Guy Nicholson: Would it be useful to prioritize wider knowledge of the Koran, the Torah or the Buddhist Sutras in the same way? Would a TV mini-series as well conceived and produced as The Bible – we’re not talking Innocence of Muslims here – be helpful in that pursuit?
Lorna Dueck: Yes! We’re becoming such poor readers of religious texts, I think TV is a good introductory place to faith. (Obviously, I am a biased participant on this point.)
Peter Stockland: It would be useful, but first start with a knowledge of Tanakh and the New Testament, because they underwrite millennia of our culture. Yes, that culture is shifting, but foundations remain important.
Raheel Raza: I believe it’s extremely important to have a wider knowledge of the Koran, Torah and Sutras. But one of the major issues we deal with in the wider Muslim world is lack of religious literacy by Muslims themselves, which leads to misinterpretation of the faith.
Howard Voss-Altman: For Jews, we have The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt as cultural touchstones, and most of us take great pride in the complex and delightful world evoked in Fiddler on the Roof. But do any of these works of art offer a window into the tenets of our faith? Not really. Religious study is often difficult and requires thoughtful analysis. Films and television series offer – for the most part – spectacle and drama. My kids enjoyed The Prince of Egypt immensely when they were little, but there’s no doubt that it’s nothing more than “Judaism Lite.”
Guy Nicholson: Speaking of The Ten Commandments: On Easter Sunday, I walked past a Toronto bar named after a prominent atheist and that film was playing on a big screen – talk about universal appeal. What television or film offerings about your faith would all of you recommend for a general audience?
Raheel Raza: I would recommend The Message – interestingly, a Hollywood film with Anthony Quinn at his best, but I recently reviewed it again at Emmanuel College and it’s quite encompassing – without, of course, touching on what’s happening in the Muslim world today. A particularly poignant moment is when the beseiged Muslims go to a Christian king for refuge.
Lorna Dueck: In TV offerings, there are implicit and explicit faith explorations, like we do on Context TV each Sunday. Then there are biblical themes in many different film offerings that require interpretation. The Lord of the Rings, for example, is a deeply Christian movie series, but it could be seen as just a fascinating fable until you sit together with other Christians and explore J.R.R. Tolkien’s life journey that led him to writing the Hobbit series. Then you realize the layers of Christian truth woven all over it.
Howard is correct that “religion lite” is the standard fare from Hollywood, but that can force us to ask ourselves why we have a palate just for the “lite” stuff. Understanding the original source material is a learned literacy that comes through teaching. I lead a weekly group reading the Book of Esther right now, and digging deep into weekly Bible study like this is proving to be life-changing stuff for a handful of us women working in downtown Toronto.
Peter Stockland: We have a great piece in the upcoming Convivium called Batmessiah and Spider-Mensch, in which political theorist Travis Smith traces the roots of the two masked comic-book heroes to Jerusalem. I think the key is having the biblical literacy to see the echoes – or distortions – in virtually all forms of popular entertainment.
Guy Nicholson: I’d like to read that one. Give the headline writer a raise.
Raheel Raza: Sounds fascinating, Peter. I’m worried about our youth – that younger generations don’t read as much as we used to. They would rather watch or download something, so I guess it doesn’t hurt to have mini-series on faith as long as they’re historical and accurate.