And the sun will turn to darkness and the moon will turn to blood. For in one hour is Thy judgment come.”–The Book of Revelation
Although I am uncertain if it is acceptable to admit this publicly, let me confess that I have yet to read any of the wildly popular Left Behind books about the end times. Gauging from the sales of the book series (50 million copies), I am in an ever-shrinking minority. As a seminary drop-out, I am content in my ground-level confidence that things will culminate in a righteous and wildly exotic fashion.
As a child, I saw spooky and schlocky movies at church about the Mark of the Beast, the anti-Christ, and the Rapture. I had skin-crawling nightmares about being abandoned by my parents because they had been whisked away by my Lord and Savior, while I was left to run away from United Nations flunkies who were trying to get me to have a series of numbers etched into my skin. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but I still may be a little gun-shy about the Second Coming.
Having said all that, I am intrigued by the new NBC miniseries called Revelations. Make no mistake, it is not the Omega Code, Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind–The Movie, or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s End of Days. Judging from the first episode, which will air on Wednesday night, this is far more X-Files than something you are going to hear at a Hal Lindsey seminar about “The Late Great Planet Earth.”
Executive producer Gavin Polone (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and executive producer-writer David Seltzer (The Omen) explore a clever and edgy end-of-the-world scenario that pits God and the devil in a final showdown as prophesied in the Bible.
Science and faith collide when Richard Massey (Bill Pullman), a Harvard astrophysicist, reluctantly teams up with Sister Josepha Montifiore (Natascha McElhone), a globe-trotting nun who investigates miraculous events. “I know it sounds preposterous,” she tells him. “But as a fellow scholar I can tell you that all the signs and symbols set forth in the Bible are currently in place for the end of the days.”
Together, the two of them stumble upon an eclectic collection of events and personalities such as a Scripture-quoting little girl who is in a coma after being struck by lightening in Miami, a creepy Satanist who murdered Massey’s daughter in a ritual sacrifice, and a mysterious infant floating on a piece of wood who appears to be the lone survivor after a ship is lost at sea.
“We felt what needed to be done is a television show that expressed itself as Christian,” Polone told the New York Times. “We’re very clear about that here….The words ‘Jesus Christ’ or ‘Christ’ are used three times a minute.” Of course he exaggerates to make the point that the networks adhere to a draconian gag rule regarding the most-well known figure in human history.
“I think it’s going to be provocative because we actually say the name Jesus Christ and we talk about the Bible and we talk about specific Scriptures and what they mean,” writer David Seltzer further elaborates in a teleconference with reporters. “I think an audience also will become aware of the fact that the world really is on the cusp of ending, and will look at their own faith and their own doubt and their own ability, perhaps, to affect the outcome of the very dangerous times that we live in.”
Revelations is not meant to be a seminary class on eschatology. Everyone should be gently reminded that it is never a good idea to adopt theology from Oprah, those wearing sandwich boards, or network television. “We’re telling a fictional story,” says writer David Seltzer. “It is not a religious tale.”
Ah, but religious tales are hot commodities. There seems to be an ever-increasing willingness on the part of big-time corporate media to realize that expressions of faith are unmistakably creeping into our culture. One only has to witness the round the clock coverage of the passing of Pope John Paul II, the Ashley Smith-Purpose Driven Life story, The Passion of the Christ box office, the Terri Schiavo case, virtually every review of a U2 concert, and the best-selling book The Da Vinci Code.
Our American culture is inextricably linked to religion. We may not like getting hit over the head with a Bible, but we sure don’t want you to ignore the fact that we read it.
In a teleconference with reporters, John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings), who plays skeptical scientist in Revelations, was asked about Hollywood’s speedy drift toward religion. “Filthy lucre would be the great motivator, wouldn’t it?” he responded.
“By and large, all the bad things you hear about Hollywood are true,” he continued. “…There are very few people who actually understand that a good story done well may just attract an audience and make money. The people who are in charge of Hollywood really are not quite literate in any real sense, and very few of them actually understand what a good story is…But the reason Hollywood has discovered good and evil is that people believe in it.”
While discussing the problem of supernatural evil portrayed in Revelations, Rhys-Davies reminded reporters of a teaching of the Medieval Church, “When you’re faced with a great, scary, supernatural threat, the trick is to remember that God managed to turn spirit into flesh, which gives him one up on the devil, because the devil can’t do that. The old Dominicans used to say when you’re faced with this great evil, just remind the devil of his limitations–and the incantation was Jesu ad verbum caro factum est–Jesus and the Word was made flesh. It is the incarnation that gives the moral and spiritual value of good over evil that actually defeats the devil in the imagination.”
While based on biblical notions, it is worth mentioning again that “Revelations” is fictitious. After all, the two lead characters are trying to figure out a way to forestall the apocalyptic collision of God and the devil. While that proposition may be theologically absurd, it makes for an intriguing hour of television.
–Steve Beard is the creator of www.Thunderstruck.org–a website devoted to faith and pop culture.