Sunday, November 13, 2005

the god movie


well, i didn't think i would start off the blog bat on such an emotional topic; but i needed to process all this.
i also do not have the attention span, generally, to read other people's lonnnnng bloggings, so will also not be offended if no one chooses to commit to the 27 hours it will take to read this in its entirety. i tried being concise. it didn't work for this topic.

my friend ryan, who is doing a documentary on the baptist pastor fred phelps, asked me to accompany him to this screening of a movie called "the god who wasn't there" by director Brian Flemming, who calls himself a "former fundamentalist." if you can't tell from the title, the movie is a documentary that mocks religion--- christianity, specifically, and stands on the fact that many christians don't know much about what they believe, why they believe it, or the history their beliefs stem from.

the interest in this movie overwhelmed the tivoli, and when the original 1-time-showing sold out the day before, they had to add a second showing (which filled up in no time) because of the high volume of people itching to see this movie. lines upon lines...young and old, waiting to see this movie and ryan and i right in the middle of them.

we got there a good 45 minutes early, and had lots of time to people-watch. it was such an odd experience, i was watching everyone mulling around...wondering why they had come...what they hoped to hear or confirm...wondering what their story was...and who God was to them.

the movie consisted of a brief 6-minute slapstick rendition of the life and death of jesus, right down to jesus' flogging (which was represented by a 2 second shot of a man boinking jesus on the forehead with what looked like a little piece of wheat).

then it went on to interview 4 very intelligent, charming, and likable athiests and 2 bumbling, audacious, and inarticulate christians...(one of whom, to give you an idea, has started a website called "rapture letters" that offers a post-rapture service to anyone who would like an EMAIL (of all things!) to be sent to their non-believing loved ones after they themselves have gone on to heaven. because, as we all must assume, there is no email in heaven. when the loved one recieved the email it would remind them to repent and come to heaven, too.) i know.

but, as ryan said, that is the documentarian's right. the director chose to convey HIS belief through clear, compelling speakers and chose to undermine the beliefs he refutes with end-times entrepreneurs, cyclical reasoning and question-dodgers.

after the movie, there was a short Q&A with the director. (the first showing was followed by a panel of theologians & scholars discussing and taking questions. but we just got the director). i was expecting a range of emotions from the people who stood up to ask questions, but was surprised when the overwhelming majority said: thank you for making this film.

one man was especially memorable. he was old, gray hair and shabby pants. he was sitting right in front of me. he stood up and said, "I want to thank you for making this film. I am a son of a missionary, was raised baptist, and it took me 60 years to break free." More gratitude, more gushing.

another man made a very similar comment: "It's taken me 70 years, but I can finally say: I do not believe in God." This greeted with applause that pierced my heart and shook my insides.

i felt alone in that auditorium...close to tears and aching. ryan made the point that it was like being on the outside of an inside joke...which I imagine is how many non-christians have felt their whole lives- in a circle of believers using "churchy" terminology or when they visit a church, feeling like they don't belong, that they don't get the joke, or worse: that they are the joke.

we were the joke tonight.

i am trying to be concise, here, but i can't really describe how it felt to leave there. i felt attacked, and in every sentence i began to form afterward with ryan as we tried to pick apart his message, i heard the voice of the simple-minded christian bumblers in his film, using emotion to try and combat "reason." it made them look foolish. which is exactly how the director wanted me to feel. questioning myself, and my reasoning.

it was like hearing your closest friend be cruelly made fun of behind their back and you are too ashamed to say anything. all the darkened faces tossed back in laughter as they watch a mockery made of christ's death. the defining moment of your heart's life simplified to absurdity, to fluff, to jibberish. not just meaningless, but humorously so.

still: here's what i am taking away:
(now that i have processed for a week)

i think he is right to point out that a large percentage of christians don't know much about the God they believe in. they don't know his history, and many don't even know much about his character, though they may profess to doing his work. (i.e. fred phelps) He drove this point home in the movie by taking a random poll of people coming out of a Billy Graham conference. He asked everyone who Jesus was to them, and then asked them a question about the history of the church and the spread of Christianity. People smiled and could name who God was to them, but tripped up on the second question, tossing in vague answers before they hustled by the camera to their safe cars.

