Monday, May 3, 2010

Is Europe Ashamed of its Heritage?

Amber and I went to see one of those obscure foreign artsy films you can only see if it just so happens into a theater in your city this past weekend. The one in question was entitled, “The Secret of Kells,” an Oscar-nominated animated film about the famous illuminated manuscript the Book of Kells set in pre-medieval Ireland. So, an indie film about history and religion? If that’s not straight up Jonny and Amber’s collective wheelhouse, I don’t know what is. Needless to say we mostly enjoyed the film. It had a very unique artistic style, which was obviously the impetus for the movie in the first place. The entire animation was deliberately made as flat and void of perspective as possible in order to be a modern reflection of the Medieval artistic style.

The story is set in the ancient Kells. Like most other Northern European communities of the time, it’s a simple agricultural community centered around an abbey. The populace and especially their leader the abbot fear the likely impending raid of Norse and are attempting to build fortifications to defend themselves. The abbot’s boy nephew is the protagonist who struggles between obeying his uncle’s commands and his passion to help the newly arrived illuminator complete his already famous manuscript. It’s the struggle between the different priorities of the abbot and his friend the famous illuminator that drives the plot.

While the film is certainly very imaginative and has a good bit of mystery and fantastical elements to it, it’s overall setting fares quite well as a historical snapshot. The producers clearly intended to make a historically accurate depiction of the cultural climate of the period. And I can say this with confidence in all respects save one.

Much is made by the characters and by the film itself about the worth of the book and illuminating in general. It’s a supreme work which can “turn darkness into light” and is “a vision of heaven here on Earth.” It’s high praise to be sure and rightly so. Yet despite the fact that the vast majority of characters are monks and it’s all set in an abbey, there’s not a single Christian reference in the entirety of their discourse. Two hours of monks talking in a European abbey in Ireland about a religious work and not a single reference to Christ? What gives? This book is the gospel after all, but you may not even know that after watching the film.

Now, I understand where the postmodern European filmmaker is coming from. He or she is not looking to make a “religious” film. Its point is not to be evangelical or proselytize, and I can fully appreciate that. But it seems the filmmakers swung the pendulum as far as they possibly could in the opposite direction, much to the film’s detriment. The monks were calligraphy enthusiasts to be sure, but only in part. To a much greater degree, they were Christ enthusiasts. The gospels were the whole reason for the endeavor to begin with. It’s almost as if the filmmakers projected Renaissance-like humanism onto these monks in 800 A.D. Ireland in a bastion of Catholic piety. The film holds their veneration of the human artistic creation higher than its original inspiration, which no one can honestly argue was the case. Thus we have a clear case of an imposed historical omission in the film, yet another example of what I call a “cultural anachronism” in contemporary popular culture where we impose our cultural values and zeitgeist onto previous historical periods in our literature.

All this makes me wonder about Europe today. Why did these filmmakers go out of their way to excise every possible reference to Christ? If you’re agnostic or even militantly atheist, this is still your cultural and historical legacy as a Northern European. Why would you seek to hide or change it? As my title asks, is Europe ashamed of its heritage? I’m sure the barbarities and transgressions by European theocracies throughout the ages loom large in their minds, but do these cause Christianity as a whole to be as great a shame to them as say, slavery is to us as American Southerners? To make such a conclusion seems as near-sighted to me as those who make snap judgments of Islam today. Had the story been told from the opposite point of view of the Norse, would they have excised all references to Woden, Freyja, or Thor? Surely not.

I think this illustrates an important point, that rightly or not, people will judge a God by its follower’s actions, even hundreds of years later. Consider this an exhortation then to you fellow professed Christians to live your life in a manner to convince others of the goodness of your God. Argument, polarization, and confrontationalism will not avail us in this endeavor. Love, kindness, and charity will.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love Jonny blogs!