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Religious-themed movies and their impact on faith

From "The Ten Commandments," to "The Passion of the Christ," to "Bruce Almighty" to the recently released "Son of God," religion and Hollywood have a long, and sometimes misunderstood relationship. Hollywood seems to have no problem veering from Scripture to make a more entertaining two hours. This week, clergy discuss the magic of movies.

Father Thomas A. Cardone, S.M., chaplain, Kellenberg Memorial High School, Uniondale:

It depends on the quality of the movie. Is the goal of the movie to inspire or to demean faith? I believe when movies are created to foster faith, morals and maturity, there is a strong impact on the viewer. A movie can be a catalyst to a person's spiritual imagination and challenge an individual to take the faith a step higher.

I do want to see "Son of God." The reviews are good. One of the things about "Son of God" that is surprising is that it is inspiring because Jesus as the son of God is central not only for Christianity, but also for the Judeo-Christian heritage.

We see Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the prophecies of the prophets. Moses, the prophets and Jesus have become the rock on which our society has been built, as envisioned by our founding fathers.

It is evident that Jesus looked like the people who lived in Israel at the time. Sometimes, we see Hollywood turn Jesus into a figure who is not real.

One of the things that Mel Gibson did in "Passion of the Christ" is to portray a real Jesus, a real Passion and the horrors of a Roman crucifixion. A believer can often look at Jesus from a cosmetic point of view. Nice medal, nice cross around your neck, but we must not miss the suffering of Christ. The key thing is that Jesus is fully God and fully man. The horrors of the crucifixion make us much more aware of the power of the love of God to save all people.

A well-done movie can inspire, inform and be a catalyst for positive action not only for Christians but for all faiths.

Rabbi Sam Krasner, Suburban Park Jewish Center, East Meadow:

Movies can be a force for talking about one's faith, but very often the depictions in movies are not correct. Most of the movies I've seen are not accurate according to what I know of the Bible. They're dramatized to sell tickets. For example, "The Ten Commandments," from a religious point of view left much to be desired. Cecil B. DeMille was a great director, but the film was misleading and dramatized for effect. I saw the movie over 20 years ago and still am struck by how the killing of the firstborn had too much dramatization in its interpretation.

Yes, if handled correctly, religious movies have the potential to be an inspiration. If you go on YouTube, you may see movies that are designed to increase our understanding of religion or that have a wonderful depiction of values and human stories that are inspirational. But, those movies aren't often made for the big screen. Movies are made for entertainment value and to sell tickets. From the point of view of someone familiar with Scripture, the depictions in big-budget films are not how things happened. But, I'm not sure that movies -- correct or incorrect -- would have any effect on someone's faith. I don't think people go to movies to strengthen their faith.

Seemi Ahmed, member of board of trustees for Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury; Muslim chaplain, Hofstra University, Hempstead:

By and large, religious-themed movies help that particular community and also the larger community in understanding that particular religion. But one has to be careful that not too much "artistic license" is taken in making these films -- if not, one's own community could be alienated. In the case of the Muslim community, when "Mohammad: Messenger of God" was released in 1976 by Muslims, many Muslims were upset and thought that Prophet Muhammad was shown in person. (Islam forbids the portrayal of prophets in movies.) However, no actor played Prophet Muhammad and only his camel was shown, and there was only narration about him and he did not speak.

There is a controversy about the "Son of God," as Jesus was shown as very handsome, with six-pack abs and blond hair, etcetera. Non-Caucasians and even Eastern Christians may object to that portrayal. For Muslims, Jesus holds a very important position as one of the prophets and messengers of God -- along with Adam, Abraham, Moses and Mohammed.

These religious-themed movies are a tremendous help and an educational tool as long as they are made very close to the reality.

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