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Categorized | Religion, Reviews

Kingdom of Heaven

“We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Jonathan Swift.

The above quote is a sad fact; instead of leading to a better life, a better world, religon has been used to hate, think less of the unbeliever, and dehumanize anyone who is different.  Society has many problems today and the religious groups still have this illusion that going back on the old ways will solve everything.

Maybe it is an oversimplification to say, at least from the three major religions, that there is one God and we are all his creations in one earth.  The closest analogy I can think of is parent (or father since the three refer to God as a man) and the children.  Do brother and sister fight over what their parents say to the point of killing each other?  Would any parent love to see that happen?

In the end we always end up fighting on how one God is better from the other; we fight over who has the correct idea of God, never minding if we end up killing one another.  If God really is a father, then with fatherly instincts I believe he would be furious seeing the world destroy each other over useless things.  Sam Harris was right in his view – religion leads to misplaced priorities.

Religion should never again take hold of government and society. It has no answers. It had its chance in the Middle Ages when it ruled and failed as depicted in the movie Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

Orlando Bloom played the lead, going from Middle Earth to the Middle East in this period-piece. Set in the religion-mad era of the Crusades, the Lord of the Rings heartthrob now plays a lost and tortured soul searching for salvation.

He is Balian, a blacksmith fresh from losing both wife and child.  He thought himself to be cursed and far from the grace of his God until some good news knocked on his door. A crusader knight named Godfrey who as it turns out was his father, a lord and member of the King’s court in Jerusalem, wants his company. So cursed by God, he thought, what else he could do than look for God in his city: in Jerusalem.

Now the place that he went to, Jerusalem, it was at this time far from heavenly because it was a drowning kingdom in a sea of Arabs led by an effective leader, Saladin.  Also, the city was fractured by two powerful religions hell bent on killing each other.

First, a warning: this film is by no means historically accurate. It has been commented more than once that Hollywood creates its version of history into something more palatable and sexy on the big screen, with the American audience having the highest consideration. What really happened in those days you have to read on your own, as I did – well at least a few pages of articles.

Saladin, like in the film, was a great general for the Arabs and was highly respected by both sides. Some have the point of view that Christians had a better respect for him than the Muslims. Jerusalem was indeed lost though I am not sure in which crusade or war did it fall. The odds of holding the city were just insurmountable.

But what I really agree with this film is that barbarism chooses no religion; the film even proposes that one needs no religion to do the right thing.

In Kingdom of Heaven the Templars were the most brutal, always with the insane line of “God wills it!” a phrase not so different from suicide bombers who cry out “God is great.”  Present day’s prominent version of those two statements is George Bush who said God wanted him to invade Iraq, and the western world’s villain of the hour, Bin Laden.

My favorite line in the film was made by the Hospitaller and it goes: “I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the Will of God.”

He goes on by saying, “Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart] and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.”  Wise words in a movie filled with insane religious men.

That quote made me think of what happened then and what is happening now with religion coming in the forefront of many national debates here and abroad.

There are reported inequities in the theocratic states in the Middle East especially in the lines between the sexes.  Somewhere in Palestine and even in the United States there are still incidences of honor killings.  In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive.

The Catholic Church can’t even protect the interests of children, yet they have the gall to demand the right to dictate national policy.  Why give them the control over state policy when one, they don’t pay taxes and two, they don’t respect the state!

Cardinal Sean Brady, who is at the heart of Ireland’s current church scandals, was quoted as saying that there was ‘no moral obligation’ for him to report to the police. According to he said, “Is it a sin against the law of God not to report matters to the police…no I don’t think so…because there are certain people exempt from this moral obligation to report to the police.” Is that what you call respecting the state, much less the child?

A crime has been done to a child.  Talk with anyone less than a priest who confessed of pedophilia and you’ll be wondering where your children are, hoping they are far away.  If your children are victims then you would not even not care about internal mechanisms that an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times have credited the Pope for spearheading.

There is a system of laws, justice, criminal investigations; a penal system, available for every citizen who needs or deserves it.  Why have they not availed of it?  Is this the pro-family, pro-life, heavenly existence we can expect if religion is back in the forefront?

In the film Balian made his decisions outside of religion.  He ordered the cremation of the dead to avoid an epidemic, ordered the city to be abandoned, and made military decisions not out of Christian conceit that victory is assured.  He faced Saladin and his aides with respect even in the midst of the war.  The irony there is that he thought of himself as cursed, went to Jerusalem to find God; in the end did what he could outside of anyone’s concept of God – and found his salvation.

The film has an interesting message in that the kingdom of heaven is achievable out of religious hands, especially if you know enough history or read enough news and see that with religion in the forefront, full control in fact, little good has been achieved.

“Holiness is in right action,” the movie says.  It is time for us to find a way for just that to be enough.

Also seen in my blog.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.