Friday, January 02, 2015

The God Who Wasn't There (2005)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I’ve often said that documentaries will rarely change anyone’s mind.  Those that agree with the filmmaker may try to show the film to their friends, but any friend who doesn’t agree with the premise will either ignore it or show fault with it.  Very rarely does anyone look at a film and decide that there may be a valid point hidden in there somewhere.  The God Who Wasn’t There isn’t going to be that exception.

The movie was made by Brian Fleming.  (He has other credits, but nothing I had heard of.)  Fleming wants to take a look at the historical figure we call Jesus.  Did he even really exist?  I had heard that there was some debate as to the exact timeline of his life, but Fleming does call into question quite a bit.  For instance, people seem to have forgotten about Jesus until Paul came along and suddenly ‘remembered’ the last parts of the life of Jesus.  Another thing is how the mythology of Jesus (resurrection after three days, healing people, being the offspring of a god, etc.) is similar to the mythologies of other gods and deities.  Is it possible that someone took the same story and put a new name and face on it?

Part of the movie is Fleming explaining things about Christianity.  He has a six-minute recreation of the life of Jesus.  He even explains some holidays and traditions.  There are also a lot of interviews.  One interview is with Ronald G. Sipus, the head of a faith-based school which Fleming attended.  Fleming outright asks him if it’s right to teach children something that has no empirical evidence.   Sipus admits (to a point) that the school’s teachings are based on faith, but claims that no one has seen a new species arise from old one.  He also feels that it would be irresponsible to ignore the 'reality' of God.

As I said, this documentary isn’t going to be the exception that makes everyone see a different perspective.  Honestly, I agree with some of what Fleming presented and I have to fault him on several points.  First, as other reviews have said, he made some cheap shots.  It was maybe one or two things that I caught, but they were there.  He even starts out showing how the Church was wrong about the sun revolving around the Earth.

The movie looks like one man’s attempt to get his story across, which is fine.  You have that right.  It’s just that it comes across as amateurish at times.  It looks like one guy with a camcorder.  Even the interviews have that not-quite-Hollywood look to them.  I can see a lot of people not really taking Fleming seriously.  It would have been different if someone like Nova or NPR were doing something like this.

This is one of those movies that are hard to give a binary yes-or-no recommendation for.  I agree with a lot of the points made.  For instance, why is it that everything else that’s similar is considered myth, but the Bible is true just because it’s the Bible?  No one here is 2,000-3,500 years old, so we have no one to attest to the events in the Bible.  Most people that believe in the Bible do so on faith.

Then again, there were several points in the movie where I considered shutting it off, so I am leaning towards not recommending the movie.  I think that there are probably a lot of better documentaries out there.  If you’re going to watch a documentary on religion, I don’t think this is the one I’d recommend starting with.  There does seem to be a noticeable bias here, and I’m saying this as an atheist.  It’s the story of one man and why he’s no longer a Christian. 

IMDb page

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