The following column ran on August 7, 1988 in The Sunday Journal
of Wheaton, Illinois. Copyright 1988 by The Copley Press.
MOVIE SHOCKS RELIGIOUS RIGHT TO LIFE
by Hiawatha Bray
I recall reading somewhere that Universal Studios has carefully
maintained the equipment director Carl Laemmle used to bring
Frankenstein's monster to life in the old film. I certainly believe
The studio that made Boris Karloff a star has now put Jerry
Falwell on the comeback trail. After months of silence on the moral
struggles of the day, Jerry has been moved by a movie to take a stand
once more. At a Friday press conference, Falwell announced that he
was backing the fundamentalist campaign against the film The Last
Temptation of Christ.
The new crusade offers a splendid opportunity for the armies of
the good, so recently in retreat, to regroup and counterattack.
Times have been hard for the Religious Right these last couple of
years. As the Reagan Revolution peters out, scarcely any of their
legislative goals have been accomplished. Pornographers and
abortionists still flourish, and the corridors of our public schools
echo with Iron Maiden ballads, rather than prayers.
Matters went from bad to worse in the last 18 months, with a
series of ludicrous scandals among TV evangelists that made
conservative Christianity seem not merely wrong-headed but ridiculous.
Oral Roberts, the Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggart weren't particularly
active in the political sphere, but their ill fame rubbed off. Even
the faithful began to lose heart.
What the movement needed was a great, galvanizing issue, a 220-
volt controversy that would zap the Christian Right back to twitchy
life. By making an unorthodox film about Jesus, Universal Studios has
thrown the switch.
Jerry Falwell didn't respond to the treatment at first. He's
been tied up in a campaign to raise money for the defense of well-
known Christian patriot Oliver North. It was Rev. Don Wildmon, best
known for catching Mighty Mouse snorting cocaine, who first detected
the blasphemy. He began his crusade against the movie a month ago,
and has rallied so many followers that Jerry felt compelled to run to
the front of the parade.
So just what is supposed to be so bad about The Last Temptation
of Christ? The movie, based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis,
allegedly depicts Jesus as confused, indecisive and sex-crazed, rather
like George Bush on steroids.
Note the word "allegedly." I don't know if the film is at all
like that, not having seen it. But its fiercest critics haven't seen
it either. What's more, they've refused to go see it. True, Jerry
Falwell has agreed to attend a screening on Wednesday. But he didn't
hold off on his denunciations. And Don Wildmon flatly refused to view
it. Perhaps he feared he'd go to Hell for knowing what he was talking
This willfully ignorant leader has successfully roused legions of
trusting followers. Dr. Frankenstein's creation didn't have a mind of
its own, either. Its transplanted brain, I recall, came from a jar
The monster in those movies would always have to contend with a
gang of villagers dressed in lederhosen and armed with flaming
torches. Even as they drove off the creature, you knew that these
would-be heroes were attacking something they didn't understand.
Enter People for the American Way, a group of liberals who seem
pretty much dedicated to branding whatever the Religious Right does as
somehow subversive of American values. The American Way folks have
lost no time in denouncing the planned boycott of the film as the act
of intolerant extremists.
Which it certainly looks to be. It's impossible to take the
boycott's leaders seriously, with their shameless ignorance of the
movie they're protesting. But People for the American Way has
attacked their folly in a manner which suggests a folly of their own.
If Universal made a blatantly racist film, I and almost every
other decent American would do our best to make the studio executives
wish their mothers had had miscarriages. And I bet the American Way
types wouldn't say a mumbling word against us. Some would probably
join in the fun.
Well, believe it or not, some people feel just that strongly
about their religious beliefs, and they have a perfect right to act on
their principles. If they conclude that The Last Temptation of Christ
is blasphemous, they're entitled to boycott the living daylights out
of the corporation that produced it. Contrary to the views of the
torch-bearers of liberalism, such actions are as American as apple
The real menace here is the same poison that has tainted the
Religious Right from its inception. On display once more is the
ignorance, arrogance and power-lust that has led most Americans to
despise the professional Bible-whackers. Nowhere to be seen is the
humility and charity that are supposed to be such cherished virtues
God doesn't need the protection of Falwell and Wildmon. But the
two preachers needed The Last Temptation of Christ they way
Frankenstein longed for a thunderstorm. They're charged up again,
ready to lurch and bash their way across our cultural landscape. I
suspect that for them, this is what really matters.
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