Movies explore today’s God on Paepcke screen
August 9, 2005
At a time of increasing focus on the competing world views of various religions, the Paepcke Theatre last week hosted two short films and follow-up discussions produced by the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.The movies, “Time For a New God” and “Freaks Like Me,” dealt with the idea of God in a changing world.The first film, a production of the center’s president, Rabbi Irwin Kula, centered on questions of how God applies in a world where traditional interpretations are increasingly difficult to apply. “We’ve tamed the animals, we can grow all the food we need,” said Kula in his movie, “We are the masters of the universe. What kind of God do we need?”The answer, Kula teaches, is a less concrete, traditional God, one who has failures, one who oversees humanity rather than controls it. Kula speaks of a God made of “many images” of “infinite meanings.” God, he says, is whatever we need God to be.In the film, Kula tells a story of a woman whose young son was dying of cancer. He says she told him that she “prayed to the god who cures cancer for months. That image no longer works for me.””That image,” Kula said, “is only really a partial image.” His theory is a stretched sort of monotheism. The Hindu gods, for instance, are all “images” of the one God, each providing whatever perspective in need at that moment. “Everything,” Kula said in what was surely the one-liner of the film, “is God in drag.”The “filmspeech” format consisted of Kula strolling through the bustle of Coney Island, speaking to the camera. Coney Island, Kula later explained is “so cool. It’s all there: diversity, tradition, and yet it’s so new. Different colors, different genders – more than two at Coney Island – it’s such a magical place.”The second film, “Freaks Like Me,” played on Aug. 4, the day after the showing and discussion of “Time For a New God.””Freaks Like Me” carries forward from the theme in the first film to promote a message of tolerance. Made last year at an interfaith conference in Barcelona, Spain, the film consists of interviews with people of many faiths: an orthodox Jew, a Christian, a Sikh woman, several Hindus and Buddhists, a Muslim. Most touching is an interview with two great friends – a Palestinian and an Israeli rabbi from the Mount of Olives, who were frequently shown hugging.Hirschfield, the film’s main producer and vice president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, and a group of conference attendees who represented various faiths participated in a conversation that dealt mostly with religious violence and where it comes from.”Every one of us is part of a tradition that has used its religion to spill blood,” Hirschfield said.Using the theory of many “images,” Hirschfield talked about how all the many gods are simply different sides of God. “If God is infinite,” he said, “he is like a diamond. At any one instance, you can only see one facet.”The interviews displayed the similarities of God – opposed to violence and filled with goodwill – as interpreted by many different religions.Hirschfield’s philosophy carried itself into politics, where his stated belief is that less anger and more reasoning is required.And in the end, the films may have had their intended effect: Greg Anderson, chaplain at the Aspen Chapel, was excited by both films. During a discussion following the first film, he mentioned that he found the philosophies put forth by both rabbis intriguing and promised to show them in his chapel.