Hollywood vs. The Vatican

Angels & Demons” opens in theaters everywhere today. Remember: it’s just a movie. Movies are released every week. Movies have been released every week for decades. This is nothing new. Yet, some people are freaking out. So what’s the big deal? The Vatican seems there’s something horrible going on.

The Catholic Church and its Protestant brethren have many differences, but they share one thing in common: their perpetual paranoia about being under attack. Three years ago the film version of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” opened to controversy over accusations of attacking the Catholic Church and fabricating facts about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The book garnered controversy of its own, but Ron Howard’s 2006 film made such criticism more centralized.

It’s true that the factual accuracy of Dan Brown’s novels should come into question. Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings do not reveal secrets about Jesus’ past. Even if they do, there is little reason to believe the truthfulness behind any such thing. Brown is a novelist. He writes to entertain. He actually does not believe the things he writes about. He himself is a Christian who writes these books to stir public debate about religion. Guess what? It worked.

Yet the Vatican and Christians of all denominations everywhere are not so calm. Catholic leaders asked for Christians to boycott “The Da Vinci Code” and raise awareness about the truth of Jesus’ life. How many Christians actually took their advice is unknown to me. I would guess most believers brushed it off or even went as far as to see the movie.

I was one of them. I saw it and thought it was okay. The film opened to lukewarm reviews. Critics said it was entertaining but not great. I would agree. If a movie were to make people turn away from the church, it should be at least be a great film. Average movies don’t create large scale social change.

There were pastors who believed the release of the movie would turn Christians away from church. They feared people will start to doubt the truthfulness of the Gospels and become atheists over night. The pastor at the church I attend in Spokane was one of those pastors. He preached an entire sermon about how we need to brace ourselves for a massive exodus of the American church. That was three years ago. The church is still alive. Guess he was wrong.

But this is not a new phenomenon. Christians are always paranoid that their faith is being attacked. It must have all started with the rise of the “Christian Right” during the 1980s. Becoming a large political force makes you paranoid. Just ask Richard Nixon, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove. Then talk to Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter. They will all tell you their good old fashioned way of life is currently under attack from godless socialist atheistic pornographic heroin addicts. What about liberals? Same thing.

Face it: the church is not being under attack here. “Angels & Demons” will do no further damage to the Catholic Church than the pedophile priest scandals that have surfaced over the years. If anything makes the church look bad, it’s their protests and whining. Face reality and admit that movies are not going to destroy Christianity as we know it. If anything, just like what Dan Brown wants, these films will make people talk about religion instead of shunning it.

The Western church has not been openly persecuted since the European religious wars of the 17th century. Even then, it was the church persecuting the church. Remember the days of Emperor Nero and the Roman Empire? Oh wait, none of us were born yet. Regardless, that was true persecution. Apostle Paul might have been killed under Nero. Even Mary Tudor, the English monarch known in Protestant circles as “Bloody Mary,” killed an estimated 300 people. Relatively speaking, that’s not that much.

So what Christians need to realize is that a faith that is a little less than 2,000 years old should not worry about anything Hollywood will throw at them. They are small beans compared to other threats like Christian fundamentalism and religious-political ideology. Even radical Islam poses a greater threat to the global church than Tom Hanks.

Maybe Christians are working on the assumption that the world is against them. After all, the world was against Christ, weren’t they? They executed him and oppressed the early Christians, so that must spill over into the 21st century, right? To a certain degree it might, but let’s not jump to conclusions and say the church is on its deathbed right now. And if it is, just ask Congress for a bailout. They might get it.

Paranoia makes you forget about the things that we should really be afraid of. What about the increasingly militant political stance conservative American Christians are taking? Saying Jesus would support legalizing assault weapons and banning same-sex marriage should worry us more than anything else. Perhaps we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Speaking of which, if I have read my Bible correctly, aren’t there always angels telling people to “not be afraid?” Do not be afraid. That’s a good piece of advice. Jesus was not afraid when he faced the Sanhedrin. Nor was he afraid when he faced the Roman soldiers who were about to flog him. He was a bit scared when he confronted God about his pending crucifixion, but being afraid of God is quite another thing. Fearing the things on earth is a choice.

So please, don’t go protesting “Angels & Demons.” There are better things to do with your time. Adopt a puppy. Stop and smell the roses. Sit outside and soak up the sun. Doodle. Play “Halo 3” with your drunk college friends. There are a million better things to do other than protesting a movie premier.

Besides, for all you know, the reviews might be lukewarm again. You might be protesting another stinker. How embarrassing would that be?

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