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Filtering by Tag: film

Gnostic Noah

Drew Trotter

noah Should we care that Darren Aronofsky depended on gnostic texts for much of his story?

I loved Noah the first time I saw it. I still love Noah, even after reading, and agreeing with, the in-depth analysis by several writers, showing that much of the detail of the film comes from the Kabbalah and other ancient gnostic and pre-gnostic sources.

Perhaps the most complete, and certainly the most sarcastic, compilation of elements in the movie that demonstrate its Gnosticism is by a blogger named Brian Mattson. Check out his screed here, if you’re interested. Mattson draws attention to the luminescent Adam and Eve, the prominence of the snake, the names of the fallen angels and many other details that come out of sources like 1 Enoch, but he and some of his followers go on to blast “Christian leaders” for the “scandal” of endorsing the film, proclaiming “shame on everyone who bought it”.

With my background in Biblical studies, I recognized many of those references, when I saw the movie, but here’s why I don’t particularly care that Aronofsky has given us a largely gnostic Noah: almost everyone watching the film, who could be hurt by buying into an heretical, gnostic vision of the flood narrative, is going to interpret the movie through their own, orthodox grid and for the most part not be affected by his slant on the story.

Don’t get me wrong. Gnosticism is as much a heresy today as it was in the 2nd century, and it is a lie. But Gnosticism doesn’t present a danger unless it is explained in detail and persuasively advocated as a system of belief in contrast to the teaching of Scripture. Showing people a movie with gnostic elements hardly accomplishes that.

Mattson’s confusion is with the nature of communication through film. Film does not teach doctrine per se. Yes, a movie can demonstrate the views of a filmmaker, if he or she is trying to propound those views through the movie’s narrative (which Aronofsky has explicitly denied any desire of doing in Noah,by the way). But those views will of necessity be general and vague; art does not have the capacity to carry on detailed conversation, much less instruction in the subtleties of theology.

That’s why the propositions of theological reflection are a good thing. Movies might illustrate some of those propositions, but cannot argue for or against them, and so can’t persuade us for or against them either.

There is another, perhaps unique, reason why the Gnosticism of Noah simply won’t have any real negative effect on Christian viewers, while it can have a very positive effect of entertaining them and making them think. The reason is that unless viewers are coming from a gnostic belief already, they are not going to recognize the Gnosticism anyway, and therefore it can’t have any ill effect on them.

An illustration of this principle is the use of the name “The Creator” for God in the movie. Mattson makes much of the lower, gnostic demi-urge, called “The Creator” in the literature, who is an evil god for creating matter in the first place. Certainly, Aronofsky picked this name up from his sources and thought it was a great name to get around the vague and uninteresting word “God”, so he used it.

But what are Christians going to hear, when they hear the words “The Creator”? Will images of angry, ignorant, gnostic gods leap into their minds, as they do when actual Gnostics hear them?

No. “The Creator” merely refers to the God they know from Genesis and their tradition’s interpretation of it. Now, that may be bad enough, but it’s not gnostic indoctrination.


William Coleman

magritte2It’s a measure of my addiction to House of Cards that I wound up watching an episode on my laptop, earbuds firmly in place, while, in the same room, my wife watched Into the Wild on the television.

As my show progressed, an episode that contained a subplot about a local BBQ joint that gained sudden notoriety, I found my gaze vacillating between my screen and the one behind it. It’s an all-too-familiar feeling—my attention tentative, or skittering along the surface tension of reality.

But then a moment happened when the gap between my knowing one screen and knowing another contracted, drawing both together. So it was that I saw two women, who’d known each other only from a fellowship hall, share an intimate first kiss in bed even as I saw men gather on the street outside, tearing at their barbeque ribs with their hands.

Of course it was coincidence. Characters in Sean Penn’s film happened to be eating what characters in House of Cards had been eating. But for an absorbing moment, I believed I was watching two scenes from the same show at once, each counterpointing the other. It was compelling.

But the convergence also gives me pause. More and more, I see my high school students as a mesh of interactivity. “Is it really possible to work a laptop, a cell phone, and an iPod simultaneously, while ‘doing homework?’” one mother recently asked rhetorically, on Facebook.

I’ve always assumed the answer to that question to be no, which is why in my literature classroom, I try to create conditions for entrance into what Sven Birkerts calls deep time (contemplative space where we can come to know the resonance of the data we’ve accrued), conditions I find increasingly at odds with the culture’s. We read aloud. We read slowly. We look up words. We read by candlelight.

