Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Russell Crowe's Noah and Genesis in Space and Time

Steven D. Greydanus, "Everybody chill out about the ‘Noah’ movie" (NRC, February 19, 2014) rushes to instruct: "Get a grip, people ..." Emmm... okay. So what's the problem? He writes:
  • Let’s begin by recognizing that most Christians are familiar with a strictly Sunday school version of the Noah story....
  • It has been recognized for some time that the early chapters of Genesis, i.e., Genesis 1–11 (the pre-Abrahamic primeval history), represent a literary form quite different from later, historical texts ... ...it is not beyond the pale of Christian orthodoxy, and defined Catholic teaching in particular, to classify the Flood narrative in Genesis as divinely inspired mythology. ....
  • Biblical narratives, particularly in the Old Testament, don’t always neatly dovetail with developed Christian belief regarding God, angels and other spiritual realities. ....
  • Tensions between biblical imagination and developed Christian doctrine extend to varying approaches to imagining or picturing God's own attributes and character throughout the Old Testament.
  • The flood story, which has a rich, diverse history in ancient Near Eastern mythology, has been variously developed and glossed in Jewish tradition as well as Christian thought.
Okay, okay. That's enough. Call me a stick in the mud, but I'll take Francis A. Schaeffer's Genesis in Space and Time any day. "Demythologize" Genesis 1-11, and you've got Crème de New Age served up for your dinner entrée. More interesting, however, are the comments of our underground correspondent we keep on retainer, Guy Noir - Private Eye, who writes:
Fascinating commentary here. Also annoying in its predictability, and that from a consistently astute film critic at the NCR. I guess people can overreact, but he calls all the conjecture "pure garbage" and his only real defense is, "At this point, of course, very few people have seen Noah. I haven’t seen it myself, but I’m intrigued by what I’ve read. There’s a lot of room in the biblical story for interpretation and imagination, and anyone who’s been thinking about this story as long as Aronofsky has is likely to have some interesting insights into it."

You have got to be kidding me. Once again, people who try to maintain a faithful and traditional Catholic perspective are seen as a problem. People who may want to overturn traditions... interesting insights. I have read only a little bit about the movie, and it does sound, er, interesting, but... Really, how could any modern NOT mess up a story like that of Noah unless he or she had lots of Christian influence? The story is difficult enough for Christians! And what today more impacts peoples' long term ideas and impressions than the medium of film. "JFK" anyone?

This all goes back to one of my beefs with modern Catholics. The entire structure of Catholicism is built on an old-fashioned, traditional reading of the New Testament. The authority of the Pope comes from a literal reading of the Gospels and Tradition. But now, literal Scripture reading AND Tradition are challenged at every point, and the recourse is that the only thing binding is whatever a modern Pope says. Talk about circular reasoning that leaves us with a papal fan club. Hence, "I HEART PAPA ________________," but please, no hard saints of the Gospels or talk of Original Sin. The film critic here, unsurprisingly is studying for ordination, so I am certain he is being exposed to Biblical criticism and scholarship of a certain sort. I am not a Young or Old Earth Creationist. I have no idea how things actually played out. But I do know this: the allegorical approach to Scripture, the big push for "Myth," is pretty catastrophic. Just look at the result in Catholicism. I forget who said that the beginning of France's secularization and the flight from Catholicism was sparked by the debunking of Genesis. I believe it.

Alan Jacobs, a teacher of literature, incidentally, has this old piece worth quoting:
From one who belongs to a covenant community, then, the appropriation of the biblical narrative must be done by historical rather than what Kass would call philosophical means. Our task is not to find a conceptual vocabulary that will allow us to build analogical bridges between the biblical text and our experience; rather, we must understand that we dwell in the same history that the people of Israel relate in the Pentateuch, a history that even the Law itself is but a part of. (As David Damrosch has written, “In its presentation of the Law within this vision of the redemptive potential of exile, Leviticus is the very heart of pentateuchal narrative.”) Genesis is not analogous to our experience; it is our experience, in its historical aspect.
It is very, very easy to retreat to the "It's all a series of well-meant Myths." It's also very, very unsatisfactory. Everyone knows that if a foundation is seen as sketchy, it is quite difficult to build on. Genesis' earliest chapters remain an achilles heel of modern theology. But the only people convinced by teases like Ratzinger's In the Beginning are those that already are determined to believe faith and 'modern science' can be easily reconciled. As we are seeing again in the arena of sexuality, they simply can't. There is a primitive simplicity to parts of religion that erudite minds chaff at. Mabe the Noah movie will actually get some aspects of that right. But in that case, I imagine Steven Greydanus will probably after all have a bit of a problem with it!
[Hat tip to JM]


Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Catholic television is so relentlessly superificial and stupid, why would "Catholic" movies be any different? The only "biblical" movie I've seen that didn't belong in a carnie side show was "The Passion of the Christ," although I must admit that Cecil B DeMille is always good for a few laughs.

Graydanus is a half step away from a regular spot on Hollywood Extra. That is what comes of aping secular forms with lukewarm content.

Charles said...

I agree about Graydanus. Some of Cecil DeMille's work isn't half bad, though it's stylistically dated. His "Ten Commandments" is still impressive.