Sunday, July 20, 2008

Constantine's Sword

On Saturday Dave and I went to see this documentary, based on James Carroll's book of the same name. I haven't read the book, but I was eager to see the film based on reviews I'd read, and on the trailer below. Carroll traces the linked origins of Christian militarism and anti-Semitism, and confronts the question of whether there's something fundamental to Christianity--or to religion generally--that fosters hatred and violence. It's a question that is discussed at our house pretty often. Dave is a believing, church-going Christian. I was raised a Christian, and although I value some of the ways it shaped me, I abandoned the faith a long time ago. I'll never call myself a Christian again.

I wish I could say that the film is great, but unfortunately it's got some major structural problems. Carroll's ideas get confused as the film struggles to create a coherent historical narrative. In spite of that, segments of the film are very powerful, especially those that explore the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. Dave and I wound up discussing it during the entire hour-long ride home, so it's at least thought-provoking, whatever its flaws.

I went hunting for more info on Carroll this afternoon, and found this taped interview with him, in which he lays out his ideas more succinctly, if less dramatically, than the film does. It's well worth the 20 minutes, if you're at all interested in the subject.


Anonymous said...

Didn't Jesus say, "I come not to bring peace but a sword" and "Go forth into all the world to spread the gospel"? A lot of the Christians I know take the phrases literally, as they do everything else in the Bible (except, chiefly, the parts about love and forgiveness and tolerance), particularly as they may apply to the war in Iraq. It horrifies me and, frankly, it angers me.

Other, less bellicose Christians whom I know seem ineffectual to the point of irrelevance. Love doesn't conquer all, and the meek aren't going to inherit the earth.

When you come right down to it, religious belief is an innate need in human consciousness for meaning, good fortune, and a sense that one's individual life is important enough for God to care about it one way or the other. Maybe His eye is on the sparrow, but I don't think so.

These people are crazy, and a menace to peace and good sense.

BitterGrace said...

Some of 'em sure are. There is a lot of screen time in this film given to Ted Haggard--you know, the great evangelist, meth user and frequenter of prostitutes--and he is so awful I actually had to shield my eyes. I'm not kidding. The combination of his predatory grin and scary God-speak was more than I could take.

That said, I always think of our local heroes Joe Ingle and Don Beisswenger, who find inspiration for what they do through their Christian faith. I wish I had their courage. I don't think re-embracing Christianity will give it to me, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, Christians didn't take out the patent on crazy. "Ineffectual to the point of irrelevance" describes some fluffy bunny wiccans I know, too. People are what they are, whatever they want to call it. Meek people are meek people and self-righteous people are self-righteous people, whatever religion they claim to belong to. You're buying the bullshit when you start labeling according to religion.

Perfumeshrine said...

I always thought (and historical evidence and statistics back me up) that the repetitive persecution of the Jewish people had a much more prosaic and dirty reason behind it: getting the people's money when things got tough....(they were the original money lenders since time immemorial). Exit the Jews, exit the debts....
This is one of the most despicable of the despicable reasons behind the pogroms against them. But we can't write history with lies.
Of course there is always the fear of the Other (accountable for many other pogroms), the inferiority complexes, the deep seated self-rightousness that moronic people so often brandish as something positive. Lots of reasons.

More people have died in religious conflicts than on ANY war between states in the entire human history! Which proves that people need an ideological platform in order to bring out the worst in them. Such a shame that sometimes they cannot seperate their own way of spirituality from the way of their fellow beings.

BitterGrace said...

I think you make a good point, E. Wars, pogroms, etc. are always in pursuit of something real--whether it be money, land, or as in our time, oil.

I do think you're on to something in saying that people need an idea to bring out the worst in them, and that fact is put to good use by the powerful who wish to wage war. They use religion and nationalism to whip up war frenzy among all the folks who aren't going to enjoy war's spoils. How else to recruit the cannon fodder?

BitterGrace said...

And I forgot to say, re my last remark, that you couldn't find a better contemporary example of such use of ideology than the build up to the invasion of Iraq. The "war on terror" is all about convincing Americans that their culture is under attack.

Perfumeshrine said...

Exactly... :-(