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Thought vs Belief

(first posted 17 May 06)

Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhh. Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhh. Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhh.
Thank you.

It’s been the subject of some of the least informed online discussion ever for the last three years. Now I’m being bombarded on all sides with marketing for the impending film. Every tv channel has a special on it. I can’t take it any more and the bloody film hasn’t even premiered yet.

So why am I not ignoring it? Why is this one getting under my skin? Well it’s got nothing to do with the book. And it’s got nothing to do with the author. I’ve not even read the book. The fact that not a single person I’ve met who’s read it recommends it has influenced this decision. Most of them said that it’s an average book, with a poor plot and laughable dialogue. The fact that it’s one shaky conspiracy theory roughly stitched to another and so onwards in a fragile chain is by now no secret. But hey, it’s just a novel. Right?

My despair for some people’s ability to analyse and think took a mortal blow the day I walked out of the cinema after Oliver Stone’s JFK to overhear a fellow movie-goer utter “Just confirms what I’ve always said…” to his companion, apparently labouring under the illusion that he’d just forked out to watch a documentary.

Knowing then that some folk can’t separate fact from Hollywood, do movie-makers have a responsibility to address that issue? I’m particularly concerned as I live in a country where, as mentioned before, ‘someone on telly’ once said that you can’t count in French and now everyone believes it. I don’t want to have to start fielding questions on aspects of Christianity (because all Westerners are Christian scholars) that people have ‘learned’ from the D* V*nc* C*de.

But the single most infuriating aspect of the D* V*nc* C*de phenomenon is the calls from religious extremists, both christian and muslim, for the film to be banned. The christian fundies decry it as “blasphemy”, though the laws of most countries that call themselves ‘christian’ have a secular, not religious basis, so what help they’re expecting from the state, I’m not at all sure. Even more moderate voices are calling to their flock to boycott the movie. Meanwhile the extremists on the Islamic side condemned it as “insulting”, and you know what happens when Islam gets slighted. But what is more sinister is that it’s not just the film they’re trying to silence, it’s the notion of any form of discussion of religious belief. Surely their precious beliefs aren’t so insecure that they have to fend off any form of questioning? Or perhaps Brown really has touched some nerves and overturned a few stones they’d prefer unturned. I doubt it, but it doesn’t seem we’ll get an open and frank discussion, just some good old stage outrage instead.

Cardinal Arinze, a chap in Rome, said this week that it was one of the “fundamental human rights – that we should be respected, our religious beliefs respected.” Maybe so, but it seems to me it’s a little rich to be playing the victim card when you’re doing no more than attempting to recruit the law’s help to crush any opposition. Very rich indeed.

If I was one of the flock that Arinze or any other of the clerics or imams was calling out to, I think I would be extremely insulted that they feel this film is a danger to my beliefs, or that they feel I am unable to think about these issues for myself. Most organised religions put more emphasis on listening than thinking, of course. But thinking’s good, isn’t it? What danger is there in thinking? Is this really the contempt in which the religious establishment hold their congregation?

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