The Super-Hero Version of the Bible

Everybody seems to be talking about the TV mini-series “The Bible.” I have to confess I always dread this time of the media’s “liturgical year” (if we are approaching Easter, let’s cash in on the season). But given my role as a religion professor, I feel obligated to watch and critique the latest movie or TV mini-series, even though I expect to be disappointed. In the case of this season’s “Bible” mini-series, I am more than disappointed. I am repulsed.

The first episode, “Beginnings,” starts off fairly well by having Noah recount the story of creation from Genesis 1. The visual images of birds, animals, and sea creatures are stunning. Unfortunately, the series quickly degenerates into a retelling of some of the more violent stories from Genesis and Exodus, and the second episode, “Homeland,” continues the theme of God’s violent protection of “his” people as it skips through the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel. It will likely entertain viewers accustomed to action-packed movies that focus on the violent battle between good and evil. “Evil” appears in the garden of Eden embodied in a dark, hooded, menacing figure who reminded me of a Sith Lord from Star Wars. Even God’s messengers get into the action. Two angels, hooded and armed, demonstrate some dazzling moves with their swords as they guide Lot and his family to safety. One of the angels actually has two swords strapped on his back and deftly swings both swords at the same time, killing people right and left. The movie emphasizes that it’s all about “us vs. them.” Samson calls out to the Philistines, “My God wants me to destroy you all.” Women are given supporting roles as bearers of children (Sarah, Hagar, Samson’s mother) or prostitutes (Rahab is the prostitute with the heart of gold, while Delilah is the seductive, deceitful whore). Connections with other peoples are quickly dropped or glossed over (Hagar and Ishmael disappear with no comment upon their futures.) Things that don’t fit the Christian perspective of the film-makers are omitted (Aaron, the priest, is replaced by Joshua, the warrior.) Some viewers may feel good because they are watching something ostensibly religious. If they want to know about the Bible, I suggest they would do better to read the book. If they like violence, enemy-hatred, sexism, and racism, they can find that on just about every other channel. This is a Super-hero version of the Bible, which some people may love, because it’s action-packed, and the good guys always beat up on the bad guys, but it’s not the Bible I know and love.


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The Hunger Games, Apocalyptic, and Hope

I have been thinking about proposing a new course on apocalyptic, so I decided once classes ended to read The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’s dystopian trilogy. I found myself drawn into the world of the Hunger Games and quickly began to care about the characters. Although I found it hard to put down the first two volumes, I had a harder time with the third volume, and found myself skimming to get to the end and discover if the novel ended on a hopeful note. On that point, I remain puzzled. Does the book suggest there is any reason for hope? I’m not sure. Perhaps the main message is similar to that of the New Testament book of Revelation (at least, according to some readers): “Stand firm! Don’t give in to those who seek to overpower you. Maintain your integrity.”  I came across a quotation from the late Vaclav Havel recently that seems apropos. About hope, Havel says, it “is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” I will need to reread the third volume in order to figure out if I think anything makes sense in the world of the Hunger Games.

With both the New Testament’s Revelation and Collins’s Hunger Games, I feel uncomfortable with the amount and degree of violence. Some readers may say the authors use violence to promote nonviolence, but I am not convinced that a message of nonviolence comes across clearly to all readers. Janet Potter recently reviewed the film version of the first volume and in it she, too, questions the violence. She observes that in some theaters, the audience cheers when one of the children gets killed in the games. This suggests to me that readers (and viewers) identify closely with the main character, Katniss, and root for her survival, but they also root for the destruction of the characters they perceive to be enemies of Katniss. Doesn’t the real problem lie with the abusive use of power and violence, and shouldn’t our goal be to find nonviolent ways to rid the world of that abuse?


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