Back in the day, a trip to my grandparents' row home in South Philly, for Passover or the Jewish New Year, was preceded by a family movie in Center City. The theaters were huge and ornate -- not at all like your bare-bones cineplex; the movies were usually Biblical and always accompanied by chocolate covered cherries.
Of course, we saw Charlton Heston as Moses. I think Ben-Hur got sneaked in there, as well as Israeli-themed movies like the heart-rending Exodus, with Paul Newman as Ari ben Canaan, the heroic freedom fighter/terrorist.. No Jesus movies, however.
And now: Noah
I dutifully watched all of these and more, munching my chocolate-covered cherries. But now I see the trailers for "Noah," the cinematic version of God's mass murder...and I gag.
One difference is that my secular/atheistic views weren't fully formed when Heston marched up the mountain. It was a story, even if it wasn't true. So a child's unquestioning mind never wondered how all the stuff in the Torah got onto those two little tablets -- or if it didn't, where did it come from, all those rules, regs, and legends in the holy scroll?
And BTW, how could Moses have written it, as some Jews claim, if so much of it takes place before he was born, and he's sophisticated enough to write of himself of him in the third person -- including after his death, as in the latter part of Deuteronomy? Nah, I don't think so.
Crude and barbaric
Of course, I saw Heston long before I actually read the Torah and realized how crude and barbaric so much of it is. And why not? It's the product of a primitive society, and it reflects their values. Peer beneath the surface, and the holy scroll is a house of horrors. God strikes the Israelites with plagues, snakes, and other torments. He torches Aaron's two sons, just burns 'em up.
So Moses going humbly up the mountain to receive the all-encompassing laws of God is pretty pathetic. People can't figure out for themselves how to behave? But the Moses/Sinai story effectively welded morality to religion and ritual...by having it all come right from the top.
"My Dad's nuts!"
Another of my favorite examples is Binding of Isaac (Genesis Ch. 22). There's a cartoon of Isaac in a therapist's office, saying "My father is nuts." That about sums it up. The story is an insane test of loyalty. And it's held up as an example! Some modern Jews like to conduct mock trials over this. I don't get it. What's there to say except that God's nuts?
And the "Noah" story proves it. Now we will be treated to the greatest disaster movie of all time, brought to you in authentically dirty Biblical dress and stilted speech. Oh, boy. I can hardly wait to see Noah get all the animals on board. Never mind all the millions of species - was Noah selective? Or will the creationists argue that there were fewer species then?
You can laugh at the absurdity of it, as Bill Cosby did in his classic "Noah" bit, in which Noah gets all God's instructions, and his reaction is "Riiiiight. Who is this, really? Am I on Candid Camera?" Noah's neighbor complains that the Ark is blocking his driveway. It was outrageously funny back then, and it still is.
Lots of people drown.
So we're going to see it all in state-of-the-art cinematography, the waters rolling in, drowning everybody, even innocent children. The Noah legend is a pathological deity-gone-mad horror story. But in the current religious climate, when no avowed atheist can get elected to high office (though Obama probably is one), it's red meat for all the end-times/left-behind freaks. Yeah, this is what God does when he's pissed, so don't piss him off.
I think bringing Bible stories to the screen, especially with advanced movie technology and authentic dress (and dirt) is a powerful form of belief-reinforcement propaganda, a setback to secularism and reason. I'd love to see atheists picket the theaters. But they'd have to wear body armor. Religious people get angry when you challenge them.
As does God. I won't be seeing Noah. Will you?