And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
We live in a fallen world and one where it is very easy to stray from the path that the Bible lays out before us. As children of God, we frequently stray from the path. As the world we live in is corrupted so are our beings and the art we put forth. Even amongst artists who don’t openly declare themselves Christians you can still see shades of faith and yearning for the divine. The great theologians like C.S. Lewis and Thomas Aquinas opined that the yearning for God was a proof of his existence.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” ― C.S. Lewis
All around us, we see this vast longing for the divine consuming people. Christianity is rapidly ceasing to be the norm and where the majority of people who profess to be Christian more often than not don’t live in a way that represents how Christ wants us to live. As drug addictions, lust, and temporary things medicate us and make the rapidly chaotic world more tolerable for fleeting moments, those of us who pursue love and peace through Christ are left to ponder how we might improve our earth. I believe that in the flawed artworks of the fallen world we find that desperation for divinity. With this series Flawed Faith, I hope to be able to explore works of art from talented artists and find the divinity in places we wouldn’t expect to be able to find it.
What better place is there to start in this series dedicated to finding spirituality in flawed artwork than with Kevin Smith’s Dogma?
Kevin Smith is not widely renowned for his impressive grasp of theology. More often then not he’s not widely regarded for his opinions on religion in general. His true calling as a Gen-X pop culture-obsessed nerd seemed to be as a director. His 1994 debut film Clerks is a triumph of amateur cinema. For a no-budget indie-drama made at a convenience store, Smith ends up finding a unique energy and groove that put him on the map as a potentially great up and coming director. His subsequent films Mallrats and Chasing Amy did not garner him much confidence.
Fans of Clerks enjoyed them but they did not break out critically or financially in the way people had hoped he might’ve after his freshman effort. His fourth film Dogma ended up being the place where the rubber hit the road in terms of his creative talent and he made what is largely considered his best film. Dogma is one of my favorite films ever. It’s also one of the most irreverent and blasphemous mainstream comedies I’ve ever seen. The film released in 1999 to considerable protest from religious groups. The Catholic League declared it to be blasphemous and the film’s producers clashed with Kevin Smith over some of the movie’s more objectionable content.
Dogma‘s logline “Get ‘touched’ by an angel” reads like a veritable what’s what of things that would cause a fair few Thanksgiving Dinner arguments. The lead character Bethany is a severely lapsed Catholic who works at an abortion clinic. The story follows a group of misfits, an apostle and a muse who go on a journey to stop two old testament angels from using a loophole in Catholic dogma that threatens to destroy the world. The runtime of the film comes with tons of irreverent digressions including everything from angels taking off their pants, poop demons, a side story at a strip club, a priest portrayed by George Carlin, and an image of Christ giving the A-Okay sign. There’s obviously a great deal to unpack here. There are plenty of reasons as a Christian not to like this film. Despite its penchant for taking the Bible literally, it’s portrayal of the church and God aren’t the least bit uncontroversial.
All that said, I still love Dogma. Why do I like a movie that most Christian discussion on the topic would suggest it should generally be avoided? The answer is that Kevin Smith was and still is Catholic. He didn’t craft the film from a secular perspective looking in at the life of religious people he disagrees with. Smith comes from a place where he has to have one foot in the secular world of his fan base and the other in the world of his Catholic upbringing that his age and life has made him feel alienated from. In spite of his irreverence, the movie does take faith very seriously and works to build a nuanced point about how our fallen nature isn’t above damaging the church and making people do horrible things in the name of Christ. Even in that the movie still leaves room for a great deal of reverence for the idea of faith and how destructive and isolating a life without meaning is. More than even that, I honestly find Kevin Smith’s position to be very relatable.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie is when Bethany finds herself unknowingly talking to one of the angels. The two end up having a surprisingly heartfelt (and drunk) conversation about how they lost their respective faiths.
“When you’re a kid, you never question the whole faith thing. God’s in heaven and he’s… she’s always got her eye on you. I’d give anything to feel that way again.”
The words sound like they come straight from the mouth of Kevin Smith himself. To be perfectly honest they’re the word’s I’ve spent much of my adult life saying as I’ve travailed my own difficult path to faith. It’s easy to be distracted and find yourself drawn into the world. As we read in The Screwtape Letters, it takes little more than apathy, pettiness, or indifference to find ourselves drawn from the ultimate source of meaning and much of my adult life has been saturated in the very real pain that sometimes it’s way easier to sleep in a couple days a week than put the effort in to reading the Bible, praying, or attending church.
After a time it adds up and you find yourself in a place farther than you’d ever imagined being wondering why God left you there. When you’re there it’s easy to stare right up into the sky and scream at God that you hate him and you really do want to be back in that simpler place where the world is new and things aren’t complicated. Dogma means a great deal to me because it understands that place of alienation. As a movie, it never punishes the yearning for God and only truly wags its finger at those who let their faith drive them to selfish places. In truth, I don’t see Dogma as a movie that could ever meaningfully win the hearts of the faithful but I’ve rarely seen movies this honest about the pain of living in a world of uncertainty.