the art of religious interpretation (midnight mass vs god’s not dead)

We don’t have time for an intro. “Midnight Mass” is a psychological horror show on Netflix from Michael Flanagan, who is the creator of the family trauma trigger fest “Haunting of Hill House” and the second gayest thing on Netflix, second only to “Barbie and the Dolphin Magic”, “The Haunting of Bly Manor.”

He’s known for creating, like, thought-provoking, humanistic stories that explore the horrors within ourselves as much as the horrors outside of us–blah blah blah. The whole series falls under the category of religious horror, which is like a sub-genre of horror, if you will.

So, religious horror relies on presenting things like motifs and symbols from real-life religions as fact within a given universe. It exploits and subverts the familiar rituals and concepts in order to scare the holy ghost straight out of your poor little bones.

This includes everything from, like, “Carrie” to “The Exorcist” to “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Midsommar”, and, of course… [Music] “God’s not dead, he’s surely alive…” “God’s Not Dead” follows Josh Wheaton, who, after refusing to do his homework, is instead forced to teach a college-level philosophy class that he and his fellow classmates are paying for.

He has no magical powers or skills and is forced to fight the sadistic, monstrous, maniacal professor to the death using only the powers of friendship and God. It has three sequels entitled “God’s Not Dead 2”, which stars Sabrina (the teenage witch)

Refusing to let her grandfather eat bacon, “God’s Not Dead 3: A Light in the Darkness”, where Reverend Dave reads the bible to scare off a bunch of construction workers, and “God’s Not Dead 4: We the People”, where they take it all the way to the top!

We’re gonna focus mostly on the first one and the third one–the first one because it’s the big one, the third one because I actually like it, and the other ones are… The fourth one’s a trip is all I’ll say.

We’re not gonna be breaking the films apart; we’re not gonna be fact-checking them (that has been done a million times). If you’re looking for an in-depth breakdown or, like, a very long explanation of everything that these movies get wrong, there are so many.

I will link some of them, including a really good series by Big Joel, in which he abbreviates “God’s Not Dead” to GND, which we will also be doing. So…thanks. Now, you might be asking yourself, “What does the Christian grassroots kickstarter love

Actually starring The Newsboys series have to do with the eight-episode, critically acclaimed miniseries, “Midnight Mass”? Apart from the obvious answer, which is tone, we have 19th-century existentialism, Russian literature, and the Christian Bible. Also, I have seen them both. That’s the main thing they have in common. That’s what got us here.

I saw one, and I saw the other, and I was like, “Hmm, I’ve got nothing else to do for six months.” “Seriously, you’ve got to get a life.” “Yeah, tell me about it.” In September of 2021, the man behind the mass, Michael Flanagan himself, said of using the

Bible as a kind of source material, that he was shocked for the first time comprehending what a really strange book it is. He said, “There are so many ideas I’d never heard before in church, and the violence of the Old Testament God is terrifying–slaughtering babies and drowning the earth.

It really struck me that I didn’t know my faith at that point.” And I am not here to give you a cliff notes of the Bible, but he’s right. He’s not NOT right. Like, Revelations, which is technically New Testament, sits somewhere between, like, season

Three of “Game of Thrones” and “Saving Private Ryan” on the gore scale, okay? The seas are turning to blood. The rain is turning to blood. The sun is scorching the earth, and there are evil demon creatures rising up from the

Bowels of the cosmos to dump, like, literal bowls of hellfire onto a decaying planet, ravaging its way through every molecule of joy and life left on its dry, cracked surface like Elon Musk running through Silicon Valley! Full disclosure: I was kicked out of CCD before I could make my confirmation.

CCD, if you don’t know — if you grow up Catholic, but you’re too poor to go to Catholic school — is what you do, like, a couple nights a week in addition to, like, Sunday School so

You can get your communion and your confirmation and, like, be holy in the eyes of the Lord, okay? It’s a requirement. I hated it. For reasons I will not disclose, I was not allowed to complete my studies and make my

Confirmation, so I don’t know if, in those last three months of eighth grade, they teach revelations, but I was never taught Revelations. I don’t know if they teach it in Catholic school; I would ask my mom, but it’s 1 AM, so…no.

Anyway, it is absolutely terrifying, which makes it perfect for filmmakers who are looking to, like, twist some religion into their horror. “Revelation.” The 1973 cult classic “The Exorcist” takes the concept of demons and devils and possession from intangible fears to absolute fact when 12-year-old Regan becomes possessed by an

Entity claiming to be the devil itself. That possession and following exorcism result in very real physical damage for the characters and the people around them within the universe of the film. Other films, like “Midsommar”, utilize religious structures and emphasize, like, the dangers

Of groupthink, blind faith, and what can happen when a simple religious belief falls into the wrong, twisted train of thought and barrels off the track. 2014 cinematic masterpiece “Left Behind”, which arguably religious horror for religious people, with its coordinating book series, is also a decent-ish example of this.

Relative unknown Nicolas Cage stars in his breakout role as a pilot who is flying a plane (as they do) when suddenly, boom, half the people in the world are gone because it’s the rapture…and he got left behind. So, then it’s just him and Chad Michael Murray in a very weird rendition of “Speed”…?

But with a plane? Because they can’t land? Because all of the TSA workers evidently were great Christians and went up to heaven, so there’s no one to, like, coordinate a landing, and the world is falling into just sheer chaos below them.

So, they’re just driving around until they run out of fuel, and, luckily, his daughter–his godless daughter–also got left behind. And she’s, like, about to but she stops and calls her dad, and she commandeers a truck and, like, moves shit around and makes a runway so they could land the plane just in time

For the whole world to catch fire. It’s a hoot. Highly recommend watching it. Anyway, so, “Midnight Mass” does something similar, creating a very unique monster element by looking at the darker, more graphic imagery of the biblical texts like Revelation and stories like the Old Testament stories and taking it at face value.

The story is set mostly between the holy days of Ash Wednesday and Easter. It’s initially following Riley as he returns to his hometown of Crockett Island. Crockett is a strongly Catholic community, very isolated, and they become increasingly violent after a new priest rolls into town and starts performing some miracles.

So, we have these two worlds: the “God’s Not Dead” universe–a high-concept fantasy world in which the American education system functions as a tool for an oppressive regime designed specifically to smoke out and crush any and all faith in Jesus Christ as the savior per

Satan’s bidding–and we have “Midnight Mass”–an introspective horror series that takes place on a remote island where Catholicism dominates the social climate and lulls individuals into a twisted sense of righteousness and moral superiority. Two pieces of media coming from wildly different perspectives, serving wildly different agendas,

Both relying heavily on religion (specifically Christianity) as not only a theme and, like, motivator behind production but as the backbone for everything from the plot to the characters to the dialogue itself, takes notes from traditional religious structures and texts and utilizes scripture and its many interpretations.

Both “Midnight Mass” and “God’s Not Dead” offer prime examples of how religious interpretation and representation exists in our current media landscape. Also, it has vampires. Nietzsche (bless you) – Part two. There are not many things that myself and the creators of the “God’s Not Dead” franchise

See eye to eye on, but, on one front, we are united. And that is that any man who likes Ayn Rand is not to be trusted under any circumstances. I do not care who you are; I do not care if you wrote your thesis on it; I don’t want to hear it.

Ayn Rand is a red flag so bright it’s on fire. A burning red flag. Several, several burning red flags, in fact, lit up and lined up, spelling out the word “run” like an SOS on a remote island. And the “Gods Not Dead” crew absolutely knew this.

They had to know this because there is absolutely no other reason for Ayn Rand to be on this board unless they were trying to signal to the audience: “This guy = bad fucking dude.” This board solely exists to clue viewers into the kind of venomous thinkers that Professor

Rattlesnake is going to use to poison the minds of all the hopeful possible Christians out there if discount Logan Lerman does not step up his game. “Friedrich Nietzsche, Ayn Rand, George Santayana, Democritus…” Stakes. We have stakes in this film. Professor Radisson, resident bad dude, waltzes into class, declares God is dead, and then

Requires all of his students sign a paper agreeing to that fact and/or fail the class. Which is bonkers, but we’re gonna let it slide because “Midnight Mass” has vampires. Honestly, that’s gonna give “God’s Not Dead”, like, a lot of leeway just for the record.

So, in this nightmarish fantasy universe where the education system is the villain and philosophy classes look like this… “I would like to bypass this senseless debate altogether and jump to the conclusion whi–jump to the conclusion whi–jump to the conclusion whi–jump to–jump–jump–jump–jump to the

Conclusion which every sophomore is already aware of: there is no god.” The infamous God’s-not-dead mantra that 19-year-old liberal arts students everywhere have tattooed on their biceps, courtesy of the late 19th-century German philosopher and existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche, rears its ugly head. And we’re not getting on me about my pronunciation of Nietzsche.

I’m gonna try, but I went to the same high school as all of you; all I ever heard was “Nietzsch-ee”. So…bleh. He’s not here to correct me, and he has yet to pay for his crimes, so…”Nietzsch-ee.” Nietzsche was born in Röcken, Germany in 1844.

He was the son of a Lutheran pastor, and he was a super influential thinker, mostly known today for being the reason that that film major you dated sophomore year of university turned into a douchebag for a whole semester.

Also, the nazis got real hype on his work, which, he was mostly senile by that point, but it wasn’t exactly a stretch. It doesn’t take a genius to make the leap from “uberman” to “eugenics”, okay? It’s…it’s not even a leap. It’s not even a step.

It’s an elevator–a very, very packed elevator where everyone walks out smelling like shit. Anyway, Nietzsche–some of Nietzsche’s other notable contributions include the idea that man must accept itself as the part of the material world, physical world, classism, and also that time that he murdered God with gay science.

