Thursday, March 31, 2016

Misunderstanding “Ben Hur”

With Easter just past us, this seems a timely topic.

The trailer for a new movie version of “Ben Hur” is out there:

After browsing the comments sections of several sites to see what viewers think, I’m amazed by the lack of knowledge of many of them about their history—the background of ideas which form our civilization.

For instance, many commenters mention the previous (1959) version, usually favorably—but they describe the religious theme of that work as “tacked on.”

Tacked on? Really?

Religion—the battle of religions—is steeped through every frame of that film. The character Ben-Hur is caught between two opposing forces.

On one side, paganism—as represented by the words of his childhood friend Messala, by consul Quintus Arrius, and by Judean governor Pontius Pilate. It’s a world focused on control of the physical world. An ethos of beauty, power, violence, and sensuality. The scenes in Rome are filled with parties and parades. The chief physical conflict is a chariot race, after which Ben-Hur becomes for the populace, in Pilate’s phrase, “their one god.”

Throughout is a display of pagan gods, and pagan ideals, focused on the here and now.

On the other side, as counter-argument, is Ben-Hur’s own religion, but also the message of love and peace offered by a young rabbi, who before the flick ends will be crucified by the all-powerful Roman state.

To miss fhe battle of religions is a display of anti-religious smugness and staggering ignorance not just of history, but of themselves and their own civilization. After all, don’t we live in a thoroughly pagan time, with our own fake gods of celebrities, athletes, wealth and power? With Christianity living for the most part on the fringe. Religion, for today’s pagans, is something to be mocked, not taken seriously—a complex theology like Christianity seen through sound-bite stereotypes, easily dismissed with a phrase.

For comparison of movies, here’s a trailer for the 1959 version:

Needless to say, a masterpiece. If you can see the 1959 version on a real movie screen, do so, to get the full, overwhelming movie experience.

As for the new version, it’s up to you to judge whether it’s worth seeing!

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