[personal profile] wingedbeast
I actually watched this movie for this post. I watched this movie. I watched A Matter of Faith. This is a good time to note that I have a Patreon account*. If you like what I do, please share this page with others and, if you can, become a patron. Because, I repeat, I watched A Matter of Faith. My Netflix queue will now have "Because you watched A Matter of Faith" on it. I should be compensated, somehow.

I watched this movie because I've seen other reviews. The two over at The Bible Reloaded did an "Atheists Watch" post on it. The three at God Awful Movies gave it a full breakdown, as did Captain Cassidy over at the Roll To Disbeleive blog. And, they all make their good points. That means that I come to this movie with certain expectations and certain points already being made and expectations set ahead of time. Whether that means my suffering was prolonged or I didn't give this movie a fair chance is up to you to decide.

For those of you either lucky or wise enough not to be familiar with this movie, A Matter of Faith is, ostensibly (I'll get to it), the story of Rachel Whitaker as she goes off to college and is in danger of slipping away from her (conservative and Creationist(I'll get to this, too)) Christianity. The dangers take the shape of a charismatic Bio 101 professor that teaches Evolution without teaching "alternatives", boys who aren't entirely bound by conservative Christian "good vampire**" style, and the general hubbub of dorm life.

She hasn't found a new church near her dorm. Due to a well-placed fifty-dollar-bill, her father finds out (without talking to her) that she hasn't been reading her bible. And, she really likes that Professor Kayman. This, coupled with a quick internet search on Dr. Kayman and his presentation of Evolution without presenting biblical creationism as an alternative makes Mr. Whitaker very nervous.

Mr. Whitaker confronts Professor Kayman on the matter and Professor Kaymen is nice about it. But, he doesn't back down. He doesn't back down even when Mr. Whitaker says that this goes against Christianity and all the values he's been teaching Rachel. Short on time, Professor Kaymen asks Mr. Whitaker to debate him.

He accepts under the claim that Professor Whitaker cornered him... a debatable claim at best. Then, he says that Professor Whitaker has no respect for Christianity... also debatable at best.

And, suddenly, this is Mr. Whitaker's story. We'll still follow Rachel, but her father's the one with actions and a motivation. "I feel this man is affecting you, causing you to change your views." Here we have two of the biggest issues.

Firstly, the person who's beliefs are allegedly on the line isn't a character so much as a MacGuffin. In addition to the father, there's a good Christian boy student, Evan Carlson, on the side of Creationism. He gives the father some information on a biology professor fired for teaching Creationism to get, towards the ending, a classic Han-Solo style return to action. All people set to defend evolution.

Secondly, what's on the line is the possibility of someone going to college, going to the most intentionally tranformative experience of education that we have, and being transformed. Shock and awe, she goes to college and finds the world-view she'd been taught challenged. Horror of horrors.

I haven't even gotten into the basic misunderstandings of evolution. There's disjointed use of the chicken-or-egg question to demonstrate complex life evolving from simple life. There's the use of the speed of runners today versus 1896 as evidence of humans getting faster... as opposed to humans having better diet and runners getting better training. Neither of these would be presented by any biology professor, not even a charismatic professor in an introductory course. And, neither would there be any accepted high school textbook that expressly identifies the absence of the supernatural in evolution.

Of course, that should also be taken alongside the basic misunderstanding of Christianity. I'm not saying that there is a "real True Christianity" to which the movie should be beholden. But, the movie certainly is. In the movie's version of Christianity, Christians who accept the evidence for evolution aren't really Christians. Such Christians aren't represented at all. The closest that comes to even acknowledgment of such a thing is in the movie's view of Christians who aren't willing to stand up for this movie's vision of Christianity, that such Christians are merely adding Jesus to their lives, not submitting.

And, in the movie's view, Christianity is... well, the movie wouldn't call it evil. But, this certainly has a case of the Evil Jesus about it. As example, during the opening credits, there's a scene without dialogue. In that scene, a father takes his ten-year-old daughter to a park. She and another boy skip stones on a pond. She finds a silver dollar and the boy immediately steels it, pulling her hand open in order to do so. Then, the boy walks away. In the scene, neither her father nor the boy's father (both shown) intercede in any way.

Halfway through the movie, we get the explanation that her father, Mr. Whitaker, used that as a teachable moment about how everybody has sinned, everybody needs Jesus, etc. He tells this to Evan during an interview for the college paper. Towards the end of the movie, Evan confesses that he was the one who stole the silver dollar and that his father used that as a teachable moment to make him a Christian. Both parents made the effort to make their children Christian, but neither made the effort to actually address the wrong done.