“The Gay Science” was published in 1882 and is severely lacking in homosexual overtones, if I do say so myself. The Homosexual Chemistry gets the most credit for popularizing Nietzsche’s murder of God because of this, like, sick ass quote, right? It’s good. It’s a good phrase. It’s a good one.

If you really want to know more about, like, where the ideas come from and, like, why that’s an important statement–because that was not, like, the thesis, right? “God is dead” is not, like, the end; that’s not his big proclamation–I would say you should read “Thus Spake Zarathustra” or “Zarath-uh-stra”? I don’t know.

It’s basically where this man, like, achieves enlightenment and, like, comes out of a cave, and, but kind of like Cassandra, sort of struggles to get anyone to believe him. He goes off for a couple of chapters about how humanity is just, like, a bridge between

Animals and the uberman/mensch/overman/superman–it’s a translation thing–but also, like… Then it goes into a whole, like, “faith is for the weak; we should just tough it out and be smarter like me; climb the metaphorical mountain, and you can be freed from the pain of regular life and prejudices and moral values”.

Then, he shits on Christianity for a little while, goes back into the cave, and starts over. Don’t fight me on that. He was all about being the “higher people”. He compares himself to Beethoven or something at one point! Nietzsche was kind of a dick. I shouldn’t put that in there.

I can’t just call Nietzsche a dick. Eh…he’s kind of a dick. And he’s writing all of this during the Enlightenment period, so he’s got–like, all these people are really already questioning the very Christian foundations that many societies had been built on. Science is advancing. It’s the tail end of the Industrial Revolution, right?

Things have changed; the world is different, and Nietzsche believes that God does not serve us anymore. The belief in God no longer serves us. So, when Jocelyn Wheatboy’s philosophy professor comes into class that day and says that it’s a metaphor, he’s mostly right.

Nietzsche never thought God existed in the first place–which is confusing because to say God is dead clearly implies that God must have once been alive, but Nietzsche did not think that God was alive. Nietzsche thought there was no God ever; he was not into it.

And there’s this misconception, I think, with the “God’s Not Dead” films that, because they are bad, they do not understand what they are talking about. Because they are not well made and they are unrealistic to a secular audience, that they must be using concepts and terminology that they just–they just don’t get.

I do not think that that’s the case–not only because I think that that’s a weak argument, but also because Professor Ratballs does not come in and require his students to write down the phrase “Nietzsche was right.” He doesn’t ask them to write down, like, “All hail Nietzsche.”

He asks them to write down “God is dead” because Nietzsche wrote down that phrase and made that statement famous. And because that is the quote that the film is referring to, people assume that that is the version of the phrase in which the film would like to engage. Maybe? Sure? We don’t know.

If you’ve learned anything from the two videos that I have made, you should know that we’re not here to take things at face value. We are here to always go one step too far–to go down the road less traveled by until we hit a cliff.

Wherever you–when you think you’re at the end, just keep going a little bit further. I want to give these films a fair shake, so we have to read beyond the quote itself and start looking at the concept of God being dead because that, my friends, is not a Nietzsche original.

Nietzsche’s use of it in The Queer Biology is most likely a reference to the philosopher Heine, who, in his work, “Religion and Philosophy in Deutschland”, cites Immanuel Kant’s first critique as “a sacrament brought to a dying God.” Okay! Sorry!

We’ll talk more about Kant in the ethics section (because there will be an ethics section), but, for now, all you need to know is that Kant basically was the guy who was like, “We can’t know anything about God. Real (question mark) (question mark) (question mark)?” and sort of just pushed that question

Out of, like, academic philosophical thought and into religious theological thought. He was just like, “Not my circus, not my monkey,” you know what I mean? Heine dug this and called Kant the “great destroyer in the realm of thought” and, his

Work (the first critique), as “the sword with which deism was slain in Germany.” What am I doing writing? Who do I think I am? “Who do you say I am?” So, then, Nietzsche comes along, fast-forward, with his, like, metaphysics of becoming and

His new enlightenment mindset, and he was like, “Yeah, God was dying; now he’s dead. We have killed him; let’s move on.” But saying that “God’s Not Dead” wants to bring Christianity back into the godless, communist academic hellscape that the world has become is also not a complicated read. It’s the plot.

Which means that we need to go even further back to the beginning because the idea of God dying and God being killed does not come from atheists; it doesn’t come from philosophers; it doesn’t come from scientists. It comes from Christians. Part three – The Christian Redemption Cycle…

…adds an extra six minutes to your laundry cycle, costs 50 cents extra, BUT it is the only one that will get those blood stains out. For those of you unfamiliar with the origin story of Christianity… *I am not here to give you a cliff notes of the bible* …here’s the cliff notes.

Jesus: son of God, but also kind of God (it’s confusing, roll with it); sent down to earth; has some hot takes; gets killed for those takes; is dead for, like, three days; rises from the grave; pops back to earth; forgives humanity for all of its debauchery.

That is the, like, literal-ish situation as it was recorded in the best, most detailed account of JC’s life: the New Testament, which is obviously biased. That’s a hot take on its own, right? [Eerie music] If you are looking for a more historically accurate understanding, “Let’s Talk Religion”

Has a really great video as part of a collaboration series about the likelihood of Jesus being, like, a real human dude. For our purposes, though, we are discussing the crucifixion itself with the presumption that it was at least a physical event that happened to a physical person, and it served

Then as an allegory for the beliefs of his followers and became the kind of bedrock story for what we now call Christianity and it’s 7.5 billion denominations. Because, whether or not we know that it happened, the idea that it happened–the story of it–is

The one thing that they all kind of-sort of-sometimes-maybe agree on: son of God dies for our sins; we know this because he comes back, and he tells us. And he has a really important theme of sacrifice; evangelizing; spreading the truth against

The grain; sitting in the darkness with nothing but your faith beside you; the ability to balance the scales of sin in the eyes of God. All of those elements and storytelling things sort of bubble out from this event. The death of Jesus Christ becomes both a physical and a psychological event.

The crucifixion of a dude who is going around with different ideas on God has a really profound effect on the psyche of the individuals who really believed that he was the S.O.G. They live on for three days thinking that God is dead. And, like, what the fuck does that mean?

They don’t know if he’s gonna rise again; they have no idea! They’re in the olden times still, like, with that Old Testament God who is super not kind all the time. The relationship with God is so different in that time; pre-C.E. humans were evidently rather disappointing in the eyes of the Lord.

At least we had the power to be disappointing, right? To disobey commands and ideas–intentionally or not. We were less like a game of Sims and more like a studio apartment full of, like, a shit-ton of puppies and kittens–seven billion puppies and kittens just running around, shitting

On the carpet, peeing on the plants, knocking things over, and occasionally killing each other. In pre-Jesus world, it was completely possible to be abandoned by God, not just on an individual level, but all of us. To be punished by God for your behavior, right?

With things like lightning strikes and famines and pimples. So, it makes sense that, while most people were kind of like, “Okay, Dave, whatever,” when Jesus said that he was the son of God, the people that did believe him were pretty

Fucking concerned when a bunch of their fellow puppies murdered him on a goddamn cross. Because, sure, he said “son,” but he didn’t mean that God got married, settled down, and Jesus was, like, off at college on Earth.

God, like, took a part of himself, put it into this woman, made a baby, and she came out, and that’s what we got. It’s a weird–it’s very weird. It’s, yeah, like, we’re not talking about immaculate conception because that is… Jesus wasn’t the immaculate conception, by the way. It was mary.

Anyway, that’s a pretty terrifying time to exist. It’s not a fun time to be a follower of Jesus. They weren’t quite called Christians at the time. So, when we talk about modern-day Christians living perpetually on Holy Saturday, we’re talking about them living psychologically in that space between Jesus’s death on Good

Friday and his resurrection on Sunday–i.e. Saturday [Applause]–constantly waiting for the second coming; for Jesus to return and validate all of their good work and forgive all of the sins that other people–I mean “they”–have been doing. Only, Jesus cannot rise again if he is not killed in the first place, and he didn’t exactly

Die a second time on that Sunday. So, what do you do, right? What–what do you do then, right? You go back to the beginning: eternal recurrence. Start spreading the word. Only, you can’t spread the word to people who already believe, so you need to find people

Who don’t believe–people for whom (wait for it)… God is dead. If I had a mic, I’d drop it. First episode of “Midnight Mass” includes one of my three favorite scenes in the whole series. It’s so good I googled “mass times” after it.

It takes place after mass, right outside of St. Patrick’s church while everyone is introducing themselves to their hot new priest, Father Paul, because he just gave this, like, sick ass sermon. “The crockpot…” So, Riley had been dragged to church by his family but did not go up to take communion.

Which is accurate; you’re really, like, not supposed to take communion if you haven’t been to confession and you’re not, like, practicing. It’s just–it’s rude. When I go to church, I don’t take communion. And you do get some looks. People notice; it’s very obvious when you don’t go.

So, Father Paul notices this, and he’s like, “Yo, saw you didn’t take communion,” and, instead of, like, shitting on Paul’s god for five minutes, Riley just says that he’s just not, like, really in a state of grace at the moment.

He’s trying to be nice about it; he’s trying to, like, let him off the hook. He’s like, “I’m just not feeling it.” And Father Paul looks at him and just says… “Uh, turns out I’m not much use to people who are in a state of grace.”

Such a perfect moment, and it’s right off the bat in episode one. It’s one of the reasons that this show immediately comes off as palatable to religious-wary folks and non-religious folks and probably even religious and probably even Catholics.

I have not actually asked any Catholics, but I cannot imagine that they’re that mad about it. It’s not that bad! And, like, I’m half Catholic; we never shy away from drama. We put children in, like, wedding garb and princess dresses to eat some crackers for the first time.

There’s a reason that they still wear those fucking robes and drink out of these, like, massive goblets, right? Like, it’s not necessary. We just like it. Catholics get a bad rep for being boring because, like, it’s true, but, also, we all like a little bit of sparkle.

