Is the Son of God film heresy or just a bad movie?: Notes from my #SonofOMG live tweet

White Jesus & Me: A Live-Tweet

It was the Greatest Story Ever Sold.

The new Jesus film, Son of God, produced by the husband-and-wife holy duo Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, isn’t really a movie as much as it’s a marketing ploy.

It’s pretty much the same thing folks saw — for free — during the History Channel’s Bible miniseries.

It’s a good reminder that Christianity doesn’t have sacred cows. Just cash cows.

I decided to livetweet the movie last night under the hashtag #sonofOMG (thank you Kristen Howerton). You can read the entire stream on Storify and tune in next week to The Moonshine Jesus Show where I imagine we’ll talk some about it more.

I did all this, though, because I wanted to document my reaction. As an Episcopal priest who makes my life’s work the imperfect sharing God’s love, I take great umbrage with such blatant consumerism and exploitation of Christ.

And the Son of God has consumerism in spades. It is a movie ostensibly to win souls. But it’s really a film to fill its makers’ pockets. The marketing campaign has convinced churches to buy out theaters and flood theaters.Immediately after purchasing my own ticket to the film, I started receiving free promotional offers, including a free download of The Bible‘s first episode from the History Channel.

Jesus might be bread of life in this film, but only because those peddling his wares are rolling in dough.

But even though there a few things to commend in the film, this morning, I’m wondering whether Son of God is actually modern heresy.

Because it portrays Jesus as less than fully human.

He floats above the morass and hardships of the Palestinians, who, at the time, were oppressed and occupied by the Roman Empire. Even when angry he seems like he’s on so high a dosage of Xanax as to be sedated. This portrayal of Jesus borders on Docetism, in which Jesus’ human form is merely an illusion.

The power of the Incarnation, though, is that God comes to experience what it means to be human in all its brutality and in all its ugliness.

And if there’s one thing Jesus is not in this film, it’s ugly.

He’s downright hot.

And European.

And sporting something like a British accent.

And he’s even in a boat!

But the film’s problems don’t end with its portrayal of Jesus. Take Jesus’ mother, Mary.

After what must have been a rigorous casting search for just the right actress, the film’s producer Roma Downey was cast herself as the mother of Jesus. God works in mysterious ways, I suppose.

If that’s wasn’t bad enough, the film then proceeds to insert Downey — er, Mary —  awkwardly and annoyingly into the crucifixion scenes. It is the height of narcissism, not unlike Mel Gibson hammering the nails into Jim Caviezel’s Jesus in Passion of the Christ.

Apparently, filmmakers cannot resist the lure of making the crucifixion all about themselves.

And, then, there’s the really flawed Eucharistic theology, in which Jesus is constantly painted as leaving people at meal times. There is only one feeding of the multitudes story in which Jesus leaves the crowd for a solitary place because he feared being crowned king, but scores in which the hunger of the crowds and his compassion causes him to stick around and come out of solitude. This scene, coupled with the depiction of the Last Supper, paints Jesus as one who abandons the hungry and distraught. In other words, Jesus isn’t so much the Christ as he is a lone wolf.

In the Last Supper, there’s this powerful and touching moment when Jesus offers communion to Judas at the Last Supper, but then the filmmakers mar the beauty of the symbolism by having Judas vomit up the bread. But most problematic is when Jesus gets up and leaves the disciples at table after his betrayal. It makes Jesus the worst presider of a Eucharist ever.

Not only that, but at the first Eucharist post-resurrection, Peter sloppily pours wine and shares bread as if it is some magical conjuring spell to summon Jesus into their presence. In a moment, the Eucharist becomes a parodic version of the Bat signal shining in the sky.

But what can we expect.

The Eucharist is a ritual of sharing and of giving, of equality and of love. Son of God, on the other hand, is a film of taking and of exploiting, of money and of marketing.

Should you go see Son of God ? No. Not at all. Don’t waste your money. If you must, just watch the History channel series. Or better yet, read the books. No, not that book — the rewriting  remarketing of the Bible as The Story of God and All of Us by Roma Downey.  The actual books.

You know, the Gospels. One of the greatest stories ever told. But, be warned. They aren’t for sale.

