Saturday, April 22, 2006

The True Spirit of Religion

The True Spirit of Religion

An overnight business trip to Penang and other tedious work-related matters prevented me from blogging for the past week. But here I am again, churning out more spiritual gobbledegook for all the lost souls out there!

Some religious organizations are already doing preemptive work over the impending release of the Da Vinci Code movie in our local theatres. Personally, I think they should just sit back, relax and enjoy the movie. No one's faith will be undermined by a simple work of fiction. I read the book in a single overnight marathon session, and I thought it was a wonderful piece of entertainment. Even in print it had the exciting pace of a Hollywood thriller.

I love movies about religion. My personal favourite is Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth, which I have available on VHS. I was very fond of watching it over and over again but ever since my VCR broke down a few years ago, I've been denied this pleasure. Need to search for the DVD version of the movie and also The Gospel of John, which I haven't seen yet.

Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ has a bit too much gore for my liking but when I first saw it, I thought it was a good piece of work--great cinematography and soundtrack. A repeat viewing however will be too gut-wrenching for me to sit through.

I'd love to watch more movies on Islam but unfortunately the religion forbids the visual depiction of the Prophet in any form. But I've see one mainstream movie--The Message (also known as Mohammad, Messenger of God) --which was brave enough to tackle the subject. Of course, in the movie, the Prophet himself is never shown on the screen: all the characters conversing with the Prophet Mohammad talks to the camera and we, the audience, gets to see events from his point-of-view.

The Message, directed by Moustapha Akkad, a Syrian-American, traces the birth and rise of Islam and is a very respectful portrayal of the religion and the life of the Prophet Mohammad. Ironically, Moustapha Akkad and his daughter were killed in the 2005 terrorist bombing in Amman.

Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ was certainly a lot more controversial than the Da Vinci Code. Willem Dafoe--one of my favourite actors--played a rather unconventional Jesus Christ in the movie: a tormented soul struggling to come to terms with his fate of becoming the sacrificial Lamb of God, one who will have to die on the cross to atone for Man's sin.

There's a sequence in the movie which angered Christians worldwide: a hallucinatory scene where Jesus, whom we see dying slowly on the cross, has visions of himself and Mary Magdalene (played by Barbara Hershey), making love and spending a blissful life together as husband and wife. To many Christians, it was blasphemy of the highest order. But I thought it only made Jesus' ultimate sacrifice even more poignant--he resisted every mortal temptation, and chose to remain steadfast to his divine mission.

We can get very emotional over religion. But I think we must never forget: religion is about the spirit--not rules, rituals, priests, places or the paraphernalia of worship. I suppose I've said enough about this subject in many of my previous postings. So let me end this entry with words from two very wise men: Krishnamurthi and Vivekananda:
Do you know what religion is? It is not in the chant, it is not in the performance of the pooja, or any other ritual ,it is not in the worship of tin gods or stone images, it is not in the temples and churches, it is not in the reading of the Bible or the Gita, it is not in the repeating of sacred names or in the following of some other superstition invented by man.None of this is religion.

- J.Krishnamurthi

No scriptures can make us religious.We may study all the books that are in the world, yet we may not understand a word of religion or God.

- Swami Vivekananda

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