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Brian Godawa: The Truth About the Noah Movie and if Christians Should Watch It
by Kelcey Wixtrom on 2014-04-04 14:00:10
Contributor, Kelcey Wixtrom, talks with the author of "Noah Primeval", Brian Godawa, about the controversial new Noah film and the real message behind it. Does any of it follow the Bible? Is it worth seeing?

Kelcey: What was the culture like in Noah’s day – was it as industrialized and barren as the film made it to be?

Brian: (Laughs). No, no it was not. The problem is, there isn’t a lot of scholarly agreement when Noah’s ark took place. There are some who think it could be around 3000-5000 years BC. Some even suggest 10,000 years BC. Those are the more “fringe” scholars, but nevertheless, we aren’t entirely sure when it happened. Based on those theories, the opposite was probably the case. There was probably a lot of lush vegetation, because it more than likely happened in Mesopotamia.

At that time Mesopotamia was much more lush because of the Tigress and Euphrates rivers, much more lush than it is today. I think Aronofsky was deliberately importing his own agenda of global warming, that man scorched the earth with his industrialism, and he started projecting that back into the past in order to make his anti-theological point. And, if you think about it, even the Garden of Eden, there was just one tree and some grass, so the Garden of Eden wasn’t even lush and beautiful. So he had a very deliberate agenda there.

In terms of industrialization, scholarship isn’t totally sure. The Bible says that Tubal-Cain was the father of metalsmithing, so there might have been some metalsmithing going on back then, but were there these send backs of the European industrial revolution that they looked like in the movie? No. By no means would that be the case. There was metalsmithing. Most scholars think it happened in the early Bronze Age, where they were developing their understanding of metalsmithing.

Kelcey: So that’s pretty different than what the movie showed us.

Brian: Like I said, no one knows for sure, a lot of it is speculation, but I would say that his picture was definitely attributed to his modern agenda to project back into the past his view of the present. Or future. Like, “global warming is going to scorch the planet, because of what we did.”

Kelcey: A major theme of the movie is stewardship and innocence over evil. How true is this theme to the original intent of Genesis? Do we find any other Biblical references to stewardship and care of the earth?

Brian: Well, first of all, it’s complicated matter, because many Christians would say, there’s clearly stewardship of the earth in Genesis. However, the way that Aronofsky depicts that is not that man is responsible to take care of his environment, but rather that the environment is more important than man, that animals are more important than man.

In reference to caring of the earth, there are two phrases in reference to this in Genesis. One is, God said to Adam and Eve, to “care and keep” or “cultivate and keep” the Garden of Eden. Then He says to “subdue and rule” and to have dominion over the earth. And the problem is that the ”cultivate and keep” is almost a sacred duty, because it is like a metaphor at play in the Biblical text that compares the Garden of Eden to the temple. It uses priestly language that speaks of taking care of the Garden of Eden like the Jews were to take care of the temple.

There is this theological thing going on there, but it was in reference to the Garden of Eden, not to the whole earth. Now, I’m not saying that you’re supposed to plunder the earth, but the phrase in reference to the rest of the earth outside of Eden is to have dominion and subdue and rule. That’s very important to understand because to the ancient Jewish mindset, that wilderness outside the Garden of Eden was a world of chaos. God was giving man the call to use technology and his mind to harness nature, to bring it into submission. That’s what it means to have dominion. God’s calling them to do mining, drilling for oil and energy, because all the energy there transformed human civilization to be the good thing that it is.

There’s also abuses of that, and no one is going to deny that. However, using the earth as a place where man can have dominion is a scriptural command. And it doesn’t mean that we abuse the environment, but it is saying that we are allowed to use the environment to better the lives of humanity. And that’s different than what Aronofsky is saying. Aronofsky is saying that the earth is sacred, and animals are sacred, and we shouldn’t eat animals, animals are innocent, and the earth is more important. The Judeo-Christian God is a mean, jealous judgmental God, but ultimately man can decide to not be so mean as God is and exercise love. I would say this is an inverted picture of what the Bible is actually saying. That’s what I argue.

