I remember when I was in school, and we had to watch shitty documentaries to teach us about stupid crap we were never going to use anyway. I remember having the distinct impression that documentaries were non-fictional. They were unbiased, informative, and factual. Then I grew up and realized how wrong I was. Documentaries are, as a rule, biased and no more informative than the 6 o'clock news or Bill O'Reilley's crappy show. The thing about documentaries is, they suck, so in order to get up the motivation to actually do one, a director has to have an agenda. Like Morgan Spurlock having sand in his vagina about McDonald's. Or Michael Moore having sand in his vagina about, well, basically everybody who isn't him. So for that reason I usually avoid documentaries like the plague. Too few hard facts and too much bullshit to sift through to find them. But every once in awhile one catches my eye that I think might be worth watching.
So it is with Brian Flemming, a former fundamentalist Christian who decided to prove that his former religion is a hoax; that Jesus Christ never actually existed and that Christianity itself is just a plagiarism of a conglomerate of pagan religions who have themselves been all but forgotten over the millennia. The one thing that does strike me about the previews I saw of this documentary was the level of bias and spin evident from the get-go. A certain level of bias is expected out of someone trying to disprove his former religion, but to spin facts and distort evidence to disprove the Bible is no better than the people he has claimed have spun facts and distorted evidence to write the Bible.
Of course when you look at all the reviews you can find online, they all come from one of two camps. There's the first camp from the angry atheists pissed off at God that are completely glowing and think that Flemming can do no wrong, which always turn into "I hate God" rants. Then there's the second camp of deeply religious people pissed off at the atheists who tear Flemming a new asshole, which always turn into sermons on how everyone but them is going to hell. Both sides are laughable because the only things they back up are opinions. You can't prove an opinion, no matter how loud you are about it. So I thought I'd take a stab at writing an honest review of the documentary, since I'm not really on either side of this particular debate. I grew up Christian, but I'm not now. I'm also not an atheist, so I'm not out to prove one side or the other. I just love theological discussion, so long as it's done intellectually, and not argumentatively. For this critique, I'll do what I did when I reviewed that shitty and ridiculous anti-McDonald's infomercial. I'll watch the documentary for the first time as I'm writing this, and when I come to something I want to write about, I'll stop and point out whatever it is, then resume. This way, you can watch along with me. Not like you will. But you could. And here we go.
I like the analogy Flemming opens with describing how long it took for the Church to accept that the Earth revolves around the sun.
Well looks like he didn't waste any time showing us what bastards Christians are by showing some of the very worst examples of them listing the very worst things they have done. Starting with Charles Manson. I'm surprised he doesn't show anything about the Spanish Inquisition or the Crusades or the Holocaust. There are radical, insane, and outright evil to be found in all religions, that doesn't mean there's something wrong with the religions themselves. Pissed-off Muslims blew up the World Trade Center, that doesn't mean Islam is an evil religion.
This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with Flemming or the documentary, but showing clips of old movies about the story of Jesus brings up a point. Jesus was not white. We know that. We accept it. So why do all likenesses still show him as being white with blue eyes? Are we so racist that we can't follow an Arab? The reason I bring this up here is that in the clips being shown, Jesus, the disciples, and all the good people shown are white, yet the church leaders who hated him and all the bad people are Arab, even though they're all from the same part of the world. Or more accurately, the bad people are white people with hair and makeup done so they look Arab. So not only can the Christian church not follow an Arab, they have to vilify Arabs as well.
God damn, I realize these movies were filmed like a bajillion years ago, but God damn, that is some shitty movie quality.
You're really starting to see a common theme in this movie. Flemming asks questions to the dumbest Christians he can find so it looks like none of them know what the fuck they're talking about. Granted, all Christians should know, and most do, how Christianity began to spread after the death of Christ, but just because the dumbest ones he can find don't know does not mean it's as big a mystery as he is purporting it to be.
Oh nice, he throws in a little plug for evolution as part of a joke. A very subtle way of using something as fact that isn't accepted as fact.
And here we go, when he wants people to help prove his points, he gets historians, professors, and religion scholars to talk about it. So you've got the biggest dumbasses Christianity has to offer versus the most educated and intelligent scholars atheism has to offer. This is the kind of thing that lowers your credibility when you're trying to prove a point.
