I watch a lot of terrible Christian movies (is there any other kind?), despite my strong aversion to religion, its insanity and its lies. Usually these movies are funny for me – made by fundamentalists whose ideas about God/Jesus are so outlandish that even most moderate Christians would likely laugh them off. Although, come to think of it, there are an awful lot of people in Arkansas that totally buy the Kendrick brothers’ spiel. But that’s not really my point. My point is this: despite watching films from such crazies as the Christiano brothers (they’re the best example there is), I honestly feel that the makers of The Perfect Stranger have crafted a more despicable film.
Unlike those other Christian movies, The Perfect Stranger is specifically made for the moderates.. for the people on the fence, but leaning toward Jesus. It offers a straw man in the form of a lawyer named Nikki. If she were your lawyer, you would claim mistrial on the basis of incompetent counsel. Our straw woman lawyer gets a mysterious invitation, on heavy card stock and in gold leaf, inviting her to dinner at a fancy restaurant with the one and only Jesus H. Christ. OMG! She’ll have the chance to ask him all the questions that everybody in history has ever wanted to ask the Son-God, but never had the opportunity (seeing as how he doesn’t really exist). And, being a lawyer, she’ll definitely be able to counter whatever lame-brain arguments he could possibly serve up with regards to whatever impossible claims this Jesus character has.
Oh, if only. If only the movie didn’t only exist to lob softballs at the Jesus set and butter up the lost with magical and inexplicable tales of Heaven and chocolate. Alright, so, let’s set up the scene a little bit and then move into tearing this stupid movie limb from limb. Jesus is a blond, white man (what, you thought he’d be Middle Eastern?) wearing a rather expensive suit. He has invited Nikki to a very fancy restaurant, where they order expensive meals and drink wine constantly. I’ve never actually read the Bible, but isn’t there something about a rich man and the eye of a needle in there? Something about casting off your worldly possessions, or something? Maybe I’m wrong. In any case, after some clever banter…
Nikki: Am I supposed to know you?
Jesus: Good question. I guess the answer is yes.
How clever! After that, they get their food and get into the dinner and debate, which makes up about a third of the movie. But not before Jesus bows his head and thanks his heavenly father for the meal… a heavenly father who is himself… somehow? Wait, did this jackass just thank himself for the meal that Eduardo slaved over in that hot kitchen? Don’t get too upset just yet (we’re only on the appetizer), we’ll discuss the confusing concept of the Trinity before dessert. So, what does Nikki want to ask the Lord of the Flies? She starts off with a pretty obvious question: why is Jesus the correct religion, as opposed to the hundreds of other religions that have existed throughout history?
Jesus’ answer? Because none of those other religions match up with what scientists know about the world today. For instance, Hinduism speaks of an eternal universe, and astronomers know now that the universe is not eternal, but had a definite starting point. How that proves anything with regard to Jesus, I do not know. He continues: Islam is wrong because you must believe that one man spoke with God/Allah, whereas the Bible has – and I quote – “forty authors over a span of 1500 years with a consistent message”. That’s complete lunacy, given the sharp difference between the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament alone, but I’ll get back to that, too. Point is: if a bandwagon argument doesn’t convince you that Jesus is the God-Son himself, then what will? Well, okay, so maybe you’re thinking that there is no God. Jesus’ answer to this is to bring up the problem of who created the universe in the first place, and furthermore, do you know what the odds are of the universe coming together exactly as it has? The odds are extremely small. Oh, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. For an omniscient god, you sure do spout a lot of faulty logic. What Nikki should have responded with here is the old standby, “Well, who designed God, then?” I have never heard an answer to this, but if there is one, let me know. Secondly, his thing about the odds of the universe existing is ridiculous precisely because the universe does exist. Plus, there’s the matter of the billions and billions of years that offered plenty of time for such an occurence to, um, occur.
But the main course will arrive soon and Jesus doesn’t have time to keep debating over whether or not he exists, so let’s play a little game where you just assume that he does, okay? Yes, this happens in the movie. A lot of the rest of the film is more about addressing questions regarding the insanity of the Christian religion, rather than strictly whether Christianity is true. But that’s no reason to stop the fun and games. I’m game. Let’s go.
