The tomb controversy rematches

 Christians with the town they love to hate.

* * * * * *


 James Cameron knows how to hook an audience.

Appearing in New York City with a limestone coffin that he claimed had held the remains of Jesus, Cameron attacked a central Christian tenet—that Christ rose bodily from the dead. Yet he confirmed another article of faith: that Hollywood blasphemers are out to get Christians.

The furor over the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, which Cameron is producing, was caused by an unholy alliance of two Christian-right bugbears: science and Hollywood. (If only Hillary Clinton could have been involved too—Pat Robertson’s head might well have exploded.)

But while critics picked apart the theory’s science, it was clear which half of the alliance really irritated the faithful . “Over the years, Hollywood has attacked and mocked Christianity,” said National Clergy Council president the Rev. Rob Schenck in a statement. Now a “Hollywood filmmaker is denying the divinity of the Son of God.”

Christians normally reserve this vehemence for a different place name beginning with H. But this was war. Hollywood, no longer satisfied with trying to undermine Christianity, was taking a shovel, pickax and video camera and trying to physically destroy it. The man who showed us Kate Winslet’s breasts in Titanic was boasting that he had brought God to Manhattan in a box and DNA-tested him like a dinosaur femur.

The dustup aggravated old, sometimes ugly, tensions between Christians and Hollywood — including, yes, that one. “It is an evident and clear truth that Jews control Hollywood productions, wrote a respondent to a post on the New York Times’ the Lede blog, while others made anti-Semitic insinuations about Israeli-born Tomb director Simcha Jacobovici. Meanwhile, in a debate following the TIME.com blog post that reported first word of the documentary, some defenders of the film taunted Christians as “weak and defeated:’

And yet Hollywood and Christianity may have more in common in this case than it seems. Certainly—without judging the validity of the claim—there was a real showbizzy, Al Capone’s vault feel to the documentary’s announcement and promotion . But it relies on its own appeal to faith, basing a bold claim on disputed, 2,000-year-old evidence (the film is not called The Lost Tomb of Jesus or

Some Guy with the Same Name).

Some of its advocates, defending a film they have not seen, show an ardor and will to believe that seem, dare I say it, religious.

Likewise—without judging the validity of religion—the great religious texts of history are compelling in part because they are, well, Hollywood: that is, great stories with conflict, pathos and magic. A man steals fire from the gods; a father is commanded to kill his son; gods disguise themselves as animals.

 And Christianity relies on Hollywood—or at least, parts of Christianity thrive and define themselves in opposition to pop culture. There is a vast Christian entertainment industry, complete with wrestlers, comedians, novels, rock music and movies.

The trumped-up campaign to is have captivated some “defend” Christmas has become a cottage industry for cultural commentators and Fox News personalities. And a narrative of cultural persecution among Christian political-activist groups—despite belonging to the U.Ss majority religion and having a born-again President—keeps money and volunteers flowing to those groups.

Hollywood is aggressively secular and materialistic, and it does stereotype Christians (and Muslims, single women, gay men, fat kids and, for that mattet Hollywood celebrities) . But it also needs Christianity, maybe more than Christianity needs it.

No one thanks Carl Sagan at an Oscar podium. The rich imagery and mystery of Catholicism made The Da Vinci Code (and its burgeoning knock-offs) possible. And while Christmas movies and TV shows may not involve many mangers, they quietly—and profitably— ratify Christianity as the default U.S. religion, as any Jew or Hindu can attest in December.

This symbiosis will continue long after the documentary airs, the blog wars die out and the godless TV networks air their Easter specials, which is probably just as well for everyone, including James Cameron. If he really managed to destroy Christianity, his most enraged enemies wouldn’t be saying Mass at the Vatican. They’d be doing lunch at the Ivy.


TIME Magazine

March 12 , 2007 (pg. 57)       

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