Check out Alejandro AmenÃ¡bar’s Agora starring Rachel Weisz. It is a film that dramatises how the early Christian movement morphed from a small annoyance in Alexandria in then Roman-ruled Egypt in the 4th century into a massive lynch mob powerful and violent enough to bully the Roman provincial government into tolerating their own intolerance for “infidels”. A peaceful coexistence with the Roman prefect in the city did not stop Christian zealots from burning down the fabled Library of Alexandria and destroying much of the ancient world’s record of knowledge.
Agora was screened out of competition at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in May, and opened in Spain on October 9, 2009 becoming the highest grossing film of the year for that country. Although the film had difficulty finding distribution, it was released country by country throughout late 2009 and early 2010.
Allusions to the behaviour of modern-day Taliban liberally pepper the film in the way it portrays the ignorance of early Christian converts and how their charismatic leaders and clerics exploited this ignorance to incite bloodlust in mobs of these converts to carry out their own political agendas and murder political opponents. A key theme of the film is the arbitrary manner with which clerics interpret scripture to make their edicts orbit above the reach of critical evaluation render them immune to negotiation.
It is a must-see for those who are deeply disturbed by the coercive tactics seemingly being used by the Philippines’ Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and religious leaders like Pro-Life Philippines leader Eric Manalang to further divisiveness in Philippine society under the premise of their interpretation of what is “moral” and â€œrighteousâ€.
A large part of the Church’s efforts in the last several centuries has been focused on cultivating this control mechanism in our hearts across generations and centuries. More importantly, that same effort entailed the suppression of our natural thirst for knowledge rather than encouraging us to seek fundamental truths. The methods used to establish this domination ranged from the sublime — fear of excommunication — to administrative — censorship (one would be surprised to learn the amount of censorship and editing the Bible itself had undergone over the last millenium) and witholding of “heretical” information from ordinary Christians — to extremist — the Crusades and the Inquisition.
We should be reminded that the whole foundation of our religious beliefs whether we are Christian or Muslim is based on texts and teachings of human spiritual leaders and teachers. We as a people still have a long way to go in the direction of re-focusing on the spiritual aspect of our faith rather than its canonical, catechetical, or, at worst, political aspects.
The masterful production of Agora provides as close an experience as its audience may ever get of the profound injustice in a society engulfed by religious zealotry.
[Parts of this article were lifted from the article Agora (film) in a manner compliant to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License that governs use of Wikipedia.org content.]
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