Don’t let any of them tell you they don’t. So, this scene exemplifies the pulsing undertone of the capital-C Christian redemption arc. Riley had been this devout altar boy, like, practicing Catholic (he prays when we first-first-first meet him) who has been in a terrible accident, experienced trauma, and has been left with

Just, like, grief and doubt and self-hatred; he’s lost his way; he’s living alone on Holy Saturday; feels abandoned by God. He’s in this place where God is dead, surrounded by believers–like, concerned loved ones pressuring him to do things like go to church to make communion, to find faith because they think

It will fix him or because they think that it will look better from the outside if he does all of these things. Either way, all of these people just trying to shove him into the arms of a dead God as

Soon as possible, and it’s Father Paul, the priest, who just sort of shrugs, and is like, that’s kind of the point. He’s like, “Yeah, it’s fine.” He’s like, “You don’t have–like, that’s why we’re here.” He’s like, “That’s the whole damn reason.”

This stranger–on his first day at a new church, being love-bombed by, like, a desperate people trying to prove their devotion like precocious middle children who don’t feel seen by their parents–gives Riley an olive branch that we didn’t know we wanted him to have. And, suddenly, things change; because, suddenly, we trust Paul.

We maybe kind of want Riley to take this journey back to God, right? Because we want all of our protagonists to be happy and achieve some kind of security and safety and overcome their traumas and their shame.

And, at this moment, like, that’s being presented to us in the form of Catholicism, of Christianity, as this pastor coming into town like Jesus himself trying to make things better. In contrast to that setup, protagonists in “God’s Not Dead” films are rarely non-believers.

And they are technically ensemble casts, but the central characters in these films are typically not seeking any kind of salvation–religious or not. Usually, they are the ones doling it out. Josh Weedleboro is not presented as having lost faith and looking to re-enter, like, communion with God.

In fact, he is presented and remains one of the most steadfast, firm-believing Christians in the whole series throughout all of the films. He’s in, like, all of them, and he just never loses that. “Do you have a Bible?” “Yeah.”

Time and time again, he insists that he has to do this for God, sacrificed be damned. He loses sleep; his grades slip; his girlfriend breaks up with him, and he might have to go to the Newsboys alone. “My mother was so right about you.” But he stays devoted.

Because the emphasis in that version of the redemption arc is not on the lost and the fallen, who exist mostly as prizes, really, like adding up one by one like points at the end of a video game at the end of every film.

The emphasis is on the stalwart belief of these Christians who exist psychologically beyond the resurrection in a world where Jesus has already returned and given salvation to his followers. They are high on that forgiveness and proof of God. [Music] “When I, in awesome wonder, consider all…”

So, we have the characters in “God’s Not Dead” functioning in, like, a Jesus-like role, and, then, we have the characters in “Midnight Mass” pretty much functioning as, like, the apostles. Even Father Paul. All of its protagonists are psychologically in the place of the apostles either pre-crucifixion or between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

They’re all, like, wandering aimlessly, sort of searching for God. This is a very good reflection of Catholicism versus Evangelical Christianity that we see in the American South and what is presented in “God’s Not Dead.” Catholicism is all about that guilt with a capital-G. It’s about repenting your way back to heaven.

We’re still making up for the sins of Eve. We’re still guilty. Your baby is born guilty; that is why you baptize that shit. It’s just the way that it is. Whereas, you know, American sort of Evangelical Christianity as we know it in these films

Is presented with its strong focus on saving–on being saved. It’s got its roots in Protestantism. And the importance of giving your life to God and, like, verbally and physically acknowledging Jesus as your savior, being given salvation through the power of that faith and that belief alone,

Is very much reflected in the way that these two pieces of media approach the redemption cycle. Either way, the death of Mr. Jesus Christ of Nazareth is a core component of Christianity at its very base–at its very, the very bottom of its soul, it’s there.

And that story of sacrifice and martyrdom and redemption and fighting for your beliefs–all of these elements in this story are still found in the modern storytelling context that we know, like the hero’s journey and things like that, right? There’s, like, “leaving home”, “call to action”, “moment of doubt”; like, all of those can

Be sort of found in this redemption cycle as well as in other biblical tales. It’s why films like “Silence” and “Noah” are able to captivate audiences both religious and non-religious alike. It’s why “Left Behind” exists; it’s why Pureflix was able to make four of these films in the first place.

There are so many ways to tell this kind of story–to talk about redemption and forgiveness and faith. And all of them start with the death of God. Part four: God death – Causes, symptoms, treatment Episode one of “Midnight Mass”, we open on a flashback.

Red and blue lights; glass on the ground; Nickelback in the background; it’s nighttime, the scene of an accident; and we pan to our first protagonist, Riley, where he sits on the side of the road, all banged up, praying the “Our Father”.

For those of you who don’t know, the “Our Father” is basically the “Party in the USA” of Catholic prayers. It is the Billboard top 100 25 weeks in a row: stone-cold classic. It’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”; it does everything you need it to do; everyone knows it; no one forgets it. It’s *french kiss*, right?

It’s just iconic. And it’s definitely the only one I remember. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.” Put a bit too much feeling in that. Sorry. So, Riley’s on this curb; he’s praying; he’s obviously horrified by the situation; scared out of his mind; not at all injured in this car accident; spends four years in prison;

Reads all the books, and comes to the conclusion that there is no God. There can’t be. And, therefore…atheist. On the other side of the void, in “God’s Not Dead”, our prominent long-time atheist, Professor Rodelson, is being a menace.

“But know this: if you truly feel the need to continue with this charade, I will make it my personal mission to destroy any hope of a law degree in your future.” “Know thyself, darling. Know thyself. Which I suggest means knowing your own limitations.”

We don’t get any kind of fun, like, flashback sequence for him. Instead, we just find out later that, long before Henry David Adam Rattlebomb was starting pissing contests with 19-year-olds instead of doing his job, he was a believer. And, as a child, he was, like, super gung-ho on God.

Then, his mom got sick, and he, like Riley, prayed to the Lord to save her. She was not saved, and, therefore, he reasons “No God”, thus…atheist. So, both of these films have come to the conclusion that a common cause of God-death for the individual

Is “Bad things happening to good people and prayers unanswered”–which is a fair conclusion given that philosophers and theologians and just general humans have been losing their minds over this forever. Fyodor Dostoevsky explores this and like 57 other concepts in his 1880 novel, “The Brothers Karamazov”.

Bet you thought I forgot that I mentioned 19th-century Russian literature, didn’t you? Nope, not even a little bit. We’re just getting started, but I didn’t want to scare you off. Because this book is way too long to summarize, but the gist of it is Mr. Karamazov was a

Shitty dad; he’s got three sons who pretty much get raised by different people. Alyosha ends up being, like, super religious. Ivan is a smart-ass philosopher; Dmitri is a soldier-turned-criminal-turned-like, kind of decent-dude. There is an inheritance; there’s some murder; a lot of asides; a lot of dialogues; and a lot of quips.

It’s really great; you don’t need to have read it in order to understand what I will be talking about when I reference it; trust me, Josh didn’t. But I love it. I love Dostoevsky; “Crime and Punishment” is one of my favorite novels. I think that his writing is just magical; it’s so good.

What you do need to know is that, during one of the many long dialogues between the brothers, godly man Alyosha is listening to diet Kierkegaard Ivan express his struggle to square the suffering of children with the existence of God. So, why should they serve as fertilizer for someone’s future harmony, right?

That is what Ivan says. In this world where suffering is often seen as a punishment by God for sin, how can innocent children who have not sinned be allowed to suffer and, on that note, why should they embrace a Lord that allows them to suffer, right?

His Euclidean ideal justice system that relies so heavily on acts of evil being punished directly (just as acts of good are rewarded directly) clashes with this idea of a benevolent, all-forgiving god who could return at any moment, empty out hell, and release all humanity from sin.

Ivan’s rejection of God differs slightly from Riley or Radisson’s in that Ivan is less concerned with the existence of God and more concerned with the value of God. He basically tells Alyosha, “If God exists–if THAT God exists that’s allowing child abusers

And monsters to walk free, and that is the world we live in? No, thank you. I politely would like to return my ticket,” right? That’s what he says. So, Ivan is really on the struggle bus here, because Alyosha is not doing him any favors because it’s Dostoyevsky.

And Dostoyevsky is a Christian whose middle name is “devil’s advocate”, and he was in, like, a shitstorm of grief when he wrote this–on top of just, like, a very long and painful life. And, so, basically, Ivan just ends up sort of exhausted by Alyosha every time they have a conversation.

“Today is critical for us, and I am finished. Complete honesty. How does it make you feel?!” So, he descends into full-blown madness over this (which I get–family triggers all of us), but, before any of that, he just kind of concedes to the argument, right?

He’s just kind of like, “Fine, it’s not God that I don’t accept; it’s the world that he created.” And that’s, like, enough to settle that chapter and move on. Now, Jasper Wedone tries to take a page out of this book and, basically, in his third

Argument with Professor Radisson, just starts, like, rattling Dostoevsky off on him and morality and quotes and just gets into a screaming match with Professor Raddison that cultivates in this moment: “It’s a very simple question, Professor. Why do you hate God?” “Because he took everything away from me!”

Plot twist: he was never really an atheist; he was just sad. And, luckily, when he gets hit by a car 14 minutes later, Reverend Dave just happens to be right there just in time for him to accept Jesus into his heart with his dying breath, thus saving him from eterminal damnation. Whew.

In a piece published by the University of Pennsylvania press, Eric Von Der Luft describes a key difference between the death of God from a Christian perspective and from a Nietzschean perspective, in that Christian’s the loss of God is something that happens by accident;

It stems out of a lack of faith; of spiritual blindness, right? The belief in God for the individual is killed by the oppressor, who simply does not know the truth. And, for Nietzsche, it is an act of defiance in the face of near-constant tragedy and turmoil.

