Thursday, October 18, 2007

Struggling into the Kingdom of Heaven

Ridley Scott's epic film, Kingdom of Heaven, tells the sad tale of the loss of Jerusalem to Saladin in the twelfth century. It is based in part on the accounts of William of Tyre who, it is said, discovered Baldwin IV's leprosy while the latter was still a young lad.

Like Roger Ebert, I find it a deeper parable for our times than a mere "epic battle movie." Probably the most profound observation to be seen in it is the fact that the best of intentions for peoples to share an albeit uneasy peaceful coexistence is often undone by hotheads on both -- or all -- sides.

Ridley Scott portrays this reality in biting irony when both Baldwin IV and Saladin find bloodlust and "honor" among their own ranks to be the undoing of the peace of Jerusalem. Ultimately, it is the power of this thirst for the primitive Sacred among the Christians in the film that brings down Christian control of Jerusalem.

Those of us who ruefully foresee the day when chivalry and legitimate defense will become necessities, culturally and individually, need to learn a lesson from Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps the greatest danger we will face will not be the foe who worships a cruel taskmaster for a deity and carries a scimitar, but the westerners who no longer give a rat's tail about the Gospel, its Lord, and his Church. This is one motive why I posted, How Would We Know when we'd won "the" Victory over the Scimitar? Mark Gordon thoughtfully seconded the motion with his "What Will 'Victory' Look Like?" Why is this a concern? After all, war makes strange bedfellows and fellow travelers, doesn't it?

In his series on the Purgatorio and Paradiso [1b], Gil Bailie expounds on the negligent rulers who, he says, must now deal with the spiritual problem that once they tried to save a world that is already saved, thank you very much. Bailie reflects on the fact that they leaned heavily on the cardinal virtues -- justice, fortitude, prudence, and temperance -- but now must come to grips with the theological virtues -- faith, hope, and charity (agape) -- which acknowledge that there is a greater power than our own at work here.

Kingdom of Heaven depicts these struggles far away from today: historically and geographically (perhaps). But it raises them in a way we shall all have to face in significant ways in OUR times, whether we like it or not.

1 comment:

Mark Gordon said...

You're right about Kingdom of Heaven, Athos. In the film, Saladin simply does what an enemy always does: attack. And although there is no doubt that Scott developed his Muslim characters in a politically correct manner, the real villains of the film are Guy de Lusignan and Raynald of Ch√Ętillon, who do what no knight should do: betray their oaths to God. Their corruption saps Jerusalem of the moral strength needed to overcome the enemy, and in the end make the survival of the city as a "Christian" enclave a matter of semantics, and therefore irrelevant or even undesirable. In the contest that looms before us, we must remain worthy of victory or "victory" will have no meaning. And being worthy of victory means remaining "in Christ."