Pluralism in Religion and Film – Ethan Dickler

One of our first readings for the Interfaith Fellows program was a chapter from Diana Eck’s book about pluralism, Encountering God. She writes that, “Truth is not the exclusive or inclusive possession of any one tradition or community.” However, my first encounter with pluralism was not with Eck’s book, but several months prior during a conversation I had with a friend on an exceedingly different topic: movies.

It was a Sunday afternoon last winter. I arrived at the campus theater early and started talking with my friend Henry about movies. We were both in WUD Film (the Wisconsin Union Directorate Film Committee) together, but he was much more knowledgeable on film than I. After some general remarks about the movie we were about to watch, he mentioned that he admired the Resident Evil film franchise. Now, the Resident Evil movies may be fun to watch, but they are incredibly pop and not critically celebrated like most of the movies I talk about with Henry. I was surprised that someone who cared so deeply for filmmaking as a craft would consider an obvious money-grab like the Resident Evil franchise to be well-made.

Henry explained to me that the Resident Evil franchise was based on a video game and wanted to feel like a video game. He argued that there was a self-aware element to the movies. So, ridiculous action sequences or cheesy smash cuts were meant to capture the adrenaline rush video games can offer, while still functioning as a movie. Henry argued that movies needed to be considered on their own terms. Instead of approaching every movie as part of the same tradition, many films emerged from traditions which were not always understood or appreciated by mainstream critics. After our conversation, I realized how unfair I had been to many movies. However, months later, while reading the Eck chapter, it also occurred to me that I had been unfair to more than just movies, but entire cultures and religions.

In high school, I took classes about the Roman Catholic faith prior to the sacrament of confirmation. I was taught that Catholicism was the only religion containing Truth because it was the first Christian religion and the only one with evidence of divine revelation. After reading the aforementioned chapter about pluralism, I reevaluated how I thought about this. Instead of thinking about Roman Catholicism as containing the only Truth, I began to think about it pluralistically.

A few months ago, Yaseen wrote two blog posts about his journey to Mecca to complete the Islamic pillar of Hajj, a key tenet of his faith. While there are pilgrimages in Roman Catholicism, they are not sacraments of our faith the way Hajj is for Muslims. It would be unfair for me to say that Muslims are wasting their time with a pilgrimage because it is not a sacrament of Roman Catholicism, as it is unfair to view religions as needing to fulfill requirements of different faiths. However, with a pluralistic view, I see that each religion fulfills on its own terms its aims of finding truth and meaning. Through pluralism, there can be more than one Truth.

My favorite movie is Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963). It is pretentious, incredibly Catholic, and a personal movie for me. I will likely never entirely understand the critic who thinks about the Resident Evil franchise the way I think about 8 ½. Similarly, I will likely never understand Hinduism or Islam the way I understand Roman Catholicism. However, that does not mean that I should pretend that Roman Catholicism is the only religion that contains Truth.

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