so this challenged me to know more, to be immersed in all parts of the story and not just my own. to be active and authentic, we should be exploring the bible and history and other perspectives so that we do not come to think that OUR bubble is how life is and always has been. We need to understand ourselves as we relate to history: to biblical times: to other cultures, countries, belief systems. We need to not have blinders on. we should be knowledgable about the facts. but not depend on them to prove our case.

because evidential facts are not what make me want to believe in God. my heart is what makes me believe in God.

the heart. the yearning. which is abstract, and unprovable. how do you prove it when something significant has taken place in your heart? how do you prove you love someone?

doesn't it say something that a desire to believe in God is so deeply ingrained in us? so ingrained that the men that stood up celebrating their atheism said it was a 70-year long battle of resistance. to finally speak those words and to give up hope.

so that's what it boils down to. hoping. or ceasing to hope.
no one can prove their case one way or another. so we the hopeful must be more inclusive, and less afraid. we must be more vocal, and less sure. we must be willing to hear in order to be heard. and we must continue to hope. not just for ourselves, or for God, but for everyone's sake that they would experience the joy and peace of knowing him.

for hope does not disappoint us.

18 Comments:

At 8:13 AM, Blogger brett.cantrell said...

"He drove this point home in the movie by taking a random poll of people coming out of a Billy Graham conference. He asked everyone who Jesus was to them, and then asked them a question about the history of the church and the spread of Christianity."

How biased was this, did anyone know the "right" answers or did he show only the people stumbling?

I really liked this post. Getting past the surface level of Chirstianity is important, even in films meant to bring us down, God often uses to show us our weaknesses and build us back up stronger than before!

 
At 10:15 AM, Blogger amber heggestad said...

brett thanks for your comment.

yeah, it was really biased, he only showed people stumbling. he didn't show anyone who could speak intelligently about the history or evidence FOR God.
and you got the sense that everyone on the Christian side was stopped in the parking lot or something, just caught on a whim, whereas the athiest interviewees seemed more prepared.

he also quoted scripture out of context to make jesus look like a tyrant. he used this verse:

"But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me." "Luke 19:27

which is from a parable, but he used it in a way as if to say jesus wanted anyone who resisted his authority killed.

i forgot to include that part in my blog.

thanks for telling me how to get rid of the spammers...i thought i had clicked something to block them but apparently not.

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger allie statler said...

ambini, this was most def not too long.
it would be interesting, and i am sure probably impossible, to get ahold of all the footage that was edited out to see what else the believers had to say that the director didn't allow into the film.
and how do you get rid of the spammers?

 
At 8:40 PM, Anonymous Casey Thornburgh said...

wow, what a powerful post! thank you for sharing, it's quite encouraging to me. there is so much emptiness, denial, anger, and resentment of God in this messy world. that film is proof of that...the time and energy put into making believers and even Jesus, look the fool...what fueled that? not saying that some don't deserve it...anywho thanks for your insight, sport.

 
At 3:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the person who posted this intelligent response to the film felt very bad after seeing it and that's a shame. the director is only challenging people to THINK for themselves, to investigate the facts of the religion their faith is based upon and to ultimately accept that there are big holes in the story. now, that need not damage your own faith, but those who profess to do God's work need to be able to answer these questions. the guys in the parking lot may have been chosen for their ignorance but in my experience they are fairly representative of non-academic Christians. the thing to do here, those of you who feel it was an unfair vox pop, is to post yourselves the answers to Flemming's questions and show up the flaws in his argument that no contemporary historian thought jesus was worth writing about and that modern Christians are largely ignorant of the early days of their religion, how it was created and how it was propagated. so why IS there such a big gap between when Jesus is said to have lived and died and the appearance of the first literature about him from Paul, who seems to be unaware that Jesus lived. It's true that Flemming does not give a believer the platform to answer this. But you have it now and I will be waiting with interest.

