Now, I’m no great religious scholar, but it doesn’t take Pope Benedict to see that the Noah story is not a charming little tale about familial love, but a terrifying lesson about our dependence on God: a warning that we are alonein the world and always at the mercy of a wrathful and demanding Lord. ~David Plotz
Just so. Well, that and a warning not to breed with the Nephilim (who were all wiped out, I suppose, which makes it a moot point). It is also the main scriptural counterargument against all secular and atheist whingeing (that one’s for you, Mr. Massie) in the area of theodicy. If God willed the annihilation of all life on earth, save those in the Ark, who can take seriously complaints against God based on “bad things happening to good people”? First of all, it throws into doubt the “good people” part of the equation, since the righteous folks were on the boat. The story of the Flood teaches that when calamities strike the world, the world as a whole may very well deserve what it is getting and God may even have willed these things for the chastisement of man for his edification. What’s more, that this is an expression of God’s love, not the absence of it. This is a hard saying, but it is true.
This is why Evan Almighty is not really an “appalling effort to pander to religious moviegoers,” in that it isn’t pandering to religious people to get them to come see the movie, but rather tries to appeal to people already going to the movies with some minimally religious message. It sounds like an appalling effort to milk the vague sentimental Herrgott piety of the broad middle of barely religious Americans for some money, while teaching that the “family that dwells on a large wooden boat together stays together, because it is surrounded by floodwaters.”
Religious moviegoers of the sort Mr. Plotz is imagining are the people who went to see The Passion not in spite of the sufferings of Christ depicted therein but because of them, because they do not want to see their religion stripped of its most powerful and terrifying moments. Those are the moments that strengthen faith. If you want campy feel-good stories about togetherness, you can go watch The Smurfs. Evan Almighty may bring in a lot of money, but if it does my guess is that it won’t primarily be busloads of evangelicals who put it there. It will be people who would like to have some nice nods towards religion in their entertainment and would like a religion that doesn’t demand too much, provided that we are all really nice people who are concerned about all the little furry creatures. As an Orthodox priest once said to us one Sunday, “We are not called to be nice. We are called to be perfect.” Anything that confuses niceness with perfection is, in my view, a stumblingblock to real faith. But perhaps Mr. Plotz and I are actually in agreement about this, since he says:
If I were a believing man, movies like Evan would make me long for the days when Hollywood just ignored God.
From all descriptions I have read, it sounds as if it is moved by the same spirit that inspires Democratic “outreach” efforts to evangelicals and has many of the same characteristics: clumsy, embarrassing and painful to watch. Evan Almighty sounds like a movie that would satisfy a fairly mildly religious Episcopalian who thinks that if only religion could be about the love and the togetherness and the via media (always the via media) there would be no more problems, at least not with religion. Let there be nothing severe or harsh or (Heaven forefend!) judgemental in religion–that would seem to be the shlocky religiosity to which Evan Almighty may be appealing. Maybe that describes more Christians in this country than I would like to think. For all our sakes, I hope not.