Look at the lesson those children are taught. It doesn't matter to what people do to you, just be a Christian. It doesn't matter what you do to other people, just be a Christian. People don't matter. Being a Christian does. Is it any wonder that people who can think that's a good lesson to teach a child made the alleged main character into an object acted upon, rather than a person acting?

The Encounter was made by a different company, different director, etc. It still shares a basic failure with A Matter of Faith. Both have a vision of being Christian that holds nothing other than just... being Christian. True, it's a confining vision, as it demands that you hold, ever harder, to tribal signifiers. But, it's also a limited vision, in that there's nothing to it beyond that. Where that's the core problem in The Encounter, the results are the core problem of A Matter of Faith.

I could get into the debate. There are elements that just aren't how debates work. There are elements that just aren't anything to do with the theory of evolution. And, there are elements where this is just nothing more than Christian Porn Parody of the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham (much publicized and happened the same year as this movie, which could not have taken long to put together).

A more accurate debate and a more accurate theory of evolution is the least interesting Case I could make regarding this movie. That would be an improvement, yes, but it would only be an improved backdrop to the story that could have my interest.

Let's focus back on the stakes of this movie. The big question of this movie is if Rachel Whitaker, in going to college, changes her beliefs. That this is big stakes makes sense in a view of the world in which being a Christian is the only virtue, not being a Christian is all sins, and being a Christian is nothing more than staying put in Christian culture. But, that reveals exactly that of the worldview.

Instead, let's assume that she does change. She grew up in a conservative, Creationist Christian household. She was likely home-schooled, specifically to maintain religious standards of her upbringing. She was taught from the Accelerated Christian Education textbooks that never came close to accurately depicting the theory of evolution.

Then comes college. The ACE textbooks, including the college prep, never actually prepped her for college. She, like many a student in her position, has to start her way through learning basic, High School biology in college. The result is, at first, resistance. She tries to convince her fellow students that evolution is wrong, only to find that she's not convincing them. What's happening is that she's learning what's wrong with her arguments.

At the same time, her parents are getting worried. They're seeing changes in her and that's enough worry them. But, she's discussing some things she learns and studiously avoiding such topics as Creationism or the history of Christianity. They find allies in a fictionalized version of the Campus Crusade for Christ.

Her parents, fearing for the changes that might threaten their little girl's soul and being able to represent a powerful contingent of donors, push for a debate, one that most colleges just don't have time for. Creationism versus Evolution. Unlike the movie, we know that there are people who make their livings stumping for just that debate. It doesn't need to be some random student's father, but could be some fictionalized version of the Hovinds or Ken Ham.

Since it's not her father, there's less personal embarrassment on the line. She's still uncomfortable with the whole thing. It easily polarizes much of the student body, between those presenting evidence for evolution and those who believe that they are defending Christianity. But, even the political issue isn't the main source of her discomfort.

As the debate prep goes on, people press her and she's reluctant to even get into the conversation. Some accept that, some don't. Some are eager to defend evolution, others eager to defend Christianity. And, still others are in the same place as herself.

Towards the end we find the issue isn't that she's vacillating between Christianity and the Theory of Evolution. She, and many like her, find themselves needing another debate, needing their side of a different debate. And, to be true, her side of the debate actually represents more people than those who think of themselves as defending Christianity or those who are defending evolution.

She is going through the transformitive process of higher education and coming out with a more nuanced belief than she ever knew possible. Genesis not being a literally factual account of history does not invalidate Jesus. Her objection isn't to Evolution or to Christianity, but to the notion that she has to pick a side.

Of course, that does lead to her doing the most uncomfortable thing. She does have to pick a side once she acknowledges that evolution is not anti-Christian. Christianity isn't the alternative to evolution, Creationism is, therefore Creationism isn't Christianity and does not own it.

Can her parents accept that? Can she maintain a relationship with them? Will they cut her off, leave her incapable of finishing college? Will they all settle for leaving more and more of their ability to communicate cut off, letting their relationship grow chillier and chillier just to maintain a relationship without her having to give in or they having to change?

Those are the more universal stakes, the ability of people to relate to their loved ones while being true to themselves.

* https://www.patreon.com/WingedBeast
** http://wingedbeast.dreamwidth.org/74731.html
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