work on some things as it played. One thing I noticed was that the video was not produced by some heavy duty broadcasting company. The video-maker states that he was looking for a video to be released, but that nothing had ever materialized. So he made one for himself. And he did a very good job.

I rather appreciated the fact that much of the video is of “The Hitch” speaking himself. In this manner, I felt like I was getting to know him on a personal level. As any relatively new Atheist might experience, I’d seen some videos of him and liked some of the things he was saying, but I’ve never had the time to read any of his books. Watching this video made me think about this man for more than the usual two or three minute brush-through. As a result, I learned something about him.

He was a man, like many of us, who became a different person after 9/11.

9-11

I can appreciate the fact that a man like Hitchens caught on to ideas about criticizing the presence of religion in our modern day world. Me, personally, after 9/11, I didn’t go atheistic. In fact, I had to go down that route believing that one religion is actually the correct one — over all the others — before I realized I was fooling myself.

At any rate, the documentary shows how The Hitch reacted and what he became following the beyond-traumatizing events of 9/11. What I saw in him was a man trying to enact a force for good, by means of uncovering the BS of which all religion is comprised. (I use the term “BS” to denote how the blending of fictional stories, cult leadership and biased philosophical teachings about human behavior causes problems for humanity.) His arguments, of course, tend to force a line to be drawn between those who are Atheists and those who are Anti-Theists, but whose fault is that?

Osama

[This photo comes from a two disc documentary that covers in extended length the events surrounding 9/11. They can be found here and here. They are informative, gripping, frightening and disturbing documentaries to watch, but most of all, they're plain depressing. In spite of all that, I actually had to watch both of them more than once just to try and get my mind to comprehend the insanity, though I can't say I did so with any measure of success.]

The way I see matters, religion has warped and twisted the minds of so many people that I find it difficult to consider why Anti-Theism would not arise. I am a little on the fence between being atheistic and anti-theistic, and I have ample reasons to be either, but I thank people like The Hitch for the bravery and outspokenness to contend openly with the power of oppressive religion. It seems to me that an Atheist like Hitchens was carving a path to local, national and international clarity about matters of the religious, and the documentary shows him carving that path with a subtle verve that I believe, no broadcasting company could have produced.

Hitchens 1

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Reincarnation? Life After Death?

I am not ashamed to identify myself as a listener of Coast-to-Coast AM. Often I sit at night in my bed, reading and writing as I listen to the program as it lulls me off in to the land of sleep. The show has been gaining in popularity over the years, most primarily for its coverage of the UFO phenomenon, but its subjects span well into the realm of the paranormal and beyond. The difficulty with listening, however, is just because of this variating subject matter.

c to c

You see, the show expresses a tendency to mix factual subjects with fictional subjects. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this problem tends to perpetuate belief in the supernatural, something of which I have a problem with on a number of levels. On the other hand, the fact/fiction blending tends to keep my critical thinking skills constantly on edge, and constantly in the process of being sharpened. For example, for one hour, a guest speaker may discuss — in a professional speaking voice — problems that are occurring in the Middle East. In the next hour, a different guest speaker — in the same kind of highly professional speaking voice — might discuss the purported multitude of evidence supporting the notion that life on earth began with the help of aliens, that evidence of their existence is on Mars, and that the Egyptian Pyramids were constructed with their aid. Thus, I am able to listen to the discussion on the Middle East with understanding and interest, but then forced to roll my eyes at the prospect of my distant ancestors being aliens!

The host of the show is actually quite the crafty individual. George Noory is a confirmed believer in the supernatural and, not surprisingly, a believer in the biblical God figure himself. He’s a worrisome person because he has a mass following of listeners. Because of his authoritative position as public entity, people adhere to the beliefs he dictates, something he does with the craftiness I have mentioned. Which brings me to the point of my post.

About a week ago, Mr. Noory exclaimed at the beginning of his show something like, “Listen to this incredible evidence of the afterlife!” He goes on to discuss the events of a boy who exhibits the markers of reincarnation.

Evidence

Reincarnation. This is a wild one; dreamy even. It is a longing for escape from the inevitability of death, a factor of which religion most certainly thrives on, but I digress. The details of the story involve that of a 3-year-old boy who claims he was murdered in a previous life, and is able to locate both his body — and the man who killed him.

And imagine the evidence given: It’s a picture of a boy pointing! I totally believe it!

The problems here mount high, though. Firstly, I have learned of the story through third and fourth hand sources. Mr. Noory conveys the details as reported by Tara MacIsaac, who reports on information documented by the German Therapist Trutz Hardo, who learned of and wrote about the story from a certain Dr. Eli Lasch, who died in 2009.

