Monday, February 22, 2016

Risen: The good, the bad and the ugly

Friday, February 19th, Risen, a big budget movie with an all star cast opened domestically and was second in gross US revenues for the weekend. Depending on one's perspective it is (a) a brilliant retelling of the Easter story; (b) a flawed but compelling historical fiction retelling of the story or (c) nothing but Christian claptrap for the deluded. One thing is clear: Joseph Fiennes gives an Oscar caliber performance as Clavius, a Roman tribune directed by Pontius Pilate to find the body of Jesus which has disappeared from its tomb. Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame is his aide.

Let's dispose of (c) first. It is apparent from some reviews in some of the mainstream press (i.e. the New York Times) that some reviewers will not like Risen because to give Risen any benefit would challenge their world view. The Times reviewer likens it to Monty Python's Life of Bryan.  On the other hand, religiously inclined reviewers may welcome it with open arms as Sr. Rose Pancetta did in the National Catholic Reporter.  

To this reviewer, despite some important and annoying flaws, it is in many ways a triumph. It is of course an historical fiction in that although it is based upon the story as told in Scripture, it goes far beyond the details of Scripture and reports on something that Scripture does not report but is not an unreasonable projection: that when the body of Jesus was reported missing from the tomb both Roman and Jewish authorities would have tried to discover where it was. One piece of projected verisimilitude: the search would have been frantic because one of the concerns was that they find the body before it rotted beyond recognition.

And there is one important break through: two cameo appearances by the shroud of Jesus with an image on it that is obviously the Shroud of Turin. In one brief scene, Clavius is seen inspecting the image and then reaching out to touch it with his hand. The concept that a Roman tribune would have had possession of the shroud is contrary to both scripture and tradition which has Peter discovering the burial cloths in the tomb. Would he have left them lying around for the Romans to take possession?

There is one serious objection this reviewer has to the depiction of Mary Magdalene in the film. When Clavius learns that Mary Magdalene is the one who reported Jesus risen from the dead, he learns she is a prostitute and he goes into the Roman barracks and asks whether any of the soldiers know Mary Magdalene. At least half raise their hands.

The concept of Mary Magdalene as prostitute is disputed by many biblical scholars. Gnostic Christians regarded her as royalty. Some claim she was Christ's wife. While her true position may be clouded by the mists of time, it is doubtful by the time she became a follower of Jesus that she was an active prostitute. It is also doubtful, as some believe, that she fled to France with His son after the crucifixion. Really doubtful.

Scripture provides scant information about Jesus' activities in the forty days between the Resurrection and his claimed ascension into heaven. One of the most detailed is the account of his greeting the apostles from the shore when they were fishing. It is dramatized in Risen.

Christians, non-Christians, agnostics and atheists will find much to debate in the telling of the Resurrection story in Risen. But there is much to enjoy and savor too. Whatever your view of the Scripture story, put aside any skepticism for its hour and a half run time. Enjoy the trip and savor Joseph Fiennes bravura performance. 

His anguish when coping with the Resurrection is the anguish of all humanity. He is us.

Risen Trailer:

This is not a promo for my book "Quantum Christ" but if you are interested:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Legend of the Coventry Raid and 9/11

Some people when they hear the word Coventry will recall the salacious legend of Lady Godiva riding naked through the countryside to protest taxes. However there is another Coventry legend whose truth is also a disputed legend that has relevance to the controversy over the responsibility, or lack thereof, of Ex-President George W. Bush for the success of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001.

That legend is the deliberate decision by Churchill to not reposition RAF squadrons to protect Coventry when he was informed by MK-Ultra code breakers that the Nazis were preparing a massive raid on aircraft production facilities in Coventry in 1940. One of the most closely guarded secrets of World War II was the fact that the British (with help of Polish Ex-Patriots) had broken the most secret German codes and were well-informed of the Nazis plans before they were executed. Should the Nazis have discovered that secret, then they would have been able to alter their codes and the incredible advantage of the MK-Ultra program would have been lost. There is no question that Ultra was an important part of the Allied victory in World War II.

 That's the legend and it is disputed but there is a terrible logic to it. See Then again, many legends which distort, or completely lack truth, can provide lessons.

There is one thing that is not a legend: that from the day of George Bush's inauguration in January 2001, his administration was looking for war with Iraq. There is another fact: that in August 2001, more than a month before 9/11, the CIA sent an official to the Bush ranch in Texas where GWB was vacationing and warned him that some action by Osama bin Laden was imminent. According to the courier Bush said "You've covered your a** and went back to cutting brush." There is no evidence of any attempt by the Bush administration to take any action in light of the warning. In fact, there had been attempts by bin Laden terrorists to hijack planes, one of them in the Philippines had been recently thwarted in 2001. Lax security at Boston's Logan Airport was a necessary component of Al Qaeda's 9/11 plans.

Did the Bush administration ignore the warnings of an imminent attack by Al Qaeda because it was in fact looking for an excuse to go to war with Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein?

You do not have to be either a Democrat or someone addicted to conspiracy theories, to conclude that the Iraqi war launched by the Bush administration was one of the biggest follies of American foreign policy in history. The thousands of fatalities both of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, the tens of thousands of horribly wounded American soldiers who are with us today and the chaotic conditions in the Middle East all date from the Bush administration's Iraqi fiasco.

Donald Trump in Saturday's presidential debate placed blame for our unpreparedness on 9/11 on GWB's shoulders. Trump has made many spectacularly false charges and fanciful proposals. There's an old saying that even a broken clock is right once a day. Trumps charge of Bush's culpability of unpreparedness before for 9/11, is his one time to be right.

This is not a promo for my book "Quantum Christ" but if you are interested: