Top Story: Alejandro Amenábar’s film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, finally saw a limited release in art-house theaters at the beginning of the Summer season. The film, despite doing very well in Europe, and getting generally positive reviews from American critics, has failed to draw a big audience or expand beyond its very limited release schedule. In These Times wonders why a film rife with conflicts that should resonate with American audiences has instead fallen flat.
“[Rachel Weisz's] star turn as Hypatia, a scholar and astronomer of pagan background who preaches tolerance and brotherhood in late fourth-century Alexandria while scientifically probing the secrets of the solar system, is apparently not the stuff that draws Americans to the box office … highly prized internationally and Spain’s highest grossing film in 2009; yet it struggled for distribution in the United States before its release here on May 28. With a female intellectual as its hero and Christian fanatics as its villains, Agora’s limited American appeal is perhaps understandable.“
Is it as simple as that? Christian villains and an intellectual hero? If so, Dan Brown’s thrillers (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons) wouldn’t have drawn hundreds of millions at the box-office. I think the answer is more complex than that. It is partially the fault of a timid distribution market, afraid of courting controversy (or at least the wrong kind of controversy), which allowed the film to wait in limbo for months. I also think the nature of the “Christian villains” is significant. It isn’t a few elites pulling strings and hatching evil plans, “Agora” certainly has those but it also shows Christian mobs killing pagans and Jews. It holds up a piece of history that many would like to forget, when the persecuted minority, now risen to power, started inflicting its own evils on the wider world.
The article ends with a note that “Agora” is “a warning of what happens when a single religious authority seizes total state power”, so it’s little wonder it’s not drawing crowds from the demographics who think we are indeed a “Christian nation”, and yearn for the primacy of Christian morality. So I fear I’ll have to wait for the DVD to see this film with the message a bit too prickly for mass public consumption.
A Biography of Sybil Leek: The Orlando Sentinel’s religion blog reports that a biography of Sybil Leek, one of the world’s most famous Witches, is being published. Leek was the prototype “media” Witch, appearing on Johnny Carson and in hundreds of other television programs and newspaper articles.
“Christine Jones, 73, of Satellite Beach, says she wrote Sybil Leek: Out of the Shadows as a tribute to the woman she says was a teacher and a warm and gentle friend. “She was like Mother Earth,” Jones said. Leek was one of the most famous practitioners of Wicca, a pagan faith sometimes known as Witchcraft or Craft. She made hundreds of television appearances in the U.S. and the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s and wrote dozens of books, including Diary of a Witch. She even reportedly was an astrologer for former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Leek died in 1982 in Melbourne Beach. Jones said she met Leek in the 1970s, after an out-of-body experience led her to contact Leek for help understanding what had happened to her. After moving to Florida in 1977, Jones, then a nurse, studied one-on-one with Leek — the last such student, Jones said. The biography, which Jones said took her several years to write, is a personal look at a woman who was simultaneously larger than life and “so normal.”
You can pre-order the book at Pendraig Publishing. I suspect you’ll also be able to order it through Amazon soon enough as well. Biographies are a rare thing within our communities, so I’ll always welcome one more.
Equal Reactions to An Atheist Prime Minister? Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars looks at religious reactions to the ascension of a female atheist, Julia Gillard, to Australia’s highest office. In his mind the rantings of Christian fire-breather Danny Nalliah (who I’ve mentioned here before) are equal to a rather more peaceful reaction by local Wiccans.
Pastor Danny Nalliah of the Catch the Fire Ministries. He claims that a godless Gillard is out to ”destroy our Judeo-Christian heritage,” outlaw worship altogether and turn Australia into another ”Communist China” … Melbourne witch and high priestess Lizzy Rose and her coven will invite Ms Gillard’s energy into their magic circle to speak about ”her intentions of where she is taking the country”. Ms Rose says her divinations ”will prove to us whether Julia is going to govern through ego or through her heart space”. If Ms Gillard, an avowed atheist, passes the ”heart-space” test, Ms Rose says she’ll get the endorsement of her Order of Wisdom, Learning and Light. ”We’re not trying to recruit her against her will,” she says. ”We see her as a high priestess anyway, regardless of her atheism.”
Now, I can see that an atheist might think both are equally loony. But Brayton goes on to call the Wiccans “creepy” and “every bit as bad as the egregious stupidity being offered by the fundamentalist Christians”. Really? Every bit as bad? One thinks Gillard is a devil who wants to impose Communist rule, and the other wants to speak to her energy body in a circle and honors her as a priestess, and those reactions are equatable? I mean, I get that he thinks all religion is crazy, but these reactions are not coming from the same place, or have the same intentions. In all honesty I think Lizzy Rose might have chosen to keep that ritual to herself, but she is harming no-one and is certainly not the provocateur that Nalliah is. To equate them is silly at best, and at worst drives wedges between atheists and other religious minorities that might find common cause.
Restoring Native Lands: The latest issue of National Geographic Magazine has a fascinating feature on how several Native American Tribes are reversing years of environmental abuse on their ancestral homes, restoring the lands that were once taken from them.
“In 1979 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana became the first in the nation to set aside tribal land—92,000 acres of the Flathead Reservation’s mountains and meadows—as wilderness. Since then, the Nez Perce have acquired 16,286 acres of ancestral lands in northeast Oregon that they will manage solely to benefit fish and wildlife. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes in northeastern Montana are working to bring back bison on the Fort Peck Reservation. In Minnesota the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, have restored a ravaged walleye population at Red Lake. And on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona the threatened Apache trout is finding a new home, and the forest is now managed with ecology, not just lumber, in mind.”
There has been much talk lately on how Pagans can be leaders and agents of change regarding our current environmental problems, perhaps the quiet good stewardship of these tribal nations can become a model for our own modest lands. An ethic of responsibility and interconnectedness.
Revival of Folk Religion in China? NPR has been running a series on religion in China, and today’s segment on All Things Considered is supposed to cover the revival of folk religions in that country. Here’s a small bit about that subject in the introductory segment from July 18th.
Across China, religious belief has blossomed and flourished — far outpacing the government’s framework to control it — with a profusion of charismatic movements and a revival in traditional Chinese religions. Two-thirds of those who described themselves as religious in the 2006 survey said they were Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of folk gods such as the Dragon King or the God of Fortune. Another popular goddess is Mazu, who is believed to protect sailors. Although she is included in the Daoist and Buddhist pantheons, she — and many other indigenous popular gods — falls outside China’s five official religions. However, the worship of Mazu recently has been reclassified as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice, making it acceptable even for Communist Party members. Academics say that model is being used elsewhere in China for other indigenous folk religions. There are also government attempts to support traditional Chinese practices such as ancestor worship, by changing the public holidays. In 2009, the government declared the Qingming Festival — the traditional day for sweeping graves — a public holiday for the first time, allowing much larger numbers of people to sweep their ancestral graves. ”Now the government supports us,” says Shao Longshan, his cheeks still tear-stained after bowing deeply in front of the grave of his late wife, Zhu Jiefen, at a cemetery on the outskirts of Shanghai during the Qingming Festival in early April. “Not only does this let the people who are alive remember those who have gone, but [it allows us to] keep the Chinese traditions and culture.”
So be sure to tune in to your local NPR station and give a listen. The transcript will most likely be up tomorrow, here. What will a revival of indigenous religion in China mean for the future? A simple counter-balance, along with Buddhism and Taoism, to the growing influence of Christianity? Or will their be a new political consciousness among those who adhere to these deities? Will these believers form new ties outside of China with Pagan, Hindu, or indigenous groups?
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!