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Bill Grant

    My question is this….Christ spoke against divorce at length, but Roma Downey has been married three times/divorced twice, so isn’t her being Mary kind of a conflict of interest?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      I’d say Jesus spoke against the exploitation of women through the means of divorce more than he spoke against divorce, period. I think there’s enough criticism to be had in the film without delving into her personal life.

    • foofoo01

      while I’m sure Roma’s acting/directing is fair game to call into question, I think your post is lowest common denominator rude. I can’t stand the free range rude. Your goat herd friends wait.

  • SonjaFaithLund

    All I knew about this movie, I saw from a Spanish-language trailer. Why Spanish? I dunno! But the second I saw that Jesus was white and everyone else was semitic, I was just like “Nope nope nope nope nope”

    Thanks for this awesome smackdown.

  • Katie Doyle

    The trailer I saw made Jesus look as if he had just left the runway after a particularly draining fashion show. He’s all facial angles and planes, just right for the camera, but absolutely nothing like a Palestinian.

  • Ellen Lincourt

    Oh good gosh… Can we stop with the splitting of Christ. So, you don’t like the movie. Yep, got it. But you know if this movie can move a few people to inquire more deeply about Christ, who are we to complain. What about the magician who was casting out demons in the name of Christ. Can we just stop complaining about everyone else and just focus on the work God has put before us.

    • Bart Baker

      The work of “God” is the real point, and has nothing to do with what religions do battling for our attention.

    • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

      A fair question to ask is what kind of Christ are we presenting? It’s more than fair to criticize yet another White aloof Jesus who doesn’t seem to be incarnated at all but rather another consumptive product.

    • David

      Perhaps a well-made movie could have moved MORE people to inquire more deeply about Christ. Why do Christians always seem content with accepting table scraps when Christ offers us a wedding feast?

    • Kyle McComb

      Do you really think many non-Christians are going to go see this movie? Do you think this movie is going to convince anyone of anything? For that matter, what would Christians get out of it? A commercialized retelling of a story they already know?

    • Guest

      Their target audience is definitely for Christians. They’ve been sending promotional literature to churches and asking churches to fill theater chairs.

  • Nic Valle

    Another huckster flocking the sheep. Suckers!

  • xbj

    RIPPED OFF BY AN ANGEL

    It’s both heresy AND atrocious. Nothing more than pandering to the “Fox News” “Brad Pitt” as fake jesus crowd. It’s a real pity that anyone involved with what was a fairly good TV show would stoop to such lows to make their monthly nut. Times are REAL tough in post-Survivorland, apparently.

    And a COMPLETE ripoff to boot. Most of it was already seen for free on TV. How STUPID do they think christianists are? They’re duped all right, but not ALL are IDIOTS.

    Hey. But I heard in a desperate attempt to win over REAL Christians, they removed the “Obama-as-Satan” footage.

    “Come one, come all!! Greatest show on earth!! Step right up folks!!”

    SICKENING.

    • R Vogel

      Given the initial numbers, pretty stupid…..

      • xbj

        Never underestimate the rank stupidity of militant christianists.

      • R Vogel

        I’d hate to narrow it down to just christians – stupidity, in my experience, is kind of a human thing, or a human group thing anyway….

      • xbj

        I didn’t. Militant christianism and their dupe christianists have absolutely nothing to do with Christians or Christianity. It’s long past time to draw the necessary distinctions. This film is by duped christianists pandering to and ripping off others.

      • R Vogel

        Ah, I see it now. I apologize I was reading too fast.

      • xbj

        No prob! Thanks for the comments!

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    So…. you didn’t like it?

  • Jackie Heaton

    Casting a woman over fifty, now there’s a miracle. :-P

    • kimc

      Mary would have been about 48 when Jesus died?

      • Benjamín Joel Fleet

        Many theologians believe that Mary was as young as 9 at Jesus’ birth and Joseph as old as 60 or 70. The ages are just modified to fit what our culture deems appropriate.

      • http://leftcheek.wordpress.com/ Jasdye

        9? Who? What?

      • JoFro

        Many theologians? What? 9?

        Heck, are you confusing Aisha and the Virgin Mary together?

      • JohnH2

        Mary was at least 12, and given the engagement was almost certainly at least 14 when Jesus was born, the more traditional 15 is highly probable.

