Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Paul -- subjective truths and shattering faiths

Director: Greg Mottola, 2011. (R) 

OK, I must confess: Hot Fuzz is one of my favorite films. No, it did not win any major awards. But this English comedy spoofs so many buddy-cop movies and Westerns and has so many classic lines (like, “Pub!” or "the greater good") that it is the mashed potatoes of movies for me: a comfort film I can watch again and again, especially with British friends. So when Paul came out written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the two stars of Hot Fuzz, my hopes were high. Sadly, this film is no Hot Fuzz. It has its moments, spoofing or referncing many older science fiction films, like Close Encounters and Star Wars, but it has too many unnecessary sexual references and borders on offensive.

Pegg and Frost are two British comic book geeks, Graeme and Clive, visiting America for comic-con. After paying homage to various sci-fi books, films and even video games, the two embark on a road trip, a pilgrimage to the UFO heartlands of America, places like Area 52. Setting out in a monster RV, these two run afoul of two redneck Americans who mistake them for a pair of gay lovers. After they crash into the rednecks’ truck, they realize have created a pair of enemies set on hunting them down. And then when they witness a car crash on an empty road later that night, they run into one survivor – Paul, an alien who speaks perfect English (voice of Seth Rogen). Taking him on board, this unlikely pair set off on an adventure to return him to his ship.

The film actually begins a half century earlier, when Paul’s spaceship crashes to earth. At that time he was taken to a secret establishment to be studied but was really a prisoner of the military. Once he understands this, and that he has told them all he knows, he realizes he must escape or be killed. But he is pursued by shadowy government figures led by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman, Up in the Air). And that brings us to Graeme and Clive.

With Agent Zoil and the two rednecks chasing them, Graeme, Clive and Paul stop at an RV site where they meet Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and her father Moses Bugg (John Carroll Lynch, Shutter Island). They are devout, fundamentalist Christians, but clearly a gross caricature. They are a parody of Christian literalists and form the brunt of many of the jokes. Herein is where some of the humor might seem offensive, particularly to religious believers. But it is also here that some of the interesting moral themes emerge.

Once the Buggs come on the scene it is clear that there is an anti-religion, and particularly anti-Christian, message to this movie. When Paul “shows” Ruth the truths of the universe in a Vulcan mind-lock maneuver, she declares: “So, everything that I have been told my whole life is just a big fat lie? Do you know how that feels?” Graeme, trying to pacify her, responds, “Look. Just because your truth isn’t the true truth doesn’t mean there is no truth.” Here is the first theme: subjective truths.

Graeme implies that everyone has some truths that they cling to, but that most of them are not true truths. But here is an oxymoron. A truth is a verified or indisputable fact, proposition or principle, something that conforms with fact or reality. If it does not, then it is not a truth. To say you have a true truth is to be redundant. To say that your truth isn’t truth is to deny your truth. It is no longer truth. Some may say it is true to you (or to the person holding it) but that it is not objective truth; some might refer to it as subjective truth but in reality it is no truth. Truth is truth and is so for all.

However, Graeme is correct in that “subjective truth” does not preclude actual objective truth. All truth is fundamentally grounded in the Truth, Jesus Christ, who said: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). Unlike Pontius Pilate, who sneered, “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38), at Jesus, followers of Jesus hold firmly to the fact that there is truth to be found, both in physical nature and in the spiritual realm. The Bible affirms that “God is truthful” (Jn. 3:33) and he does not lie (Tit. 1:2). Without such truth, there is no grounds for faith.

And this gets to the second and larger theme of the film: destroying a person’s faith. In the film, Paul comes along, an alien from a distant planet who can show Ruth that the origins of the universe are other than outlined in the Bible. Moreover, he shatters her belief in a young earth and destroys her faith in God. Once this has happened, Ruth is ready to give up all her “religious don’ts” and embark on a liberated crusade of swearing, drinking and sex. Like Paul said in 1 Cor. 15: 1-20, if the gospel is not true and Christ was not raised from the dead, then “we are of all people most to be pitied” and “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor. 15:32) But even Paul refutes such nonsense and further affirms the resurrection.

So, is there one fact that could destroy a believer’s faith, the so called straw that could break the Christian camel’s back? Is our faith so fragile that we must walk on egg-shells lest we fall and come crashing down like Humpty Dumpty? No! Faith must be and indeed is stronger than that. Atheists have tried for centuries to deny and refute the Christian faith and it has only become stronger. Even when science proved that the earth was older than the 4000 years that literalists accept, theologians responded with new understandings of creation, such as the day-age theory.

Should an alien come along and tell us that our beliefs of creation are wrong, that would not refute God. He is and he exists outside of this physical universe (Heb. 11:6). We may need to revise our theories, but we would not discard our true deity. One day we will meet God. As the apostle Paul (not the alien Paul) says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). Until then, “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Heb. 4:14)

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs

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