Relating to Religion and the Arts - Blog Entries
Message Behind the Movie by Douglas M Beaumont is a new book about
"how to engage with a film without disengaging your faith". Beaumont,
who teaches Bible and philosophy at the Southern Evangelical Seminary
in North Carolina USA, has a work that is really three books in one. At
times it's a work of Christian apologetics from a Protestant perspective
(in fact the Protestant sensibility is evident many times). I particularly
liked his outline of how reasonable it is to believe in God and can see
myself using some of that material in school. Secondly there's an ongoing
piece of fiction running through the book as some young adults talk about
faith using various films as starting points. I found this the weakest
point in the book as it's not compelling fiction, and more distracts from
than illustrates the points the author is making. The treatment of faith
and films is the core of the book, and what is said is thought provoking,
though I'd like to see a more in-depth in approach. The films used as
examples are right up to date, and it's good for a change to find a book
considering the moral implications of films, not just their artistic merit.
Particularly useful is the point that even if we consider a film harmless
because it mightn't have an adult rating, it's important also to consider
the values being imparted even if the content seems innocuous enough.
The book also has the feel of a manual, aimed perhaps at the education
market - the exposition is straightforward and there are "Reflection Questions"
at the end of each section. Further, there's a very detailed reference
section at the end which contains lots of interesting side comments.
Shack: This novel by William Paul Young has been a big hit in evangelical
circles, and while I enjoyed parts of it, I have some issues with it.
Without giving too much away, it's about Mack, a man whose daughter Missy
is kidnapped. During his trauma Mack meets God and learns a lot about
himself, about life and about God.
The earlier part of the book, including the kidnapping, is really well
written, as gripping as any thriller, with thoroughly interesting characters.
In the long middle section, where he meets God, the pace slows down dramatically,
to suit that unusual plot development, but I felt it took from the novel
as a novel. In that section it was too much like a theology book, too
much like the author rather unsubtly using the characters to drive home
his own vision of God. I like theology and I like fiction, but theology
thinly veiled as fiction I'm not too keen on.
However I did like the way God is portrayed - the imagery is striking.
God is most definitely portrayed as a Trinity. God the Father is Papa,
no surprises there, but Papa is a kindly female figure - God needs to
approach Mack this way as Mack has had unhappy experiences with his own
father. Jesus is Jesus, another kindly figure who loves Mack and accompanies
him on parts of his journey of discovery. The Holy Spirit is Sarayu, an
ethereal being, hard to pin down, hard to focus on. God is entirely loving,
forgiving and understanding, altogether a pleasantly warm presence. I
particularly liked the bit where God has hung pictures painted by humans
in the Shack - just like any loving parent would hang picture painted
by their young children.
There is an issue with a human writer putting words in God's mouth that
aren't scriptural, and any Christian writer has to proceed with caution.
God has a lot to say in this novel, and at times He's overly dismissive
of religion, and even politics, which grated. Also He's not keen on moral
rules, which I thought was na´ve on the writer's part. Fair enough, some
believers can be too legalistic, and also if we are all perfect, we would
be moral without any need for rules, but we're far from perfect!
The novel falls into the trap of going for spirituality over religion,
which to me suggests of an underlying distaste for the imperfect community
of struggling and flawed believers who make up any religion.
I finished reading an excellent novel - Danny Gospel by American
writer David Athey. It came highly recommended and I wasn't disappointed.
It's a spiritual novel, but the touch is light, and it's not doing any
heavy evangelising. Danny Gospel, the central character, has an interesting
family background - part of a family gospel singing group, but a family
that has known great tragedy. Yet the tragedy is blended with hope, and
while at times the approach seems surreal and mystical there are no pat
solutions. At times it's achingly beautiful and at times achingly painful,
as Danny searches for meaning after the events of 9/11 leave a profound
mark on him. I love books and films where the minor characters are well
developed and this is certainly the case here. I came back every night
to the book as I would to a good thriller, and have just started re-reading
it and am enjoying it all over again, and hoping to make better sense
of what mystified me first time around. It has been well received as the
reviews on Amazon testify, and I'd certainly recommend it to Religious
Education teachers for their own enjoyment and inspiration. Selected passages
might also be useful for senior classes doing "search for meaning".
finished reading The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. It's a Man Booker
prize winner (2002) and is now one of the texts on the Leaving Cert English
course. It's quite a spiritual book, in ways that surprised me, as being
intriguing and innovative from a purely literary point of view. I'm not
sure that I'd use it for the English course as it's long and very complex
and I'm not convinced that my students would take to it, but I could see
myself using quotes and extracts in the RE classes.
The story's central character, Pi Patel, is a young Indian boy who becomes
a castaway after a shipwreck, but this story goes way beyond your typical
castaway story. Pi is a very spiritual boy, and tries to practice a Christian,
a Muslim and a Hindu, at the same time. And yet this is no any-religion-will-do
philosophy, though younger readers might take it that way. It provides
one of the funniest moments in the book when Pi and his parents meet up
with the clergy of these three religions, each of whom claims Pi as a
follower and is taken aback to find he has been following the practices
of the other religions as well.
There is a wry humour throughout the book, but there is also a huge respect
for religion and belief in God. Pi holds to his faith in God through his
trials as a castaway, and when the ordeal is over (it's told in the first
person so I'm not giving anything away here) there is a surprising section
at the end that has a lot to say about belief in God as against other
beliefs. The point seems to be: as there is no absolute proof either way
on the existence of God, isn't the God story the better one to believe