“Saved” is one of those damn-the-hypocrites movies that is most enjoyable when the viewer doesn’t consider that the hypocrites being damned might well include himself or herself. Laurel and I certainly enjoyed watching fundamentalist Christians get skewered in this newly released DVD. But adhering to the adage, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” the film also made me consider to what extent I believe I myself am saved (leaving aside the more basic question of “from what?”), and others aren’t.
When I watched the student assembly in American Eagle Christian High School, filled with “Praise Jesus!” calls led by the arch-praiser Hilary (played by Mandy Moore) and swaying hands raised to the heavens, I couldn’t help but recall my own moments of feeling so very special, so very happy that I and my fellow believers in whatever knew the truth about God and everyone else was so, so, deluded.
“Saved!” is an entertaining movie about what happens when one of Hilary’s inner circle, Mary (Jena Malone) starts to have doubts. The trouble starts when her boyfriend tells her that he thinks he’s gay. Mary has a chat with Jesus about what to do, and Jesus says that she should have sex with him. No, not with Jesus, with her boyfriend. Which she does. This leads to a visit to Planned Parenthood, and soon Mary’s neatly patterned Christian life starts to seriously fray around the edges.
Who responds in our head when we speak to Jesus or God? That’s one of the excellent questions raised in “Saved!” In the movie young and old alike often pray for guidance. It’s pretty clear that the answers they hear come from themselves rather than any divine source.
I always figure that if God wants to talk to me, the supreme being is damn well omnipotent enough to speak in an unmistakable manner that I won’t be able to confuse with my own voice. So when all I hear are weak little bleatings that sound suspiciously like something I’d say, “Yes, my beloved Brian, you certainly do need a new computer, and it is My Will that you go out and buy one,” I know that it’s me making the noises in my head.
When the people in the movie start having doubts, after previously believing that they’ve been saved by their faith in Jesus and the Bible and now know just what is right and what is wrong, they become a lot more likable—both to others and, more importantly, to themselves. The quirky independent characters, the gay, the Jew, and the iconoclast kid in the wheelchair (Macaulay Culkin), who were originally shunned by the Christian zealots, turn out to be the most “Christian” of all, even the Jew, Cassandra.
Those who don’t really know what to believe are the true believers. That’s the message I came away with from “Saved!” Whatever “God” is, he/she/it is too mysterious to be comprehended by normal human cognition. Those who accept Mystery and the darkness of their own unknowing are much closer to God than those who have faith in falsely black and white articles of faith.
The scariest thing, of course, is that the current President of the United States is one of these misguided true believers. Ron Suskind of the New York Times describes George Bush’s “faith-based presidency” in a great recent article, “Without a Doubt.”
Suskind quotes Jim Wallis, a minister who met with Bush in the White House: Faith can cut so many ways. If you’re penitent and not triumphal, it can move us to repentance and accountability and help us reach for something higher than ourselves…But when it’s designed to certify our righteousness—that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There’s no reflection.
Where people often get lost is on this very point. Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not—not ever—to the thing we as humans so very much want. Easy certainty.
May we all be delivered from easy certainty, the plague of genuine spirituality. No one is saved who isn’t really standing high and dry on the farther shore. Absent that, we’re all drowning in ignorance about what lies beyond physical existence and would be much better off if we simply admitted it.