Jesus informs Nikki that mankind does not have to do anything in order to get into Heaven: it’s all about having a relationship with God. You see, man’s rebellion (or, more accurately, or distant ancestors’ rebellion) caused a great rift between God and mankind, and so the only way to patch said rift is to make sure that you develop a deep and deranged relationship with God. So what was the purpose of Jesus, again? Didn’t he die for our sins (which apparently aren’t really that important anyway), and if so then why is there still a rift? It’s like Jesus paid God our rent because we blew our money on gambling at the horse track, and yet God still wants us to pay him. And to add to the intrigue of this strange analogy: GOD IS JESUS. It’s way too meta for me, man.
But look, Jesus says, God just has this standard of complete perfection that he expects from everybody… which, I guess, explains why he still wants rent from us. He knows we are not perfect, but he still holds us to this standard. Seems kind of stupid, like expecting somebody to jump twenty feet in the air and punishing them if they don’t do it, despite knowing full well that it’s impossible. And what’s so perfect about this God, anyway? He’s got all these rules about murder and whatnot, but he’s killed more people than the worst serial killers (check out the story of Job, or better yet, all the first-born children he slaughtered in Egypt – and I’ve never even read the Bible – I’m sure I could find some even more disturbing things if I had). I guess these standards of perfection don’t apply to God. Do as I say, not as I do.
Here’s where it gets really fucked up. Even though God just wants us to have a good relationship with him, he still feels that he’s gotta satisfy this sense of “perfect justice” that he has (which is why people who don’t love him enough burn in Hell for eternity – that’s perfect justice!). Because he loves US, though, he came to Earth in human form and took our punishment – which he is doling out, mind you – on himself, in order to satisfy his insane idea of “perfect justice”. Which seems like an admission that morals, like justice, exist independent of God. So which came first, God or justice?
In the movie, Jesus asks Nikki to think of it this way: if your daughter were accused of murder and sentenced to death because of it, wouldn’t you take her sentence if you could, so that she could continue living? Of course she would! Then again, in the real world, you can’t just take somebody else’s punishment like that – the real killer would remain on the streets. So how is that “perfect justice”, anyway? And how is it justice at all if the person who supposedly sacrificed their life didn’t really die? By sacrificing himself (not really), Jesus claims that he has paid your penalty. But TO WHOM? He has “sacrificed” himself to himself! And now that he has “paid your penalty” for not being perfect, even though he knew full well that you weren’t perfect, he still expects you to pay him back for the “gift” that he has bestown upon you. But if you don’t repay him, don’t worry, God respects your free will, and hey, you chose to burn in Hell for the rest of eternity for not accepting this wonderful “gift”.
What kind of snake oil salesman is this God fella, anyway?
But hey, don’t spend your time looking at the baffling lack of any sort of sense made there. Lookit this new argument: Jesus is also God because the prophets said so. Not Nostradamus, the “real” prophets. How on earth could they have possibly known that there would be a messiah born of a virgin, crucified, et cetera, if they weren’t real prophets? Well, I mean, as long as you disregard the fact that there were numerous similar gods in numerous similar religions throughout history prior to Jesus (http://tinyurl.com/merrymithras). The Jesus in the movie conveniently forgets to mention that fact. Whoops! It totally crossed this omniscient God’s mind.
Look, it comes down to one simple truth. Either Jesus was telling the truth and he was the Lord, or he was completely making everything up and is therefore a Liar, or he is certifiably insane and is therefore a Lunatic. Does Jesus read C.S. Lewis? This is a false choice, leaving out the options that Jesus either did not exist or did not actually say that he was God (which he didn’t, by the way – even the movie Jesus admits that he never literally said that he was God). Regardless, this is an old argument for which you can find an easy list of objections even on wikipedia (http://tinyurl.com/trilemma) – scroll down to the “Argument from claims of Jesus to divinity” section. I love the final objection especially, which notes the “applicability of this argument to other historical religious figures, such as the Buddha and Muhammed, each of whom is revered in their faith as a wise and moral teacher, and each of whom made specific claims regarding their interaction with the divine.”
Jesus is getting sweaty now. He’s acting mighty suspicious, very creepy and low-voiced. The anti-Christs in these movies are always friendly and cheerful. Hmm. Look, Jesus says, I rose from the dead! I was resurrected! How much more proof do you need? Yeah, if those events were well documented at all, then maybe it would be a different story – but even then, how many people have been “dead” and brought back to life, or, you know, in a coma? And if you were resurrected, Jesus, it would have been cool of you to stick around and show everybody instead of up and disappearing like that. Makes one kinda wonder.
