April 23, 2009


This one-hour documentary was released in 2005, but seems to be enjoying a resurgence in popularity. (Just saw a banner ad for it on The Huffington Post.) Created by Brian Flemming, who attended a fundamentalist Christian school in California as a child, calls his work "a search for Jesus." His conclusion is that Christianity is bunk, which is all well and good, except that his "research" is, for the most part, based on bunk and astonishingly gross inaccuracies. The documentary is mildly witty, but put together with a very simple, pleasing aesthetic that makes it very easy to watch.

Before I review the DVD, let me say that I feel for Brian who felt terrorized as a child by the threat of damnation he was taught at school. Being a smart kid, he knew Jesus would forgive everything except the "sin against the Holy Spirit," which was not well explained to him. So, naturally, when he doubted the Holy Spirit, he felt he was going to hell. I think a lot of kids and adults have gone through scrupulous periods in their lives (mostly from poor teaching), but we need to overcome them—as Brian did—and learn something from this process about the true nature of God. God is love. God is mercy. God desires our salvation more than we do. His will is a saving will. I think that once we come to that, we break with our unhealthy fears of the past, get over it, and move on. This is part of maturation.

So what is this unforgiveable "sin against the Holy Spirit"? Simply that we reject God's mercy. God does not force anything on us. We are free. God's forgiveness is no good to us if we don't accept it. The Catholic Church helpfully lists the most common ways we can reject or thwart God's mercy. (Yes! We can thwart God's saving will in our regard! We are more powerful than God! But He will never stop loving us, even if we're in hell.) 1) resisting the known truth 2) obstinacy in sinning 3) final impenitence 4) despair 5) presumption 6) [this one I don't totally understand:] envy of the graces received by others. (People smarter than I could explain this, but I'll take a stab: Envy of mankind—which was Satan's big problem in the Garden after Pride caused him to fall from heaven—was a total lack of trust in God. Envy says: God is not good in my regard, God can't be trusted in my regard, and wouldn't this just totally rupture our entire relationship with Him?)

Brian starts off with: "Christianity was wrong about the solar system. What else might it be wrong about?" Oh dear, oh dear. So, I should start my science documentary with "Science was wrong about blood-letting and Earth being flat. What else might it be wrong about?" Nicholas Copernicus, who started the "Copernican revolution"—the earth revolves around sun, not vice versa—was a Roman Catholic Polish priest. Yes, that's Father Copernicus to you. (Just as the Big Bang Theory was posited by a French priest, Father Georges Lemaitre.) Flemming, of course, is referring to the "Galileo Affair," which, without even looking, I'm sure Wikipedia treats fairly. JP2G apologized profusely for this gaffe.

Let us remember that it wasn't just "Christianity," but the whole world who "kept up" with science, such as it was, pre-modern and modern. When startling new findings were proposed/discovered, there was always some resistance from all quarters. Science keeps changing its story, or rather, refining it, discovering new layers, depths, etc. So does Christianity in its own way: "development of doctrine," nuance, better understandings/explanations for God's immutable reality/truth. Why is it that only science is allowed to make boo-boos and claim infallibility (at the same time)?


--Brian calls Charles Manson and other mentally ill or criminally insane people "Christians."

--Brian makes fun of the victims of the Waco massacre, calling them "86 crispy fans" of the rapture

--Brian dates the writing of the Gospels much later than their actual writing because the Gospel of Mark mentions the destruction of the Temple (70 AD). But this was a prediction of the Temple's destruction.

--Jesus died in 33 AD (Nope—'cause he was born about 6 BC! Everyone knew that the crazy monk who made our calendar was off by a few years. Even his contemporaries. But he wouldn't listen.)

--Brian puts forth all kinds of undocumented claims: Jesus may have died before A.D., Everyone forgot about Jesus after he died until Paul came along. (NO mention of the Apostles missionary work, the Church in Rome, etc.)

--Brian ignores ALL extra-biblical documents and sources around the time of Jesus like the Jewish historian Josephus, official Roman documents, etc. All he mentions are Gnostic sources. And Gnosticism is not Christianity. It's a completely different religion.

--Atheist author Sam Harris chillingly states: You can't just say that human life is sacred and so it is, based on your religious beliefs. [I hope he thinks that secular humanists could say it based on their humanism and based on the fact that we ARE human and we love our species or something. I hope he thinks human life is special and worth something!]

--There are, like, NO normal Christians in the doc, except some sweet (and made to look ignorant because they possibly were) Billy Graham Crusade go-ers. And no Catholics who would tell ya in no uncertain terms that faith and reason are BFFs! Brian shows lots of clips from rabid, bigoted anchormen-hair televangelists from the 70's and 80's.

