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Archive for September 14th, 2010

“Eat, Pray, Love”

             In the  latest  National Review edition, Ross Douthat reviews the movie, Eat Pray Love, which stars Julia Roberts. His review is entitled, “The Mirror’s Shallow God”  Caveat:  I have not seen the movie and after reading Mr. Douthat’s review I do not think I will:  after all, a purpose of movie reviews is help decide whether to lay out money or wait for the DVD or not even bother with even the DVD! His  movie review  also speaks to the cultural resistance Christians of all stripes must engage in, being, in the world but not of it.  

            The movie is from a book by one Elizabeth Gilbert and Julia Roberts is Elizabeth. Mr. Douthat wrote that this movie is, “…the most self-consciously spiritual movies you’ll see this year, and also one of the most appalling.”  Why does he find it “appalling”?

            Gilbert, in an unhappy marriage, falls on her knees in her apartment and prays to God for guidance.  Personally, I think this is good and it is not appalling.  But what does God tell her to do?

  1.  First, break up with your husband but her husband’s, “…chief sins seem to be a slightly haphazard career trajectory and a disinterest in accompanying his wife on some of her travel journalist junkets.”
  2.   Then God (or should I write “God”?) tells her to temporarily live with a young handsome man played by James Franco.   But this “relationship” gets messy, so the deity tells her to move on. So the deity tells her to go “globetrotting” around the world for a year.
  3. First stop: Rome. In Rome, Gilbert  learns the “spirituality” of eating pasta, a lot of pasta.
  4. Second stop:  India where she learns meditation and how to forgive herself.
  5. Third stop:  Indonesia where she has another affair with a Brazilian divorcee…and all of the these stops  on her itinerary planned by her divine travel agent, “God”.

            Who is this “God”?  I think Mr. Douthat nails it:

“If everything “God” wants sounds sus­piciously like what a willful, capricious, self-indulgent Western woman with too much time and money on her hands might want … well, then you’ve unlocked the theological message of this movie. Late in her ashram phase, Gilbert distills it to bumper-sticker length: “God dwells with­in me, as me.” And what that God wants for her, inevitably, is the fulfillment of that inner self, the renunciation of its hang-ups and self-doubts, and the gratification of its desires.”  And so the title of review:  The Mirror’s Shallow God.”

          Mr. Douthat rightly calls this “religious tourism”.  He points out that this is offensive to true adherents of the various religions she delves into.   But in Rome, she does not even bother with Catholicism. Why?    Mr. Douthat:

“During her sojourn in Rome, where a rather well-known world religion makes its headquarters, she just eats and eats and eats. After all, why even dabble in a spiri­tual tradition that you know would disap­prove of your life choices, or frown on your God-is-me epiphanies? Better to keep tucking away the pasta, and then hustle on eastward looking for gurus less judgmental than the pope.”

 And who are the followers of the other religions that might be offended by this movie?  “If I were Indian or Indonesian or even Italian, I would watch this self-indulgent spectacle with a mounting hatred for everything American.”  Mr. Douthat refers to John Bunyan’s great 17th century story of Christian’s journey by faith to the celestial city, Pilgrim’s Progress.  But as C.S. Lewis entitled his first fiction as a Christian, Pilgrim’s Regress and we are tending to go backwards, not forwards following, “Christ the pioneer and perfect of our faith” (see Hebrews 12: 1ff). 

            And I found out it in the review that Mr. Douthat is Roman Catholic and he concludes with a favorite quote of mine from  Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton ( Wiki-article on Chesterton ) from over a hundred years ago which fits this movie all too well and it’s religion: 

“”Of all horrible reli­gion the most horri­ble is the worship of the god within…. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones wor­ship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within.”

Some discussion questions, and you might have your own and answers for them as well:

   Why do you think Chesterton  thinks that old-fashioned idolatry is better than self-worship? Hmmm…what commandment(s) are  broken in this movie?  And it is quite common for this one particular commandment to be broken these days both in movies, TV and “real life’.  Why is it broken with such regularity?   Generally speaking, Why all the “relationship” language? Why do we find it so difficult to have a religion that does not say both Yes (promise) and in particular No (law)?  How do we keep our selves away from the “mirror’s shallow God”? How prevalent is this religion?   In what ways can we help people who are lost in error’s maze?

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