No, But I Have a Good Idea…
Movies and other fictional sources can be a great source of wisdom. Our faith, Jediism, is quite obviously influenced by the Star Wars saga, which in turn finds its influences in fictional sources including Kurosawa’s "The Hidden Fortress". Characters like Yoda and Darth Vader find their geneses in the Tao Te Ching and the Bushido Code, respectively. These movies and characters have become an avenue for conveying timeless wisdom, and this was done on purpose. Sometimes, though, this wisdom comes from unexpected or unconventional places.
Today, I’d like to share some wisdom from one such unconventional source. In 1999, Director Kevin Smith released a film titled "Dogma", an irreverent and controversial comedy about the follies of modern religion. It was the latest in his series of films featuring his popular characters Jay and Silent Bob, but this one was a bit different from the other movies in the franchise. The story focuses on the character Bethany Sloane, a Catholic who has lost faith in the church and in her God, but finds herself tapped by Heavenly forces to save the universe from a couple of rogue angels bent on using a loophole in Catholic dogma to prove God wrong and thus destroy all existence. As the story moves along, it becomes clear that the goal of the film is to point out the danger of dogmatic belief in comparison to flexible ideas.
As we follow Bethany, portrayed by actress Linda Fiorentino, we are introduced to a number of characters including the Metatron (the voice of God), Rufus (the thirteenth and forgotten Apostle of Jesus Christ), Serendipity (a Muse who inspires artists), and a friend of Bethany’s named Liz who is witness to Bethany’s crisis of faith. Each of these characters manages to offer profound wisdom that we can apply to our own Paths as Jedi, even when it is disguised as clever or witty dialogue. I’d like to share a few examples that stood out among the others.
I’ll start with Liz, played by Janeane Garofalo, who tries to help our main character gain some perspective and better understand why people sometimes lose faith in their church or God as they grow older. She does so by sharing some advice she received from a priest during her own crisis of faith.
Liz: "He said that faith is like a glass of water. When you're young, the glass is small, and it's easy to fill up. But the older you get, the bigger the glass gets, and the same amount of liquid doesn't fill it anymore. Periodically, the glass has to be refilled."
This is one tiny moment in the film, but it is an important one. This explanation of faith lays the foundation for Bethany’s Hero’s Journey. Her calling is to save all of existence, but in doing so she will also be refilling her glass and restoring her faith. She is reluctant in the beginning, as many heroes are, but this conversation gives her mission a context. Her faith is being tested, and it takes these extraordinary events to provide enough substance to see her glass full again.
Soon after, when Bethany is conversing with the seraph Metatron, the voice of God portrayed by Alan Rickman, he informs her that she is the Last Scion. Put simply, she is the last living relative of Jesus Christ and the only person capable of saving the world. She is obviously quite overwhelmed by this, and the resulting conversation reveals a great bit of wisdom that can be drawn from the story of Jesus.
Bethany: "I don't want this, it's too big."
Metatron: "That's what Jesus said. Yes, I had to tell him. And you can imagine how that hurt the Father - not to be able to tell the Son Himself because one word from His lips would destroy the boy's frail human form? So I was forced to deliver the news to a scared child who wanted nothing more than to play with other children. I had to tell this little boy that He was God's only Son, and that it meant a life of persecution and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the very people He came to enlighten and redeem. He begged me to take it back, as if I could. He begged me to make it all not true. And I'll let you in on something, Bethany, this is something I've never told anyone before... If I had the power, I would have."
This one brief interaction reveals a side of Jesus Christ that most don’t often consider. Even as the Son of God, Jesus was still a human being susceptible to fear and doubt. We learn that perhaps the closest to perfection any human being has ever come still came with the inherent human flaws we all have. Jesus was able to overcome the fear and doubt, and we see in Dogma that Bethany is able to overcome them as well. It is an inspiring message that we can apply to our own lives when we encounter something that seems overwhelming.
We also learn a bit more about Jesus from his forgotten Thirteenth Apostle, Rufus, played by actor and comedian Chris Rock. His dialogue sheds a lot of light on the way modern religion, specifically Catholicism, has twisted the original teachings of Jesus Christ. He shares this wisdom with Bethany to help her understand her role in saving the world. These are just two examples of the wisdom we can take from Rufus.
When speaking of the rogue angels Bartleby (Ben Affleck) and Loki (Matt Damon) and how they are using Catholic Dogma to defy the word of God, Rufus explains religion this way.
Rufus: People die for it, people kill for it. The whole of existence is in jeopardy right now, because of the Catholic belief structure, regarding this plenary indulgence bulls**t. Bartlteby and Loki, whether they know it or not, are exploiting that belief. And if they're successful, you and me, all of this, ends in a heartbeat. All over a belief.
And later he speaks to Bethany about religion in general and how modern belief structures have lost the original message of Jesus.
Rufus: He still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the s**t that gets carried out in His name - wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.
Bethany: Having beliefs isn't good?
Rufus: I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier...
The artistic Muse Serendipity, played by Salma Hayek, adds to this wisdom as she explains to Bethany why she believes that humanity has failed in its efforts to find a religion that works for everybody.
Serendipity: When are you people going to learn? It's not about who's right or wrong. No denomination's nailed it yet, because they're all too self-righteous to realize that it doesn't matter what you have faith in, just that you have faith. Your hearts are in the right place, but your brains gotta to wake up.
Serendipity and Rufus are both stating quite directly that modern religion has become so wrapped up in defending beliefs and being right that they have lost the original ideas contained in the teachings. The myth has become more important than the message. The lessons are lost in the dogma. Naming one’s faith has taken precedent over simply having faith.
So, what can we learn from "Dogma" as Jedi? For starters, we can see the danger of over reliance on mythology when defining our faith. While we take on the mantle of “Jedi”, we must always be aware that the Star Wars story is not our foundation. It is the ideas contained within that we gain our wisdom from. It is the lessons to be learned from watching the growth of the fictional characters that we need to focus on. It is discovering the influences and messages behind the mythology that is most important.
We can also learn a little something about faith. As Jedi, many of us proclaim to have faith in the Force. Some others maintain a faith in God or gods alongside Jediism. There are also Jedi who put their faith in science and logic. Regardless of where we may place our faith, what we learn from "Dogma" is that it is important to have faith in something. Even if it is only in our fellow human beings, we need to include faith in our lives. It provides meaning and context to a life that would otherwise be random and chaotic.
These lessons can be summed up in one final interaction between Bethany and Rufus at the conclusion of the film. As Rufus and the angels are returning to Heaven with God, portrayed by none other than Alanis Morissette, Rufus asks one more time if Bethany’s faith has been restored.
Rufus: Are you saying you believe?
Bethany: No. But I have a good idea.
No, But I Have a Good Idea…
- Written by Senan
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No, But I Have a Good Idea…