        Joseph was almost certainly over 30.

        The tradition of having Mary be ever virgin and James be the brother of Jesus required that Joseph have had a prior marriage; Non-canonical sources give various names for her and the Lord’s sisters. So tradition had Joseph being 90 at the time of Jesus’s birth, and him dying 18 years (an auspicious number) later at 108 (also auspicious). Regardless Joseph was alive when Jesus was 12 and dead by the time Jesus was 29-30.

        If we drop the requirement for Mary to be ever virgin then the requirement of Joseph being a widower goes away, so 30-40 would be most likely. Of course, him being dead less than 30 years later is slightly odder, but doesn’t strain credibility at all.

      • Andrew Dowling

        “Many theologians believe that Mary was as young as 9 at Jesus’ birth and Joseph as old as 60 or 70.”

        LOL . . and this is based on . . . .oh yeah, nothing. But yes some theologians do show creative minds at times.

  • Hershel

    I’m reminded of an incident when Jesus sent his disciples on a mission. They came back and reported, among other things, they encountered some people preaching in Jesus’ name and they were not part of their group. Therefore, they said, we told them to stop. Jesus rather gently rebuked them and told them to not do that, but to welcome those who would preach his message. That’s the hardest thing I feel has been expected of me, to exercise some level of tolerance for these people, such as Downey, Robertson, Falwell, Olsteen, etc, who I consider are basically hucksters and their message of Jesus is only incidental to their overall theme. I would love to have some help with this.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      I’m more reminded of the guy in Acts who wanted to purchase the Holy Spirit. But I take your point.

    • Robert

      “Hucksters”? This is an interesting comment. Will you share your recommended way of sharing the love of Christ? It is difficult to interpret Henson’s critical review as one who believes Christ as Savior. Who do you say Christ is?

  • FritzCanuck

    “As an Episcopal priest who makes my life’s work the imperfect sharing
    God’s love, I take great umbrage with . . .
    exploitation of Christ.” What do you think you’re doing? lol. I was at a wedding last weekend and the priest (it was a Catholic wedding) said that it was the task of the newlyweds to ‘make’ the marriage because it would take an act of ‘magic’ for him to do it, and the Church doesn’t do magic. Wtf is the business that religions think they’re in? Changing unleavened wafers and wine into flesh and blood sure sounds like magic to me.
    Nobody would come and see you people and listen to your bs if you didn’t have a tortured deity as your version of the Michelin Man bringing in the crowds and revenues.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Even more importantl than asking ourselves how Jesus became white, we must ask ourselves how The Holy Spirit became such a close approximation of a jealous, vengeful pagan god?

  • Mike McNeil

    As a former art history major, might I point out that mediocre (or just plain bad) Christian art is nearly as old as the faith itself. It’s sad to see another movie that falls into this category, though I agree with the poster who noted that if it moves even one person in Christ’s direction it has merit… at least for that person!

    For those who find this latest Westernized film too bland, try this one:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058715/

    For many who’ve seen it, one of the most compelling versions of the Gospel.

    • Neil McCrea

      Passolini’s film is amazing! For some reason, I find it even more poignant because it came from a gay, communist struggling with his atheism. If one is to watch a cinematic treatment of the Gospel, that is the one to choose.

  • JGB

    Someone was calling the people in the movie “Palestinians”. Palestinians, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Like David and Solomon? Like Isaiah and Malachi? Huh? During Jesus’ day, the land was called Judea or Israel. It was renamed Palestine in the 2nd century C.E. when Hadrian wanted to erase Jewish history, so he called Judea “Palestine” as an act of hatred, reminding the Jews of their former persecutors, the Philistines. Incidentally, modern Palestinians are mostly Jordanian. They were offered their own homeland during the time of the Balfour declaration and the deal was flatly refused. God swore the land was to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as an irrevocable inheritance. If someone takes issue with that, the issue is not with the Jews, it is with the God of the bible.

    • JoFro

      This was exactly my point too! Heck, people who call the Roman Province of Judea, Palestine and its Jewish inhabitants, Palestinians, should, to be consistent, with their anti-historical outlook, call Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina, as Hadrian called it! But for some reason, they never do! Funny that, huh?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      The term Palestine is documented as early as the fifth century B.C.E. Incidentally, modern Palestinians do not consider themselves Jordanian, but Palestinian. Colonialism has often been given a divine stamp of approval. It’s often led to some rather un-divine behavior.