It is not something that happens to humans but something that humans do. WE have killed him. Humans have deliberately done away with that which is no longer beneficial to our progress. Nietzsche was kind of obsessed with his own little idea of progress–not progress, like,

As we would see it in 2021, where people become more equal and understanding and respectful, but more of a spiritual evolution for himself. A metaphysics of becoming rather than being. Searching into yourself and searching for the self and understanding yourself and your connection to the world was of the utmost importance.

He wanted humans to be in a perpetual motion; constantly changing and becoming our sort of best, ideal versions of ourselves–like, the most awake, the most enlightened, the most perfect. Are you seeing why the nazis got so hype on this?

Anything that sort of hinders or interrupts that forward motion (like the idea of a perfect God who is infinitely better than man) has got to go. For Nietzsche, believing in God is like chaining your wrist to a block of cement and throwing

The key into an incinerator; a form of self-imprisonment, like a castration of the soul. Humanity has done and needs to continue to assert its free will and refuse to believe in the great man in the sky, therefore killing his presence in the collective consciousness and allowing us to become… superheroes.

And that is how Riley went about it. When confronted with the cognitive dissonance of bad things happening to good people, he reads all the books and comes to the conclusion that there is no God and just does away with that which is no longer beneficial to him.

Was he doing this with the intention of becoming the superman? No. But… Irony is gonna iron. Riley’s atheism is a choice; it is the killing of God in a deliberate and permanent fashion. He does not ever voluntarily take the sacrament throughout the show.

He does not return back into the covenant of the Lord. It is an evolutionary step in his psychology, arrived at following years of research and (not unlike Ivan) intellectual reasoning. “A lot of time to read in there, and I read it all: Torah, Quran, Talmud, Dao De Jing.

Came out of that an atheist.” Radisson’s atheism is a product of a cruel world; it is something that happened to him that caused him immense pain and suffering always and, most importantly, (like Ivan’s) is temporary. And, so, despite being set up for what could be a typical Christian redemption arc–Riley

Returning to the faith, the prodigal son both physically and spiritually—his story ends with him still outside of the covenant of the Lord–technically speaking, if we’re taking free will into account, which…we’ll get to. “Free–” “Free will. That’s the ball game, wasn’t it? That’s the whole thing.” When Riley killed God, it worked.

When Radisson killed God, he came back. And, so, there’s this, like, recurring theme in “God’s Not Dead’s” universe where, if a character refuses God, their life is… *Sobbing* …like shit with a capital-S. Bad things happen to them. They get cancer. Their moms die. They burn down churches and kill people.

Last one was an accident, but still–point still stands. These characters are consistently punished until they are either putting their faith in God or they’re just abandoned to wallow in their misery forever. *More Sobbing* The only solution to their pain and troubles…is Jesus. Part 5: [Music] “Why should I die?”

In order for Riley to stay out of jail, he has to do these weekly AA meetings; but there are only, like, four people on Crockett Island, and none of them are ready to admit their powerlessness to the blood of Christ just yet, so he is forced to go all the way to

The mainland every week so he can get his little paper signed by the dude for probation. This is a bummer because there are only two boats: one that comes to the island and one that leaves every day–that’s all you get.

So, if he misses that first boat and he misses this appointment he’s capital-F fucked, right? So, Father Paul is like, “Hey, I will start a chapter here so I can sign your paper, and you don’t have to go all the way to the mainland anymore.” And Riley’s like, “Sick!

That makes my life a lot easier. Let’s do it.” And this sets up a series of dialogues that happen between these two characters–these long, drawn-out scenes of conversations between Riley and Father Paul in this empty rec center right next to the church.

This feels a lot like the scenes that we get between various characters in “The Brothers Karamazov”, where you have two people with drastically differing opinions on a subject just playing, like, intellectual tennis just back and forth, back and forth, ripping open

Cans of worms one after another and letting them crawl all over each other like that was the point the whole time; pushing and pulling for answers and completely ignoring the nagging feeling in the back of your head that everything is meaningless and there is no truth because

We are forever trapped within our own personal perception of the world no matter how much talking we do. We’ll never truly understand if the color that I say is red and you say is red is actually the same color! Our stupid, weak little puny retinas could be interpreting entirely different sensations

In our brains, and we would have no idea because, technically, the same thing that we saw is also the same thing that we said, but it’s different and we don’t know. So, these long back-and-forths in “Midnight Mass” echo a lot of the discussions from “Brothers Karamazov”

Almost beat-for-beat, with Riley initially playing the part of Ivan or even, like, Nietzsche himself, when Father Paul says to him to say whatever he wants about Christianity. “…just not want to offend you.” “That’s tough to do. And AA is not about protecting people’s feelings, is it? It’s about recovery.”

Father Paul’s not doing this to convert Riley. Father Paul is doing this because he thinks it’s what he was sent back to Crockett Island to do, which is help people. So, when Riley makes the argument that Radisson makes and that Ivan makes, and he says,

“Bad things happening to good people…what’s up?” and Father Paul gives him the basic, like, “Who knows what the big man’s plan is; it’s got to be a good one,” Riley doesn’t hold back. He says “God works in mysterious ways” is just something people say as an excuse not to hold themselves accountable.

And Father Paul says this: “Look, there’s nothing in the scripture or in the world, for that matter, that suggests God negates personal accountability.” And, so, it’s this kind of dance around the subject of “God real (question mark)?” Because Father Paul very clearly believes in God and Riley very clearly does not, and

They’re trying to have this discussion about the structures and the way that people use religion in their lives because that’s something that they’ve both experienced. “We can all just stand by and watch Lisa Scarborough wheel herself around town. We can watch Joe Collie slowly drink himself to death.

We can watch so many people just slip into these bottomless pits of awful, and we can stand it. We can tolerate it because we can say things like, ‘God works in mysterious ways’.” So, Riley’s talking about the way that people use God, and Father Paul is kind of talking

About the way that God uses people. “God can take that pain and turn it into something good–something with purpose. Suffering can be a gift; that just depends on us.” And this is another one of those reasons that it’s so palatable, I think, to religious and

Non-religious people to watch “Midnight Mass”, because it takes these discussions very seriously. And it’s one of the reasons that Christians love Dostoyevsky and so do non-Christians, right? It’s not taking a side; it’s opening the discussion. And you get a sort of similar dynamic in the second “God’s Not Dead” movie, where Sabrina

The teenage witch is having, like, a dangerously close to flirtatious discussion with her non-religious lawyer when he asks her about why she became Christian. So, she tells this sort of vague story about her being in some kind of a bad place without

Any details and coming across a church with a sign that said “Who do you say I am?” And that scene differs greatly in depth and length because it’s an ensemble film; it’s not an eight-episode miniseries. They have a lot of story lines to get through, and, also, it’s important to remember that

Their target audience is Christians; so, the fact that there isn’t much time spent on or giving details about Grace’s pre-Christianity backstory makes a lot of sense and is very in line with Evangelical Christianity in the American South and, like, the American West. [Music] “And I was struggling with a lot of things.”

Evangelicals are born again when you accept Jesus into your soul; into your heart; when you re-baptize as an adult. Who you were before doesn’t matter. Who you are now is what’s important. You can accept God into your heart with your dying breath, and that’s enough.

Which, for the record, I do think is a very beautiful sentiment. And it works within the narrative, because Grace’s story is not about what belief in God gave her the strength to do or change; it’s the idea that simple belief was all it took.

She’s not trying to sell him on having to make all of the tough choices and do the things that she had to do after she found God; she’s trying to sell him on the feeling that believing in God gives her. “As I read it, I could hear the Lord speak to me.

So, that was the start of a journey that didn’t end until I found the answer.” But she doesn’t tell you what the answer is. “Please don’t forsake me…” When our journalist character is in remission, she finds herself in the church with Jude, where she confesses that she’s really struggling to believe.

And he actually does kind of echo the sentiment that Father Paul gives in the beginning of “Midnight Mass”, which is: that’s the point. [Music] “He delights in using us in ways we never dreamed of and giving us things that we never even knew we wanted.” The “God’s Not Dead” franchise paints this struggle to believe as not an individual struggling to achieve the state of believing but as the individual wanting so badly to believe but being bogged down by the world. It’s not that she doesn’t want to believe or she doesn’t believe, it’s that she wants

So badly to believe that the world is coming for her. “He who believes in me will live, even if he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” *Screams* “Do you believe this? Then invite him into your heart, and make him the Lord of your life.”

The carrot that GND is dangling in front of its Holy Saturday characters is liberation from anything and everything negative. The message in the first two films is “just give Jesus the wheel, and he will drive you straight to heaven without a single surcharge. Sure, bad things happen, but they’re not your fault.

They’re not your fault as long as you believe. They’re the big, bad American education system’s fault. They’re the world’s fault. They’re the government’s fault. They’re the atheists’ fault. “What makes you so sure?” “Speed of change. Viciousness of the opposition.

The message of the gospel has us standing in the way of a lot of things that powerful people want, and our resistance to change that message because it’s not ours to change has made us a lot of enemies.” Grace isn’t about to lose her job because she started preaching during geometry class.

She’s not about to lose her job because she answered a question. She’s about to lose her job because the slimy, fire-breathing demon children of the leftist overlords are throwing chains around the Bill of Rights and shoving copies of “The Origins

Of Species” down the throats of hard-working American Christians and, God, why won’t anyone listen to Jordan Peterson?! And this sounds ridiculous. “I do think I have an unusually high regard for the value of evidence…” Because these scenarios are ridiculous. “You understand that I might die.” “I’m sorry about that.”