And yet what we discover at those depths seems to be the very awareness of multiplicity and convergence that I found when the art on my wife’s screen became entangled with the melodrama on my own. We find the arguments and images that etymologies form. We find charges of thematic meaning around which opposing words scatter. We follow lines of allusive thought. In our deep time, we learn to see narratives that run like programs in the background.

Why does it bother me, then, to think that the idea of being offered merely one narrative at a time in a movie theatre or on a television screen might soon seem simplistic, or worse, inauthentic? What is the danger that our minds may be changing such that split-screen (or multi-screen) storytelling, in our multi-tasking culture, will become the only way to communicate in a way that feels true?

After all, couldn’t the evolution of consciousness—toward the meshing of seemingly competing attractions for attention—be reflective of a growing understanding of the deeper reality quantum physics gestures toward: a world of superposition and entanglement?

Maybe. But if so, when given the choice between attractions that arrive in our laps in high definition and the kind that are indistinguishable from darkness until our eyes are trained to see them, I am afraid that I and many of my students will increasingly choose what comes to us.

Reflecting natural forces is not the same as embodying truth, and it’s not the same as knowing either one. If we are to feel and know the resonance of all that converges, if we are interested in wisdom, we must, again and again, learn how to read. That, I see here beneath the words, is why I teach.

(Self-portrait by Rene Magritte)

Avatar: What's the Big Deal?

Travis Griffith

Travis Griffith finally buckles under pressure to see Avatar, and shares his reaction to the film and its implications on spirituality.

My brother called it a "life changing experience."

My mom said it was "an amazing insight into spirituality."

A friend said it was just "a remake of Dances With Wolves."

The pope called it "simplistic and sappy."

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said the film "gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature."

Then Avatar won for best drama at the Golden Globes and now is a favorite at the Oscars, so I decided I had to experience the film for myself, make up my own mind and then share my thoughts with all my Relief friends. The overall take away: What's the big deal?

James Cameron, the film's director, said,

Avatar asks us to see that everything is connected, all human beings to each other and us to the Earth. And if you have to go four and a half light years to another, made-up planet to appreciate the miracle of the world that we have right here, well, you know what, that's the wonder of cinema right there, that's the magic.

Of course, that's why the Vatican says the film supports a worship of nature and neo-paganism (which obviously is bad for business).

Here's the deal: Avatar does indeed support a worship of nature. It also supports a love for one another and the importance of not judging other people, regardless of race or beliefs. In the movie, the Na'vi people have developed a vibrant, complex, and sophisticated culture based on a profound spiritual connection to their planet, one another and the encompassing spirit they call Eywa. The operative concept for the Na'vi is balance. Their lives express this balance in body, mind and spirit.

A review at said,

In reality, you are connected to the earth by gravity, not by spirit. The Bible tells us the earth will be burned up and there will be a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness reigns. We are stewards of the earth and its creatures, not brothers. We are accountable to God for what we do with the resources He's given us.

The spirit world is not something in need of balance. It is a war zone where evil spirits want to drag you into lust, greed, anger, and depression while the Spirit of God seeks to rescue you from darkness.

So the hard-line Christians blast the spirit world with their "reality" of fire, fear and brimstone while lauding heaven as God's Kingdom. Pagans reject heaven and revel in the universal energy of the spirit world. Who is right?

What if the Christian heaven and the pagan spirit world turned out to be the same place behind the veil, just with different marketing here on Earth?

Yet, the Vatican tries to protect its stake in religion while belittling messages like the one in Avatar. It would have been great to see the Vatican lead a discussion towards a more loving and accepting version of spirituality instead of calling the film's relevant message "simplistic." Some might even call the type of spirituality portrayed in Avatar as more advanced when compared to the archaic beliefs and practices of Catholicism.

In the end, all Avatar asks us to do is love each other and our planet so humanity can evolve into a place of unconditional bliss. That, after all, is the same ultimate goal many of the world's religions have, they just all seem to call it something different. Catholics call it the Kingdom of God. Buddhists call it Nirvana. Avatar called it Pandora. Same damn thing, just with different paths that lead there, all as valid as the other.

As long as beliefs are based on love, who's to say who gets to claim the correct one? I say choose what feels right to you, without fear of being judged for your beliefs by someone else.

If you've seen the movie and want to share your thoughts, or care to challenge anything I've said here, I'd love to have a discussion with you.

Love... to all.


Travis Griffith, who left behind the corporate marketing world, choosing family and writing in lieu of “a comfortable life” financially, is a former atheist trying to define what leading a spiritual life really means. His children’s book, Your Father Forever, published in 2005 by Illumination Arts Publishing Company, Inc. captures only a fraction of his passion for fatherhood.