Netflix: Jesus of Nazareth //also at Amazon?
The fate of Christianity is more in the hands of Hollywood than the new atheists. The many films on the life of Jesus (this is one of the better ones, at Netflix, can’t find at Amazon) are a powerful force for belief, for some, but a closer look shows the way these films, I suspect, make people suddenly snap out of settled belief. The reason is not hard to find: a cinema version of a biblical miracle has a very different effect than reading the original biblical text. The power of cinema powerfully affects the viewer who can be swept up into a participatory illusion or longing to be a part of the biblical belief system only to suffer sudden shock at the corniness of the episodes of the miraculous. The latter rarely seem believable and the contrast of cinematic realism with the intended portrayal of the miraculous seeds conscious sudden doubt, or more likely at first, a sense of cinematic detachment in the clash and contrast of modes.
The irony is that these Hollywood movies are probably a powerful force for religious disconbobulation, if not deconversion. The strange irony is that these lives of Jesus, for many (and certainly not for all), would produce far more converts if they simply skipped the miracles. The real kicker is the portrayal of the Resurrection: none of these films can find a way to handle this aspect of the classic saga. In a way the tremendously compelling saga at the source of Christianity is done in by its own excess and the inability of scholarship to really resolve the issues.
It is hard to think of a tale more explosive or with a comparable depth of symbolism (the ‘greatest story ever told’) neutralized by its own obscurities of fact. The real story shines through, to the extent it can survive its wrapper, but is hard-pressed to survive the Hollywood, both the original and California brands.
I think the issue of miracles is thus muddled by the legacy, and the films: the miraculous is really a phenomenon of various types of sufistic gnosticism, and they refer to far more elusive phenomena beside the threshold vulgarity of the Christian brand, obviously created by the later phases of the Church’s crystallization by the Church fathers.
In any case, this issue suggests that the total rejection of religion by the new atheists and secular humanists is really based on the case of Christianity and the release of unconscious rage as they ‘snap out of the movie’.
There is something completely obvious and deep about the core tale which is completely believable without any of the miraculous, and speaks to the appearance of a ‘sufi’ gnostic ‘Incident’ in the collision of Jews and Romans.
The final irony is the way that skepticism correctly applied rejects what could be a far more effective religion if it were critiqued on its own terms, as religion.