Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Let There Be Lights—Camera—Action!

    Strangely, for all the criticism Hollywood gets for its lack of religious piety, the biblical god works a lot like a movie director. He has a grand plan, but to everyone else it looks like he’s making it up as he goes along. He loves his actors, but he’ll can them the second they stray from the script. The men in his story are either macho heroes or sages, and the female roles are the usual stereotypes: virgins, mothers, harlots, or some combination thereof. God also depends on special effects to make an impression and he needs constant reminders of how brilliant he is. All he needs is a DGA card, a megaphone and a baseball cap. He’s already got the beard.

    Of course, if you’re a Christian, there’s the added wrinkle of God bringing his son into the business and starting him off at the top. Above all, God is hell-bent on realizing his “vision,” even if it keeps changing regardless of the cost. “I see a nude couple in a garden. No, lose that. How about we do this huge flood, with lots of animals? No, wait, I know—we nuke Sodom and Gomorrah! Then we devastate all of Egypt! I see frogs falling from the sky, and a bloody river, and then, like, a million people get lost in the desert, and then we do even more battles! Let there be light, let there be cameras, let there be action!” Hooray for Holy-wood.
    God’s story traffics in the tried-and-true elements of a major studio release. Epic battles, torrid love affairs, vanquished cities, valiant superheroes, crusty but benign wise men and jaw-dropping spectacles—not to mention special touches like mass circumcisions, murder, rape, incest, plus a guy who’s missing a rib and a woman who isn’t afraid of snakes even when she’s outside and naked.

    There are grand spectacles and intimate dramas. Soaring heroism and gutter depravity—often by the same guy. It’s a sprawling saga that pits the fumblings of man against the mood swings of God and stretches from the dawn of Creation to the rise of the Roman Empire. We’re talking big picture and high concept. You can even anticipate the movie trailer pitched by a gritty voice-over:

    “God had it all. Infinite power. Perfect knowledge. A no-nonsense deity with a plague up his sleeve and a code of his own. But when he’s betrayed by Lucifer—all hell breaks loose, and it’s a winner-take-all Smackdown down for the universe. There will be the pulling of hair, the gnashing of teeth, and the kicking of butt. God’s goin’ medieval on Evil. And when Armageddon comes, it’s Yahweh or the highway. Coming this Christmas:

In Hell, no one can hear you pray.


This time it’s personal.


Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the titty bar.

    God even likes sequels. He sets up the Garden of Eden, only to vacate the place and continue the saga with Adam and Eve’s descendants. But they end up drowned in the Great Flood. So, Noah’s family starts Episode III but, again, it concludes with destruction (Sodom and Gomorrah) and a cliffhanger—Lot and his daughters survive. Then there are the prophets, from Isaiah to Daniel, who forecast the same devastating Day of the Lord, followed by a pious utopia, century after century. The players change but the plotline remains the same.

    Like any Hollywood blockbuster, God’s saga ends with the victory of the good guys, the utter defeat of the bad guys, and the survivors living happily ever after. It’s a formula with mass appeal—unlike the faith of, say, the Vikings. Their religion envisioned an afterlife of warfare with ice giants and trolls in which they would ultimately lose—which explains why that religion went the way of film noir. Such minor faiths are like indie flicks. They’re full of risky ideas and fresh perspectives, but they lack distribution and heavy promotion. As a result, their rituals are usually observed at a home altar by a handful of believers—the equivalent of an art film with a cult following ending up being seen on a bed sheet in someone’s basement.

    Yahweh’s story sells a lot more popcorn. Yet, as with Hollywood itself, the press is forever accusing him of being out of touch with the values of modern audiences, despite his success at getting butts in seats. With mega-churches competing with multiplexes, it’s hard to say which dream factory hauls in the most customers. But believers are sure that “His will be done,” even if it takes a three-picture deal.

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