‘‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God,
believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are
many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I
have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
Imagine a world in which everyone tells the truth—sort of a world in which humankind has not suffered a total fall from grace. In writer/director Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson’s film are several amusing scenes that show this, such as when people really tell each other what they think of the other. Waiters reveal that they are not glad to serve, and secretaries say what they really think of their boss (when he has been fired, of course). Our hero Mark Bellison’s (Ricky Gervais) first date with the beautiful Anna (Jennifer Garner) is unpromising in that, when he appears at her door to take her out, she tells him that he is too short and fat for her to love because his genes would provide a less than satisfactory sperm source for children.
Then by chance Mark tells what he considers a lie and is believed. He is with his dying mother (the name of the nursing home, which in our would might be called “Happy Haven,” is “A Sad Place Where Homeless Old People Come to Die” ). To comfort her he tells her that there is an afterlife where they will one day be reunited. Some of the staff listen in, and they spread the news about a better place after death. People clamor to hear more about this. A crowd, along with the press, appears outside his apartment, and they beg our hero to say more. He reluctantly complies by delivering a set of rules or beliefs. Instead of inscribing them on stone tablets he writes them on what is at hand, two panels of a Pizza Hut box. He also declares that there is a Man Up There, thus launching something akin to a religious movement.
The film’s premise that religion is possible only by lying about reality might make you bristle, but the film is genuinely funny and offers a great opportunity for church groups to explore truth and its consequences, the nature of faith, and the age old attempt to explain the goodness of God and the existence of evil
1. What do you think of the filmmakers’ view of religion? Does this sound similar to the title of a work that Sigmund Freud wrote, The Future of an Illusion?
2. Thinking back over the history of the relationship between science and religion, can you understand how thinking people could come to the conclusion that religious beliefs are lies? What are some instances in which believers have been wrong and opposed the advancement of knowledge?
3. What examples can you think of in which religion is based on fear? Although Proverbs says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is fear in this case the same thing? What is the difference between awe and fear? Check out 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” 4. What might you say to the filmmakers about your Christian faith if you had the chance? Would you agree that theirs is a legitimate criticism of some forms of belief? Think of such religious leaders as James Jones and David Koresh.
5. Listen to John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” How would he be in agreement with this film?
6. What does the film seem to be saying about the notion that we should always tell the truth? What about the “white lies” or social conventions we indulge in?
7. Reflect upon/discuss the three uses of “truth” in John’s Gospel—8:32, 14:6 and 18:38. (Note also how often Jesus uses the word when talking about the Spirit in John’s Upper Room discourse.)