Humbug Square - What, no Jesus?

Fun new documentary disputes existence of the Messiah

So there I was, surfing the Internet, just three days after my boss told me to stop wasting so much time wandering the Web. I stumbled across a link to Brian Flemming, co-author of my favorite play, Bat Boy: The Musical.

I saw the Dad's Garage production of Bat Boy two years ago and found to my delight that it was deeper, funnier and more demented than I dared hope. I'd always been a fan of the Bat Child legend, which was fabricated by the trashy supermarket tabloid Weekly World News.

Part boy, part bat, the creature was found in a cave in West Virginia and taken into captivity. But he kept escaping. In one installment, he was spotted driving a stolen Mustang convertible. The story has gone on for years. Every new adventure is more ludicrous than the one before.

The paper's latest online tale about the bald, toothy mutant starts off: "Bat Boy has hundreds of living relatives in America - and famed Democratic strategist James Carville is probably one of them!"

A few years ago, Flemming and a couple of friends had a brilliant idea: to combine "the brave journalism of the Weekly World News with the power of song." Their musical debuted off-Broadway in 2001, won awards and is now being staged around the world. In the play, Bat Boy is named "Edgar."

I found Flemming's blog (www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/) and discovered that he's directed and narrated an outrageous new documentary.

The movie, which will be screened in Atlanta on June 15, is about a character Flemming contends is every bit as imaginary as Bat Boy: Jesus of Nazareth.

The God Who Wasn't There suggests that Jesus was a mythical character whose message has been hijacked by anti-science, pro-war zealots.

The movie also takes a surprising dig at the Christianity of polite society. It challenges the motivations of moderate-to-liberal church-goers - those sensitive souls who worship a sweet-natured Jesus who would never delight in the slaughter of innocents in Iraq.

Flemming zeroes in on Luke 19:27, in which Jesus says, "Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me."

In light of what the Bible clearly states on that and other issues, such as homosexuality, Flemming says, "Moderate Christianity makes no sense."

I got the movie on DVD and watched it the other night.

I SWEAR TO GOD, parts of The God Who Wasn't There are as funny as Bat Boy. I laughed out loud at the six-minute summary of Jesus' life, built from goofy archival movie footage. Flemming interviews authors to point out that the Jesus story is similar to other "savior" myths floating around the world a couple of thousand years ago. The stories are filled with such similarities as a Dec. 25 birth date, the healing of the sick and a resurrection scenario.??
Alan Dundes, a professor of folklore, says Jesus fits nicely into the "hero pattern" of mythological characters. Jesus scores 19 out of 22 of the hero characteristics, ranking No. 3 behind Oedipus and Theseus, but far ahead of Hercules and Robin Hood.

The humor begins to fade as Flemming introduces news footage of a California Christian leader calling for the death penalty for homosexuality, and Southern Baptist leader Bailey Smith declaring, "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."

Flemming interviews Sam Harris, author of the popular book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. Harris says 44 percent of Americans now believe Christ may come again during their lifetimes. He notes that the end-times beliefs of nearly half the country are crippling plans for a sustainable future.

The documentary also examines the Christian snuff film The Passion of the Christ, directed by Mel Gibson, which glorifies Christianity's primitive obsession with blood sacrifice. Flemming shows in slow motion how Gibson sends little droplets of blood squirting into the air when a Roman soldier drives a nail into Jesus' hand, after the Messiah is already torn to shreds by whips.

"For many Christians, The Passion of the Christ was the single most powerful experience of their life," Flemming says. Of the last 109 minutes of Gibson's movie, "only six contain no blood, violence or suffering."

At the end of his documentary, Flemming reveals that he is a former fundamentalist Christian. He attended a Christian academy in Sun Valley, Calif., and learned to fear the fires of hell. At the school, he also learned there is one unforgiveable sin: to deny the Holy Spirit.

He goes back to campus to grill the headmaster, asking whether teaching false, terrifying myths to children isn't "the height of irresponsibility."

I won't spoil the ending.

A BACKLASH is building against fundamentalism. Ford Vox, a 28-year-old medical student at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, is gaining national notice as founder of the Universist movement - a 2-year-old group that welcomes free-thinkers who want to escape the lunacy of religion without turning their backs on either spirituality or reason.Universism's membership worldwide doubled to 8,000 since the re-election of born-again President George W. Bush, Vox says.

The Universist movement is ideal for people who consider themselves metaphysical searchers, who are open to ideas, and who are increasingly sickened by the use of Christ's name to kill people and stifle science. Many of us are equally disgusted by the failure of liberal Christians, the most neutered people in America, to stand up to the political juggernaut of the religious right. Many of us are worried because our Rapture-obsessed leaders are failing to plan prudently for the future.

Still, I think it's funny that the Universist movement rose out of the fundamentalist backwaters of Alabama, where Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore could very well be the next governor.

"The problem is most dire here," says Vox, who clearly sees the danger posed to the 21st century by belligerent religionists of all faiths - Muslims and Jews, as well as Christians. And let's not forget that mystical Buddhism was a key ingredient in Pol Pot's witch's brew of mass murder.

Vox will host a June 15 screening of The God Who Wasn't There at Eastside Lounge.

I learned something else wandering the Internet: Flemming is now making a thriller about the daughter of a minister who discovers there is no Jesus. The movie is called The Beast. It comes out June 6 next year.

That date, of course, will be 6-6-06.

Follow-up: State Sen. Charles Walker, D-Augusta, was convicted of 127 counts in his corruption trial last week, including charges that he used his influence to win business with Grady Memorial Hospital (Humbug Square, May 18, 2005). But can the case be over if the Grady officials who allegedly bent their own rules to help Walker win the hospital bid aren't held accountable? And why did former state Sen. Nadine Thomas recant her testimony in the case? It gets curiouser and curiouser.__''??
The Atlanta premier of The God Who Wasn't There will be at Eastside Lounge, 485 Flat Shoals Ave., on Wed., June 15, 9 p.m. Free. The movie's website is www.thegodmovie.com. Ford Vox's website is www.universism.org. You can tell Senior Editor Doug Monroe he's going to hell at doug.monroe@creativeloafing.com.''__