“Noah”: The Limits of Patriarchal Religion

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By Andrew Wilson

WilsonThe new film “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, has received mixed reviews. It partakes of the dark dystopian and apocalyptic spirit of so many contemporary Hollywood movies that is a turn-off to people seeking more wholesome and family-oriented fare. But if you sit through it, you will at least be rewarded with an encounter with some serious theology.

This is no simple-minded Bible movie. Director Darren Aronofsky said it is “the least biblical movie ever made.” He takes considerable liberties, including not giving Noah’s three sons each a wife to accompany them in the ark and portraying the Nephilim (Gen. 6:4) as Transformer-like rock monsters that defend Noah and help him build the ark. He makes the villain, Tubal-Cain, a stowaway in the ark and gives him some fine lines where he declares his resentment against God for abandoning humanity to destruction. Many Christian fundamentalists will take offense.

But adherents of the Divine Principle can find much to cheer about.

For one, that the movie even considers the pain of humanity swept away can lead us to contemplate the deeper bitterness in God’s heart when He had to take such a drastic action.

Also, Noah does not hear detailed commands from God about what to do every step of the way. The main dramatic tension in the film is Noah’s struggle to understand what God’s revelation means. Why build the ark? Is it to save the animals from sinful, carnivorous humans, or give a new start to humankind as well? Noah not only sees the violence of the people around him; he also recognizes the sinfulness in himself and all human beings as descendants of the Fall. Did God’s purpose to purge sin include ending the human race, even with his own family? God has told Noah that his mission is to save the animals, but what was the significance of his family? God doesn’t say.

Although not true to the Bible, this state of affairs is true to life. We latch on to the limited information God gives us, and then when challenged to go further we have to face the unknown beset with fear and doubt. It is also true to the Divine Principle, which teaches that God doesn’t give human beings all the information we need but leaves a portion for us to figure out as our own portion of responsibility. That portion of responsibility is what gives us the dignity of co-creators, and seals our resemblance to God.

In the movie, Noah lacks this insight; he expects God to give him the answers and is frustrated when God chooses silence. The question becomes acute when Shem’s wife (played by Emma Watson, veteran of eight Harry Potter films) becomes pregnant and Noah thinks that to complete God’s cleansing of the earth he should kill her babies — his granddaughters — and end the human race forever. Noah has doubts whether this is really what God requires and prays for an answer, but God is silent. So he steels himself to that gruesome task. Believing his God-given mission is to save the animals, not human beings, he ignores his wife’s screams and daughter-in-law’s protests as humanistic feelings he must resolutely reject.

In Noah we can see the limits of patriarchal religion. He is a man who knows the God of judgment, the God who speaks to him from the heavens. The women in the film speak of love and mercy, but since their voice is not the voice of God in heaven, Noah discounts them. What if he could have understood that in fact God was speaking through those women? But no, that is not his religion. When he finally relents rather than do the unthinkable, he thinks he has failed God, and afterwards loses himself in drink.

The official trailer for “Noah.”

Yet it is the voices of women that finally win the day, especially Ms. Watson, who superbly plays Shem’s wife. She sings the lullaby that moves Noah’s heart to see the goodness in her babies. She explains to Noah, when afterwards he wallows in guilt, that God granted him a choice in the matter: what he thought was weakness in sparing his granddaughters’ lives was actually his choice, to opt for love and mercy instead of seeing them through the lens of sin and judgment.

The women liberate Noah. He is stuck, steeped in his patriarchal view of God which leads him to believe he needs a sign from heaven for justification. But the women, though not as overtly religious by his standards, have a relationship with God as well, one based on heart. They speak with inner confidence, arising from the God within their souls that affirms love, life, and the lives of their children. To Noah they speak of the trustworthiness of his conscience — the God within — as equal to the voice of God above.

These women represent the female aspect of Heavenly Parent, who as well as being the Father is also the Mother. This aspect of God values all human beings, despite their weakness and potential for evil, for the same reason that all mothers love their children. Mother’s love is unconditional and goes beyond judgment.

Religion today has progressed well beyond that of Noah’s day. We can understand the God of mercy and forgiveness because Jesus came and taught us that. Yet we are also acquainted with a strong male leader, Reverend Moon, who, like Noah, had to accomplish an extremely difficult task, unimaginable to most people and in the face of great opposition. Armed with a new and overwhelming revelation of what God expected from him, he went forward with absolute determination to succeed, whatever the cost. He stood as an object partner to the patriarchal Father God, who had an essential task for him to perform. Uniting with Him absolutely, he brought Satan to final surrender. Like Noah, he cleansed the world of evil and brought humanity to the dawn of a new age, and like his children, we can all be grateful for the blessings he has passed on to us.