Jesus is really getting peeved. Don’t make this hard on yourself, Jesus is saying, all you have to do is “accept my gift of forgiveness”, and… Wait, wait, wait! I already told you that your gift isn’t a gift at all, and what the hell are we supposed to be forgiven for exactly? For not living up to your arbitrary rules about perfection, which we somehow have already messed up when we are born (thanks to our ancestors) – rules which even YOU do not follow? Fuck you, Jesus. Seriously.
Take a deep breath, Josh. You are not in this movie. Jesus is talking to Nikki, not you. Take a deep breath. Okay.
So Nikki asks Jesus about all the contradictions in the Bible. Jesus smugly asks her to name the contradictions, which she cannot since she probably doesn’t even know how to read. He tells her that the worst contradiction in the Bible is that one guy said he healed two blind guys, and another said he healed one blind guy… which isn’t a big deal, since the second blind guy isn’t relevant. That’s a stupid answer, first off. How is healing a second blind guy irrelevant? I didn’t tell you I had two prior felony convictions, because I thought the second one was irrelevant. Furthermore, it’s awful convenient of Jesus to once again conveniently forget about the host of other contradictions in the Bible (http://tinyurl.com/biblecontradictions) – and that link is for but a short list. It doesn’t even include that thing about God being unable to defeat people with steel weapons, which I’m pretty fond of. But here’s one of the better ones from the site I linked to:
“And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (2KI 2:11)
“No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, … the Son of Man.” (JOH 3:13)
Well, that’s just, that’s.. that’s, you know, human beings wrote the Bible and it’s… imperfect because of that. But no, wait, it’s not imperfect because it’s the absolute word of God and should be taken literally word for word, and, um, um, um, um, well, uh…
EVOLUTION! Do you know why scientists believe in evolution instead of the Creation story? Never mind that evolution has nothing to say about how the world/universe was created, but is only applicable to how life adapts to its surroundings. The reason that scientists reject the Creation story is not because it is the loony fable of a 2,000 year old cult, no no, it’s because they “don’t want to be held accountable to a Creator”. Ah, it’s so simple!
Oh my god, will this ever end?
Next question: why does God allow suffering? He allows suffering because he respects our free will… although if we use our free will in a way that upsets him, he’ll send us to the depths of Hell to continue suffering for the rest of eternity. Also, we can’t see God’s plan. But seriously, God actually allows terrible things to happen, like death or divorce, because it makes people get closer to him. What kind of sadistic sunuvabitch is this God, anyway? Nikki, incredulous, asks Jesus, “So [my father’s death] was all part of God’s plan?”
Jesus responds, quote: “That’s what God is willing to use in a broken world.” The ends justify the means. There’s that perfect justice of our wonderful, loving God once again.
So on, so on. God is the source of all physical life. How did he create all physical life, other than through mysterious magical ways that we cannot explain? Speaking of mysterious magic that we cannot explain: remember when we were confused about the nature of the Trinity earlier, when Jesus was claiming to be both God and his Son? The movie’s Jesus has two different answers to that question, both equally evasive. Take your pick:
1. “You weren’t meant to understand.”
2. “God wouldn’t be much of a god if you could fully understand him.”
That second one is perhaps even worse, because it adds the sin of defining something with the thing. The reason that God is God is because you don’t understand what a God is in the first place. Alright, I’m gonna accept it! A+ on that report, son!
Before Nikki leaves Jesus for the night, she rushes back up to him with tears in her eyes. “Thank you,” she manages to say through her tears. Jesus smiles with the kindess of a man who knows he has completely broken a woman in two.
“Nikki,” he assures her, “it’s a gift.”
Only, again, it’s not a gift at all because he wants Nikki to pay him for it. Oh, and also this gift is that he saved her from his own wrath. You just be lucky if I don’t hit you again, bitch. Now thank me for being so kind-hearted.
I forgot to mention: the actors were not very good, the score was very much over-bearing in the beginning, and the director(s) may as well have left the camera on a tripod after that because most of the rest of the movie is just Nikki and Jesus talking with one another.
In short, The Perfect Stranger is just plain horrible.