Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 25, 2002
Lost in the Mists of Avalon
TV mini-series favours make-up-your-own religious truth
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
I spent four hours earlier this month watching The Mists of Avalon, CTV's much-ballyhooed "big event" mini-series positioned to win back some viewers from CBC's Olympics coverage.
Avalon is a revisionist take on the Arthurian legends with a strong feminist slant, and it made for entertaining television - well acted and scripted with lavish production values for a TV movie.
However, the movie's fractured theologizing and postmodernist philosophizing had me hooting and chortleing throughout. The thematic premise pays lip service to advocacy of syncretism between the Druid paganism of the ancient English, and the newfangled Christianity of the fourth century. This, of course, only works from a New Age perspective, and supposed Druidism is recast here as a generic, goddess-worshiping feminist-friendly religion, little resembling scholarly surmise about what the Druids really believed.
The Arthur story is retold through the perspective of Arthur Pendragon's half-sister, Morgan Le Fay (Julianna Margulies), called Morgaine in this production, who declares at the outset that "most of what you thought you know about Camelot, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the evil sorceress known as Morgaine is nothing but lies." Okay. . . . but on what authority are we being corrected? We are never told.
Addressing the Druid-Christian dialectic in an early scene, young Morgaine and her little brother encounter a pagan goddess agricultural rite being performed in a field.
"Doesn't Jesus Christ object to such things?" Arthur asks. "No," replies Morgaine; "worshipping God and the goddess is like having a father and a mother." This explanation is of course nonsensical from a Christian (or Jewish) perspective, as a scan of the first and second Commandments will reveal.
Similar speeches interspersed throughout the film amount to a veneer of tolerance pasted over the film's underlying anti-Christian bias. Christians are caricatured as dull, austere, joyless, and definitely no fun; while the goddess religion is presented as powerful, wise, progressive, enlightened and altogether superior to Christianity.
Now, I much prefer honest to goddess advocacy of paganism to the sort of fifth-column syncretism subverting many nominally Christian churches these days, with revisionist, politically-correct androgenization of God as "Father-Mother" and suchlike.
But Avalon isn't even honest paganism, with Druids enlisted here solely as a prop for advocating postmodern feminist humanism. Indeed, perhaps appropriately, Merlin the Magician acknowledges as much on his deathbed; "I think that the goddess only exists in our humanity, and nowhere else." A smidgen of truthfulness at last amidst all the pseudo-theological blather.
And, of course, the film's humanist ethos is manifest in several kinky sex scenes (for humanists, sex is as close to transcendence as it gets), including an incestuous ritual coupling of Arthur and Morgaine, which produces their bastard son, Mordred, who proves to be everyone's undoing; and a menage a trois among Arthur (Edward Atterton) Queen Guinevere (sorry, "Gwenhwyfar" - played by Samantha Mathis), and his boon friend Lancelot (Michael Varton). Sigh. This stuff is so ernestly fatuous.
In the end, nearly everyone is dead, Avalon has disappeared into the mists, and Morgaine's mother, Gwenhwyfar, and Morgaine herself, all end up in a convent at Glastonbury, which is at least presented with some integrity as a haven of tranquillity and forgiveness.
However, the writers couldn't resist one last clanger, as Morgaine muses in the final scene about the Virgin Mary being another incarnation of the goddess. Which is, of course, another complete crock. All branches of the Christianity with a highly developed Marian tradition emphatically forbid worshipping her.
In some nominally Christian feminist circles you find the "goddess" Sophia, a purported co-creator, is worshipped in pseudo-Christian fashion. Sophia has Scriptural authenticity as a created being (Proverbs 8: 22-31), but there is no Scriptural basis for "promoting" Sophia to co-equal "goddess" status with the Christian, Trinitarian God. As Sophia herself says in Proverbs 9:10: "To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord."
So what are we to make of all this? In one respect, it is refreshing to see Christianity acknowledged at all as a significant force and influence on people's lives in a movie these days. However, the make-up-your-own religious truth as you go along motif is sophomoric and tiresome.
Religion as a smorgasbord, picking and choosing whatever bits that suit your tastes, then nipping, tucking and trimming them to conform to your notion of an agreeable religion, is philosophically and spiritually bankrupt.
The point of any religion worth bothering with is striving to conform ourselves to its transcendent truth, not to conform it to our temporal notions. As historian Eugene Genovese has observed, "I have no interest in any God who can learn something from me."
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