Yet, in the course of ensuring humanity’s survival, the Noah of the film almost destroys his own family. Likewise, the cost of Father’s victory has weighed heavily upon his family — his spiritual family as well as his biological family. Noah finally listens to the women, and on the strength of their love, his family finds healing. It is not complete healing; Ham still goes his own way. But his family unites enough to live again and rebuild. Today, we in Reverend Moon’s family also need to listen to the voices of women, who understand God through their experiences as mothers, nurturers and healers. Their wisdom is the wisdom of Mother God. It is sorely needed for the process of healing that will bring us to the point where we can build families and societies of peace.♦

“Noah,” rated PG-13, is now in theaters. Directed by Darren Aronofsky; screenplay by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel; released by Paramount Pictures. Running time: 137 minutes. Cast: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-Cain), Emma Watson (Ila), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Logan Lerman (Ham), Douglas Booth (Shem), Frank Langella (voice of Og) and Nick Nolte (voice of Samyaza).

Dr. Andrew Wilson is Professor of Scriptural Studies at UTS and edited World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts.

Photo above: Russell Crowe as “Noah.” Credit: Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures

 

9 thoughts on ““Noah”: The Limits of Patriarchal Religion

  1. Thanks, Andrew, for your valuable insights in this film review. I would like to submit in addition to what you have already put forth, that Noah and the patriarchal religion of his time were influenced by the master/servant, reward obedience/punish disobedience, fear of master, conditional love culture of the angels.

    Due to the limits of the eternal spirit world that does not have the key advantage of a growing period because it is a realm beyond space and time, I believe God brought angels into existence instantly (like when our mind thinks of a person, place or thing and the image instantly appears to us), thus angels do not experience being a baby and growing as a child receiving unconditional love from parents. Due to the physics of the realm beyond time and space, angels do not experience a family culture of unconditional love. Seen through the limited prism of angels, God is viewed as the ultimate Master, the supreme punisher of disobedience, who is feared by angels based on their limited understanding of reality in their culture of conditional love. Angels communicated their conditional love view of reality to fallen humankind after the fall of the first human family.

    Jesus introduced God as an unconditional loving Heavenly Father (unfortunately not including God as our Heavenly Mother, yet perhaps such an inclusion to God’s fuller identity would have been beyond what those of Jesus’ day could accept). Jesus said God lets the sun shine on the just and the unjust, who forgives unconditionally (“70 x 7”). Such an unconditionally loving family perception of God should have been introduced in the first human family.

    Normal reality would be to experience God’s unconditional fatherly love and unconditional motherly love through a child’s relationship with their own parents. As children reach full spiritual maturity and become true spouses and true parents of unconditional love, they would resemble God’s parental heart. Angels would have to upgrade their understanding of God’s unconditional loving family identity by uniting in heart with human beings. Unfortunately, due to the fall and the fallen culture, the unconditional loving God has had to take measures that separate good from evil, to prepare to begin again the original family culture.

  2. Andrew, your article is very profound, and along with Gerry’s comments, also very deep and insightful. That’s what makes this blog so enjoyable, by bringing out the best thoughts and perspectives and dialoging about them.

    My comment is about the view that somehow God’s masculine side is less compassionate than the feminine side and that it was somehow lacking in the beginning. I don’t really think it is the case. Here’s an example: Let’s say a father has a young son that he loves very much, and says to his son, “All that I have is yours and all that I do, I do for you. There’s just one thing I want you never to handle: my motorcycle. Don’t even touch it.” One day when the father is away, the son takes the motorcycle out for a drive thinking the father will never know. Not really knowing how to handle the motorcycle, he loses control and crashes into a tree. The father comes to the hospital where his son is in casts, traction and covered with bandages. The son bursts into tears and says how sorry he is that he disobeyed the father. The father forgives him completely and explains that once the son was old enough he would have taught him how to ride the bike and then given it to him. That still does not undo all the damage that has been done to the son and to the motorcycle. Perhaps the son may even die from his many injuries. The father’s or even mother’s compassion cannot really heal their son. There are some actions in life that can mortally wound, either spiritually or physically.

    God’s seeming destructive wrath does not scream a need for a more feminine, compassionate side. Rather, it may be masculine wisdom to stop the world from continuing on a deadly path and start afresh and new. Noah’s problem wasn’t that he expressed his masculinity. It was that he showed his lack of total oneness with God.

    What is needed is not more femininity and less masculinity. What is needed is more true purity and sincerity in both. The core problem to me remains the difference between angelic men rather than Adamic men. Once men can truly be liberated from the angelic mentality that is ingrained from thousands of years of satanic dominion, then gender balance and other issues will naturally work themselves out. In our culture we have gone so far in trying to give balance, equality, etc., that it seems that there has been rather an emasculation of our men. It seems that the women get tougher and men grow more effeminate in our culture.

  3. Andrew,

    Thanks for spinning this film in a “good light.” Unfortunately, I predict it will surge and quickly fade onto the dustbin of archives as another fleeting attempt by film producers and directors to entertain us and challenge us to balance our social perspectives and collective sense of structured priorities with personal values and our unfettered power of individual free choice.

    Most of us tend to seek familiar and predictable choices as we ponder selection of our personal path and our interactions within the context of the larger human struggle between secular material chaos principles and spiritual intuitive harmonized convergence at the guiding hand of the “architect” creator, God, heavenly parent.

    These creative filmmakers don’t benefit from a larger, more homogeneous Divine Principle perspective. Nevertheless, I think they can and many times do sense an internal guiding force through visioning and introspection. When they do, they succeed at producing intuitive, guiding impressions that seem to resonate with many others, in heart and mind.

