“Shall we not go on in so great a cause?”

“Shall we not go on in so great a cause?” March 23, 2024


Utah's Capitol Building
The Utah State Capitol Building (Wikimedia Commons pubic domain image)

News from along the frontier of religious liberty:

National Catholic Reporter:  “Wisconsin Supreme Court makes bad law in religious liberty case”

Christianity Today:  “Must Social Service Providers Nix Their Faith to Receive Federal Funds?  Rather than follow the equal protections secured in Supreme Court decisions, the Biden administration opted for a complicated and soul-killing alternative.”

Christianity Today:  “Nigeria’s Christian Repression Continues”

National Review:  “How Utah Has Turned Religious Freedom from a Controversy to a Consensus: Utah leads the way in averting religious-freedom conflicts through consensus protections.”

Rainbow flag
Change you can believe in.

News from the gender frontier:

The Daily Signal:  “Unpacking the Gen Z LGBTQ Numbers”

The College Fix:  “This college belongs to the Catholic Church’: Alumni, students fight for authenticity”

Risen, the movie
The promotional poster for “Risen,” a film about the resurrection of Christ that I rather liked but that, I think, relatively few people saw. It would, I think, be entirely appropriate for Easter week.

“Holy Week,” in case you missed the news, begins tomorrow, Sunday, 24 March 20-23.

Deseret News:  “How the Church of Jesus Christ’s history with Holy Week has changed in recent years: The terms “Easter,” “Palm Sunday” and “Holy Week” were not commonly used among early Latter-day Saints. Palm Sunday and Holy Week remained uncommon terms until, well, now.”

Latter-day Saint Church News:  “First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve testify of the Savior in Easter video series: Over the two weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, a new video will be posted each day with Apostles’ testimonies of Jesus Christ”

Thus far, video testimonies have been posted from Elders Patrick Kearon, Ulisses Soares, Gerrit W. Gong, Dale G. Renlund, Gary E. Stevenson, Ronald A. Rasband, and  Neil L. Andersen.

I also want to remind you of a couple of Easter-related films — not, I think, the usual movies that most everybody would expect — that I’ve found worthwhile.  I cite a couple of blog entries that I wrote a while ago.  Here is the second, from a four-year-old blog entry:

A film recommendation for the Easter season:  Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ generated a great deal of controversy when it appeared, partly because of Mel Gibson himself and partly for other reasons.  Many complained that it was too brutal — as if Roman scourging and crucifixion were anything other than quite deliberately and publicly brutal.  However, I found the film much less bloody and graphic than I had feared it might be, and I commend it to you.  Since its focus is on the torture and death of Jesus, rather than on his resurrection — perhaps not surprising in a film by Mel Gibson, who is some kind of traditional Old Catholic and who, anyway, tends to the bloody in his cinematography — it might actually be more appropriate on the Friday or Saturday prior to Easter than on Easter Day itself.  But Easter would be a fine day to view it, as well.

And here is the second, also from an old blog entry:

Back in early 2016, I saw the then-new film Risen. . . .  Those who see the film and who are familiar with the story of Christ’s death and resurrection (just about everybody here, I expect) will instantly recognize that Risen has changed things around a bit — notably the introduction of a wholly fictional Roman tribune, the movie’s jaded and troubled protagonist — and there are undoubtedly reasons to criticize it.

Some will find Joseph Fiennes’s Clavius too grimly expressionless — especially toward the end, where his failure to join the witnessing of the Eleven (he would have been fully qualified to replace Judas!) was more than a bit puzzling, in my judgment.  I myself thought the apostles (Bartholomew, in particular) a bit too giddy; but then, they’ve just been given the best news that any human could ever have received, so perhaps they should be pardoned.  Moreover, I wish the scriptwriters hadn’t chosen to reinforce the image of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute — apparently still practicing that trade right up until almost the time of Christ’s crucifixion, no less — an image that is based on legends that apparently go back no earlier than the Middle Ages.

However, candidly, everybody will find something jarring, not how they pictured it, in a movie’s retelling of so important and famous a narrative.  That’s probably unavoidable.

I’m not even sure that it’s altogether bad.  It’s a good thing to hear the news “for the first time,” as it were.