    • charlie hustle

      Ugh. There’s one at every party

    • Paul D.

      “During Jesus’ day, the land was called Judea or Israel.”

      The tetrarchy of Galilee was certainly not called Judea in Jesus’ day.

  • JGB

    And why does the Jesus of this movie omit key things? Like when the bread and the wine are presented as his body and blood, why is it omitted that they were broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins? And why, when it is repeated ad nauseum that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is it not once completed with, “No man comes to the Father but by me”? We have a Jesus who not once deals with the reason He came– to die in our places in order to pay for our sins. We have cosmic, cool, rainbow Jesus that I don’t recognize except as a hippie caricature. He was the sacrifice for sin. A movie about Jesus that omits the reason the Son of God gave Himself to mankind? Bummer.

  • blackdreamhunk

    really nice article i agree 100%

  • Ricardo L. Walker

    Knowing you will be judged for every idle word, and knowing supposedly only God can judge the hearts of His people,…who can you be so callous and well… ungracious in you assumptions of the motives of the producers. I personally heard them speak at length about the movie and the mini-series. Even if they created mediocre art, which anyone has the right to state, a fellow believer OUGHT NOT b so quick to assume evil motives of people who have been vocal about wanting to glorify God and His word. Judge the art but when you judge the heart you only show that you aren’t REALLY that grateful for the immense grace YOU received if your first reflex isn’t to show you brothers and sisters the same Grace.

    • TJ

      I pray it will transform hearts and that the producers will give offerings to God’s kingdom. It is not for me to judge either.

    • Andrew Dowling

      If it’s all for the glory of God, and the Burnett’s are already extremely wealthy, they could show the movie for $1.

  • Nils R. Bull Young

    Nice points. (I wondered for a moment if Roma Downey were not of the same clan Downey clan that make “Greaser’s Palace,” another Jesus & the peeps movie.)
    . . . If the poor are missing, it’s ’cause, by present conservative thinking, the poor are there by choice & deserve nothing. Not even a crust of bread falls off the table.
    . . . Movie versions of religious myth are always born of narcissism. Even if the gospels themselves seem to read more as a morality play than a message from our favorite imaginary friend.
    . . . I keep waiting for someone to produce a cage match between Mithras, Jesus, Isis & any number of other hero/savior-resurrection & redemption myths.
    . . . Of course, as a disbeliever, I am pretty sure no one will ever have the guts to challenge on screen the authority of an extended Bronze Age mythos that likely goes back to the late Neolithic. Six million years of human evolution and this is the best we can do? Great. I’ll go watch “World’s Dumbest.” It’s got real people.

  • bohunk

    I think many people behind the movie and many who watch it in earnest, are part of the old Moral Majority (which never was a majority) and adhere to images rather than true faith or love. Images of Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments, images of Paul Newman in The Robe, Images in The Greatest Story Ever Told. But those are very improbable scenarios, and background music, that are depicted. It is apparent that Jesus would not be white, would look very Jewish, Palestinian or Mid-Eastern, and would have great antagonism toward Rome, their occupation, and those of the Jewish faith who caved to, and profited from, Rome’s demands, for whatever right or wrong reasons.
    I like the way you lend common sense and reality to this theme David. As a practicing Catholic, newly renewed with Pope Francis, I find this refreshing.
    Thank you.

    • jeste

      Paul Newman=Silver Chalice, Richard Burton=The Robe

  • patricia finkral

    I have not seen the movie; only heard and read about it. I had just told my husband that I would not go see it because it reminded me a little too much of why Jesus started flipping tables. But yet I loved the Passion of the Christ? I’m not sure why I feel like this but I do.

  • JoFro

    “He floats above the morass and hardships of the Palestinians”

    Talk about politically correct B.S.! What Palestinians, Mr Henson?

    You mean the Roman province of Judea, where the Jews lived?

    It wasn’t re-named Palestine – Syria Palaestina – until about 70 years after Jesus was crucified!

