Ah, Christian movies. Can’t live with ’em, can’t laugh without ’em.
I’ve been wanting to see Come What May for a long time, so I was glad to finally have the opportunity. It’s the story of a boy name Caleb who is in law school so that he can follow in his mother’s footsteps. Because the religious university Patrick Henry College is apparently the moot court winning-est university in the nation, and because Caleb’s father is an evangelical Christian (much to his wife’s chagrin), Caleb is successful in convincing his parents to allow him to transfer. The dean of the university helpfully explains that the college isn’t religious, per se, they just “want to know all of the natural facts AND all of the supernatural facts”. Sounds
totally fucking insane reasonable, right? There’s just one catch: Caleb has to win the moot court championship in order to remain at the school. Easy! Caleb is a born lawyer; hell, he’s been working for his mother’s firm for years, and he’s become so attuned to the complexities of law that she calls him in at one point to cross-examine a witness and tear apart the man’s testimony. He’s that good. So it should be no problem to win this moot court competition, unless… oh no… the position the team has to argue in court is that Roe v. Wade should be overturned.
Now don’t get me wrong, Roe v. Wade is clearly an evil, liberal, activist judge plot to destroy the fabric of our society – duh – but there’s a problem here. Not only is Caleb’s mom defending a medical establishment which provides abortions in real court, but one of the judges who wrote the majority opinion in that landmark case is going to be presiding over Caleb’s competition. Yikes! Caleb’s initial reaction is that maybe we shouldn’t argue about overturning the decision, but instead try to attack it at a piece, arguing for parental notification rights instead of against abortion. His professor, Dr. Michael Farris (playing himself!) warns Caleb of the dangers of being a moderate Christian, telling him to “go all the way”.
His debate partner Rachel, on the other hand, doesn’t want him to go all the way… at least, not without a real commitment. You see, I’m using the phrase “go all the way” in a different sense here, describing her absurdly conservative views on romance and human sexuality. Much as in the disturbing Pamela’s Prayer, Rachel doesn’t want to so much as go to the movies without a real commitment. She refuses to even hold hands until she knows the man she’s holding hands with will be her husband. Caleb’s dad explains her feelings for those in the audience who are perplexed by this prudery: Rachel just wants a commitment that Caleb won’t break her heart. You know, I appreciate the sentiment, I do, but guess what Rachel, I want a commitment that I won’t get run over a bus tomorrow. If Ian Malcolm taught us anything, it’s that life cannot be contained – your compatibility with any romantic partner may fluctuate, and simply shutting down until somebody decides to take a blind leap into your arms is not the way to ensure the stability of a relationship. But you know what is? Baking pie from scratch! Caleb’s mother is demonized by the family for not cooking meals, as even a career gal ought to remember that her real place is in the kitchen.
All of this is ridiculous, of course, but we haven’t yet gotten to the insidious part. As regards Christian films which seek to persuade their audience, there are a limited number of tactics that can be used. One of these tactics is to ask your opponent to accept a premise (“Let’s just say that God exists, for the sake of argument”) and then begin making definitive claims from that easily accepted assumption. More often than not, the weapon of choice is using the viewer’s Biblical ignorance against them, such as when Jesus in the despicable film The Perfect Stranger tells a woman (also a lawyer, interestingly enough) that there are no contradictions in the Bible, a statement which is countered by even a cursory glance at the book. Come What May takes this tactic a step further, using the audience’s legal ignorance as a stepping stone for accepting bizarre assertions.
It starts with one repeated line – trust me, it’s no accident that this line is repeated four or five times in the movie – and that is: “The real issue is when does a baby’s life begin?” This is the premise. This is the movie defining its own rules. If you accept this much, then perhaps you’ll accept a little bit more…? The real issue is when a baby’s life begins. The real issue is when life begins. Well, it has to be an answer that even a five-year old could determine, right? Because if it’s any more difficult than that, it has to be wrong! As Caleb’s father shows, a baby is alive the day before it is born, and it is alive the day before that, and the day before that, which can only lead us to conclude that the baby was alive from the moment it was conceived. You know, I’m not going to touch that one. If that’s the correct answer, great; although how the conclusion follows from the evidence is a little baffling. I mean, the heater in my apartment is on.. and it was on yesterday.. and the day before that, which means the only logical conclusion is that it has been on since the day it was manufactured?
But like I said, I’m not going to touch that because the real issue isn’t about when a baby’s life begins. Life itself is not inherently valuable – instead, it is what you can produce from that life. If the Christian right were as concerned about life as they claim to be, I imagine there’d be much higher involvement in PETA protests than there are currently. I guess life is secondary to bacon. Life is secondary to buffalo wings. What makes the life of a human child more important than that of a chicken or a pig is what you can produce from that life is a human being – a tax-paying member of our society. So the real issue is not when does life begin, but instead when does personhood begin.
In an effort to really stick it to them liberal pinkos, Caleb uses the majority opinion of the Roe v. Wade case against the decision. Quoting from those who gave abortion the go ahead, he mentions a passage from an American Medical Association article that was mentioned in the majority opinion. The article states: “The third reason of the frightful extent of this crime is found in the grave defects of our laws, both common and statute, as regards the independent and actual existence of the child before birth, as a living being.” Ah-ha! The medical community agreed that abortion was a crime and that babies are alive prior to birth, and this was before the passage of the 14th Amendment, which itself says that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The movie pats itself on the back now for being so clever, but allows Caleb to lose his moot court competition so he can remain a persecuted Christian. Nobody argues Caleb’s points in the film, however, so allow me to break him down.
To begin with, this judgment is not in fact the opinion of the medical community at large, instead described by the Supreme Court’s majority opinion as having been “appointed to investigate criminal abortion ‘with a view to its general suppression’.” Such a group could hardly be called unbiased, and reading through the passage it becomes clear that this example was being used to show how recently the call to arms about abortion had been raised. And when I say clear, I mean that it specifically indicates that “laws, generally proscribing abortion or its attempt at any time during pregnancy except when necessary to preserve the pregnant woman’s life, are not of ancient or even of common law origin.” All of which is irrelevant because, as shown previously, life itself is not the issue here. I’m not saying anything original by reiterating that – in fact, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court made the exact same distinction, which I guess Caleb conveniently forgot to read. If you’ll read a little further down…
But in nearly all these instances, the use of the word [“person”] is such that it has application only post-natally. None indicates, with any assurance, that it has any possible pre-natal application. All this, together with our observation, supra, that, throughout the major portion of the 19th century, prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than they are today, persuades us that the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.
This is a form of Constitutional interpretation called originalism, in other instances widely lauded by the conservative sector and popular with Republican Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The idea here is that the Constitution should be read with the original intent of those who drafted it in mind, except if the decisions rendered via this method of Constitutional interpretation fail to jive with evangelical opinion, of course. Which explains why Caleb, frantic to win, conjures up a case based on multiple logical fallacies – most notably a Biased Sample and a Red Herring. Caleb is like literally the worst lawyer ever, basing his entire case around irrelevant information and failing to either read or comprehend a text before arguing against it. It’s no wonder that Caleb lost: he did everything wrong.
But you know what? That doesn’t matter. It’s not about how you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. The game here is say things that sound like they’re right, repeat a misleading red herring until nobody thinks to question it, and make the liberal elite look like idiots by quoting their own words against them! Much like The Perfect Stranger and its sequel, the law-based Come What May is especially odious because it chooses not to present a mere belief but instead to lie to its audience without shame. It seeks to appeal to moderate Christians by capitalizing on their ignorance.
Yep, there’s nothing like that Old-Time Religion.