08 May 2005

Ask, where lies your faith

“God, what is it that you want of me?” asks Balian (Orlando Bloom), our hero in Kingdom of Heaven, a masterful film directed and produced by Ridley Scott.

In this film about the Crusades – historically, I believe, referring to the Second Crusade – and the fall of Jerusalem to the Saracens (Muslims), Balian, having lost his wife and killed a priest, is on a spiritual journey to reinforce his faith in God. Not that he doubts God’s existence; he is more concerned about God’s acceptance of him.

A reluctant Crusader, he is thrown into a battlefield of religious zealots, bloodthirsty knights, politics and love. He tells the truth, he protects the helpless – as he is taught to do by his dying father (Liam Neeson). Yet, “There will be a day when you will wish you had done a little evil to gain a greater good,” he is warned by his love, Princess Sibylla (Eva Green). What could be more complicated!

Still, Balian ends up a champion of the people: Virtuous and gallant.

There’s a great deal more to Kingdom of Heaven than heroism. Some of it is actually disturbing – at least, for the Christian community. The film presents an unsettling view of religion and its endorsement of faith. In the film, Mr Scott and screenwriter William Monahan portray Muslims as chivalrous, virtuous and honourable, while creating a less favourable picture of the Christian Crusaders. The Saracen leader, Saladin, comes out more humane than what you may have read about him in history books.

But that’s not all. What moved me the most about this film is the question it raises about faith, and the desires and actions it generates in us. It asks: Is it God’s will to kill over God’s Will? Well, you know the answer, right?

When Balian tells the Hospitaler, a military priest, (played ever-so-subtly by David Thewlis), “God does not speak to me on the hill where Christ died,” the Hospitaler replies, “I have seen rage and madness in the eyes of many men who are religious. Godliness is what is here [pointing to the head] and here [pointing to the heart]. It is about what you do each day to your fellow man.”

Kingdom of Heaven places before us a clear distinction between faith and religion. It puts forth a need for interfaith tolerance, acceptance and respect. And tells us that pure human goodness can still save the day. It shows us that there can be a world of peace for us all – a wisdom which is still to be understood by many.

(Apologies to Mr Scott, Mr Monahan and anyone else concerned, if I have made errors in quoting from the film.)

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