    If you’re gonna call its inhabitants Palestinians and the region Palestine, why not call Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina, as well?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      Fifth-century B.C.E., actually, not 70 years after the crucifixion. There terms origins are very much debated. It’s a shorthand to refer to people who are indigenous to a land that has been occupied by Empires for millenia.

      • JoFro

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aelia_Capitolina

        “This Bar Kokhba revolt, which the Romans managed to suppress, enraged Hadrian, and he came to be determined to erase Judaism from the province. Circumcision was forbidden, IUDAEA PROVINCE WAS RENAMED SYRIA PALAESTINA and Jews (formally all circumcised men) were banned from entering the city on pain of death.”

        Please let me know when in 5 B.C., the people of Iudaea province were referred to as Palestinians or the region as Palestine by the Romans.

        All I can see is the former Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom being split up into Galilee, Samaria and Judea by a Roman Republic leader of Syria but the region is never referred to as Palestine until Hadrian’s decree!

      • R Vogel

        Since we’re using Wikipedia:

        The first clear use of the term Palestine to refer to the entire area between Phoenicia and Egypt was in 5th century BC Ancient Greece.[8] Herodotus wrote of a ‘district of Syria, called Palaistinê” in The Histories, the first historical work clearly defining the region, which included the Judean mountains and theJordan Rift Valley.[9][10][11][12] and formed part of the 5th Persian satrapy (νομός).[13] Approximately a century later, Aristotle used a similar definition inMeteorology, writing “Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake (λίμνη) in Palestine, such that if you bind a man or beast and throw it in it floats and does not sink, this would bear out what we have said. They say that this lake is so bitter and salt that no fish live in it and that if you soak clothes in it and shake them it cleans them,” understood by scholars to be a reference to the Dead Sea.[14] Later writers such as Polemon, and Pausanias also used the term to refer to the same region. This usage was followed by Roman writers such as Ovid, Tibullus, Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder,[15] Statius, as well as Roman-era Greek writers such as Plutarch, Dio Chrysostom and Roman-era Judean writers such as Philo of Alexandria[16] and Josephus.[17] Other writers, such as Strabo, a prominent Roman-era Greek geographer, referred to the region as Coele-Syria around 10–20 CE.[18][19]

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine

      • JoFro

        Thanks for that! I was trying to find sources as to where the region has been called Palestine before.

        The question is though – if the area was already called Palestine by other people previously, why did the Romans, when taking over the land, called it the Iudean (Judean) province?

        And why did Emperor Hadrian change the name of the land to Palestine as an insult to the Jews, if the land was already referred to as Palestine previously?

        Or was it the Greeks and the Romans and perhaps only the Hellinized Jews that were known to refer to the region as Palestine but not the locals who lived there, who continued to refer to it as Judea, Samaria and Galilee?

        This could make sense as the Palestinians were the Philistines, who historically speaking, were close relations of the Greeks and had settled in the region during the supposed Sea People’s invasions that hit Egypt around 1175BC.

        What is your view?

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

        Let’s stick to the topic of the post itself. We’ve established the earliest dates of the term Palestine. If you’d like to discuss the finer points of that word’s etymology, I would encourage you to find a forum dedicated to that.

  • charlie hustle

    ALL PRAISE WHITE REPUBLICAN JESUS. HE’S AGAINST FOODSTAMPS AND FOR PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS.

  • Red_Ruffensor

    I’m wondering if they managed to squeeze in any product placements.

  • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

    The purpose of a flock is to produce wealth for the hierarchy over the flock. It’s why Jesus said not to be a part of a hierarchy. Jesus was expressly egalitarian, the opposite of hierarchical.

    • Call no man your patre/patron/pastor/boss on the Earth. ~Jesus

    • Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. ~Jesus

    And biological evolution proves Jesus correct in his teaching; we humans are one of the most unique egalitarian of social animals on the planet.

    • Christopher Boehm (1999) Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University Press.

  • Johnny Davis

    “As a priest I should make it my goal to tear down, denigrate and stigmatize any effort of doing ministry that disagrees in any way with my Episcopalian views, and then blast others for doing the same.” – David Henson

  • Donovan Shaw

    The real Jesus probably looked more like Osama Bin Laden with bad teeth than that guy.

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