Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Poking Fun at the Church

Bethany (Linda Fiorentino): What's he like?

Metatron (Alan Rickman): God? Lonely. But funny. He's got a great sense of humor. Take sex, for example. There's nothing funnier than the ridiculous faces you people make mid–coitus.

Bethany: Sex is a joke in heaven?

Metatron: The way I understand it, it's mostly a joke down here, too.

"Kevin Smith's 'Dogma' grows out of an irreverent modern Catholic sensibility," wrote Roger Ebert when "Dogma" premiered on this date in 1999, "a byproduct of parochial schools, where the underlying faith is taken seriously but the visible church is fair game for kidding."

When you look at it that way, it really is no surprise that George Carlin was in the cast — as a bishop who tries to modernize the church's image with a "Catholicism WOW!" campaign and a masses–friendly Buddy Christ.

Anyone who ever heard Carlin's "Class Clown" album knew he was a natural for the church ribbing of "Dogma." Frankly, I would have been disappointed if he had not been in it. I'm sure he got a kick out of all the inside jokes that probably had many Protestants scrambling for a Catholic catechism.

"For those reared in such traditions," continued Ebert, "it's no reach at all to imagine two fallen angels finding a loophole to get back into heaven."

That was the real premise of the story. The fallen angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck) had been exiled to Wisconsin and thought they had found a loophole in church teaching that would allow them back into heaven — through plenary indulgences being offered to anyone who entered Carlin's cathedral.

As Ebert observed, there are times in "Dogma" when a certain amount of Catholic education — or, at least, exposure to church teaching, if one is not Catholic — is required. Ebert pointed out that "not everybody knows what a plenary indulgence is." I grew up in a Protestant household and attended public schools; if it hadn't been for the fact that my father was a religion professor, and through him I was exposed to a lot of different faiths, I probably wouldn't have known what a plenary indulgence is. But I did.

Consequently, I probably grasped where the story was going before most non–Catholics in the audience did, even those watching at home with the luxury of pausing the tape or DVD and looking up theological definitions before proceeding.
Loki (Matt Damon): Church laws are fallible because they're created by man.

The greater problem with the plenary indulgences was this: if the fallen angels were allowed to re–enter heaven, God would be proven infallible, and all existence on earth would end. Bethany (Linda Fiorentino) was told that, as Christ's last surviving relative, it was her duty to prevent this from happening.

In its way, I suppose, it was a modern–day Revelation.

I agree with Ebert. It helps to know a bit about Catholic teaching to get many of the jokes. Of course, I guess you could just listen to "Class Clown" before watching "Dogma."