Sabrina would never have been fired or given any sort of discipline for answering a question about the story of Jesus in the Bible whilst they are talking about martyrs and influential thinkers. A philosophy professor would never force his students to sign a paper or fail.

Social workers will not shut down your homeschooling co-op because you taught your kids about Noah’s ark. These are not things that happen in the real world; but they ARE things that happen in the Bible. Jesus? Obviously literally killed for hanging out and doing miracles.

Pretty sure John the Baptist gets, like, imprisoned and then beheaded for calling out the king on his BS. Jacob ends up in prison. So many people go to jail; so many people end up in prison for believing in God. People get stoned, right? The seas run red with blood.

Like, this is the world of the bible. “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you. You will suffer persecution for 10 days.

Be faithful–even to the point of death–and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” *Screaming* Religious horror is about taking the more abstract elements of religion and legitimizing them as fact within a given story. When we look at the “God’s Not Dead” films as an exploration of the traditional Christian

Redemption cycle, placing its Christian characters in the place of Jesus the prophet and atheist characters as disciples on Holy Saturday, then what we have is the American education system and, later, the government serving as the infamous persecutors as stand-ins for

The devil himself, coming down with rage and fire and constant temptation that must be overcome somehow. “If we stand by and do nothing, the pressure that we’re feeling today is going to mean persecution tomorrow.” “What makes you so sure?” Imagine that you don’t read fantasy.

You don’t grow up reading “Harry Potter”; you don’t grow up reading “The Hunger Games”; you don’t get to read the Percy Jackson books or things like this; you don’t watch these kinds of films; you don’t watch a lot of TV; everything is very curated. What you do read is the Bible.

What you do do is go to Bible study three times a week, and what you grow up to do is make films. This is the kind of film you would want to see; like, this is reality. [Music] [Applause]

Belief in God is the only thing standing between suffering and not suffering in this world. Questions like, “Who will wipe the blood off us?” or “All things are lawful, then?” aren’t questions that need answers in the face of a dead God; they’re experiences of suffering.

Not knowing what is right and what is wrong, being lost and confused, is a form of suffering in these films–a product of God’s death for the individual. And, by extension, any and all moments where one does not have faith in a Christian God are experienced as moments of suffering. “You’re beautiful…” [Music]

“…I wish you didn’t have to do that.” So…so, these movies are racist. There’s no way to get around that; we’re not sugar coating it. I’m giving them a fair shake but not there. They’re racist in addition to also being specifically very, very, very anti-muslim.

Ayisha is our character who is stereotyped as being, like, forced to cover up with a hijab and is presented as like– I’m sorry, I think–so, this is the point–this is the point in the script–I just realized

This is the point in the script where I started referring to people for whom God is dead as “deadlings”…? So, just henceforth…deadlings? So, Ayisha is stereotyped as being forced to cover up with her hijab and, like, presented as a deadling.

God is dead for her, and she is experiencing all of the horrible suffering as a direct result of her not being raised in a Christian household. She is kicked out of her house, not because her father is abusive and making a bad choice,

But because he doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ as the Lord and savior. Apart from the blatant misunderstanding and sheer lack of respect for Islamic culture and practices like hijab-wearing, the film also goes out of its way to make it very clear

That just believing in God is not enough; it has to be a specifically Christian God–their Christian God. “No, Papa(?), Jesus is my Lord and savior, and he died to save me from my sin.” And, now, we have a similar-ish story in “Midnight Mass” after the miracles start happening on

Crockett Island, where Sheriff Hassan’s son, Ali, wants to go to church and see what it’s all about because he’s 15 and his best friend’s girlfriend just started walking out of her wheelchair, right? Fuckin’, I would go too. And the sheriff is not stoked about it.

It’s actually really, really, really difficult for him that this is happening, because Bev Keane is so shitty, first of all, and also he has, like, a lifetime of racism and intolerance behind him. His wife had recently passed, and he had kind of converted to Islam for her, and they raised

Their son in this, in this faith. And, so, it opens up, like, a whole bunch of wounds that his son is now questioning. “If he handed Lisa Scarborough a miracle but let a child die of a brain tumor across the way on the mainland…no. No, that’s not how it works, Ali. It’s not.”

He’s not just upset that his son might be considering Catholicism. He’s upset because he feels like he’s losing his son. But, instead of kicking his son out of the house and right into the arms of Bev Keane,

It kind of opens up this dialogue where they discuss the different ways in which one can be connected to God outside of the bounds of any specific religion. The line that sticks out to me that he specifically says is–he says, “We already have him. We already have God.”

“I will not tell my son not to look for God. Son, oh. We already have him.” “Midnight Mass” also gives the opportunity for Sheriff Hassan to actually explain a bit about Islam to a room full of Christians and Catholics, and he breaks down that Muslims

Do actually believe that Jesus was a prophet–just not the last one. And, full disclosure, I didn’t know that. I had no idea–absolutely no idea. I…like I never…I spend a lot of time thinking about Christianity and thinking about Catholicism

And its split from Judaism, and I really have sort of left the other Abrahamic religion on its own, so i feel…I felt kind of shitty, but, um, but now I know. So, I’ll look into it. Also, that scene and, like, an hour and a half or so spent on Wikipedia and Google is

Kind of all that I have to go on, so please correct me if that was wrong or I did anything incorrect there. Please feel free to leave resources or any other information in, like, comments and stuff, as I would like to be corrected, and I would not like to spread misinformation.

Speaking of misinformation, “God’s Not Dead” doesn’t leave space for that kind of an explanation or any kind of education about any other religion because it simply will not do. You simply cannot be saved by Jesus if you don’t believe in Jesus, so…

That’s their logic. I do low-key think they tried to correct this in the third film. The thing about the third one is that they tried to correct a lot that they did in the first two that people really were not happy about; and one of the things was, I think

They were trying to be more tolerant; they were trying to make it seem like they were being more tolerant, but they definitely weren’t ready to give Muslims a chance, so they were, like, just having the judge be Catholic (which is a miracle on its own).

One of the two branches between Christianity and Catholicism is that Catholicism focuses really, really heavily on guilt–I mean repentance, sorry. It’s about feeling guilty, admitting you were wrong, feeling guilty, actively repenting, feeling guilty, saying ten Hail Mary’s, feeling guilty. That’s, that’s, that’s it. That’s the whole shebang, uh, to be honest.

There’s other things? There’s other things. The idea with the ten Hail Mary’s is you confess your sins to the priest through the screen, and, then, he kind of assigns you how many of what prayer you should say to make up for it.

And, technically, it’s like…repeating this prayer is for you to believe it, right? It’s the more that you say it, the more the words can sink in and the more you’ll be able to mean it. What it is, though, is spiritual capitalism. And we’re gonna get into that later.

But it relies on repenting for your sins first in order to gain forgiveness later…maybe. You’ve done wrong, so you have to make up for that; you’re constantly trying to, like, play catch-up to make sure that you are sort of in the right balance. Have you been to church enough?

Have you given enough to the collection? Have you gone to confession? How many times do you go to confession? Like, what are the good things that you’re doing? How many prayers are you saying to make up for all of these other terrible things that you’re definitely doing? Like…breathing.

We don’t breathe without the Holy Ghost. So, that’s a core foundation of Catholicism, and that comes all the way back—allll the way back–to pre-pre-split; like, Roman Catholicism pre-schism. Schism’s a big deal. I love a schism. There’s a million and five schisms, I think, exactly.

I think it’s, like, one million and five-and-a-half schisms that Christianity has had since its inception. But hot boy summer of 1054: THE Schism. The schism is, basically, when Western Roman Catholicism split from Catholicism and what we kind of now call Eastern Orthodoxy.

That’s important because that is kind of spread over to Russia; and what do we know when we’re talking about Russia? What are we talking about with Russia? Dostoyevsky and “The Brothers Karamazov”. So, that is the version of Christianity that they’re dealing with. So, now we have three (if you’re not keeping up).

We have the, like, American Evangelical Christianity that comes kind of from Protestantism, um, and has that emphasis on saving. We have Roman Catholicism or, more so, modern, like, New England Catholicism, which is, like, a bit irish, a bit all over the place–all guilt, all day.

And we have the Eastern Orthodoxy, which, that’s Dostoyevsky’s kind of wheelhouse. Same as Nietzsche, though, he’s in the enlightenment period, so things are changing; lots of political structures are changing; things are going crazy all the time everywhere. And the form of Christianity that we see in “Brothers Karamazov” is much closer to what

We get in “Midnight Mass”, in that there is a lot of that emphasis on kind of guilt and repentance, and there’s a strongly held belief in this book that one must suffer in order to repent and be forgiven, right?

We have characters who feel a tremendous amount of shame and guilt and desire to suffer as penance for God. Joe Collie is an alcoholic; he’s a loner; he’s a deadling. A few years before the events of “Midnight Mass”, he’s out in the woods drunk, shooting

What I’m assuming were dear I guess, and accidentally shoots little Lisa Scarbrough in the back, paralyzing her from the waist down. He wasn’t exactly well-liked before, but now he’s public enemy number two. Do I need to tell you who public enemy number one is? “It’s just, you’re wearing a gold chasuble today.

Shouldn’t it be green today? We’re in ordinary time; seventh sunday of ordinary time.” Joe Collie mirrors Dmitri in a lot of ways, one of them being, you know, terrible crimes in the past; a lot of it being that people have just given up on them.

In TBK, everybody just kind of assumes that Dmitri has killed his father or will kill his father. Like, they all think that he’s gonna become his father; he’s kind of seen as just, like, a lost cause. They’re like, “He’s a scoundrel; whatever,” and it really takes people kind of believing

In him and…and fighting for him to…for him to get the opportunity to grow as a person, and he does. Joe Collie is in the same boat. Everybody’s given up on him; they don’t think he’s capable of change; they hate him for

Shooting a little girl; and they don’t think that he’s worth their time or their love; and this is a struggle for Ivan in Brothers Karamazov as well. He says, “One can love one’s neighbors in the abstract or even at a distance; but, at close quarters, it’s almost impossible.”