He does bring up some good points here about the far-fetched nature of some key historic points in the New Testament, namely the story of Pontius Pilate allowing Christ to be crucified. For the Jewish council to have met on the eve of Passover to discuss someone who they thought of as a crazy blasphemer is extremely unlikely. For them to summon Pontius Pilate, a superior Roman official, in the middle of the night over this crazy man, is more unlikely still. For Pilate to have allowed a known insurrectionist who had killed Romans to go free in favor of someone who he saw as having done no wrong, simply because a mob of commoners he ruled over wanted him to, approaches ludicrous.
In the reading of the Hero pattern (based on the life of Oedipus) to show how Jesus's life is modeled in the same mold as other mythical figures, Jesus' life doesn't quite fit as many of the qualifications as he claims.
"His mother is a royal virgin." Half of that's true.
"His father is a king." Based on how loosely you interpret that it could be construed to fit. Jesus' "father" Joseph was said to be a descendant of King David, though if Jesus was not actually born of Joseph he isn't even technically a descendant of David, which opens up a whole other can of worms since there were numerous Old Testament prophecies saying a descendant of David would save Israel. There's also the issue that it's disputed within the Bible whether Mary or Joseph was actually the descendant of David.
"At birth an attempt is made of and by his father to kill him." I guess I never read that Bible story. I thought Jesus and his dad got along.
So they give him 19, we'll call it 16, which now places him behind Romulus and Hercules, and tied with Perseus. I don't see why they even had to exaggerate this number as it's high enough as it is.
I do like the inclusion of the similarities between Jesus Christ and other mythical figures of his time or before. A lot of them I was already familiar with, but some of them I wasn't. This was actually the part that got me to rent the documentary in the first place. Interesting stuff. Maybe eventually I'll get some motivation to look some of these guys up and read their life stories.
Okay I have to say that "This is just a simulation" background music is getting really fucking annoying. Thematically it fits, but they're playing it to death.
I just have to say I give him mad props for showing clips of "The Passion of the Christ" in showing how Christians are still obsessed with the idea of blood sacrifice, even though they claim they are not. The single most violent, bloody movie ever, yet so many parents made their children watch it because it was good for them. Hooray for giving children nightmares in the name of religion.
Okay now he gets into the Inquisition and how it's representative of Christian beliefs as a whole. I was worried there for awhile.
Okay now it's getting ridiculous. He points out all the things in the Bible that our society as a whole would consider wrong such as killing homosexuals and forcibly imposing religion on others, yet in his next statement he claims that moderate Christianity makes no sense because it doesn't strictly follow the Bible. In other words if you're a Fundamentalist Christian you're evil, and if you're a moderate Christian, i.e. Christians who believe the core beliefs of the faith yet don't necessarily follow the more radical thinking like killing homosexuals, then you're just a fucking idiot who doesn't know what the hell you believe.
When discussing the Rapture, or the end of the world, or the Apocalypse, or whatever name you want to put on it, they make a few assumptions that, for the most part, are not true. When talking about the dangers of world leaders not looking to avoid global conflict because they believe global conflict would signal the coming of Christ, he's assuming that people are waiting for a huge nuclear holocaust to usher in the second coming of Christ. This, for the most part, isn't true. Most Christians believe Christ could come back any day, regardless of world conflict or politics. In fact most Christians acknowledge that the Rapture will happen when it's least expected. In other words, it's probably not going to happen in the midst of some great global conflict because so many people expect that. Most Christians believe that all the signs have already occurred, the Rapture could come any day, but that they don't know when it is, so they plan and live their life as though it were not. To propose that we will have a nuclear war because world leaders want the end of the world to come is ludicrous.
For the record, 99% of what Christians believe about the end times comes from the book of Revelation, which is a book written by John while having visions of the end times while on the Isle of Patmos. That is the people who can actually follow the book of Revelation as it's little more than a wild, acid-trip of a clusterfuck. Just as a side note here, apparently scholars have found what they believe to be the Isle of Patmos and it is populated with enough hallucinogenic mushrooms to finance a war.
At least they finally changed the damn music. I'll give him a point for that.
"But Jesus was a great guy. He'd forgive you for anything. Lying, murder, internet pornography, anything." I'm so glad I'm listed in the same sentence as murderers for looking at naked chicks on the internet.
Here we come to a very large twist on words to make a point. Flemming talks about the one unforgivable sin, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Now I can identify with him as a former young Christian terrified of accidentally doing this and being eternally damned to hell, but I have to call him on a pretty major point here. Both Bible verses he quotes say that the only unforgivable sin is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. To blaspheme means to speak out against. Flemming is interpreting the word VERY liberally to include simple denial of the Holy Spirit, essentially saying that if you at any point in your lifetime deny the Holy Spirit, even in your thoughts, you're going to Hell, according to the Bible.