 
At 11:40 AM, Anonymous saftysarah said...

In all of the discussions I've heard and read I think people misunderstand one important word: Christianity. It is not a "religion", a denomination or even what we do. It is our personal relationship with Christ. So many people use "Christians" that they know as examples of how evil we are, or how Christians shouldn't behave this way. Are they truly Christians, or is that simply what they call themselves? And we never claim to be perfect - we know Christ is the only perfect one. We are all sinners and make choices we shouldn't. That's why we must repent.

We cannot know another man's heart, but we can pray for those who attack us, that some day they will find Jesus and invite him into their hearts and lives. Until then, we continue to be attacked by these nonbelievers and suffer gloriously for His name - hope to see you all in heaven!!!

 
At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ancient people used to think that the heart was a center of emotion, and indeed, thinking. We know better now. You sound like a ninny when you talk about how you feel stuff in your heart. No wonder non-believers don't take you seriously. Try, just once, to explain your beliefs without resorting to this heart-feely thing, and you will start to see yourself as we see you. Controlled by your emotions at the expense of your intellect.

 
At 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wanting something to be true does not mean it is. Moving to atheism is not the giving up of hope as you have said. its merely the realization of all that you previously wished were true is a pile of crap. Moving forward from that dogma is the most liberating experience one can have. You're finally truely free and you finally understand the consequences of being free.
You missed the entire point of the movie Amber. but then most christians do because subconsciencly or even consciencly they can't get past needing it to be true so deeply that its irrational and their response to anything that questions or undermines this deep seated need is also irrational.
Look at the previous comments. all they can say is the christians were unprepared. Well, if you're going to believe something that is the CORE of your belief don't you think you should have thought about it first or at least understood where is comes from. It is amazing to Atheists how people can believe in something they KNOW NOTHING ABOUT. And BTW if you were born in Saudia Arabia you'd be a Muslim. What do you think your heart would be telling you then?

 
At 1:12 AM, Anonymous Darren said...

There should be no "sides" to this. Do we all not seek the truth? Argumentation leads to one person being right and the other wrong. ...it has nothing to do with the truth. If we find the truth together, we both win. :)

 
At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lifelong Christians will have difficulty with anything that challenges their fundamental beliefs, such as this documentary does. Flemming is merely pointing out that there is no documentation to the belief in Jesus' existence; that he is modeled on ancient mythological personas. Why is it so threatening to people to know the truth? Give up hope? Hope is the denial of reality. Please move forward and live in this world. Lack of religious beliefs doesn't mean you are immoral. In fact, many devoutly religious people are highly immoral. Religion is their 'cover'. Morality and religion are mutually exclusive. Let's all live in the here and now and make the world better for all humans. Why? Because this is really all there is and it's a rather wonderful place! Stop participating in the religious divisiveness that pits Christian against Jew against Islam against Hindu against Buddism against EACH OTHER. We are all humans who need to eat, sleep and breath. We are all the same!

 
At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to assume that your statement about taking 27 hours to read your post was sarcasm, or do fundies generally have 4th grade reading levels?

 
At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

do any of you read latin? or, earlier than that, greek?

do any of you actually have any understanding of what the bible is actually _supposed_ to say?

or not?

belief is fine, and by all means believe what you want, but do not judge.

as the bible says (or, more truthfully, as the story that was added to the new testament says) let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

all i see from "evangelists" is stones being cast.

when do you people start going into poor neighborhoods and living as jesus wants you to?

when?

 
At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You sound like a ninny when you talk about how you feel stuff in your heart. No wonder non-believers don't take you seriously. Try, just once, to explain your beliefs without resorting to this heart-feely thing, and you will start to see yourself as we see you. Controlled by your emotions at the expense of your intellect."

