Millions and miracles

Came across two articles on Millions today, via CT’s Weblog.

The Washington Times‘ Scott Galupo suggests that the film — which has been receiving good buzz and even raves from Christian critics — will “split” the audience that made The Passion a hit, because “conservative Protestants” will “find suspect” the film’s Catholic “message of deeds-based charity”. I haven’t a clue what Galupo means by this, as I grew up in a thoroughly evangelical environment — churches, private schools, Bible camps, concerts, the works — and donations to organizations like World Vision and Compassion International were always emphasized in all of those venues. Galupo is on slightly firmer ground when he says, “Evangelical Protestants, who believe all true believers are ‘saints,’ won’t dig the halos on all the capital-S saints,” but even here, I think most evangelicals I’ve known over the years would be happier to see even this form of Christianity affirmed so well on the screen than to see no Christianity at all; quite a few of my devoutly Mennonite relatives were huge fans of The Sound of Music, which is, of course, all about Catholics.

Now, it may be that director Danny Boyle told a reporter, “The film shows that we should have faith in people rather than icons or a particular brand of religion,” and there is certainly evidence in the film to support this sort of universalist outlook — the Mormon neighbours, the apparently Muslim bank teller, etc. So the characters live in a pluralistic culture, just like the rest of us do, fine. But the fact remains that the film is very much grounded in a Christian — and, yes, Catholic — view of the world, and it privileges Catholicism above all other religious perspectives. It is the Christian saints who appear to the boy and who even seem to have some sort of objective reality that others can perceive without realizing it; there are no similar apparitions by any of the Muslim or Mormon angels or prophets. So, to me, this film seems perfectly compatible with an inclusivist but still basically Christ-centred theology, as opposed to a universalist theology that promotes all faiths equally.

The one thing I do quibble with in the film is the scene where St. Peter gives a naturalistic, non-miraculous explanation of the feeding of the 5,000 — which is apparently the scene that most captivates the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Cathleen Falsani. She writes:

The miracle was not some magical multiplication of sardines and pita bread, St. Peter explains. The real miracle was that people in the crowd who had stashed food away for themselves decided to share it with one another. They were prompted to do so by a young boy who gave Jesus a sack of a few fish and a few pieces of bread.

The miracle was the change of people’s selfish hearts.

They were the miracle.

Well, there is certainly something miraculous about a changed heart, or about anything that turns us from self-centredness towards other-centredness and an appreciation of the “image of God” in other people. But to re-interpret the miracle of the bread and fish this way seems off, to me. This miracle happens to be the only one that appears in all four gospels (and in two gospels, it sort-of appears twice, since Mark and Matthew both talk about a feeding of the 4,000 that took place on a separate occasion). And if I’m not mistaken, this miracle was more than a mere act of generosity, whether human or divine; it was a sign of the Messiah’s coming, communicated via his ability to feed his people just as Moses had fed them in the desert many generations ago.

But I guess that understanding of the miracle would be a little too particularly Christian for the sort of film that Danny Boyle was making.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://amywelborn.typepad.com Amy Welborn

    Peter,

    “The Miracle of Sharing” is a particularly irritating meme, but one that has legs. I wrote about it here, but I’ve been told since it goes back further than Barclay. Maybe Voltaire or someone, I’m not sure.


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