Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Good vs. Evil & Jesus

Earlier this year I went to Universal Studio's Island of Adventure theme park...a park that I'd classify as one that tries to cater to an older audience then Disney World, with more thrilling rides, and scenes that play off darker themes.

In fact, because many of the rides are trying to incorporate film themes, it suddenly became redundant in how ride after ride there was the striking theme of Good vs. Evil, which was certainly overplayed.

This theme appeared in The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barge, Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls, Poseidon's Fury, and The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad Stunt Show.

Of course, Good vs. Evil is an easy theme to play off of, and comic books and cartoons can easily divide people into good guys and bad guys.

And yet, we know life isn't that easy, in fact so many movies thrive off presenting the gray zones that are a part of life.

Yet, during a "ride" like Poseidon's Fury dealing with mythological themes that are far more remnant of Star Wars Episode I than any Greek mythology I've studied, there were certainly feeling and thoughts of spiritual overtones.

Yet, I think one of the worst misrepresentations of Jesus is that in a world of Good vs. Evil, that Jesus looks like Spider-Man, Popeye, Poseidon, Sinbad, or any of these other characters fighting off evil.

While many films and books have characters deemed Christ-figures, they are usually identified as Christ-like in the fact that they make an ultimate sacrifice of themselves as a redemption of others (think Aslan, or Lord of the Rings,The Matrix, or Lord of the Flies).

Yet, one of the things that astounds me about Jesus is that "sinners" where generally attracted to Jesus, while "the righteous" were generally unhappy with what Jesus did and said.

I recently listed to a sermon by Andy Stanley of Northpoint Community Church called "Follow" (which can be listened to or viewed here, originally preached 9/30/07). In this Sermon, Andy Stanley does an excellent job talking about the call of the disciple Matthew who was a tax collector, which in Biblical times made someone considered very dishonorable and unrighteous. And yet, Jesus chose and asked Matthew to follow him and become his disciple.

And not just that, people were attracted to Jesus. They wanted to be around him, they wanted to listen to him.

Yet, it was the religious leaders who were angered at Jesus. It was the religious leaders, the keepers of the law that Jesus was criticized by, and criticized.

When the Pharisees criticized Jesus for eating with "tax collectors and sinners," Jesus' response was "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." (Matthew 9:12).

Although Jesus was good he associated with those who were considered bad and made them his own. On the other hand he ostracized those who were considered good and called them evil.

As much as I have tried, I can not think of any character in film that has had a parallel relationship to Jesus with regards to good and evil.

Who in film is considered Righteous, perfect and good. Yet at the same time is adored, followed, and respected by those who are considered evil?

When characters are good, they are typically attacked by the evil and/or unable to be a part of society (take Spider-Man or any other superhero as an example, or Richie Roberts in the recent film American Gangster). Or other times when characters are good (take Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Carribean or the Iron Giant) we see that at times, they can be pushed to do evil and enter a grey (as discussed earlier here).

I think this complicated nature and uniqueness of Jesus, is really part of what makes Jesus unique and wonderful. Jesus' divine ability to show grace and mercy in the midst of our own evilness is beautiful and draws us towards him. Also his justice and truth makes him critical towards those who pretend to be like Jesus but miss the beauty and heart of Christ.

I'm challenged by Jesus' Seven Woes in Matthew 23. Jesus' strong language like: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." If you read Matthew 23 you will not wonder how these people could have hated Christ and had him killed.

There is no person more complex and yet so simple as Jesus. He doesn't fit into our standard paradigm's of Good and Evil.

They could not adequately make a thrilling Jesus ride for a park like Universal Studios. Jesus' would be attacking the righteous, and he wouldn't be running from or trying to capture evil people, instead he would be embracing them, loving them, and showing them a way to truly know Him.

This post is my official contribution to the Film+Faith blog-a-thon hosted here on StrangeCulture.

(the picture at left is titled Saint Matthew and was painted by Spanish painter Jusepe de Rivera, and is part of the perminent collection at the
Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas)


Anonymous said...

"Who in film is considered Righteous, perfect and good. Yet at the same time is adored, followed, and respected by those who are considered evil?"

Ummm ... Jesus?

I don't mean to be glib, but Jesus has shown up frequently in film.

There are obvious differences, but Oskar Schindler (the movie character) fits your definition pretty well. He is righteous and good (though imperfect), and at the same time is adored, followed, and respected by the evil Nazis, with whom he consorts. He also saves the Jews, as the Messiah does.

Fox said...

The first person that came to mind after reading your post was Stephen Chow's leading roles in "Shaolin Soccer" and "Kung-Fu Hustle".

Although I think he's a Buddhist in real life, Chow's character comes off as very compassionate to the rejected, poor, downtrodden people in life.

BUT... then again, he fights evil... so I don't know... I'll have to think on it some more.

Interesting post!

Dad said...

You obviously haven't seen the movie Joshua. There's this guy that comes to town and lives in a barn and sculpts wood. He's a carpenter. He befriends all the people that the town people don't like. The local priest doesn't like him. So, he's kinda similar to Jesus. In fact, I think he even does miracles and brings a guy back to life. And doesn't Joshua mean "God is our salvation"? Hey, wait a minute...

Heather said...

What a great, thought-provoking post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, so I can go mull over some of my own. :)

nate said...

The dualism You speak of is very present in John's writing, perhaps due to a qumranic influence. The other gospels seem to have a dualism between two ages, but Johns dualism is between two worlds, one above, one below. (think John 1:1ff--the light outshines the darkness).

This world is evil, with Belial as its ruler (16:11) which is why Jesus had to come as the light of this world (11:9), and when his mission is accomplished, he must leave (13:1).

So maybe John best portrays the Hollywood Savior (vice versa), but you are right...The true children of God (israel), had been perverted by darkness...IE, the second public display of Jesus in John is the "cleansing of the temple" (Mark's chronology places this at the end Jesus' ministry).

You used the word "considered" in describing the good and the evil, which is apt...the Samaritians were "considered" evil (but weren't) and the money changers who had set up shop in the court of the Gentiles in John were "considered" good (but weren't).

RC said...

@ culture snob, you're right Jesus has appeared frequently in film...at day 3 of 3 of the blog-a-thon, i'm surprised that has not been the topic of any post.

But excellent call on Oscar Schindler. I think that is the best comparison that has come up!

@fox, i actually haven't seen either of those Chow movies...perhaps i should check them out.

@bennett...i have seen Joshua. I thought the movie was horrible...although I do recommend reading the book...it does capture a lot of those interesting ideas about Jesus.

@nate, thanks for sharing your thoughts & the supporting scripture. That's interesting to think of hollywood's portrayl of Jesus as a book of John Jesus.