Anna Githens
Son of God reviews offensive to Catholics and other Christians
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By Anna Githens
March 27, 2014

I have found some reviews of the movie Son of God very interesting, yet others distressing in many areas. A few weeks ago I wrote about Hollywood's bashing of Christianity in films, this week I find myself writing about Christian movie critics bashing other Christians. As a Catholic writer I try to not offend fellow Catholics and Christians; regrettably I have found many remarks in film reviews unnecessarily disparaging to Catholics.

While I do not believe Son of God is biblically accurate in all areas, I would be hard-pressed to offer a review as scathing as some that I have read, even on this site. I have not gone through the trouble of producing a movie myself and I feel our wanton society is in dire need of Christian films, especially in light of the anti-Christian, atheistic sort that is consistently produced. Additionally, I do not agree that the film is injurious to the Christian faith as some suggest. Without naming names, one concern I have is that the film has been critiqued as though it is written from a purely Catholic point of view, perhaps because Roma Downey is Catholic.

It has also been alleged that Roma Downey aligns herself with the modern day cult dubbed "New Age," one that is frequently denounced by Christian writers and film critics. "New agers," who are reputed to be today's spiritual gurus, do not subscribe to any particular religion per se, but rather allow their own "alchemy" to discern truth. Unbounded by the constraints of sin and responsibility, the new age mindset extols freedom as an absolute value, and thus has been held responsible for the biblical disparities in Son of God.

A scene where Peter takes Jesus fishing is one which many critics take issue with due to its biblical inaccuracies. For instance, in the boat Peter asks Jesus, "What will we do?" Jesus responds, "Change the world." OK, maybe Jesus never uttered those words, but change the world he certainly did: "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here" (Acts 17:6).

One writer even claimed, based on the premise that Jesus was a plain and simple man, that the character of Jesus was miscast in Son of God because Jesus was portrayed too handsome. Seriously? Judging by Diogo Morgado's looks can anyone honestly say he does not resemble the Jesus whom we have all come to know? Might I ask, who would be a better choice for the part... the Elephant Man? I hardly consider it a crime for people to believe that Jesus was a very handsome, charismatic man with a magnetic personality.

An offensive comment among many that caught my attention was a vaguely worded slam against the Catholic "perspective." I find that many non-Catholic Christians are sorely mistaken about what they regard as the "Catholic perspective." The particularly disturbing critiques of Son of God are those that take the liberty to declare that the Roman Catholic Church's gospel is not a "gospel that saves" and is therefore "apostate." One critic states that Catholics believe any church outside the Roman Catholic Church is cursed or damned.

I must say, respectfully, they are seriously mistaken, and I would like to take this opportunity to speak to these issues. The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges that "she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 838). In fact, "those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church" (CCC 838). This is a far cry from being cursed or damned.

To clarify, the Catholic faith is founded on the teachings of the apostles:
    "The apostles and prophets, with Christ, are the foundation of the Church" (Ephesians 1:22-23).

    "The truth of the faith has been given to the leaders of the Church" (Ephesians 3:1-5).

    "The Church is the Pillar of Truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

Many Christian columnists have chastised preachers and religious organizations, such as Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Focus on the Family, and Catholic Church representatives, for promoting Son of God, claiming that in supporting the film they are partnering with "unbelievers." Christians who so easily throw blanket condemnations over entire groups of people are usually self-centered and not Christ-centered. To be a true Christian one must judge not so that you may not be judged (Matthew 7:1). There are some Christians, for example, who say that any Christian who rejects the doctrine that we are saved by grace and/or faith alone is an unbeliever. I ask, what makes them so sure that they comprehend the true gospel of Christ? And who, in their book, can claim to authoritatively interpret scripture?

What I don't understand about some Christian fundamentalists is that they tend to play fundamental favoritism. They adhere strongly to select biblical verses but remain indifferent to others. I have always wanted to know why some Christians completely dismiss Christ's teaching enshrined in verses such as these:
    "Good works are necessary for eternal life" (Matthew 25:31-46).

    "The Eucharist is necessary for eternal life" (John 6:48-58).

    "Love is greater than faith" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

    "Baptism saves you" (1 Peter 3:21).

    "We are justified by works, not faith alone" (James 2:24).

What gives someone the audacity to label the entire Catholic populace unbelievers? To assign such a punitive name to a two thousand year-old church is to make an absurd and egregious indictment. If you are a Christian your faith is essentially derived from Catholic faith, for without the Catholic Church there would be no Christianity.

Contrary to what some writers suggest, Catholics do not believe it is only they who will be saved, for God "wills everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). The Catholic Church teaches, "since Christ died for all men...we must believe that the Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery" (Gaudium et Spes 22). Essentially, in ways known and unknown, God reaches out to everyone, no matter what religion one has, even to those without faith.

Certain Son of God reviews cite opinions of present-day scholars as if they are ultimate authorities, yet affirm that the Catholic Church is not. This moves me to ask, how can they be certain of this? If the Roman Catholic Church is apostate, then which church out of the several ecclesial communities and thousands of Christian denominations, in their view, is not? Could it be possible these reviewers are projecting their own apostasy onto the Catholic Church?

