This afternoon I saw Brian Flemming‘s The God Who Wasn’t There makes the case that Jesus of the New Testament did not exist. Christianity is part folklore (Jesus is one of many purported sons of gods who saved the world through tribulation and death and rose again) and part fabrication (the only shreds of historical evidence for Jesus may be fraudulent or derived from the same).
The parts of the film dealing directly with the ahistoricity of Jesus are informative and entertaining, but not particularly in depth. My only quibbles are tangential to the main theme.
The interview with the principal of the Jesus cultist school Flemming attended as a kid contributes nothing to the argument. The school’s teachings are faith-based, not evidence-based, though the principal backpedals for a moment and says that there is lots of historical evidence that Jesus existed. Zero surprise there. Could’ve been cut to about one minute. I suppose for some Flemming’s personal experience will prove interesting, and it does provide him a nice way to close the film.
The parts emphasizing that modern hard core Jesus cultists are nutty, dangerous, or both felt a bit tired.
Richard Carrier, one of the talking heads in the film, stated that violence and war has increased under Judeo-Christianity. That sounds like untenable speculation to me. First, there are confounding factors, to put it mildly, when comparing the world before and after the rise of the Jesus cult, e.g., changes in technology and population. Second, I suspect one woud be hard pressed to make a case that contemporary societies were or are less violent, cf. China. Third, I understand that primitive societies may have been extremely violent.
Carrier was present at the screening, so I asked him about this assertion. He said that he meant that Jesus cultists were the first to spread their religion with violence. That sounds suspect, but I don’t have any counterexamples. In any case, forced conversion sounds like an improvement over plain massacre.
Finally, one or two of the talking heads gave the impression that they think Jesus cultists are increasingly dangerous. I see precious little serious evidence for this. I find that according to activists, journalists, and nearly everyone else, every problem is critical, increasingly critical, or soon to be critical. Watch the headlines for this phenomena, you’ll see. This sentiment is completely ahistorical and annoys me to no end. Someday I’ll write more about it.
However, these are minor nits. The God Who Wasn’t There is well done and worth watching. The website says “Bowling for Columbine did it to the gun culture. Super Size Me did it to fast food. Now The God Who Wasn’t There does it to religion. ” While entertaining, I don’t think the comparison films “did it” to their targets. The god movie “does it” to the Jesus cult.
The film also makes excellent use of footage from old Jesus movies found at the Prelinger Archives, fair use footage of Mel Gibson’s religious snuff-porn flick. (You’ll be convinced that Jesus movies are cheesy if nothing else.) The soundtrack uses remixes of several tracks from the Creative Commons/WIRED CD, taking advantage of the sampling rights granted. This may be the best and most extensive reuse of public domain and Creative Commons licensed works so far apart from works explicitly about remixing.
A pleasant surprise is that the ending credits say the movie is Creative Commons licensed, though I couldn’t tell which license and the on screen URL (I think http://www.thegodmovie.com/license) and variations thereof are unavailable.
I wish both projects success. The documentary DVD will be available in a couple weeks. I suggest you buy it, share it, and check out a local screening.
(Above I use “Jesus cultist” in preference to Christian or Xian.)