Bishop Robert Barron on Mother!

Bishop Robert Barron on Mother! October 4, 2017

It sounds frustratingly terrible:

If the first part of the story allegorizes the Old Testament, this second part allegorizes the New. The husband emerges here as a sort of Christ-figure, and his devotees are exhibiting all of the fanaticism, conflict, and violence that have sometimes dogged Christianity across the ages. Then things get truly weird. During a lull in the chaos, the woman gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, and she holds him tight, refusing to allow his father even to hold him. But while she sleeps, the Bardem character steals the child and shows him to the crowds who then take him, kill him, rip him to pieces, and proceed to eat his body. Beside herself with rage, the mother retreats to the basement and sets off an explosion that brings the whole place down.

The filmmaker seems to be gesturing toward the sacrificial death of Jesus and the sacrament of the Eucharist. Now if the Old Testament associations were at least in the ballpark, these are just off the farm. First, the true God does not need the adulation of his followers and does not remain indifferent to their moral outrages. Moreover, Jesus is not taken and sacrificed by the people in the manner of a pagan offering; rather, he gives himself away as a free act of love. Finally, the dying and rising of Jesus is construed by the New Testament as not simply beneficial to human beings, but indeed as the salvation of nature itself, as a healing of the wounds of creation. Thus to set the Bardem character and the sacrificed child over and against the good of mother earth is just not Biblical.

Though it rather clearly reflects the anti-Scriptural prejudice of the cultural elite today, Mother! might actually serve to prompt a re-examination of the deeply ecological themes that run right through the Biblical narrative and the great theological tradition. The God of the Bible does indeed love the human race and does indeed act as an indulgent father in the face of humanity’s sins. But at the same time, the God of the Bible loves mother earth. As the book of Genesis tells us with an almost obsessive insistence, he found everything he had made—from the stars and planets to the animals and insects that creep upon the earth—very good. In the minds of the authors of the Scriptures, there is no tension between these two great loves.

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