Which is the same thing that Riley points out in one of those first AA meetings, where he says, “Yeah, everybody’s talking about how God loves everybody and we’re all God’s children, but they let Joe Collie drink himself to death; no one wants to give Joe Collie the time of day.”

Interestingly, though, Ivan really focuses on the suffering of children and the abusers of those children; and Riley really sees the Lisa Scarborough/Joe Collie situation for exactly what it is–which is just an awful, awful situation. Admittedly, um, Ivan’s not talking about, like, an individual situation; he’s talking about kind of grand scale, but still…

Neither of them can square this, right? This “God letting terrible things happen and allowing suffering”; it’s just error 404, please check your connection and try again later. It does not compute because it’s a cognitive dissonance. What is a cognitive dissonance?

A cognitive dissonance is what happens when you have two or more thoughts or experiences or beliefs or rationales rattling around in your little goldfish brain, existing in opposition to each other. The fact that you are a goldfish is not consistent with your understanding of a goldfish.

The fact that it is raining outside is not consistent with the fact that the weatherman said it would not rain. Unicorns are not real, but also… The little wires inside of our brains are desperate for consistency; normalcy. They like when things make sense.

We like watching the wine moms slot all of their cans right into spaces along the inside of their fridge, fitting perfectly across in a line. We like watching the Tetris pieces fall right where they’re supposed to. We like watching people organize things and do their…satisfying videos is an entire genre for a reason.

We like it when things come together nicely; we like it when things make sense; we like it when movies have good endings. We don’t want to be confused; we don’t want to be scared. It scatters our little brains and makes us malleable and weak like this dental guard

That I had to buy to stop myself from stress-grinding my teeth into nothingness while I lay in the dark for eight hours, every night, desperately hoping I’ll be sucked down into the wormhole of my subconscious for just a few short hours.

Cognitive dissonance fucks with your brain; it fucks with your sense of self and your sense of reality. And this is what happens when you are told that God is good always, and, then, not-so-good things are happening on God’s watch.

In order to resolve this issue, one of the incongruent thoughts must be abandoned, thrown away, spat on, and left for dead in a mysterious alleyway. My own experience and self-image does not line up with what I know to be the experience and image of a goldfish.

Then, I am either not a goldfish or I am not myself. Which, frankly… If the weatherman says it’s not raining, but it’s clearly raining outside, either the weatherman is wrong or my perception of reality is wrong; which, frankly… Either unicorns are real or this doesn’t exist.

Riley, Professor Radisson, Ivan — all presented with the same cognitive dissonance. The solution for Ivan is to return his ticket. The solution for Riley is that God is not real. The solution for “God’s Not Dead” characters is this… “God is good.” And the solution for Father Paul is, well… [Intense music]

Part six: “What do you want, Paul?” [Music] “Excuse me?” So. Here’s how it went down. Monsignor Pruitt: super fucking old; totally losing it; whole island sends him to Israel, the holy land; as, like, a make-a-wish before you die kind of thing.

On this trip, he does die (more or less), walking alone in a desert, totally off his rocker, runs into an angel who saves his life, makes him all young and hot again, sends him back to Crockett Island, takes this angel in a Trunkit, then he goes back to the Island,

Calls himself Father Paul, and starts lying to everyone constantly. One of the lies that he tells comes up during an AA meeting with Riley, right after Lisa Scarborough has begun to walk again. Riley, in an attempt to ease the cognitive dissonance of that shit, lays it all out for

Father Paul, and he’s like, “Look, scientifically, I get it. I can explain a misdiagnosis; I can explain miraculous recovery. It happens. I get how she can physically walk again. What I don’t get is how you knew she would be able to do it.”

And what this tells us is that Riley has enough faith in Father Paul as a person to know that he would never have asked Lisa to stand if he didn’t know she could do it. And the answer Father Paul gives him is that he just knew.

And he says, “I know that’s not enough for you. I envy you. I wish I could see the world scientifically and be able to reason like that,” but he just doesn’t know. And it’s out of his hands.

But, the truth is, he knows it’s not gonna be enough for Riley because he knows it’s bullshit. Father Paul knew she could walk again because he’s been spiking the communion wine with the blood of the angel that made him young again–not because of any kind of intuition.

He didn’t have some weird feeling; he didn’t walk on a ley line, okay? He’s been deliberately trying to make everybody on this island young again because he’s got dreams he wants to relive. Father Paul Monsignor Pruitt has been lying to everyone everywhere since he got here. His name’s not even Paul!

He made it up! He named himself Paul after Paul of Damascus. You know what happens to Paul in the Bible? Paul is sent through the desert to Damascus to arrest Jesus Christ and, on the way there, God steps in and is like, “Hey, please don’t arrest me, you lunatic.

Instead, go to the city, wipe your browser history, and wait for instructions.” “Lord, what do you want me to do? Then the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'” I wasn’t kidding. And I’m not shaming Father Paul for lying.

We all have to lie sometimes. He’s got this big ass secret that he does not understand, topping off a very, very long life full of secrets and lies from before any of this madness began. All of them, all of the lies, varying degrees of commandment breaking, right?

We have some sod–I’m not gonna say sodomite, he’s not. Although, by biblical definitions…he might be a sodomite. By medieval definitions, he’s certainly a sodomite. Ask Eleanor Janega. So, he gets to the island with this trunk full of angel.

How he got it through customs, what he did with the rest of his things, God only knows; but he gets there with a lot of conviction, right? He’s confident. He knows what he’s doing. He gives this whole, like, long ass confessional sequence basically to us and to himself, I

Guess, justifying his actions, explaining everything he is doing and how it is the right thing and how he’s doing capital-G, capital-W “God’s Work”, and that is the Father Paul that is sat across from Riley when he is talking about how people treat Joe Collie and the

People on the island and how they use God’s will as justification for treating people horribly. It’s that Father Paul who says absolutely fucking not. He argues against Riley’s idea that he can’t believe in a higher power and also own his mistakes.

He tells Riley straight up that there is nothing in scripture that says God negates personal accountability. We talked about this already, I think. Oh, I do this every time. And this is pretty powerful stuff, right? It means a lot. It’s impactful.

You can tell that this is coming from a man who has made mistakes and done things that he regrets; who is still making his peace with the Lord; a man who has lived a full human life already. The thing that’s so captivating about Father Paul for people is he’s this young man who

Has the wisdom of an elder because he was; because he lived for 80, 90 some years. He was on his death bed; he didn’t remember who he was. In certain lights, this is a gift from God–to have lost to yourself, and to be able to be

Young and in a position where you’re respected, and be able to share that kind of wisdom with people is such a gift. He has the knowledge and life experience and wisdom of an old man and the confidence of

Someone finally getting a do-over; a chance to go back and fix everything; to do the things he didn’t do; say the things he didn’t say. It’s the one thing that we all want and will never get, and he has all of this. And, so, when he says this to Riley, it matters.

It’s inspiring; it inspires Riley; it inspires the kind of confidence that Riley’s gonna need to have in him to say, “I don’t know how you knew she could walk.” But he’s still a dirty liar; he tells himself and us that he’s doing all of this lying to

Protect the people of Crockett so that they are prepared for when the real miracles come; for the healings; for the words from God. He doesn’t want to upset them, and he doesn’t want to scare them before he can help them.

He wants to let Lisa run again; he wants to help people get sober; he wants to make people feel young again. But old habits die hard, and the man just can’t stop lying. And I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have lied; I’m just saying that it’s this lie that

He tells to Riley about how he knew that Lisa could walk again that is the beginning of the end. This is the first turn of the screw, where the dynamic between Riley and Father Paul begins to shift. No longer is it the steadfast intellectual reasoning of Ivan and the holy man Alyosha

Discussing the suffering of innocence and the responsibility of God. It is something different now. “I really don’t have an answer that’s gonna satisfy you. Not you.” Father Paul tells Riley that it must be nice for him to be able to explain all the miracles via science.

He envies Riley’s freedom from the belief in the transcendental because his own personal belief in the transcendental, his proof, now has consequences. It’s not just big ideas and big plans in a trunk. It’s happening; and, sure, it’s fine now. People aren’t needing their glasses; their backs don’t hurt; everything’s fine.

But, as the miracles continue, and the healing becomes more, Father Paul begins to feel more and more powerful because he is, right? In the eyes of his community, he is practically a god: completely infallible. At the same time, his dependency on the angel blood that made him young in the first place

Is wildly out of control. It’s turning into a full-blown addiction. *Hacking* And, so, another cognitive dissonance rears its ugly head, and every step that Father Paul takes to relieve that dissonance–take more angel blood, pray, try and do more good–all

Of that just leads him further and further down the rabbit hole of violence and contradiction that becomes harder and harder to square with his belief in God as he knew it, before his twilight era. By the time that he is just a priest standing in front of an alcoholic, asking him to become

A vampire, he is visibly unhinged. He is like Ivan, who, if we remember, slid so far into madness that he started having conversations with the devil himself, and he still couldn’t win. He is shaking; he is sweating; he is talking to himself; he is repeating prayers over and

Over and over again, like a shark who can’t stop for fear he’ll never start again. Father Paul has worked himself into a gordian knot of anxiety, and Riley has just been chillin’. Riley, who made a calculated nietzschean decision to reject God for his own betterment, has absolutely no difficulty with this conundrum.

In the face of absolute moral insanity; bathing in the light of the promised absence of guilt and pain; in the reign of the freedom from moral dilemma that Josh Wheaton promised his philosophy class, came with blind faith, Riley is like, “Absolutely fucking not, you psycho.” Riley is having none of it.