--Like Dawkins, Brian reads the Bible at face value and concludes that God is a tyrannical, homophobic, misogynist, jealous, mean, murderous despot. He says the "God hates Fags" wackos are right. If you're a good believer, you should be stoning sinners. "Moderate Christianity makes no sense." Actually, Christianity makes no sense at all except from the inside, so I can totally see how he would come to this conclusion from the outside. This also why "Sola Scriptura" is impossible. We need the Church to explain the Scriptures to us: What belongs to the past, what is still in vogue, how God has changed in His ways of dealing with His people. That's also why the New Testament, the New Covenant, is truly new. (Brian lumps the Hebrew Scriptures [Old Testament] with the New.)

--Brian states that Paul only preached a heavenly Jesus, not an earthly one, as though Paul didn't know Jesus had an earthly life. It was common first century preaching to emphasize the divinity of Jesus. Also, the Gospels took care of meticulously covering Jesus' "earthly" life. In Paul, what we have is follow-up pastoral letters, not his original kerygma (first preaching of the Gospel to a people). Just because Paul didn't talk about "Mary and Joseph" doesn't mean he "didn't know" about them! Paul says what he needs to about Jesus' lineage (of David), the fact that He was "true man" ("born of a woman, under the Law"--Galatians 4:4). Also, the people Paul was talking to--at least in Jerusalem--knew Jesus themselves! (1 Corinthians 15:6)


--Clips from a delightful 1905 silent movie of the Life of Christ kind of steal the whole show. Love those Victorian angels!

--Faith and reason SHOULD go together! "If faith does not think, it is nothing." –St. Augustine.

--Atheist author Sam Harris is right: Dogmas SHOULD be examined critically. (Otherwise you're in a cult. As I tell the teens: if any religion—or anyone else—tells you not to think, or they'll do your thinking for you: RUN!! It's not of God who is the donor of our brains and expects a return on His investment.) To just throw something into the realm of faith or belief does not make it out of bounds or a "conversation stopper."

--The Christian story--what God did in Jesus Christ--isn't completely, totally different from other ancient and contemporaneous myths. Why not? 1) Because this is God's world. There are inklings of God everywhere, including in the psyches of mythmakers, cultures, religions, the human heart. There are "seeds of the Gospel" everywhere. 2) God is all about Incarnation—coming into what IS. 3) Jesus wasn't as interested in being intelligible to Gentiles as to the Jews. And the Jews had a very unique God story. We Christians are the "wild olive" grafted onto the domestic olive tree that is Judaism. We cannot evangelize Christ without evangelizing the history of God in Israel. "Spiritually, we are all Semites." –Pius XII 4) Yes, the difference with this "myth" is that it's true 5) Yes, Satan likes to set up his bogus, counterfeit, sham, reverse-perverse, lookalike, parody kingdom everywhere (not that all others myths/religions are demonic by any means, but Satan likes to get his tail into the panoply of religions and multiply, confuse, divide and conquer). Check out the Book of Revelation for Satan's Happy Palace that looks suspiciously like the Lamb's.

--Yes, some of the Bible is folklore. Inspired folklore.

Should you see this DVD? If you wish. It's simply nothing new, does not add to the conversation. It's Brian's coming out. However, I found "Religulous" a tad more honest.


  1. Anonymous12:12 AM

    Nice review Sister.

    Since it seems to be one of the main reasons for the resentment of Christianity, how do you think we can deal with the problem of fundamentalism?

  2. Anonymous2:00 PM

    Sister Helena,

    One of the people who had a prominent role in creating this "documentary" - I'm not sure if it "Brian" himself of one of the "behind-the-scenes" grunts, recently converted to Catholicism. He has a blog, formerly called the Raving Atheist, now called the Raving Theist!


  3. I think Biblical fundamentalism is a self-negating stance. When talking with Christian fundamentalists, I always start with: "Have you ever sinned with your hand?" "Yes." "Then why haven't you cut it off yet?" Then we start talking about how we know what parts of the Bible to take literally, the need for the Church to tell us how to interpret the Bible, (Jesus providing for this need with the guarantee of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Magisterium), the Church pre-dating the Christian Scriptures, the Bible saying that the Church, not the Bible, is the "pillar and foundation of truth," the Scriptures never claim "Sola Scriptura," etc.

    As someone who accepted the Catholic Church at age 15 after a search and a struggle, I can say that I love the Catholic Church more and more every day. Even if I wasn't a nun, I'd be Catholic. Even if I wasn't Catholic, I'd be Catholic. I would have found my way into the Catholic Church (with the grace of God). It's just so respectful of human intelligence and free will.

    Tres exciting about the raving atheist! I have a dear friend who was a self-described "raging atheist" for most of her life, and is now a happy Catholic.

  4. Sister Helena,

    This is another great review. I probably won't see the DVD, but I like the part where you separated out the correct parts from those that are wrong.

    I also appreciate the above comment, because it gives me some ideas for approaching a family member who no longer practices the Catholic faith, concerning his literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.