THE GOD WHO WASNT THERE
Directed by Brian Flemming (2005), 62 minutes
One of the most popular rentals at my local video store is not Borat or The Departed but a 2005 documentary about Jesus Christ called The God Who Wasnt There by director Brian Flemming, an ex-Christian Fundamentalist. Flemming, in his 62-minute documentary, asserts that Jesus was not a historical figure but a legend based solely on Pagan traditions. Using interviews with authors, philosophers, and historians to debunk the long-held Christian belief that Jesus, the son of God, lived among men, was crucified, and was resurrected, Flemming compares the Christ story with those of cult figures Isis and Osiris in Egypt, Dionysus and Adonis in Greek mythology, and Roman mystery cults such as Mithraism and finds many surprising similarities.
In addition to his evidence about Pagan cults, he also states that the earliest sources for the Christ story, the four gospels, were written forty or fifty years after the date given for Jesus crucifixion and that the letters of St. Paul show little evidence of Jesus being a flesh and blood figure. Flemming, unfortunately however, is not out to conduct a solid investigation of the truth about Jesus life but to use the subject only as a point of departure for a full throttle attack on Christianity and all religion. Most of the interviews are with those philosophically aligned with the director including avowed atheists such as Biologist Richard Dawkins and author Sam Price. The only Christians interviewed are those on the fringe such as Scott Butcher, the creator of the website Rapture Letters.com, and Ronald Sipus, principal of the fundamentalist Village Christian School, which Flemming attended as a boy.
Like Michael Moores interview of Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine, his interview with Sipus is so contentious that Sipus walks out in the middle. In a sarcastic tone, Flemming tells us how wrong Christianity was wrong about the sun revolving around the earth, then points to atrocities committed in the name of Christianity such as those by cult leader Charles Manson who killed 11 people and Dena Schlosser, who cut her babys arm off for God. He also lifts a statement from a book by LaHaye and Jenkins that says that Christians look forward to the day when all non-Christians are thrown into a lake of fire, howling and screeching.
To further turn us against Christianity, Flemming shows us extended clips from Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ, detailing in minute detail each scene of violence and torture. What could have been a serious discussion on a very interesting subject eventually becomes a childish rant and a polemic against all religion. In the process of condemning those who used Christianity to commit unspeakable acts, he ignores such people as socialist Muriel Lester, a famous Christian pacifist, Rigoberta Mench Tum, a Mayan Indian of Guatemala who helped found the Revolutionary Christians and received the Nobel peace prize in recognition of her work for social justice, and Mother Teresa, whose work was about respect for each individuals worth and dignity.
His most telling argument is his comparison of Christian doctrine with the Pagan cults and he makes some good points, yet Flemming does not tell us that while some aspects of these cults may resemble Christian doctrines, there are no texts or source materials for these cults before 300AD, long after the New Testament. Also it is important to note one major difference. The immediate goal of the initiates was a mystical experience that led them to feel they had achieved union with their god. This is anathema to Christianity which believes that a Church hierarchy including priests and bishops all the way up to the Pope are required to interpret Gods will to mankind.
Although I am not a Christian and have some doubts about whether or not Jesus Christ was in fact a historical figure, the truth is that, in the long scheme of things, it may not matter. What matters is that a message was introduced to mankind and spread around the world that contributed to mankinds spiritual evolution. Regardless of the distortions and crimes later committed in its name and there were many, Christianity as conceived was a doctrine of compassion and love, and a moral and ethical code that furthered respect for our fellow man.
While I applaud the fact that the film was made and that a taboo topic was discussed, what is sorely needed is not another divisive attempt to use religion as a field of combat but to see it as a common thread that can bring the worlds people together. While there is room for debate and discussion on religious subjects, in the words of Annie Besant, spiritual truths are best seen in the clear air of brotherhood and mutual respect. The God Who Wasnt There is recommended only for those whose idea of a good time is to trash the religion of others.