In “God’s Not Dead”, the act of believing, of giving yourself to God, is the gift of living in a world that is black and white; free from the consequences of regular life. No longer do you have to be tolerant of others; no longer do you have to make the choice between

Right and wrong and deciding what the best move is. God does it for you. And, if you choose wrong, well, that was just his plan in the first place. You get to try again next time; and all you have to do is believe; all you have to do is believe.

And believing is not something we can see or quantify in those films, but “Midnight Mass” makes the act of believing a physical one. You have to enter the covenant of the Lord by drinking the blood of Christ in order to receive that gift.

Jesus’s actual blood and flesh were not on the menu at the last supper, okay? It was a metaphorical idea. It was an act of “choose to drink this” and “choose to believe”. “Midnight Mass”, being religious horror, makes that real. It is real blood. You have to really choose that.

The existence of God does not negate personal responsibility, nor does your belief in God negate personal responsibility. Evidently, God itself, in an act of supernatural mercy, is the only thing that can abolish any kind of moral responsibility–in a physical act of sending the blood of something transcendent down.

The characters in “God’s Not Dead” are constantly reminding themselves that God is good; God is good always, and always God is good, over and over again. He uses all things and works in mysterious ways that we can’t see the whole picture.

If we could; if only we could see the world the way that God does, then we would understand; there would be no cause for guilt or pain or suffering or confusion. And that is what the angel gives us; it gives the people of Crockett; it gives Father Paul,

Practically on a silver platter: the ability to feel and see like God. All they have to do…is drink. “God’s Not Dead” requires faith and rewards it with proof; “Midnight Mass” offers proof and rewards action. Part 7: Easter Rising “Wait ’til Easter.

If it weren’t for that and Christmas, some people would never come at all.” *Screaming* So, Jesus kicks it. He decides to let himself be crucified to save humanity, comes back, restores faith, fucks off. Time goes on, societies advance, kingdoms and empires rise and fall and scatter, and

There is no second coming in sight. Centuries passed. Christianity starts creeping its little claws all over every continent, digging its way into the laws and the royal courts and all of that jazz, and still no sign of Jesus. So, we start to get philosophers and metaphysicians working tirelessly to provide some kind of

Evidence that supports the existence of God. Neoplatonism emphasizes the transcendence of God; Descartes was like, “God is perfect, and a perfect thing can’t not exist.” That seemed to suffice for a while? But people keep thinking, and people keep thinking about other things, and people want to have other kind of conversations.

So, as long as you weren’t publishing blasphemy, and you sort of tack on a footnote about God being the perfect creator of all things, the church would, like, more or less leave you alone and let you write about all the trapezoids you want.

So, that kind of covers the general population’s belief in God, right? But what is true of the general public is not always true of the individual, and three days is a long time. When the three days are a psychological, metaphorical experience, three days can start to feel like

A lifetime; and a lifetime is just about long enough for some of that capital-D Doubt to sink in. And this remains true for forever. People’s belief in God diminishes the further and further away we get from the resurrection.

And that is because, in order for God to have any personal meaning for the individual, he must bring himself down to the individual’s level. In order to surpass that “the court says you have to believe in God, so you say you believe

In God” barrier, in order to have real meaning for a person’s life, he has to send part of himself down to earth. He has to get on our level. He sends part of himself down to earth in this human form as, like, a gift to humanity

So he can teach us some shit; but the problem is that, like, Jesus can’t just, like, move to Miami and, like, live out the rest of his life selling cars and be, like, “Alright,” and die at like 97.

Because, if he did do that, he’d just be some dude who’s going around saying that he’s God, and when was the last time that that worked out well for literally anyone involved? Which brings us back to the thesis point: he has to die.

But, if he dies, then that means that God can be killed, and that makes God a lot less godly, you know what I mean? Plus, you’ve got like a shitton of people just living their lives thinking that God has died and abandoned them. No bueno.

Not to mention that he’s got shit to do upstate, so he can’t just stay on Earth forever. He can’t just die and float on up to the heavens like every other good Christian. Also, he’s got all these apostles hanging out, trying to write a book, and what kind

Of a friend would he be if he just left them with that kind of an ending? He’s all-knowing. He knows what happens when Game of Thrones ends. He wouldn’t do that. Which brings us to the next necessary element of the Christian redemption cycle.

The death of God is the first; God has to die. Second part is that three days, those three days of waiting; he’s got to be dead for somebody somewhere or Christianity doesn’t work. And the next necessary point on the Christian redemption cycle is this: the supernatural proof. He’s got to go back.

“We have to go back, Kate.” Big man gets nailed to the cross, dies, takes a quick detour into hell, frees all the sinners (except for Solomon; fuck Solomon), comes back to Earth, takes a bow, forgives humanity for all of its sins, then zip-zap-zops back up to Daddy.

Which is some next level proof-of-the-divine shit, right? This is in line with Red Seas parting; this is bushes burning; this is angels flying down in a desert to tell you what to do. The resurrection serves as that necessary supernatural element that will sustain faith for a very long time.

The resurrection will sustain people for a long time; and Descartes will come in, and he will sustain people for a long time. But man cannot live on metaphysics alone, and that “son of God” candle only burns so bright for so long.

Eventually, say 2000 years later, in this post-Easter Sunday world where God can be killed not physically but spiritually for the individual, it’s a lot harder to believe. And it becomes increasingly difficult to carry out this redemption cycle without that supernatural element.

The “God’s Not Dead” films really struggle with this because they place their characters in the position of Jesus, but they’re not really able to fully accomplish that true, “I am God, believe in me” vibe, right? Like, no one can do it like Jesus can.

As Eric Von Der Luft says in his essay, “The bridge between infinite immortality and finite mortality must be made by the immortal making itself mortal, lowering itself to humanity’s level.” Which means… Vampires. We’re talking about vampires. Part eight: the morality of eating people.

Father Paul/Monsignor Pruitt: old, wrinkly, in a desert, gets Benjamin Buttoned by Dobby on steroids, comes back to Crockett Island and starts drugging everybody with Dobby’s blood. We learned all of this, remember? I just talked about it. Father Paul gave that confession to himself because he felt really shitty about being

A damn liar, which I get because I’m also a damn liar sometimes, and it’s one of the ten commandments, but, in his defense, it is the ninth one; and anyone who’s ever read a Buzzfeed listicle knows nobody reads past number six.

He feels bad, but he does it anyway because he’s got big miracles on the horizon. Lisa walks again; the woman that he had an affair with 40 years ago and had a secret love child with: she’s young and hot again; Erin’s unborn child mysteriously disappears

From her womb completely as if it was never there. Okay, maybe they’re not all great changes. So, like, WE know that they’re not all great changes, but Father Paul does not. Father Paul thinks he is doing the Lord’s work, and he is riding that train as far as it can go.

That’s all he’s ever wanted. He’s a priest. That’s that’s that’s the gi–that’s the gig. That’s the gig. He swore to never have sex all of his life because he wanted to serve the Lord. Mmm…he failed the first time around, but this time…this time’s different. He feels like Moses.

He’s got an angel commanding him to save people, and it’s all fun and games until he gets addicted to the angel blood, and kicks it–only to come back again…full Dracula. *Screams* “Monsignor, ah, thank God.” For the record: Father Paul/Monsignor Pruitt has died twice. *Laughs* *Gunshot* …comes back full Dracula, immediately murders Joe Collie.

Joe Collie, who was just there for some guidance because he’s trying to get sober, and he was gonna buy a drink, but he didn’t, and he came to Father Paul instead, and Father Paul ate his brains. Michael Flanagan morally fattened Joe Collie up like a pig for slaughter, and I will never

Forgive him for it. So, he’s eating Joe Collie’s brains out by the skull, and who should walk in but Bev Keane: top-tier Christian; Queen of God’s work. It’s all over, right? It’s only downhill from here. The number one Bible follower has just walked in on you eating someone; it’s got to be over,

Right? Wrong. Bev Keane has been waiting for this moment her entire life. “Okay…okay.” So, there’s this moment where we have these two devout religious characters who have already interacted with what they believe to be proof of the divine. Bev is already aware that Father Paul has been made young again.

They have the opportunity to take this as a command. Father Paul’s body, the body that was resurrected (a la JC himself) is demanding the blood of Joe Collie to survive. It is physically craving and calling him to, well…

At the same time, in a year far, far away (Genesis 20:22), God rolls up to Abraham and is like, “Hey, so you know that kid you have? That kid that you love so much? That miracle baby that I gave you and your wife after you were childless for so long?

You know that kid?” and Abraham’s like, “Yeah, Isaac. Super into dinosaurs; really good at darts; love him; he’s the best,” and God’s like, “Yeah, I know, he’s great. So, here’s what we’re gonna do: we’re gonna take him…and some wood…maybe a knife…we’re

Gonna take a little road trip, top of that mountain over there you’re gonna…*gestures*…burning offering for me, and we’re gonna call it a day. Right? Got it? Solid. Awesome. Seeya in three days. And Abraham does this.

Now, if you don’t know the story, God swoops in a la ram ex machina and, like, gives him a sheep to slaughter instead at the last possible moment. And, in religious context, I have been informed that this story is about faith because Abraham

Is like, “I told you, Isaac, he would never make me kill you,” and everything is just hunky-dory. And I cannot tell you how much I do not understand that read. I hate this story; I am obsessed with it; I think it is the best story in the Bible;

I think about it all the time; I am always thinking about this. I remember being in CCD in, like, second or third grade and being taught this story and just being like, “What the fuck are you guys talking about?”

It’s horrifying; it’s terrible; it is gut-wrenching; I feel sick every time I think about it. It wasn’t until two years ago (two years ago!) when someone laid it all out for me in excruciating detail over the course of like two hours that I finally began to kind of understand what

It is that apparently everyone else sees in the story, which is that the message in the story is not “You must be willing to kill your kid for God,” it is, “God would never make you kill your kid.”

