We have all experienced the frustration of a secular Hollywood. Films of wonderful technical quality, with superb actors, and devoid of anything resembling a Christian worldview. We have also suffered the embarrassment of viewing evangelical attempts to produce great films—which have ended up, quite rightly, in church halls since their sophistication only rarely exceeds Sunday School standards. And then there have been the painfully ambivalent efforts of angry young Christians (Franky Schaeffer and his ilk), whose efforts at cinematography have been almost too painful to watch.
Well, in France (to most American evangelicals, the country of sex and rank paganism), a film has just reached the theatres—the public theatres, not a church network—that is one of most powerful pieces of Christian evangelism I have ever been privileged to witness. And the critics have been, on the whole, very enthusiastic. For example, the Figaro’s film critic did a review (9 February 2011) titled, Dieu s’invite chez les bobos (God invites himself among the hurting—“bobos” being children’s slang for something that hurts). Pariscope spoke of the film as “subtle, strong and sensitive, opening new windows on religion—a magnificent film to see these days when religions often demonstrate nothing but intolerance.”
The film is entitled Qui a envie d’être aimé? (Who wants to be loved?). The producer-director, Anne Giafferi, brings to the screen her husband’s—Thierry Bizot’s—short semi-autobiographical novel of his conversion. The book is entitled, Catholique anonyme (Anonymous Catholic), but the theme of the book and the film is hardly Roman Catholicism. Indeed, in France “when we talk of religion,” says Bizot, “it’s about the Pope and contraceptives—never about God.” But the film and book do exactly that.
The plot could not be simpler. The hero, a middle-aged, successful criminal lawyer in Paris, goes more-or-less out of curiosity to a catechetical class in a local church. The class is organised not in a pedagogical style but somewhat like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting: each person tells why he’s there and where he is spiritually. Our lawyer says simply that he’s an atheist and is curious. Among the other attendees is a woman desperate to criticise the church and looking for a spiritual “experience”—and a gentleman who thinks that his knowledge of the Bible and of theology easily surpasses that of the rather passive priest conducting the sessions.
Outside the class, the lawyer has real problems relating to his teenage son; father is seen flying off the handle when the son cuts class to attend a movie. The lawyer’s own father has let property payments go into arrears and the house the father occupies with the lawyer’s ne’er-do-well brother is about to be seized for back payments. The lawyer himself pays the outstanding amount, and, for his efforts, is struck in the face by the brother at a family dinner. His father says afterwards: “You were always the strong one—more intelligent, more capable; your brother has always resented that.”
The lawyer continues to attend the class. After a truly sad encounter with his father, he goes into a small chapel near his father’s house at the seaside, and there is confronted by a statuette of Our Lord, arms extended. Something clicks; the penny drops. He subsequently apologises to his son for becoming angry with him over cutting school—and the son, knowing that he himself was in the wrong—is drawn as never before to his father.
The final catechetical class takes place. The lawyer’s wife wants him to go somewhere else. He says that he must attend the final class. There, the woman who has been criticising the church says that she is very disappointed: she has not had the “experience” she was looking for. The doctrinal expert in the class says the same, and is ready to cite chapter and verse to the priest on the subject. The lawyer, however, says simply: “The god I grew up with and rejected is not the god I have found. Jesus—the God who found me—understands my weaknesses, loves me, and has given himself for me.” The lawyer’s wife has come silently into the back of the room and hears this. She understands. He says: “Don’t worry; I’m not going to join a monastery.” But both of them realise that a completely new life has now begun. In the book on which the film is based, the final section is titled: Dis seulement une parole et je serai guéri (Speak but a word and I shall be healed—Mt. 8:8; Lk 7:7).
One of our favourite—and especially faithful—contributors to the Global Journal is Dr Donald T. Williams. In this issue, he graces us with an article whose subject could not be more valuable or interesting: “The Praise of Christ in English Devotional Poetry.” At the other end of the theological spectrum are, of course, the new atheists and the modernists (with considerably less distance between them than one might imagine). Treating “The New Atheist’s Anti-Yahwistic Argument” is Jordan W. Jones; and Stephanie D. Guido offers a trenchant critique of the views of Bishop John Shelby Spong.
— John Warwick Montgomery