True Catholics are not apostates, for they believe in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, they believe in the communion of saints, the blessedness of Mary, the sacrament of Holy Orders, apostolic succession, seven more books in the Bible, and several other articles of faith, including the mercy of God, especially at the time of our death. These tenets of Catholic faith actually require believers to have less doubt and immense conviction, which is why God's grace is necessary to sustain us.

The Eucharist's omnipotent power and grace is cleverly suggested in the film Son of God in the scene where Judas, on leaving the Last Supper, inadvertently vomits out the Eucharist on his way to betray Jesus. Even though this scene is not found in scripture, it does uncover something truthful. It reveals the inability for good to thrive when a person is consumed with evil. (Click here for a rational and composed critique of Son of God, by Monica Migliorino Miller.)

While every faith may have its dissenters, the Catholic Church is the only institution with a system in place designed to inform, examine, and define itself. Twenty-one Ecumenical Councils – meetings convened by the pope of bishops from all over the world to discuss important issues and debate current questions – have been able to effectively distinguish orthodoxy from heresy. For a comprehensive chronicle of Catholic teachings, I highly recommend The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The following quote by Sunny Shell, in reference to the recent Bible series, is a prime example of the toxic "I am right, they are wrong," "us versus them" mentality currently pervading the minds and hearts of certain Christian evangelists:
    "Throughout the entire series, God's holiness and righteousness is either completely omitted or diminished. The Almighty is portrayed as the Roman Catholic's angry God who curses people if they don't obey, mixed with the heretical false god of Joel Osteen who wants to give you a big hug and make you happy no matter what you've done."
I am a Roman Catholic and my God is not angry and cursing, He is a just God who is infinitely kind and merciful. At this precarious time in history, is it prudent for Christians to label each other or be so damning of one another? If in order to sustain your beliefs you must highlight what you perceive to be the faults of other Christians, then perhaps it is your beliefs that are faulty.

We can use films such as Son of God to unite or divide us. Even if this film were evil, which it's not, God can work wonders and draw good out of evil. He can use any ill-conceived plan and turn it around for His glory. Perhaps it is necessary to simply change our perspective when looking at another person. Not every human error is apostasy; not every misspoken word is a sanctioned command from the anti-Christ. Simply put, people are imperfect and therefore are not necessarily "false prophets." They are human beings striving to understand the "eternal mystery" – something we may aspire to do but will never fully comprehend in this lifetime.

We often want to categorize people or place them into compartments within our own minds, never considering that we would not want to be branded as such ourselves. While some books we read or movies we see may not precisely reflect certain truths of our faith, we cannot discount that each one of us is progressing on his or her own growth timeline. On a personal note, many books I have read became crucial stepping-stones for me along my pathway in search of truth. Although Roma Downey earned a degree in spiritual theology from a non-Christian school, this should not give anyone just cause to criticize her entire belief system. These are tidbits of information sifted out from the grand complexity of a person's life. One could draw similar conclusions about my own faith journey if I compare where I am now to where I was, say, five years ago.

Countless stories in the Bible demonstrate how the Lord desires a relationship with his people despite their abysmally sinful actions. The Lord unceasingly bestows mercy on his wayward children. He finds ways to deal with sinners without condoning sin or allowing it to triumph. For an ideal modern-day prototype of a man who is naturally unbiased and tirelessly merciful to his flock look no further than Pope Francis. In a private interview recorded for Tony Palmer, bishop of the Anglican Episcopal Communion of the CEEC (Communion of the Evangelical Episcopal Churches), the Holy Father said:
    "Love God, and above all, love the other [neighbor], because he is your brother and sister. With these two rules we can go ahead. I am here with my brother, my bishop brother Tony Palmer. We've been friends for years."

    "...it's sin that has separated us, all our sins. The misunderstandings throughout history. It has been a long road of sins that we all shared in. Who is to blame? We all share the blame. We have all sinned. There is only one blameless, the Lord. I am nostalgic [yearning], that this separation comes to an end and gives us communion."

Christian unity does not highlight the differences between Christians and Catholics or maintain an "us verses them" perspective; rather it calls us to "pray for one another and acknowledge one another as true brothers and sisters."

While Roma Downey and Mark Bernett may have a ways to go on their faith journey, the same can be said about each and every one of us. Let us pray that they, and we, continue the journey as brothers and sisters in Christ, and let us be thankful that there are still some in Hollywood who want the world to know Jesus. Christians should strive together for a New Evangelization, just like Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI advised in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is love); they should stop being so unreasonably hard on each other, and choose to love – a choice Pope Francis seems to make everyday.

© Anna Githens

 

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Anna Githens

Anna Githens is a freelance writer who is passionate about promoting Christian ideals and tried and true American values. With an M.A. in Theology from Seton Hall University’s Immaculate Conception Seminary and a B.A in Economics from Providence College, she has diverse career experience in bond trading, teaching, and journalism. She is a mother of three wonderful sons and resides in New Jersey with her family.

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