Love my woman, love my baby, love my biscuits sopped in gravy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Hillbilly in the Mosque

As a general rule I like West Virginians who have cool mustaches, so it's hard for me not to like Morgan Spurlock. He's an affable, cool looking dude who has a TV show and makes his own movies. We meet all sorts of people through technology these days and get to see more of them than we'd ever probably care to know most people. It takes some serious effort to be a professional exibitionist, but it's free and easy to be a voyeur these days.

In his movie Super Size Me, Spurlock showed us what happens to a guy who eats nothing but MacDonalds for a month, and was kind enough to show his very personal visit to the doctor as well. You see what I mean by serious effort to act like this? No normal person would have a camera follow them into a prostate exam, and other than for laughs, most of us would not film each other puking in a New York parking lot. Neither would we have someone follow us around while we ate a steady diet of food that would kill you in the obscene quantities he consumed. The outcome of this experiment was obvious the first time I heard about it, and I didn't make it more than halfway through the movie.

I did find out some interesting things about Spurlock, though. A quick portrait:

  • He is a vegetarian, so any fast food would probably make him hurl.
  • His girlfriend is a gourmet vegetarian chef, so food he eats that she makes is presumably better than boiled brusquely sprouts.
  • He lives with his girlfriend, which shows that he probably doesn't hold many traditional values. Those of you in this situation, I'm sure would argue.
  • He is well off. I'm sure the movie and TV show has made it even better.
  • It didn't seem like he liked fat people too much - at least they must be dumb.

The most important observation is that he holds a worldview that comes across as intellectual and englightened. This translates to an openmindedness that is almost snobbish, if he weren't so darn likeable. His "Hey, I'm just saying," everyman approach is just slick enough to make you consider his side, but in the end is almost too preachy. He's a softer, slimmer, and gentler version of Michael Moore in many ways. That comparison would make me cringe, but many people idolize that propaganda artist, and perhaps that is what Spurlock is as well. In the end he's another guy with some opinions that I think are lousy because they are founded on a worldview that thinks of God as a bit of hocus pocus that works for some people, but only because they think they need it. My worldview is a bit different -- I know God exists and that man can't really function in the way he was meant to without Him. It's important, even in regards to a movie about hamburgers.

His next effort is a series on FX called 30 Days. It's the same gimmick as the movie, only instead of eating way too much fattening food, he or someone tries something different for a month. For instance, he moves to Ohio and takes a minimum wage job for a month. Not everyone thinks this is the right answer to fixing poverty.

Two of the episodes of this program involve taking a Christian and sticking him in an environment that should make them squirm. I guess that's his point, and it is fun in the way that a kid puts bugs in a jar to watch them fight it out to the death. One episode puts a Christian dude in a Muslim house for a month, and the other puts a Christian in San Francisco, living with a gay dude.

To think this was done without some hope of an implosion or a denouncement of faith seems unlikely.

The fact is that it is not easy to be a Christian today. It's not fashionable, it's not sexy, it's not profane or sarcastic. It's not surprising, either, that since Jesus was executed in his day that his followers would be ridiculed by others. It's an easy target to pick on a Christian. In many ways, they won't fight back, and they're urged to be kind to everyone, including their enemies. That's not an easy task.

With a little bit of misgiving I watched the episode with the Christian guy in a Muslim house. The fear is that they will pick a person who says he is a Christian but has never really put his faith in Jesus. In this case, the person they picked was a friend of Spurlock's who was also from West Virginia. Although he's been called a moron, he at least had enough of a rudimentary knowledge of his faith to understand that these people did not believe Jesus was God, which is fundamental to Christianity. He obviously struggled with what he was doing, and at the end, he did retain his own faith.

The good that came from the program was that it did show the Muslims in their own environment, and that they are as American as the next guy. We do have to accept that as Americans. They're different but that's the deal here. We are a melting pot and that means that it is not going to be one homogeneous brew of what we think it should be. There is diversity here, and from the Christian point of view, that's great. Jesus loves you, me, and all the Muslims, even if they have the wrong notion of what He really is. He might even love them more in a sense, because they are lost, like the parable of the lost coin or the lost sheep. They base their faith on works (the five pillars) and they really do try to do them all. It is not works though, that gets us right with God, but instead grace and mercy. Since that's the case, that's what we need to show Muslims in America and in their own countries - it's a charge to show grace and mercy to these folks.

The program from that point of view accomplished what it set out to do, which was expose the viewer to some real people who live differently from many of us. It was a very sympathetic representation of life in an American Muslim community, but it may have been at the expense of Christian Americans. More than once the Christian guy was shown asking questions that although they are not dumb in and of themselves, the context they were shown in made the guy look inane. The WASPs shown for the man on the street interviews were knuckleheads, and the Muslims were doctors and lawyers.

This was the point though. This isn't a documentary, it's an opinion piece with view. Even if you were to stick Billy Graham in the middle of this situation, some editing and slick commentary would make him look silly.


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