Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another Fulsome Religious Bloviator: William Donahue

Living along side the religious wouldn't be half the distasteful chore it is if they'd just learn to live and let live, and come off their pompous high horses. They wonder why atheists exert so much energy against them and their god meme, well that's the main reason! If they aren't putting abortion providers' names on 'Wanted" Posters, along with their addresses, they're boycotting movies or plays, and often having the effect of scuttling them for the rest of us. And make no mistake, they're always trying to curry more favor with the government either via vouchers or "faith-based" charities, or insinuating bibles (and bible reading) into schools... or whatever.

One particular variant of the religious pest that has recurringly emerged is the "Sob Sister" or Offense-obsessive grouch and scold always on the lookout for cultural or other "transgressions". This type of curmudgeon isn't content to curtail a film or play for a few of his fellow religious, he insists on doing it for everyone!

Such a person is William Donahue, who first came into my purview a few years ago when he raised a hue and a cry against a delightful movie entitled, The Golden Compass, part of the "Dark Materials' trilogy of British atheist and author Phillip Pullman. Exercised at what he took to be not so subtle allusions (in the film) to the fascist "Magisterium" as a stand-in for the Roman Catholic Church, he organized a media blitz and the Catholic League against the film.

On October 7, 2007 the Catholic League called for a boycott of the film. League president Donohue said he would not ordinarily object to the film, but that while the religious elements are diluted from the source material, the film will encourage children to read the novels, which he said denigrate Christianity and promote atheism for kids.[1] He cited Pullman telling the Washington Post in 2001 that he is trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.[2]

Meanwhile, in a debate with Donohue on CBS's Early Show, Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, said that rather than promote atheism, the film would encourage children to question authority, saying that would not be a bad thing for children to learn. Indeed, especially as authority permeates the whole U.S. cultural fabric compliments of hard-core evangelicals as well as right wing Catholic yelpers like Donahue.

The League expressed hope that "the film [would fail] to meet box office expectations and that [Pullman's] books attract few buyers," declaring the boycott campaign a success after a North American opening weekend which was lower than anticipated.

Though many millions did get to see it (as I did) and made it a spartial uccess, at least in Europe, Donahue's crusade slowed attendance and box office receipts in the U.S. The outcome was as predictable as much as it was wrong: New Line Cinema cancelled the two remaining movies in what was to have been a trilogy. Many of us were livid, and found the only alternative was to order the books 'The Subtle Knife' and 'The Amber Spyglass'. Since development of the subsequent movies was contingent on the receipts and success of the first, New Line had no choice but to retract its plans because the initial film barely earned more than its production costs of $180 million.

If this was Donahue's only piece of meddling it would be more than enough, but after trying to stop Notre Dame from having Barack Obama deliver its commencement speech in May of 2009, Donahue and his Catholic League then went ballistic over the movie 'Angels and Demons'. The film centered on various intrigues in the Vatican, and especially the purported efforts of a secret Society - The Illuminati (alleged to be descendants of scientists persecuted by the ancient church) who decided to exact revenge on current Church prelates. Donahue demanded a disclaimer asserting the film was fictional, but even Church officials disagreed, saying it was harmless summer fluff.

Never mind, Donahue's efforts (widely publicized in the media) still cost the film millions and it took a loss.

All of this brouhaha reminded me of the furore that also erupted back in 1988 when Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ appeared. Rather than see the film and judge for themselves, most irate critics simply wanted the theaters to shut it down, so infuriated were they at a dream sequence in which (in another life in which he never gets crucified) Christ has intercourse with Mary Magdalen and they raise a family.

By the time I got to the States, the film had all but vanished, but fortunately I did finally get to see an unedited version on BRAVO. It was a beautiful, well done film.

The moral of this story is that in today's culturally polarized climate it's easy to turn offense into a cottage industry. William Donanue and the Catholic League ought to know, they've succeeded - to the detriment of the rest of us!

No comments: