Friday, March 16, 2007

Religious Controversy – Cha-Ching

By Lisa Curry

Recently I was intrigued by commercials for the Lost Tomb of Jesus documentary on A&E. I mean, wow. I was raised strictly Catholic. If Jesus had a tomb – other than the one in which we’re told he spent three days – there went the Ascension as we learned it, right out the window. Further, the commercials spoke of evidence that not only did Jesus have a tomb of the permanent sort, but also a wife and son. The Church could not be liking this one bit.

Which meant I had to see it, because that’s the way I am. Tell me a television show, a movie, a book has morally outraged somebody, and I just have to see for myself.

I blame this tendency on my sainted mother, a good and faithful Catholic who made us follow every silly little stricture the Church imposed on us. But in 1972, when I was nine, my mother was a fan of the TV show Maude. One Sunday Father Biller announced in his sermon that in this week’s episode Maude would have an abortion, which was an abomination, and that to watch it would be a sin. During the drive home, I remarked to my mother that I guessed we wouldn’t be watching that show this week.

Au contraire. While having an abortion might be a sin, my mother informed me, watching a TV show was not, despite what Father Biller – who was not, after all, God himself – might believe. If God wanted us to let Father Biller do our thinking for us, he wouldn’t have bothered giving us minds of our own.

Well, knock me over with a feather.

And so we watched Maude, and if God minded, he didn’t manifest his displeasure by making lightning strike us – or our TV antenna – during the broadcast.

I didn’t think much about religious outcry over TV, movies or books again until 1988, which was a banner year in that arena. The Last Temptation of Christ, a movie directed by Martin Scorcese, had Christians in an uproar, while Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, gave equal time to Muslims. (Maybe better, because the Ayatollah Khomeini put out a contract on Rushdie.)

Of course I read The Satanic Verses. Even though I knew little about Islam, I understood the book enough to see why it ticked off the Ayatollah. And I truly wanted to see The Last Temptation of Christ, but my best movie-going pals were all Jewish, and none of them was interested enough in Christ or his temptations to see it with me. So instead I read the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis on which the film was based.

Two things about the book surprised me. First, it was published in 1951. People were carrying on and picketing movie theaters over a story that had been collecting dust on library shelves for 37 years. Second, after reading the novel, I had to wonder if any of the protesters really knew anything about the story, which offered nothing to offend that I could see. Yes, it contained a sequence in which Jesus married Mary Magdalene, but that was a dream, a hallucination, a temptation offered by Satan to lure Christ from the Cross. A temptation he resisted. It wasn’t as if the author said Jesus actually did marry Mary Magdalene, of all things… No, we had to wait another 15 years for Dan Brown to say that in The DaVinci Code.

And that’s when I finally got it – when The DaVinci Code stayed on top of the New York Times best-seller list forever. Religious controversy sells. Really sells. And that must mean I’m not the only person in the world whose curiosity is roused by what upsets religious leaders and the right wing.

I’m not alone. There are others out there like me. Are you one of them? Do you read the books and watch the films the religious faithful are instructed to avoid? Did you see Brokeback Mountain? Did you reflect, as I did, that the moral majority need not worry that some impressionable young person might watch the film and say, “Gee, being gay looks like fun. That’s the life for me!” (I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, but it isn’t exactly a recruitment ad.)

I did watch The Lost Tomb of Jesus. It was interesting, but not entirely conclusive. And as much media attention as it seemed to stir beforehand, I have yet to talk to another person who saw it. Maybe we’re all jaded with the whole Jesus-marries-Mary-Magdalene business, because, fact or fiction, it’s been done to death. Maybe we’re ready for something new. What, I don’t know, but I’d love to figure it out.


Joyce said...

I didn't see it because I don't get that channel (We have the basic, basic cable). I read a lot about it, though--the tomb and the TV show.

What I thought was funny was that the tomb was found years ago, before the DaVinci Code and most scholars and archaeologists DON'T think it's the tomb of THE Jesus. These names were extremely popular back in the early part of the first century and could be anyone. History shows that Jesus was part of a very poor family and from what I read, these graves were "rich people's" tombs.

Cameron is just trying to cash in on the DaVinci Code.

Gina said...

The problem with shows like The Lost Tomb is that when you actually watch it, you find very little substance under all the hype. Brokeback Mountain, too -- I expected an intensely moving story about gay cowboys, but it turned out to be a slow-moving boring story about bisexual sheepherders. Maybe the secret is controversy, but sooner or later someone really should deliver.

Tory said...

Lisa, I loved your mother's take on watching Maude!

I was reminded of a friend of mine who talked about how Italy has such a high proportion of Catholics and yet abortion is their most common form of birth control. My friend said their attitude was, "The Pope is a good man . . . he just doesn't understand." Sounds like similar thinking to your mother's.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons I read The DaVinci Code was because of all the hype surrounding it. I was raised a Catholic too, and the whole idea of an alternative chapter to the story of Jesus, so to speak, intrigued me. It still does.