Given the misinformation that’s been put out into the world about my church and my religion, when I saw a few recent articles about the public outcry surrounding a Netflix comedy special from Brazil—which features a gay Jesus and a pot-smoking Mary (among other incendiary things)—the first thing I decided to do was watch it for myself.
I did that because I have seen many examples of people getting upset about something simply because of a miscommunication or misinterpretation, or because the media generalized or purposely misinformed people in order to create controversy. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, always.
This particular Netflix special, called The First Temptation of Christ, is only 46 minutes long, so I figured it wouldn’t be too much of an investment to watch it and make up my own mind.
I made it 31 minutes in, to the scene that managed to insult Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Rastafarianism, and yes, even managed to throw in multiple jabs at Scientology.
Tearing down someone’s beliefs takes zero courage, thought or even self-awareness. Standing up for something you believe in, on the other hand, takes an incredible amount of courage and integrity.
I believe in the value of satire. I believe wholeheartedly in freedom of speech and the right to protest. I believe in the power of art to hold up a mirror to a culture and ask hard questions that deserve thoughtful and honest answers.
In response to the uproar this film has caused, the producers of this special are saying that that’s what The First Temptation is doing. And if I thought that were true then I would be the first person to stand up and defend this “comedy,” no matter how personally distasteful I found it.
But this is the line that made me hit the pause button and lose all interest in watching any more:
“People are gullible. They’ll literally believe in anything.”
There’s an extreme arrogance to be found in anyone directly attacking people’s faith in something greater than themselves. Condemning others by espousing the idea that any organized religion or spiritual observance is, by default, only for “the gullible masses” is, to me, a form of cowardice, and also intellectually lazy. It’s like insulting someone from an anonymous internet profile. Tearing down someone’s beliefs takes zero courage, thought or even self-awareness. Standing up for something you believe in, on the other hand, takes an incredible amount of courage and integrity.
If you have a problem with a particular religion or church, you have every right to protest and make a factual, well-thought-out and well-articulated argument in order to ensure your viewpoint is heard, respected and considered. But, especially when it comes to artists—who wield incredible power to influence people and culture and shape our collective future—there’s also a responsibility to ensure that your intentions truly are to help people reach a more responsible, enlightened state. If you’re going to try to tear down people’s faith in something that gives their lives purpose and meaning, you must be willing to offer an alternative that also offers purpose and meaning. Otherwise you’re simply inviting people to fall off a cliff into the same cynicism and apathy that you appear to be suffering from, and that our current popular culture often wallows in and even glorifies.
This “comedy” offers nothing positive to replace what it’s trying so hard to tear apart. And I keep putting “comedy” in quotes because it’s not funny, either. It’s degrading and mean-spirited and completely self-satisfied.
In an open and free society, artists have the right to communicate whatever they want. But the rest of us sure as hell don’t have to just sit by politely and take it without standing up for the vast majority of intelligent, free-thinking and intellectually curious people who know that faith in the greater good, a greater purpose and the divine nature of life isn’t a weakness. It’s the greatest possible source of strength.