As Amber said in her blog, "how do you prove that you love someone?" One does not prove that they love someone by being able to answer every question of their life history. If I do not know some facts that you pick out of Christian history it does not mean that the basis of my faith is invalid. I don't have to be able to read Latin or Greek, I don't have to be an "academic Christian", and I don't have to be judgmental. Please open your minds to the idea that there are different kinds of Christians. Not all Christians are the judgmental evangelists that you are talking about. In fact, people who use Christianity as their "cover" for hate are more detrimental to Christianity than atheists. The majority of Christians are not like these judgmental, hateful crusaders preaching fire and brimstone on the corner or creating websites to send emails to loved ones. However, these loud few are the ones that are seen, like in this movie.
The basis of my faith is not on the historical facts of Jesus’ life. They are on based on love and I cannot prove them to you anymore than you can prove to me that you love. I'm sorry if love is too "ninny" of an emotion for you because it is the most important one in the world to me. My faith is such that I believe that it is possible for someone to see our whole beautiful, messy world and love it with all of His heart, despite how much we hate each other, and even how much we hate Him. I believe that if you take one thing from the bible it is to love, and that God loves you. Hate has nothing to do with it.
“Stop participating in the religious divisiveness that pits Christian against Jew against Islam against Hindu against Buddism against EACH OTHER. We are all humans who need to eat, sleep and breath. We are all the same!”

I agree wholeheartedly that we are all the same and that we are all beautiful wonderful beings, whether we are Christian, Jew, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, or even atheist. I ask you to agree and realize that my belief that God loves me, that God loves you, and that I love you, is not an attack on you. Allow me to believe that there is a God that loves us all and wants us to love each other and you may believe whatever you want.

“belief is fine, and by all means believe what you want, but do not judge.”
I would like to challenge you to do the same.

 
At 10:09 AM, Blogger moleboy said...

This was a fantastic response.
However, there is one place where you really highlight one of the core issues with the relationship between the religious and the aethiestic (btw, I'm an aspiring buddhist):
"...to finally speak those words and to give up hope.
so that's what it boils down to. hoping. or ceasing to hope."

I wonder if you see the implications of these words and the subtext which says "my way of life is much better than yours".
What if I had said:
"God is not the only reason to hope.
In fact, God may not be a reason to hope at all.
Except out of desperation."
I believe this to be an equivilent statement to yours.
I hope you will consider it.

 
At 12:42 PM, Anonymous Enkidu said...

Other than Amber, the Christians responding to her post completely miss the point. You assume the God/Christ story is true, and then wonder why atheists hate God, reject God because of some trauma. We don't.

If you would stop for a moment and consider another religion, you might come away wiser. Do you reject Mohammed and the God of Islam because you hate Him? Do you reject Mohammed and the God of Islam because of some traumatic event? No, of course not. You don't reject the God of Islam for any of the reasons you would claim I reject your God and your Jesus. You don't reject the God of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed at all. You've never believe they exist in the first place.

That is how atheists feel about your God and your Jesus. We don't turn away from your God any more than you've turned away from Mohammed, Zeus or Thor.

Of all the thousands of gods mankind has believed in I believe in one fewer than you. If you understand why you don't follow the thousands, you'll understand why I don't follow yours.

 
At 5:47 AM, Anonymous boadicea said...

That was a wonderful post. I liked how you understood how atheists feel in this world. You went to a show whose whole premise was to support a disbelief in a Christian God and you felt alone and upset. Now, imagine if you are an atheist and the leaders of your country talk about God, decisions are made based on God, a debate was in school over teaching God. Imagine how alone you would feel in this world. I absolutely love that you have decided to explore your religion and learn about it. I am an atheist and whenever people hear that they want to argue. But I am usually better educated in Christianity than they are. I applaud that you can come away from this experience wanting to learn more; many would have been disgusted and just hated atheists more. Anyway...great blog. Sorry for the 27 hour comment:)

 
At 12:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I greatly admire you for understanding how atheists can feel against the majority of the religious, but there are some misconceptions about us--and God--that need to be brought into light. Since the lack of scientific, historical, etc., evidence for Jesus didn't seem to be convincing for you to question anything, I'll go elsewhere.

First, to be an atheist is not to "give up hope," as one other commeter previously stated. A life without a belief in God is not one without love, hope, or fullness of life, as so many of the religious believe. We do not hope for an afterlife or an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God because we don't need to. For the atheist, non-existence makes us appreciate this life, and the lives of others, that much more.

