Dan Mathewson wrote a really interesting article over at Religion Dispatches, Noah, Cosmos Controversies Not About Biblical Literalism. In it, he traces the rise of the conservative Christian movement to the early 20th century. At that time, Christianity had to deal with new scientific discoveries—most especially evolution by natural selection. The liberals decided to make peace with science and see in the Bible certain spiritual truths. The conservatives glommed on to Biblicism. This is the idea that all Christians must believe certain biblical truths, starting with: “the inerrancy of the bible; the virgin birth; the substitutionary atonement; the historicity of the miracles; the second coming.”
So Mathewson sees the outrage over Noah to be simply based on the fact that the film’s director is an atheist. His approach to it was not any different than had he made a film about Snow White. It’s just a story like any other. There is much to what Mathewson said. But I think he is giving a bit too much credit to the Biblicists.
I once had a terrible roommate. He was a violent drunk who brought prostitutes home. But you could not talk about religion with him because even the slightest suggestion that Christianity was not the One True Way would provoke a violent response, whether he was drunk or not. And this was from a guy who never went to church. For him, Christianity was not a religion so much as a cultural signifier. It was what gave his life meaning.
This is what’s going on with the Biblicists. To them, the entire modern world is crashing in on them threatening to destroy the meaning in their lives. But notice in the list above that the first item is “inerrancy of the bible.” This is why people use “fundamentalist” or “literalist” as shorthand for these people. But what they are, above all, are cultural conservatives who are afraid of any information that might disturb their very stable beliefs.
Are there biblical literalists who are not Biblicists? Mathewson certainly implies that there are. But I don’t recall running into such people. This is why I have noted in the past that they are conservatives first and Christians second. A non-Biblicist literalist would not fall into that category. But instead, all we see are a bunch of Christians for whom the religion is primarily a cultural signifier.
In the end, there is no real surprise in the reaction of conservative Christians against the film. People make instant decisions and then rationalize them. I can assure you that I would have a very hard time liking a movie by Dick Cheney. I would focus on everything that was wrong with it. And I would minimize everything that was good. That’s just the way humans are. For Christian conservatives, Noah was just a film made by one of those people who want to destroy God. So of course they hate it.
H/T: Ed Kilgore