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FIRST-PERSON: Hollywood still doesn’t get it

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Evangelicals have tried for years to convince Hollywood it is more profitable to make decent movies for normal people than to grind out the gratuitous sex and violence that only sucks society deeper into the sewer. Mel Gibson finally got their attention when his “Passion of the Christ” grossed almost $612 million worldwide — more than 20 times his original investment.

The light dawned for Tinseltown’s luminaries: “Ah, there’s money to be made in movies for Christians!”

But what they have given us is proof that Hollywood’s bigshots understand virtually nothing about authentic Christianity –- or even about the Bible. NBC, for example, recently gave us “Revelations” — an end-times fantasy that didn’t even get the Bible book’s name right.

Now Fox Studios gives us “Kingdom of Heaven” –- a $110 million epic by Academy Award-winning director Ridley Scott, who deserves credit for an engrossing story well told. The sex and violence are more restrained than usual. The sets and costuming are lavish. The cinematography is stunning.

But not as stunning as the movie’s stereotyping and naiveté.

The film’s website describes Kingdom of Heaven as “an epic adventure about a common man (Orlando Bloom) who finds himself thrust into a decades-long war. A stranger in a strange land, he serves a doomed king, falls in love with an exotic and forbidden queen, and rises to knighthood. Ultimately, he must protect the people of Jerusalem from overwhelming forces –- while striving to keep a fragile peace.”

The movie is, at one level, a morality play about corrupt religion in the service of greed. Religious bad guys are everywhere: self-aggrandizing power-grabbers, priests who validate evil as God’s will, commanders who revel in satisfying their blood lust with God’s approval.

Kingdom of Heaven is set in the 12th century, after the Second Crusade. The plotline: A Christian force holds Jerusalem, but a massive army is being assembled by Saladin, the legendary Muslim sultan who united Egypt, Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Palestine. An evil “Christian” gains Jerusalem’s throne and, with the approval of his priests, provokes war by killing Saladin’s sister. The sultan’s forces annihilate the Crusaders and lay siege to Jerusalem, whose residents are delivered only because Bloom’s character, the honorable Balian, negotiates a surrender to Saladin.

The movie’s naiveté is seen in its portrayal of Islam, which has advanced by the sword from its inception in AD 622 until today. Scott, however, is careful to portray Saladin as reasonable and humane. The director apparently told one reporter: “The characters portrayed in the film are so important in Muslim culture that I knew we had to do it absolutely properly and correctly.”

Apparently the Christian characters were so unimportant that Scott was free of that necessity.

Scott also reportedly said: “Saladin fights battles, but he also enters into dialogue. We want to show that dialogue can be much better than war.” No argument there -– unless your dialogue happens to be with Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Islam’s foreign policy has always been one of conquest, even in “moderate” circles. As honorable a man as Saladin might have been, the movie is naïve in setting him as the symbolic Islamic counterpoint to evil “Christian” priests and warmongers.

And therein lies the stereotype. Kingdom of Heaven’s hero, Balian, is a man of integrity willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of weak and powerless people. He also is a man “outside God’s grace” because he killed the (evil) priest who ordered his wife beheaded after she committed suicide. The film is utterly lacking an admirable character who practices the Christian religion. While the film deserves credit for recognizing the depravity of false religion, it is ignorant of Christian religion “pure and undefiled” (James 1:27).

Kingdom of Heaven is the sort of movie that might be made by someone who was a teenager in the ’60s, someone who rebelled against his parents’ religion because it said he shouldn’t do all the wild things he wanted to do, who rejected the externals of religion without ever understanding its heart. It preaches a simpleminded, John-Lennon gospel that imagines humanity better off without religion. It advises us to trust the innate goodness of heroes who, of course, will be found among the ranks of those persecuted by Christian people.

I must mention one other point in the movie’s favor: In Kingdom of Heaven, “Christianity,” as depicted by Scott, isn’t the only evil religion. Perhaps for the sake of consistency (the hobgoblin of small minds, as they say), the honorable Saladin is portrayed as not being a particularly religious Muslim, and one of his eager commanders uses the same “God wills it” excuse that the “Christians” use for making war. I doubt the Council on American-Islamic Relations noticed that before they praised the film as “a balanced and positive depiction of Islamic culture during the Crusades.”

Kingdom of Heaven opens May 6. It’s not a movie worth seeing, but neither is it a movie worth protesting. It will be enough that Hollywood loses another large sack of money because it produced another unworthy film.
Mark Kelly is the author of “Proof Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The end of Christian apologetics,” available only at kainospress.com.

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