Second, I believe there are some important issues that need to be addressed concerning the nature of God as depicted throughout the entire Bible. He could hardly to be said to be called a God of love; indeed, my de-conversion experience began when I started reading the Bible in the hopes of coming closer to God. God's painstakingly obvious acts of genocide and infanticide started my journey away from Christianity and, ultimately, far away from belief in any sort of supernatural being.

Don't be afraid to question. If you accept the Bible, then you accept that the God of the Old Testament commits one crime after another. For example, as punishment for disbelief, God proclaims this doom on Samaria: "Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up." Hosea 13:16

This is not an isolated incident. Read the Old Testament and discover how many pregnant women, how many children God orders to be cut into pieces, fed to lions or the like. The reason why hellfire fundamentalists are as hateful as they are might be because they've read these numerous passages... and accepted them. If you were a five-year old unfortunate enough to be born in places like Samaria in the time of the OT God, he would have no qualms about sending in an army to rip you apart as punishment for something that you certainly didn't commit.

God of love? Hardly. Even more frightening and absurd is the doctrine of Hell--infinite punishment for finite crimes. How many decent people do you know who practice a different faith, or who don't subscribe to one at all? Or would God certainly make excuses if you're at least basically good? While that might sound appealing, it would be a denial of one of Jesus' most powerful claims to divnity--that nobody can get to God except through him. Think of all the kind people you've ever met who didn't believe in Jesus suffering for an eternity. Is choosing not to believe in a god because, say, he conflicts with one's moral standards a good enough reason for someone to suffer forever? And what about those people who have never even heard of Jesus?

And there is, as I'm sure you know, an abundance of other reasons why people don't believe in God, whether they once believed in him or not.

If you've already read the Bible, well. Read it again. If not, I suggest a less-biased source of atheistic philosophy for you to read. This documentary seems to have been geared towards people who were either already atheists or were leaning that way. There are plenty of resources for you to choose from, and I hope you'll remain open-minded.

 
At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have read replies to this blog stating that Christians need to become more educated in the history and so called facts regarding their belief.

Following a religion does not mean that you know all the answers to every question thrown at your feet, for example do all Atheists know where the word originated from, I doubt it very much? To claim you know everything about your faith would be like claiming you know everything about God, something I'm sure nobody will lay claim to.

I understand the frustration that people may have with Christians, but remember you can not label each and every one of us the same. I respect other people and their beliefs, it's a personal thing a choice and that to me is what makes God all the more amazing.

I understand the writer of this blog and how he say the love he feels is hard to explain. I too feel this way, but ask those who doubt to examine how they feel towards their loved ones. You feel that feeling when you hold them in your arms and think of them during the day, wishing they were with you right now. To me that is not ninny talk but a man feeling love towards his family and receiving it back, yes the family he would die for. This love is what I feel for God and it is the love I feel many times over coming from him.

God most certainly is a God of love and I am saddened that the person who stated this came to this conclusion through reading the Bible. I understand that it is your decision but must point out that for all the believers out there the complete opposite is true. Remember if you believe in God then you must also understand that as a believer you also know that he created man. Now imagine if you invented something you would want control over it, the rights to it, the money it makes, etc, etc. Now see God who created man and gave him the choice of whether or not he believed in his maker. As he looks upon his creation he has great concerns, not over money but simply out of love.

As Christians we see ourselves as Gods children and as such we make mistakes. Now any loving parent is not just going to say to their precious child "oh it okay darling you stole from the shop dont worry about it" are they? If you created something and saw that it was doing not what you intended would you not be bothered? Free will does not mean that you can just go and do whatever you want to anybody you like, thats why there are laws.

As human beings we look at things from our perspective and dont fully understand the immensity of it all. On earth we see just a tiny proportion of the outcome of things that happen, God on the otherhand sees it all from beginning to end.

As for Christ, he is mentioned in the Old Testament, there is prophesy stating that he would come and he did.

In the end our beliefs are just that and we must respect one another.

 

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