Sunday, June 20, 2010

Splender in the ordinary

Reflecting on what makes a film "Christian," Ben Dueholm observes that the gospel accounts differ greatly from the pagan literature of that day, and suggests that difference had an enormous effect on what kind of story subsequent Christian cultures have found interesting:
.... Look at almost any episode from the life of Jesus between the departure of the Magi and the days before his execution and people he encounters are, by the standards of classical pagan drama, quite unremarkable. They are even pathetic. Consider last week's Gospel lesson about the sinful woman who drenches Jesus's feet in her tears and kisses and dries them with her hair. Or this week's lesson, about the demoniac and the swineherds. These are the people whose stories intersect with the life of Jesus. Their problems are the ones he chooses to address, their sins the ones he chooses to forgive, their bonds the ones he chooses to break—if he even had a choice to make in the matter. They are the heart of the story. The governors and potentates come on stage only to move the action along, much as servants and lower gentry do in a proper aristocratic tragedy. ....

Not that this is without its downside—namely, kitsch. As Auden's Herod points out, the people will call on God to
'Leave thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges. Become our uncle. Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his home-work, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer. Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.'
But even such kitsch is often just a mangled version of the kind of thing that ended up in Dickens. It testifies to a real and enduring yearning, not for an alien nobility but for the possibility of nobility, beauty, and grace that is latent even in the smallest life. [more]
The Private Intellectual: Christianity on Film