So he’s trafficking in Biblical concepts, but he’s redefining them and subverting them for his environmental agenda.

Kelcey: It’s very interesting, through more and more of the movie I was beginning to see that, but it’s very subtle; you don’t realize it at first.

Brian: In that sense, he did a good job, because he creatively incorporated his worldview. But you’re right, if you look closely, you can see that throughout the picture.

Kelcey: Where does the word “ark” come from, and did the film stay true to the biblical dimensions given in Genesis?

Brian: The production designer did tell us that he tried to stay pretty close to the dimensions given in Genesis. And the word for ark really means box, and it was interesting, because I thought in that sense they were very true to the Bible. It’s interesting, because I do the same thing in my novel, Noah Primeval, where I talk about how God told him to build a box. It was a boat, but it was described as a box, and on the box is where all the animals would be saved through the waters. So that was actually very accurate.

Kelcey: So when we look at it a little further and we begin to see some of those elements that weren’t in the original story, where is the line between creative license and heresy?

Brian: That line is not a black and white line. It’s a very gray line. One of the things I resent that’s going on is the Christians who are supporting the movie are attacking the Christians who are disagreeing with the movie and accusing them about being nitpicky about creative license. But that’s not what’s going on. I think the many of us are totally fine with creative license. Even in my own novels like Noah Primeval I’ve used a lot of creative license, I even used fantasy in my novel, and Christians had no problem with it. The problem is not about changing details. What’s important is what are those details being changed for? What is the purpose, and what is the worldview? They are all changed for a reason. What’s being criticized by Christians is what the meaning of the sacred story is being subverted toward. You have this depiction that started with the biblical story of Noah’s ark, but he’s spinning it and changing it to say, in some ways, the opposite of what the Bible says.

Let me give you an example. The serpent in the garden. This one is very subtle too. He has all the images of [creation] but they are quick and just meant to be images. We import into them what we want. You have the serpent who is this beautiful green then sheds his skin and becomes black. But what’s interesting is that the serpent skin becomes a magic talisman of wisdom and power that is supposed to be handed down all the way to Noah. And if you notice, it’s a positive thing. Having the serpent skin is wisdom to the bearer of it. But when Tubal Cain gets it, he can’t get the wisdom because he doesn’t have the special insight or whatever, but my point is, in a very real sense, the serpent becomes a source of wisdom and power for people instead of the image in the Bible, which is? The serpent is the source of defection, that brings man down.

Another thing that is completely upended is the Watchers. The Watchers are angels who come down, the big rock people in the movie. There is a lot of creative license with that, but the Bible does indicate that there were Watchers who came down from heaven in the time of Noah, and there is some extra biblical books, that aren’t scripture, but they are highly respected by the church and history. One of these is the Book of I Enoch. In the Book of Enoch, it talked about the Watchers coming down. But here’s the difference. In the Bible and in the Book of Enoch, they are negative. They show men occultic knowledge, a negative knowledge that is bad for men and actually inspires them to do evil. The Watchers are bad guys. But in the movie, they are misunderstood good guys. They give man knowledge and wisdom. So again we see this theme of what we in the Judeo-Christian tradition have defined as deception and sin, in the movie is a source of wisdom and growth.

And in the end, we see where Noah is struggling with these visions from God that He will destroy the earth, But we always wonder, is this from God? Is he taking it to an extreme? Well, the problem is, that in the movie God never speaks. We never technically know whether it’s from God. So I think what Aronofsky is saying is this, that the God of the Bible is a vengeful, cruel God, and man has to transcend that vengeance by deciding to love. And you notice the last line of the movie, where Naameh tells Noah, “God must have wanted you to make the decision of whether or not mankind was worthy of saving.” So you see in the Bible, God decides if man is worth saving, because He is going to create a line through Noah to create Messiah to save the world. But, in the Noah movie, Noah, is all alone, God gives him the decision, and man has the wisdom to choose the love that will save humanity. That’s Humanism. Humanism is the complete reversal, upside down of Christianity. Man is the source, ultimately of his own salvation.

So you see there are three examples where he changes things for a reason. He is subverting, turning upside down, using the Christian tradition to subvert it and preach the opposite message.