    My main point of constructive criticism is my observation of their perspective, which most always seems to come to the screen from the rear view mirror.

    I marvel at the amazing details envisioned from past experiences portrayed in many films that project a sense of a dark and foreboding plot. But, it seems that projecting a bright future context into a more hopeful and optimistic film leaves the designers with more elementary basic constructs such as light, bright colors, smoothed shapes and upbeat if not inspiring music that pulls at out heart strings but leaves us hungry for a more detailed context. They have a big challenge to envision a future because they are caught up in the past and present.

    We are left short in fulfilling our expectations, because we don’t get to feel our way along in the details or contextual fabric of the moment looking forward to an exciting, positive and enticing future that comes on the foundation of our past accomplishments.

    As a builder and architect, this point probably bothers me more than others and leaves me mostly looking for opportunities in such a film to change the paradigm into a more powerful impactful experience. It is hard for me to just accept it as “entertainment” and not consider it as a meaningful and instructive teachable moment.

    In “Noah,” I sensed a longing for such a context. I left disappointed. True, the story is a visit to the past, but it is portrayed in the moment. We are enrolled to be surrogate witnesses in the lives of Noah, his family and the world as portrayed around them.

    Such a rendition gives the creators license and power to tell a better story if they so choose. Not that they didn’t attempt to do that, just that they missed many opportunities to do much better.

  4. Great review, Andrew. I’d add that the movie stimulated people to think about the how/why Ham came to resent his father so deeply, a theme important to DP. It also makes one wonder if, perhaps, in the later biblical story, the person who intervened to protect Isaac from his father’s knife might have been better cast as Sarah than an angel ;-). Incidentally, for those unfamiliar with the intertestamental literature, the movie’s portrayal of the fallen angels (Nephilim?) seems to be drawn from the Book of Enoch and its “Watchers.” I noticed that on Rotten Tomatoes, professional reviewers liked the movie much more than general audiences did. I suspect people wanted a feel good movie with cute animals and a rainbow at the end. They did get that, but they probably were not prepared to have to think about the serious theological dilemmas the story poses. As with The Last Temptation of Christ, audiences were taken outside their comfort zone. Kudos to the producers.

  5. Andrew,

    I think the film is brilliant. I enjoyed all of the magical scenes, as well as the creation sequence, and much more. However, the most profound theme was Noah struggling to understand what God wanted from him. And the message from Shem’s wife was: it’s up to you to make the choice and create the final meaning.

    Certainly I am now contemplating the significance of the life and work of Reverend Moon, as the time of his passing grows further behind. I am not sure in what sense he brought Satan to surrender and cleansed the world of evil, as you wrote. I am also not sure what he was actually called to do. And what decisions he made “on his own” so to speak, like some of Noah’s choices. However, I do recognize that he was an extraordinary man, greatly devoted to God, who moved the axis of history.

    By the way, contrary to Aronofsky’s comment, this is a very biblical movie, and a great one.

  6. I find it amazing that we can have such different views, as an adherent of the DP! The movie disappointed me greatly; in fact, I left before it was finished although my husband filled me in on the ending which didn’t impress me (or him). I really did try to find something of value when I began watching but could feel absolutely nothing of any serious value in this film and felt it was a waste of money.

    I walked out because I felt deep pain in my heart that Noah was being depicted as extremely unrighteous, contemplating and almost carrying out a murder of his grandchildren, then seemingly a failure, distracting from the Biblical and Principle perspective of God’s desire to make a new start (due to the fall), using a righteous man such as Noah. I can understand why several Muslim countries have banned the movie. Shem’s relationship with his partner doesn’t begin with a Blessing from Noah but from an act of lustful sex, thereby making sex and pregnancy acceptable before a marriage Blessing. The Creator is made to appear as one who favors animals over the human race, hinting at depopulation and making humanism, again, a main theme.

    I don’t really understand how credit can be give to theological implications in a film made by an avowed atheist whose motivation in making the film is questionable. What gives an atheist the right to use a Biblical story for his film, confusing truth with falsity, degrading a righteous figure in the eyes of many believers of not only Christianity but Judaism and Islam? I guess freedom of speech. Sorry, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to see this film. It’s not only fundamental Christians who feel offended by it. I think God is offended by it.

  7. Thank you, Ginger. The secular and popular culture often deceives people with misinformation and lures them with external baits. You’ve heard of the fable of the frog that jumps into warm water (because it feels good) and gradually the water boils and he is fried.

  8. Stimulating review and comments.

    Would add that this mostly humanistic view of the most mythical character of the Bible seems to have its place in bringing focus on the traditional/modern family model. No small thing.

    As a father of three sons, I found more resonance with the interactions between them (Shem, Ham, Japeth) and from their particular perspectives while remaining keenly aware of both the father and mother relationship.

    It really did not seem to me that “the feminine” played either a greater or lesser role, in itself, in the outcome or choices made by the sons (particularly Shem and Ham), but then perhaps that is where the greatest mysteries lie. Who can predict the path, ultimately followed to its end?

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