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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables.

One of the big holiday releases this year will no doubt be the film adaptation of the Broadway hit Les Misérables. Anyone out there planning to see it? I’m not sure if my wife and I will be able to squeeze in a couple of hours to check it out (with the kids usually in tow, we’re more likely to catch fare like Rise of the Guardians — which wasn’t that bad, by the way). But I’m sorta curious about the buzz of contradictions swirling about Les Miz — lots of early Oscar buzz for Anne Hathaway for instance, and it was directed by Tom Hooper who won an Oscar in 2011 for The King’s Speech, but the movie is also getting a lot of mixed reviews from critics. 

However, what really caught my attention was a recent piece in Time magazine about the film’s story line, which of course is based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel about class struggle and redemption in 19th-century France. In the article, actors Hathaway and Hugh Jackman spend a couple of paragraphs contemplating the religious dimensions of the story. A couple of soundbites. First from Hathaway, who portrays the desperate mother Fantine:

The religious overtones of Les Miz … resonated with Hathaway, who was raised Catholic. Her close-knit family left the church in opposition to its anti-gay stance. “Where I’m at now is that I love all religions that don’t hurt anyone. The religion of this film is love.”

And then Jackman, who plays thief-turned-rescuer Jean Valjean, on how his father’s life was changed after hearing Billy Graham:

Jackman grew up watching faith in action too. His father, a single parent — “What he did was herculean, to bring up five kids with a full-time job” — was born again at age 30, inspired by Billy Graham’s crusade. “I remember asking him if he told people at work he was a Christian, and he said, ‘No. What you say is immaterial. It’s what you do that matters.’ If you think about it, that’s very Valjean,” he says.

I know that Hollywood figures typically try to personalize whatever the subject matter is of the films their currently promoting in order to have something to chatter about on talk shows and in magazine write-ups, and Hathaway’s and Jackman’s reflections on faith are no exception. But I’m not cynical enough yet to believe that these roles don’t at times have a deeper effect on the lives of actors. That’s why I found both Hathaway’s and Jackman’s comments refreshing in their honesty and insight about what real faith looks like to people who aren’t living within the protective (and often alienating) bubble of evangelical Christianity.

I’m not suggesting that Hathaway’s apparent perspectivism is without its problems, or that genuine faith is entirely about what we do and not also what we say (though I think a good argument could be made for why the way we treat others must always testify to the veracity of what we believe). Still, I don’t think it would hurt today’s Christians much at all to follow the examples of Jean Valjean and Hugh Jackman’s dad.

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I’m thinking that, by now, many of you have read ChristianityToday.com’s interesting interview with sociologist Michael O. Emerson on “What Obama’s Election Means for the Segregated Church.” Michael, who is the coauthor of the seminal book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, explored similar ground a few weeks back at my new site, UrbanFaith.com. If you have thoughts on either of these articles, I’d love to hear your comments.

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Thanks to Erika Haub for directing me to Mixin’ It Up, the blog of Jelani Greenidge. Jelani is the son of Pastor Henry Greenidge, whom I interviewed a decade ago for my Christianity Today profile of Tom Skinner. Jelani is an eloquent and provocative young writer. His recent post, “An Open Letter to a Young Republican,” is a heartfelt commentary about politics, faith, and the need for grace between passionate Christian supporters of John McCain and passionate Christian supporters of Barack Obama, like Jelani. I appreciate both his frankness and his humility, both much-needed qualities in the pursuit of genuine reconciliation. I encourage you to check him out.

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Over at his A Man from Issachar blog, Rev. Eric Redmond calls our attention to the release of an eagerly anticipated book from Duke Divinity School professor J. Kameron Carter. The book, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford, 2008), presents a fresh perspective on the social and theological construct of race in our world. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s product description at Amazon.com:

In Race: A Theological Account, J. Kameron Carter meditates on the multiple legacies implicated in the production of a racialized world and that still mark how we function in it and think about ourselves. These are the legacies of colonialism and empire, political theories of the state, anthropological theories of the human, and philosophy itself, from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment to the present.

Carter’s claim is that Christian theology, and the signal transformation it (along with Christianity) underwent, is at the heart of these legacies. In that transformation, Christian anti-Judaism biologized itself so as to racialize itself. As a result, and with the legitimation of Christian theology, Christianity became the cultural property of the West, the religious ground of white supremacy and global hegemony. In short, Christianity became white. The racial imagination is thus a particular kind of theological problem.

Sounds like a challenging—and likely controversial—thesis. Perhaps if we were more willing to confront race as a theological issue, it would change the cultural conversation for the better. What do you think? If you get a chance to read the book any time soon, please let me hear your thoughts.

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