“The biggest source of evil is of course religion.”
Ridley Scott, Esquire Magazine
With the release of Exodus: Gods and Kings by atheist director Ridley Scott, the attacks on Christian viewers has begun again. Bigoted secular film reviewers, manipulable Millennials who try to be cool and other naïve Christians who want to be accepted by the culture are launching their fiery arrows at those who voice criticism of the movie and it’s atheist spin on the Biblical God.
Can’t an atheist retell a good sacred story with fresh insight or even fidelity to the original? Isn’t it bigoted of “believers” to demand that they alone are allowed to tell their own stories? Who says Jews, Christians and Muslims own their stories anyway?
As a professional storyteller on screen and in print, I can explain why those complaining religious viewers are not “nuts,” “bigots,” or as “petty” as their critics think they are.
First off, it’s not just about fidelity to petty historic or descriptive details. It’s about fidelity to the meaning of the story and its God. The monumentally successful The Passion of the Christ added a lot of creative license to the Biblical text. The difference between it and the abysmal failure, The Last Temptation of Christ, was that The Passion did not depict Jesus as a crazy delusionary lunatic. Duh.
Sacred stories require a higher value of fidelity to their original meaning by their very nature. “Sacred” means devotion to the divine or dedicated reverence. Yes, atheists, agnostics and other secularists can logically be consistent with a sacred story’s original intent and reproduce it accurately — if they want to.
The problem is that in actual practice, “non-believers” by definition do not believe in the sacred story. Therefore, they will by necessity rewrite the story through their own non-believing paradigm, whether more subtly (Exodus) or more explicitly (Noah). Most people know this as “spin.” News flash: Every storyteller spins according to their paradigm or worldview.
Think about it: Even if an atheist would want to be fair to a Biblical story, he will ultimately spin it through his worldview of atheism. Why wouldn’t he? If he believes the God of the story is a delusion, why in the world would you think he would do anything but spin that God story in a way that he understands its ultimate reality?
Hotel Rwanda, The Pursuit of Happyness, Hardball, Pocahontas, Walk the Line, and now Unbroken. These are not Bible stories, but all of these movies are about people whose religious faith was central to their stories, yet it was left out or ignored. Why? Because non-believers don’t believe God is important to their meaning, so of course they pull it out, or spin it to their own humanistic understanding of religion as some kind of benevolent (at best) delusion that meets a need for saving ourselves. I’m not even suggesting this is malicious. It may be, but it doesn’t have to be.
To the Christian, this kind of humanistic self-salvation paradigm is precisely the Original Sin that is most offensive to them. And to spin God as merely a religious experience or vision (even a positive one) is to reduce an existent relational Creator into the creation of man’s imagination. This is more than offensive to Christianity, it is blasphemy, the subversion of the Biblical God.
You wouldn’t want a homophobe telling the story of Harvey Milk, or a racist telling the story of Martin Luther King, would you? So why is it acceptable for an atheist to tell a sacred story about the God they hate or don’t believe exists?
I am not talking about anybody’s rights here. In our free society, anyone can tell any story they want and spin it any way they want. But if a studio wants to make a lot of money by appealing to the audience of a sacred story, why would they want to hire someone who hates or disbelieves the God of that sacred story, and will spin that deity as petty, vindictive and capricious?
Assuming they also have qualifying skills of excellence in the craft, “believers” of a sacred story have the experience and understanding of the meaning and the God of that story to connect to that audience in a way that a secular or atheist storyteller will never want to do —as evidenced by Scott’s and Aronofsky’s contempt for their viewers.
Thus, the successes of The Passion, Heaven is For Real, Son of God, and yes, even all those poorly made Christian genre movies that make a ton of money.
Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings could have made three times what they made at the box office if they had been made by someone who actually believed the God of those stories was not the distant, cruel, unloving, impersonal, delusionary religious experience that they depicted him to be.
I was quoted in this article about this topic here at Hollywood in Toto.