Divine Offense: Blasphemy and the New Noah Movie

I don’t normally talk about this subject very often, mostly because I know that many people tend to be sensitive when it comes to it.  But it’s something I want to address following the controversy around the new Noah movie.

First off, I’ll give some background on myself.  I am not religious at all.  I was never raised in a church-going family.  I am one of the few people I know that was never raised religious.  Most of my non-religious friends were raised religious and then later on in life made the choice to not believe in it anymore.  But before I go on, I feel I have to say one thing.  This does not mean I was raised anti-religious either.  If I sound a little defensive, it’s only because I have known some people to assume, essentially, that if you weren’t raised with it, you were raised against it.  And that is certainly not true for me at all.  A number of people seem to assume that there is this rigid dichotomy when it comes to religion, but in reality we’re all just part of a spectrum.

But I know I was not always an open-minded and perfect person about it.  I know I was sometimes an absolute jerk about my beliefs when I was in high school.  In fact, a lot of high school kids were like that, but that doesn’t really make how I carried myself any better.  It took time and wisdom, but I eventually came to be the way I am now.  I know many people who are religious, and we get along just fine.  Difference in views does not equal an inability to co-exist.

Anyway, getting to the point of this post, I wanted to talk a little bit about this idea of blasphemy.  Blasphemy is a concept that is unique to monotheistic religions.  It is essentially the act of insulting or showing contempt towards God, as in the one God of monotheistic religions (mono meaning “one”).  It is a concept that I have had some trouble really understanding, mainly because I find it hard to believe that a supreme creator or divine being would really get offended and angry just because someone said he sucks.  It just seems silly that this immortal, omnipotent being would really care or pay attention when one mere mortal slanders him.  It makes him seem incredibly insecure if you ask me.

But that’s not really what I wanted to touch on.  I’ve seen a lot of controversy in the wake of the Darren Aronofsky directed “Noah”.  It first came to my attention when I was at work and I saw some story on Good Morning America about it.  The volume wasn’t turned on, so I didn’t really get a good sense of what was going on.  But after reading up on the controversy after work, I came to understand.  People were upset because of the liberties Aronofsky was taking with the story of Noah and his ark.

On some level, I can understand this.  It’s similar to how Star Trek fans dislike the J.J. Abrams reboots of the franchise, complaining that they’re not loyal to the universe and end up feeling more like action movies than true Star Trek stories.  For my part, I’ve enjoyed both of these movies, but that’s a story for another time.  I can understand how some faith-minded people would have issues with Aronofsky’s interpretation of the story, especially since Aronofsky himself is unapologetic about the changes he has made (there are apparently rock monsters in the movie, just saying).

I can understand the controversy on this level, but I also believe that as a filmmaker, Aronofsky has the right to adapt a work in any way he sees fit.  If we stifle creativity because of fear, fear of what a mainstream audience might think, then we may as well not be creative at all.  Sure, this version of the Noah story is most certainly Aronofsky’s, but that’s what it really is, a story.  It may hold meaning to some, and none to others, but in the end, Noah’s Ark is at its core a story.  Stories are interpreted in many different ways and have many different forms.  Even looking at mainstream Christianity we see these interpretations at work.  There are over one hundred different denominations of Christianity and the Bible itself has been translated many thousands of times.  So before we criticize one filmmaker over his interpretation of a biblical story, perhaps we should consider these facts and what they mean.

People have not exactly been nice to Aronofsky either.  Brian Godawa, a writer, wrote a blog post titled “Darren Aronofsky’s Noah: Environmentalist Wacko”.  In his post he talks about a version of the Noah script that he was allowed to look over.  First off, the title itself basically tells us that Mr. Godawa isn’t going to be open-minded about all this.  Secondly, four different ads for a book Godawa wrote have been inserted into the text, which for me throws his integrity into question.  It’s true that it’s a book relevant to the subject matter, but the ad itself links you directly to the Amazon page where you can buy it.  Maybe Mr. Godawa didn’t place these in there himself, but if he did, it really seems kind of sleazy.  He would essentially be using a post slamming someone else’s work as an opportunity to self-advertise.

For my part, I have not read the entire post.  I skimmed through most of it, because most of what he’s talking about is how Aronofsky’s version is not in the spirit of the original.  I don’t think that argument carries any weight.  Creative license is creative license, whether you’re adapting a biblical story, a children’s fairy tale, or whatever it happens to be.  He essentially goes on and on comparing the original version of the story with Aronofsky’s new one, apparently hoping that the comparisons on their own will make Aronofsky seem like a lunatic.  Godawa comes very close to calling it blasphemy, but never actually does.  But there are some people out there who have.

This is where I stop being understanding.  It seems like the people who are calling this movie “blasphemous” in some way are ignorant of the fact that it is one person’s interpretation of a story that has most likely been interpreted hundreds of times in many different ways.  Whether or not his interpretation is accurate doesn’t really matter.  We cannot stifle creativity, because to do so would be a direct violation of our highly valued first amendment to the Constitution.  They are entitled to their own opinions of course, but Aronofsky is entitled to make his vision a reality all the same.

The other thing I don’t understand is why people have to call on something as blasphemous.  If there is a god, or some type of creator being who divinely inspired the Bible and all its stories, and if he/it really cares about the way we interpret the stories within it, then let this being sort it out.  I honestly don’t see why humans have to get involved in something like this.  If this God-being created the heavens and the earth, and created the standards that so many live by, then it stands to reason that this being would have also created the standards by which something is considered blasphemous or not.

And I know that some people will probably say that I am overstepping my bounds here, that I am judging concepts, standards, and ideas that are not up to me but rather to God.  But to them I say, isn’t that what you are doing every time you call something “blasphemous”?  Are you judging something the way God wants it to be judged, or are you creating your own interpretation of divine standards?  This is the thing with blasphemy as I see it.  Modern blasphemy as it exists is not a set of standards created by a divine being, but rather standards created by mere humans.  We created these standards ourselves, but we pretend like we’re doing a service to God.  And since we tend to ignore the standards of the old testament (using God’s name in vain would get your hand chopped off by the way), it’s hard to really understand where the line is.  I haven’t read the Bible in its entirety, so I’m no expert, but I’ve never heard the quote that says that man shall not create adaptations of Biblical stories.

So the next time you call something blasphemous, I want you to consider something.  Are you really acting on the behalf of God, or are you just using blasphemy as a cover for yourself?  Is it really God being offended, or is it you?  If it’s not our place to judge God’s plan, then it’s not our place to judge whether or not he’d be offended by something.  That’s only for him to decide, and that’s only if he exists.

And besides, if the movie industry is allowed to create such movies as “God is Not Dead” (which basically paints all atheists as angry, narrow-minded jerks), then why shouldn’t Aronofsky be allowed to create his own vision of a story?  That’s the price of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.  We have to allow some things we don’t like, because how do we draw the line otherwise?  How do we stop the bad ideas without stopping some of the good ones?  I may not like the concept of the movie “God is Not Dead”.  I may think its a vapid waste of a movie with no intellectual credibility, but I recognize that it has a right to exist, same with any other piece of media.

And really, that’s all it comes down to, this idea of freedom.  People certainly have the right to call something blasphemous, just as I have to right to call them out on it.  I write this post not to judge other people, but to remind them that an open mind is the reason why the first amendment exists.  The last thing I want to do is make people feel bad for having their own views on something.  Freedom of expression is a wonderful thing, and should be cherished by all.

Thanks for reading.  Superglue your eyes open for a new post next Wednesday.  Until then, as always, have a great week everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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