I thought that the film offered a very fresh take on this very old, very well-known story, and plenty of things to discuss.  I liked the portrayal of the apostles as astonished by the Resurrection and not yet even remotely sure of what it was they were supposed to do.  I liked Cliff Curtis’s Mediterranean-looking — non-blond, non-Swedish! — Yeshua.  I also liked the way the film avoided glamorizing first-century Palestine:  Things looked small, on the whole, and rocky and dirty and fairly simple, and the Romans came across as a relatively human occupation force, not (as they often do) as either ancient Mediterranean Nazis or as regimented and robotic imperial storm troopers.  (I’m not claiming that the geography was portrayed altogether accurately.  Those who know Israel at all well will see the inaccuracies:  The filming was apparently done in Spain and Malta, and it was quite clearly not done on the real Sea of Galilee.  And Caesarea Maritima?  Well, I go there at least once a year, and the Caesarea where the movie’s Pontius Pilate nervously awaits the historically fictional visit of Tiberius Caesar shortly after the Resurrection looks absolutely nothing like the gorgeous beach-resort-quality real place.)

That said, I liked the film, and I recommend it to others.

Here’s a fairly mixed review:  http://www.avclub.com/review/risen-imagines-gospel-roman-cop-movie-232372  Here’s a quite positive one:  http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/02/18/its-miracle-hollywood-finally-tells-great-bible-story.html

I probably come down somewhere between the two reviews, perhaps a bit closer to the second than the first.  I was happy to see a real Hollywood film that took a religious/biblical story seriously.  May those execrable 2014 abominations, Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, never be repeated.

Ummm. Cheese!
Two men working at a metal bin of yellow cheese that is being processed at Welfare Square, a facility owned and operated in Salt Lake City, Utah, by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  (LDS Media Library)

Finally, I’m afraid that we need to pay some attention, yet again, to materials that have been retrieved from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™.  The first of the two that I’ll share today comes originally from the Latter-day Saint Church News:  “Why a ‘true temple marriage’ lasts in a world of high divorce rates:  Jason Carroll, family initiative director at BYU’s Wheatley Institute, expounds on different kinds of marriage, during a BYU–Idaho devotional March 19”

And the second one also first appeared in the Latter-day Saint Church News:  “Church offers thanks for contributions of friends and members: Thank you video from Church comes following announcement of $1.36 billion spent on care for those in need during 2023”

But I have a bit more to say about this:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often attacked by critics for giving too little to charity.  But this attack is fundamentally misconceived.  The Church is a charity.  Donations to it are tax-deductible in the United States, for example, under the charitable-giving rules of the Internal Revenue Service — as are donations to the American Red Cross and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Not all recognized charities provide disaster aid or poverty relief or food for the poor.  Engaging in those activities is not a requirement for being considered a charity under the laws of the United States (which is the jurisdiction most familiar to me and, probably, to most of my readers).  Many 501(c)3 tax-exempt charities (e.g., the Sierra Club, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the National Audubon Society, the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, Salt Lake City’s Ballet West, the Interpreter Foundation, the Barbershop Harmony Society [formerly the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, Inc. (SPEBSQSA)], the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance) don’t provide disaster aid or poverty relief or food for the poor.  And it would be rather strange to fault them because they don’t.  They’re doing what they were founded to do, furthering the charitable goals that they were created to further.  Complaining about that is rather like complaining that a television isn’t turning out healthy vegetables, or that a fork hasn’t cured cancer.

But, as a matter of fact, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints engages in all such humanitarian activities, along with its other responsibilities of building and maintaining chapels and temples, and sponsoring universities and schools, and conducting missionary work, and gathering genealogical records, and operating archives, and many other related undertakings.  The Church does provide disaster aid and poverty relief and food for the poor.

Indeed, although emergency assistance, and the provision of food and water, and efforts to alleviate poverty are only a portion of what the Church tries to do, it still does quite a bit of each of those.

In 2023, for example, the Church expended approximately $1.36B on humanitarian projects and aid.  If you don’t feel that that’s very much, compare it to the expenditures of what the financial magazine Forbes identifies as “America’s Top 100 Charities.”

Please note that the organizations that are listed highest in the Forbes rankings are all wholly dedicated to humanitarian causes, conservation, and the like, while the Church is not.  But see for yourself where the Church’s 2023 expenditure of more than $1.36B on humanitarian projects and aid would put it on the Forbes list.

In that light, please allow me to point to one more very specific example of how the Church provides help to — I mean (please excuse me!), to one more example of how it oppresses and wounds and blights — humankind.  This one comes from the Church Newsroom:  “Meet the Norwegian Wood-Cutting Service Missionary: Claus Andersen served as Norway’s first service missionary”



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