2009? Mr. Noory was exclaiming as though the story had just occurred. At any rate, Dr. Lasch claims to have witnessed the events, but what does this really mean? This brings me to the second problem, involving what the famous Dana Scully would clearly tell her partner in such a case:

Scully 2

In other words, the boy has “red a birthmark on his head,” he “knew the village he was from,” he “remembered the full name of his killer” — who apparently went white in the face when confronted — and “then [the boy] said he could take the elders to where the [his previous] body was buried. In that very spot, they found a man’s skeleton with a wound to the head that corresponded to the boy’s birthmark” (source).

This is the “evidence” that Mr. Noory was up in arms about? Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to explain why this is bogus. But the crafty way Mr. Noory slides in the notion that a story like this is what justifies belief in the supernatural and by proxy, all the dangerous doctrines of religion, is unnerving. For the record I would like to state: No, Mr. Noory, this innately coincidental story prodded along by the handiwork of Dr. Lasch and fed through multitudinous channels of narration does not constitute what the scientific community would consider as “evidence.”

And on the subject of evidence, it just so happens that the night I heard Mr. Noory clamoring about this evidence was only a few days after I watched a documentary that I rented from my local video store:

Life After Death

I had been walking by this DVD for a few months, wondering, all the while getting my expectations riled up for something that was going to rock my world with some serious methodological insight into the possibility of the afterlife. Ha! What a sucker I turned out to be.

The situation entails a man, Paul Davids, who has had associations with the now-deceased-yet-still-famous-science-fiction-collector Forrest J. Ackerman. Apparently one day, Davids had set some paperwork down on his bed which had something to do with Ackerman. He left the room and when he came back, lo and behold — there was a wet splotch on the paper! The splotch was clean, as if man-made, and marked out the words: “Spoke to Joe Amodei.” Of course, this event was not caught on tape, thus a recreation was filmed, and from this point the entire documentary hinges upon Paul Davids in his endeavor to figure out how the splotch came to be. His claim: That F. J. Ackerman was trying to communicate from beyond the grave.

I know. Pretty tawdry. To add to my dismay, the viewing experience was a drab affair. Yet after being dragged from scientists who analyzed the paper, to mediums who claimed they were receiving psychic information from Ackerman from beyond the grave, a list was provided at the end which detailed a summary of so-called “proofs”:

Strange occurrences: In this case, Davids is working from the presumption that the blotting out of the paper is proof of the supernatural. ??? (Hint at explanation: He blotted the thing out himself.)

Synchronicities/alignments/coincidences: E.g: In pertaining to the event with filmmaker Mike MacDonald, the phone rings with no one on the other end when Ackerman is thought-of and/or mentioned, following a visit to his grave. (Hint at explanation: wrong number? phone company mishap? wiring?)

Apparent communication through mediums: The mediums in this case were speaking about Ackerman, as though he were communicating information to them, but the problem here is simple: Ackerman is famous. Anyone can learn information about others, where the fact is magnified when people are famous. (Hint at additional explanation: acclaimed psychic mediums apply practiced mental gymnastics which can make it appear as though they’re accessing inaccessible information when in truth, they’re playing games of chance.)

Specially implemented sensitive technology: This one was interesting in that an attempt at the scientific method was approached. However, testing the paper didn’t really conclude anything; and that it was done by someone with a “PhD” didn’t mean much either. The scientist confessed on camera, that he couldn’t figure out how the splotch came to be, and that the splotch couldn’t be replicated. Really, though, how could a splotch be replicated? Wouldn’t something like that equate the snowflake phenomenon? In addition, if the scientist couldn’t figure out how the splotch came to be, then it means he was unwilling to suggest that Davids made the splotch himself — which is ultimately unscientific in and of itself.

Apart from testing the splotch, attention was given to a man named Dr. Gary Schwartz, who claims that spirits can be detected by placing a  photon detector inside of a box…inside of another box. The argument: photons detected are evidence of spirits. (Hint at explanation: If photons are actually detected, then they are photons. In other words, how could anyone know what the material make-up of a spirit is?)

What to conclude?

I have never known what to make of reincarnation. When I was a professed Christian, I would have balked at the idea of coming back to earth after being in heaven. But then, I never really reached a conclusion as to whether I would die and be resurrected, or if I would die and then go straight before my maker. Nowadays, of course, I realize a different reality about death. In the case of the boy who’s found his murdered body, I call BS. Reincarnation, as admitted in the article, is part of a superstitious belief as realized by a localized culture. Playing on this vulnerability, anyone could have found the body with the head wound, then located a boy with a birthmark, and thus a hoax is born. In this case, the boy was only three, very easy to manipulate.

For the afterlife documentary, I see vain spiritualists attempting to convince the world that life after death exists; because seemingly, in the deepest of their own hearts, they know they can’t convince themselves that it really does. Apart from that, what I thought was going to be a compelling case turned out to be nothing more than the same television tinsel I’ve been observing since Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of (1977-82). But don’t get me wrong, back in the day, that was a great show.

 

 

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Contagion: Evangelized by Mail, Part II

I had to go by and check my post office box again:

Contagion

This is getting frightening, they’re everywhere!

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