Doubt = Death. Okay now this whole train of thought is getting absurd.
Now he's interviewing the superintendent at his former school and asking what scientific evidence he has that any of the beliefs the school teaches are true. Of course, making the classic ignorant assumption that if you can't see or feel something, it must not be true. Just because something can't necessarily be measured or documented scientifically doesn't mean it's true. Sometimes the evidence of things is in the minds of people. If there is in fact a supreme being who operates in the spirit realm that doesn't mean we would necessarily be able to see it. And in fact many people claim there is evidence of the existence of such a being because of effects on their life. You can't see the wind, but you can still feel it on your skin so you accept that it's there. It's the same with matters of religion. You can't see it, but many people say they can feel it in different ways so their beliefs are justified. It's the same with psychology. If something happens in someone's life to alter the way they think or feel (abuse, abandonment, death of a loved one) we can't see the change in them simply by looking at them. That doesn't mean the change isn't there. There are different planes of evidence, and here what Flemming is doing is demanding that someone whose evidence is on a different plane throw their evidence away and supply him evidence on the plane that he prefers. He wants visual evidence, so he criticizes people with emotional evidence. That's not a fair way to assess judgment.
Okay now the superintendent just went and flushed any credibility he may have had down the toilet by saying there's "lots of historical evidence" that Jesus was who he said he was and that he resurrected as the Bible claimed. Sorry, but the Bible doesn't count as historical evidence and you cannot point to a single non-religious source of evidence that Jesus Christ was in fact the Son of God. There's historical evidence that Jesus Christ the person did exist and lived from roughly 3 B.C. to 30 A.D. but that's not what he is claiming. He's claiming there's all this evidence that Christ was the son of God and that he resurrected. Of course he doesn't list any of this evidence.
Ok I can't decide which one of these two wants to lose this debate more. Now Flemming is asserting that teaching 1800 students Christian beliefs for which there is no scientific evidence is "the height of irresponsibility" as though he is single-handedly responsible for Flemming's religious sand in his vagina. The fact is the man runs a private Christian school that parents choose to send their children to. If he has an issue, it lies with the parents, not the man who is hired by the parents to teach their children religious values. There is nothing wrong with teaching children religious values. It gives them a good moral and ethical foundation upon which to build as an adult, and more and more we're finding that when those children grow up, they don't necessarrily accept the beliefs of their parents. I didn't. I was raised Christian but I am now Buddhist. But I'm glad my parents raised me with Christian values because it gave me a good ethical foundation . I don't hold anything against my parents or any church leaders who taught me Christian beliefs because they cared enough about me to teach me what they believe is right, and I respect them for that.
Okay maybe the superintendent wants to lose more, he just changed his mind from "there is no empirical evidence" to "there is absolute empirical evidence."
Okay he loses, when it comes to students who don't believe the Christian beliefs he teaches, he's now saying that the burden of proof rests on people who say that the world operates according to scientific principles. So I guess by virtue of being slightly less ridiculous, Flemming wins this debate with his former superintendent, the man who apparently screwed him up so bad he made a documentary to prove that God doesn't exist.
Okay I really want to know what the fuck happened when he was at that school. The superintended just said he was done with the interview because Flemming was only trying to make himself feel better about being punished while he attended the school. Although I do tend to believe the superintendent that Flemming was dishonest about his purpose for setting up the interview, mostly due to Flemming's "Who me?" attitude when confronted with that fact.
How poetic. He finishes the documentary with himself on camera in the chapel where he got born again, looking straight at the camera and denying the Holy Spirit. What a hardass. Except that denial and blasphemy are two completely different things. Oh well. Details, I suppose.
Okay that's all for "The God Who Wasn't There." Looking back over what I've written I actually enjoyed this more than you have probably gathered from reading it. There was some good, interesting, factual stuff here. But there was also a lot of bullshit and spin to wade through, as I expected. This was a good example of how to turn people off what could otherwise be a good documentary. He had so many good ideas and points, yet he muddied them by inserting too many half-assed opinions and outrageous assumptions. He lost credibility in his attack on the church by doing many of the same things he was criticizing them for doing. There's a lot of good information and good points for discussion in "The God Who Wasn't There." Unfortunately, Brian Flemming is just too angry to be the one to talk about them.