Culture

Disney dumps Dogma

Culture | A churchgoer's blasphemous movie is too much for even the Magic Kingdom

Issue: "Not-so-smart bombs," April 24, 1999

and Gene Edward Veith - The latest anti-religion movie- written and directed by someone who identifies himself as a professing, churchgoing Christian-has proven too much even for Disney. Dogma is about two fallen angels, played by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who scheme to get back into heaven by taking advantage of an indulgence proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church: Anyone who passes through a special arch in New Jersey will have his sins forgiven. If they do, God will have been proven fallible and the whole structure of the universe will come apart. A good angel (Alan Rickman) tries to stop the scheme by enlisting the heroine (Linda Fiorentino), who works at an abortion clinic. It is up to her to save the world because she is descended from Joseph and Mary. As if this were not enough, she is aided by the foul-mouthed Thirteenth Apostle (Chris Rock), who tells us what really happened in all of those Bible stories, including the sex lives of the Apostles. He also offers nostrums like these: "Life should be malleable and progressive.... Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth. New ideas can't generate if life becomes stagnant." God is cast as a woman, played by rock star Alanis Morrissette. Throughout, postmodern relativism and Barnes & Noble pop-spirituality is opposed to all of that traditional "dogma." As we are told by a wise stripper, after she compares the Catholic Mass to bad sex, "It doesn't matter what you believe in-just that you believe." As the Catholic League geared up to protest the film, Disney-parent company of Miramax, the studio that made the film-vetoed its release. Miramax Films co-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein said their Disney bosses thought the film was too anti-Catholic and shouldn't be released under their branding. But instead of killing the project, Disney allowed the Weinsteins to buy up the movie and release it themselves. "If this is a corporate problem for Burbank, let's solve it for them," Mr. Weinstein told the Los Angeles Times. After battles over movies like Kids and Priest-not to mention the Southern Baptist boycott-Disney's corporate image might not be ready for another fight. Dogma was written and directed by cult favorite Kevin Smith. His last movie was Chasing Amy, a film in which Affleck plays a comic-book writer in love with a lesbian (played by Mr. Smith's own girlfriend, Joey Lauren Adams). Ironically, Mr. Smith, who was raised a Catholic, claims that he is a Christian and that the movie is "intended as a love letter to both faith and God almighty." In fact, Mr. Smith is a churchgoer, attending Calvary Chapel, the evangelical denomination that grew out of the counter-cultural Jesus Movement of the 1970s. Some observers have been wondering if Dogma is anti-Christian in general, or just anti-Catholic in particular. But in an interview promoting Chasing Amy (available on the Web at zug.com), Mr. Smith's religious beliefs become clear. After stating that he is a very spiritual person who believes in God and Jesus, he said that he stopped going to Mass because, though they called it the "Celebration of the Mass," it really wasn't much like a party, he told zug.com. "The fundamental difference I have with organized religion," he says, "is that I believe the Bible's a great book, but I'm not convinced that everything's factual. I think it's God's word interpreted by man, but in the end, it is man's book. "So I started going to this place called the Calvary Chapel Church, and I really dug on it. I felt a presence there. Then I read their literature, and their first belief was 'the Bible is God's word.' So I went, 'Gotta find a new religion.' But I'm still going there."

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