Now granted, there are some good things in the movie that I want to acknowledge, the wrestling of justice and mercy, where if you’re all justice and no mercy that’s cruelty, but if you are all mercy, all love, you don’t underrated justice, they are both equally cruel. The movie wrestles with this justice and mercy, and how it applies to our lives. That’s good, but his conclusion comes down to, God is ultimately not merciful, not man. Noah chose mercy, not God. That’s very important to note those differences.

Kelcey: When I was watching it, I didn’t necessarily pick up on those things right away, and I think that’s kind of scary, that you don’t pick up one those things right away.

Brian: That’s the power of storytelling! Storytelling can be use for good or for bad, but storytelling in and of itself communicates to us a worldview and value. Simply through empathy. As we watch the hero and we root for the hero, when the hero goes on his journey of discovery, we do too, because we like him or her, and we are rooting for them. So we experience the conversion of the hero through our emotional attachment to the story. And that’s why what happens is so crucial, because like you said, we aren’t thinking rationally. We are letting the story take us where it will, and we absorb the worldview rather than think of it rationally. I’m not saying this is bad. I’m saying it could be used for bad or good, because that is the power of storytelling. Which is why we have to be intelligently watching films with wisdom and discernment.

See Kelcey's review of Noah here

Kelcey: So along those lines, how can we watch this with discernment?

Brian: One thing is to watch the hero. Watch his journey. What the hero learns is what the storyteller wants us to learn. So when the hero starts out, he is usually likable, and Noah does start out somewhat likable. He saves the little girl, and cares about his family, but there’s also supposed to be a flaw in the hero. There’s something wrong about the way he sees the world. As that flaw changes through his journey and he seeks to accomplish his goal, ultimately, it rises to the point where it looks like he’s never going to get to his goal, he has to give something up, he has to sacrifice part of himself, to realize that what he needs is not the thing that he wanted and he has a flaw that he needs to change. As he changes this flaw, he becomes a better person and can vanquish the villain.

Now that happens in Noah, related to the justice and mercy. But there are also other elements to look for, that round out the meaning. Look at the villain. The villain will always have a couple of moments why he expresses, why he does what he does, his motivation. There’s usually some kind of analogy between the villain and the way some people think in today's world. But the villain is an excessive exaggeration of the worldview that the storyteller wants you to reject.

In Noah, the villain is Tubal Cain, and he is depicted as believing in land-ownership, guns, (he has that magic gun-bazooka,) he believes in industrialization, urbanization, and he is the only one that quotes the Bible phrase, that man is superior to the animals, and that man is to subdue and have dominion over creation. He is the only one that actually quotes God’s words from the Bible. But he is the bad guy! He is linking these ideas to badness. And of course, who believes these ideas, basically? Conservative Biblical Christians. So he’s basically characterizing conservative Biblical Christians and what they believe and turning them into the villain.

The other thing to look at is the context of the film. What the hero’s learning is also part of the world he is in. And as we were talking about earlier, you have to look at the symbols. Everything shown in the movie has a reason. Even if you just happen by chance to see one character do something in the background, its important. Everything in the movie is pointed to a meaning. So there are a few ways to be more watchful and discerning.

Kelcey: You said, “Speak the truth in love. I plan to.” What are some things we need to remember as we prepare to talk about this movie with classmates, friends, co-workers?

Brian: First of all, find out what they think. Did they like the movie? Ask them questions to find out what they thought of the movie and how they resounded. Too often, we are too quick to talk at people and spout off what we believe. There is no better way to show respect for people and there is no better way to communicate with them than to understand how they think by listening to them. So find out what they thought, what they liked, what they didn’t like.

Then, when you respond, first talk about the things you did like about the movie. This breaks down barriers. If you attack something, people will throw up the walls of protection, talk about what you liked first, and then express what you didn’t like or where you might disagree with the movie. Then you have a more listening audience because you’re expressed respect for them, you’ve listened to them, you’ve said what you like, and then you talked about what you didn’t like. Those are suggestions that I think make us more winsome in how we interact with people.
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