e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


blasphemy on friday night

Last night I re-watched Kevin Smith's Dogma, which I hadn't seen in years. Recall that Dogma takes an irreverent, at times profane, look at Catholic dogma, and not surprisingly got negative attention from various Christian groups (the members of which apparently do not understand 1) satire, or 2) the hypocrisy of their subsequent attacks on the "intolerance" of Muslims who took offense at those Danish cartoons). The film centers on two fallen angels who plan to take advantage of a plenary indulgence to cleanse their souls and get back to heaven, thereby negating God's decree and hence destroying the universe. The motley crew trying to stop said angels includes the thirteenth apostle (left out of the Bible because he's black), the metatron, two bumbling human prophets, a divine muse, God herself, and the great-great-great-etc. grandniece of Jesus, a receptionist at an abortion clinic who is divinely chosen for the mission although she is also a Catholic who barely goes through the motions (the film shows her at Mass balancing her checkbook from the last pew).

I have never seen another film that has such intense fascination with both the good and the bad of organized religion. Dogma manages to strike a curious balance between respect and irreverence. The profanity comes from a place of knowing and inquiry. You laugh at the ironies and the dirty jokes. But especially for Catholic viewers, you can't help but marvel at how much the film gets right. Smith genuinely understands Catholicism and there's something balanced about the film's worldview. You get the distinct sense Smith wants us to think, not just accept pat dismissals or acceptances of Catholicism. Bethany's co-worker at the abortion clinic and later the muse both ask her why so many of her fellow Catholics look at their faith as a burden instead of a source of joy. Rufus (the apostle played by Chris Rock) suggests that faith can be about ideas, not just beliefs. You won't see another Hollywood film that gets into so much minutiae of Catholic tradition (albeit with a heavy dose of hysterical liberties), all the while challenging viewers to think, challenging us not to laugh at things we hold dear. Moonstruck is to Italian as Dogma is to Catholic.

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