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'2012': The fall of all faiths, except for 1

Posted By Drew Zahn's column On 11/15/2009 @ 11:59 pm In Diversions | Comments Disabled

“2012″ is an apocalyptic bonanza, a rip-roaring roller coaster through disaster and mayhem, complete with earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, and mass destruction of buildings, landmarks and whole continents, all capped off by a car-and-plane chase scene with nature’s worst in hot pursuit, attempting to rip Los Angeles down on the heads of our story’s heroes.

Indeed, if you can suspend all disbelief for the fun of it, desensitize yourself to the deaths of millions portrayed on the screen and simply revel in the wizardry of adrenaline-laced special effects, “2012″ is a powerful piece of entertainment. It’s an end-of-the-world smorgasbord far more fulfilling than its makers’ previous, pitiful foray into doomsday, “The Day After Tomorrow.”

But once the lava, ash and tidal waves have settled (“dust” settling is far too tame for a movie of this magnitude), it’s abundantly clear that this film has a lot more to say than “Settle in with some popcorn for a blockbuster.”

Indeed, “2012″ blasts its viewers with dozens of both overt and symbolic messages on prayer, faith and religion – and not just as a side dish, but as the movie’s main entrée.

The film’s writer and director, Roland Emmerich, confessed as much in an earlier interview with scifiwire.com, in which he reveled in the movie’s destruction of Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue because, “I’m against organized religion,” and said of the scene in which St. Peter’s Basilica steamrolls over Catholic faithful, “In the story, some people … believe in praying and prayer, and they pray in front of the church, and it’s probably the wrong thing.”

“2012″ builds a platform from which Emmerich can take shots at the Bible, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Buddhism, utilitarian morality, Islam, even devout atheism – indeed, at Emmerich’s end of the world, all religious worldviews fall.

All that is, save one.

To be fair, “2012″ is filled with mixed messages, mocking prayer in one scene, while honoring it another, tearing down all religions while resorting to incredibly religious metaphors in the movie’s conclusion.

In one scene, for example, a radio call-in guest testifies of the coming catastrophe, “Our family believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ, so we have nothing to fear.”

It’s worth noting the caller, though portrayed as a dolt, is one of only three characters in the film who face death without fear – the other two being a crazy doomsdayer and a man who, in a prayer-filled chapel, devoted his last moments to forgiveness and serving others.

At the same time, the thematic portrayal of prayer as futile and destruction of religious symbols with gleeful abandon set up the end-of-days solution the filmmaker seems to prefer – the elimination of all religions … except for his.

(On a side note, some have noticed there is no destruction of Muslim holy sites in the film, an omission Emmerich told scifiwire.com he only reluctantly acquiesced to because he was afraid of death threats: “You can actually let Christian symbols fall apart, but if you would do this with [an] Arab symbol, you would have … a fatwa. … So I kind of left it out.”)

In the end, as the last survivors of humanity flee into arks along with two of every animal to escape the coming worldwide flood (like I said, the movie is steeped in religious metaphors at its conclusion), the film’s heroes make their moralizing speeches, and here audiences get a heavy injection of the filmmaker’s worldview.

“To be human means to care about others,” proclaims one of the film’s chief protagonists, a bold young scientist named Dr. Helmsley.

The scientist’s speech to world leaders drips with humanistic morality, and the film ends by honoring a book that hopes and believes all people altruistic in the face of their deaths (the book, notably, is fiction, a novel that sells poorly because the public believes its premise to be naïve).

For in the film’s happy ending, we discover “we are all one family,” a civilization – now that all organized religion has been drowned in disaster – of people that are essentially good and inherently moral. We learn that a bright hope awaits us all if we can only set aside the dogma that divides us.

Or, at least, that’s the lesson learned for those who subscribe to that secular humanist drivel.

Yes, if you throw out God, deny his revealed truth, pretend sin nature doesn’t exist and believe that society-binding morality is created by spontaneous combustion, like a “Big Bang” from the human heart, then you might actually believe such utopian dreams are possible – especially after we’ve wiped all the churches, temples and mosques off the map.

The only problem is, “utopia,” a word from the Greek that means “not a real place,” cannot be created by a democracy of sinners, by thinking positive thoughts or by appealing to the good in all of us.

The concept of such a utopia is based on wishful thinking, not spiritual truth, which, revealed by our Creator, is that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked – that human nature is corrupted, that we need a savior, that true freedom comes from our redemption, rather than our redemption coming from the freedom from religion.

And so, “2012,” for all its attempt at making a statement about religion and the good of humanity, makes little more than a fuzzy-feeling appeal to an empty philosophy that may sound good in Hollywood clichés but has no basis in truth.

On the upside, the film is fun, does laud a few themes of faith (whether intentionally or unintentionally) and even portrays compassion, heroism, relational redemption and messianic self-sacrifice. It reveals utilitarianism (“the good of the many outweighs the good of the few”) as morally bankrupt and positively portrays some biblical metaphors.

These are the bright points, however, in a dark forest when it comes to the movie’s main message and worldview. “2012″ simply begins with a physical catastrophe … and ends with a spiritual one.

(As a postscript, the film may have some appeal to young-Earth creationists, for it portrays as plausible a worldwide flood in which the planet’s tectonic plates shift dramatically, form new mountain chains and reshape the face of the Earth beneath the turbulent deep. It suggests a big enough boat – or ark – can preserve life as we know it. It’s like watching Noah’s story come to life on the big screen. The only element missing that would really cap it off is scientists 6,000 years later digging up fossils of New York City, proclaiming them to be hundreds of billions of years old and declaring the apes of Central Park Zoo to be our ancestors.)

Content advisory:

  • “2012″ contains several profanities and a profane gesture – not enough to warrant an R rating or significantly distract from the storyline, but enough to give some parents pause.
  • The film has little sexuality apart from a few scantily clad ladies at a boxing match, a Paris Hilton lookalike character who flaunts her immodest fashion, some discussion about infidelity and a couple of sexual references in jokes.
  • For a movie of this theme, there was remarkably little gore and violence. Yes, we see car crashes, buildings falling, people being killed, even people falling from collapsing skyscrapers (a warning to those still horrified by 9/11), but most of it is from a distance with very little detail or gore. The most gruesome image is actually the half-decayed carcass of a dead elk.
  • As noted above, the film is rife with religious content and imagery. It’s not a side theme; it’s the main theme. Several religious references were not mentioned in the body of the review, including a partial reading of Psalm 23, conversations with a Buddhist monk and many brief lines about various faiths and worldviews. The film’s initial premise is that Mayan astrologers predicted an “aligning of the planets” that would cause solar destruction of the earth’s civilizations in 2012. This is confined to two or three scenes, however, and is not a major theme throughout the film. Occult content could be present in symbols written or tattooed on the backs of devotees of the Mayan mythology.

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