Progressive Christian Channel
To Hell and Back: Q&A with Filmmaker Kevin Miller, Part 2
Hellbound?, a provocative new documentary on hell, opens in theatres across the country this week. On the eve of the New York City premiere, we talked with Christian filmmaker Kevin Miller about why he wanted to make a movie about hell, and what kind of discussion he hopes the film inspires. Part 2 of our interview follows. Read Part 1 here.
Hellbound? presents a theological mash-up on the underworld, featuring a line-up of prominent religious leaders and scholars, from the ultra-conservative Mark Driscoll to Brian McLaren, whom some would see as quite liberal. What were you hoping to show by inviting such a variety of opinions on this central Christian belief? And what can we learn from this diversity within the Christian tradition?
On one level, I simply want to expose viewers to the vast diversity of opinion that exists within Christianity; and let me be the first to say the views presented within our film are far from comprehensive, but at least they offer a starting point for further investigation.
I also want to speak to fear-driven Christians as I was for so many years, those who don't even realize they have an option to the dominant view. I want to lay down tracks for those people who aren't comfortable with the traditional doctrine of hell but who aren't willing to throw out Christianity altogether. Or perhaps I should say, we are pulling the tumbleweeds off the tracks, because the tracks have always been there. It's just that a lot of us have forgotten about them.
On another level, I want to challenge people's sense of certainty by introducing them to intelligent, educated, well-meaning people who have come to vastly different conclusions on this issue. We're too quick to write off people who disagree with us by questioning their motives. I want to remind people of the subjective nature of human experience. As Universalist philosopher Thomas Talbott says, "We don't read the Bible as it is, we read the Bible as we are." There is no such thing as a "plain reading" of the Bible -- or any text. We all bring something to the table -- gender, race, psychological disposition, family of origin, economic status, you name it. I don't think it's a problem to have a bias. In fact, it's impossible not to have one. The question is, are we aware of our bias, and are we able to defend it? Having discussed this issue with literally thousands of people over the last couple of years, I find helping people get to this simple realization requires a monumental effort. So I'm hoping Hellbound? can help with that.
As for what we can learn from this diversity, I'm hoping that exposing people to a wide range of opinions will inject a bit of humility into our theological conversations. Right now our theological discussions seem to mirror our political discourse. I see increasing polarization where we come to believe the people who disagree with us aren't just wrong, they're evil. To me, this way of thinking is ultimately dangerous. As Frank Schaeffer says, no one ever ran into an abortion clinic with a bomb strapped to them saying, "I could be wrong!"
So I'm really hoping the film can lower the temperature and get people excited about discussing these issues instead of seeing competing ideas as such a threat.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.