It’s like, I always thought it was a reward; I always thought that God only sent that ram because Abraham was like this close to doing it, and he was like, “Solid. He would really kill his kid for me.

I’ll…I’ll let him have his kid as a prize,” not that you should have faith that God always has another plan. The thing that people say about it is, “You can never see what God is leading up the other

Side of the mountain,” like, a ram was coming up the other side of the mountain the whole time, you just didn’t know it. So, you have to have faith in God. I…I just really…I just thought it was a God-fearing story.

I swear to God, I always thought it was just the absolute wrath of God, who would make you kill your own kid, and, even knowing this now, I still don’t really see it. I get it on, like, a cognitive level, but I still read this story as about a man who

Has to spend three days with his beloved son just walking him to the slaughter; and what, in God’s name, Isaac must have been thinking; and how do you get past that? How do you…how do you look your father in the eye when that ram comes down?

How do you go to breakfast every morning after that? How do you look your kid in the eye after you were willing to murder him? Like, how do you… I feel like even understanding that story requires a level of faith that I just don’t have and couldn’t have.

Um, it’s probably why I couldn’t make my confirmation. And there are other reads of this story, I’m sure; for me, I find it more interesting from that angle, but that’s just why it’s such a good story; that’s why it’s the best one; it’s so good. In fact, everybody loves it.

Even moral philosophy professors. Bet you didn’t think that had a point, did it? Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son, Isaac, has long been a topic of debate amongst philosophers, amongst the Kierkegaards of the world. Because, like, what do you do when God commands you to do bad things?

If you couldn’t tell, this is the ethics section. “For Christians, the fixed point of morality, what constitutes right and wrong, is a straight line that leads directly back to God.” “Oh, so you’re saying that we need a god to be moral? That a moral atheist is an impossibility?”

“No, but, with no God, there’s no real reason to be moral. I mean, there’s not even a standard of what moral behavior is.” We’re in the ethics section, which means we have to lay some ground rules. For this section, we are presupposing the following two premises: 1. Killing people is bad.

2. Everyone is aware that killing people is bad. These are our assumed norms for this topic, because, just as there is a cognitive dissonance with God being all-powerful and also not stopping bad things, there is a cognitive dissonance

When you’re being commanded to do something evil by a good God, especially when we are working within a framework where most of the moral decision-making is based in Christianity. So, if we have a perfect cartesian God, then that God would not command something evil. He COULD not command something truly evil.

So, any command that is being given must, therefore, be good. Abraham killing his son cannot be truly evil. That is way out number one; justification for doing the thing. That is what Bev Keane does, and she runs with it straight off the tracks, right into the sunrise.

But, like, what if you’re not Bev Keane? Because we can’t all be Bev Keane, try as we might. And, sometimes, you really really really really really don’t want to do the thing, but God is telling you to do the thing.

If God is telling you to do the thing, then is it morally wrong not to do it? Robert Adams, in “Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics”, suggests a moral constraint on our obedience to God’s commands. And a moral constraint is essentially a rule that helps one identify what is the ethical

Choice. Kant very famously had a moral constraint against lying all the time, and it drove poor Chidi insane. That is the problem that Adams is trying to solve with his moral constraint, saying that, “If, upon reflection, a purportedly divine command seems to be evil, then one should

Not accept it as a commandment of God’s.” So, if it sounds bad–probably not God. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a goose. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably too good to be true.

And what Adams is doing here is using a critical sense to assess morality under God’s transcendent goodness, saying that we should always question any human view about what God is, because humans are not transcendent; we don’t have a perfect transcendent perspective. Let me just get…

How obvious is it going to be if I have this cough drop? Probably. I’m losing my voice. So, we, as humans, should always question and be critical of any human assessment or human understanding of God and what God is or any empirical test of value that humans provide.

We have to be critical of our evaluation of morals and ethics and not just say that everything is okay because God said so. Because we have to believe that God would not command us to do evil, which means that we have to hold ourselves to a standard that we do not truly understand.

“God’s intention concerning evil is to one day destroy it.” “Well, how convenient.” We have puny little fish brains. We cannot understand what is good, because the only thing that can really understand what is good is God because God is perfect and God is only good.

So, any understanding that we have is just, like, a sad little echo put together from scraps falling off a table that we’re, like, hoping looks like good. “Every day, the more I give myself over to God, the more I hear the voice of his angel, and you will too. That’s okay. That’s good.

Know you will be moved to act, and there will be things you cannot change.” We cannot truly understand what is good; only God can. Therefore, any commandment presented by God should be followed. The moral constraint means that, in between these two steps, we take a minute and we say,

If upon further reflection, that commandment does not add up to what our understanding of good is, it should not be taken as a commandment from God. Which means it’s not God telling you; it’s the devil. We could definitely still be doing wrong by not following God’s commandment but, morally

And ethically, we are justified in not doing the thing. With the understanding that God is only good in a transcendent way that we cannot understand, even that idea that we cannot understand God’s transcendence is a human idea.

Any traits or attributes or ideas that human beings are putting onto God need to be critically assessed before they are taken as fact. So, had Abraham said, “Killing people is wrong dude; I’m not gonna do it,” he would have been equally justified in that act that he was in doing the act.

However, Risler disagrees with that in his work because, “in the case of Abraham and Isaac, Abraham does ultimately decide that he must sacrifice Isaac. In order for him to reach that conclusion via Adams’s framework, he must alter his perception

Of the meaning of evil in order to accommodate that for which he does not understand.” He argues that we shouldn’t be messing with the moral aspect of the whole thing but the psychological. Because we’re stupid. We’re stupid humans, and we’re dealing with a cognitive dissonance; our brains are cracking

Under the pressure; we cannot be left alone to decide what is morally right and what is morally wrong; that is what God does. God is supposedly so perfect that we literally cannot understand his commands. So, instead of putting the constraint on the morality of those commands, we put the constraints on ourselves.

The psychological constraint that Risler presents is, “If, upon reflection, one is certain that a command is from God, then one should obey it.” Basically, we’re gullible. We’ll believe anything’s God if it smells good enough. Adams’s idea is still intact.

If God is commanding something, then it can’t be evil, but we are definitely off the hook for deciding whether or not something he’s commanded is evil. That’s not our job anymore. Our job is just to decide if we are actually receiving a commandment from actual God.

So, they all should have just not done it, right? Or am I missing something? Hold on, am I forgetting something? Let me see… “And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son, and the ang… *Screams* Oh… Right… That…

“Given the limited nature of our epistemic abilities, and given our inclination to try and doubt that God would give a seemingly evil command, I am inclined to think that achieving certainty that God is commanding one to do something abhorrent would require direct supernatural intervention, such that, despite one’s best attempts at doubting the

Divine authorship of the command, one would simply remain certain that God has issued a particular commandment.” So, he has a point… Unfortunately, so do the people of Crockett. “Just then, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of God shone around them,

And they were sore afraid, and the angel said, ‘Fear not; fear not; be not afraid!'” Boy, oh, boy, do the people of Crockett have a reason to believe that commandment came from God. *Shouts* So, when Father Paul and Bev rope the mayor and friends into their crazy scheme, they

Have no issue following this order, because, as far as these people are concerned, that commandment came from God. Catholicism has a long-standing belief that, if your priest pulls a Lazarus on you, you should probably do what he says. He’s always been the mouth of God; you’re not gonna start doubting it now.

And, yet, you could probably argue that, like, that’s the same justification Bev Keane uses, but I think we all know that Bev Keane has been waiting for a moment to justify murder her whole life. Either way. Bev justifies cleaning up the body by quoting Deuteronomy (“…where one must obey the priest

At all times.”); but she also quotes Matthew 10, and she kind of spits out, “Think not that I come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace but a sword”; a passage that can be interpreted in a number of ways.

R.T France, a new testament scholar, argues that, in context, it means something closer to, like, the sword of social division cutting family ties and dividing individuals who choose to follow the faith or choose not to; not necessarily like a military sword.

Whether Bev Keane is convincing the mayor to sever himself from his previous beliefs about the whole murder thing or just saying that Jesus came in with guns ablazing, we’ll never really know; but, regardless, she yells at him not to cherry-pick the glories of God which is just…it’s just beautiful.

Especially when you remember that Jesus also specifically said that he did not come with a sword at one point; that’s in, like, his story; I think that’s before he, uh, before they arrest him one time. Editing note: I went to find the source for this, and he didn’t actually say that he didn’t

Come with a sword. He said to his friends to put down their swords because they who draw the sword die by the sword. But he also immediately follows it up with, “Do you think I cannot call on my father,

And he will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels?” Which is just very…it’s very, like, “my daddy’s a lawyer” vibes. Anyway… Having two contradictory thoughts and reasonings is just kind of part of the territory when you’re dealing in a cognitive dissonance.

And you start to see how Abraham’s cognitive dissonance that Father Paul and Bev and everyone is now dealing in–this, like, “murder is wrong but God is making me murder” thing–is really starting to weigh on these characters. I mean Father Paul is crumbling; Bev is higher strung than ever; everyone is nervous all

The fucking time, and more and more people are forced to face this moral conundrum of a God-given command to break a commandment. But here’s the thing: you might have justified your action in the eyes of the lord morally speaking; but that does not mean that the rest of the world agrees with you.

“Erin Greene. I’d like to finish our discussion.” So, sure, when Father Paul gets brought back to life via God, makes friends with a winged raisinet, and wants to murder people, it’s pretty easy for his, like, devout followers to justify following him in his footsteps, right?

It’s easy for them to say, “Alright, this is fine.” But what about the next person who becomes bat food? “How convenient.” Riley, on the other hand, has already given up his faith in God. He has reasoned his way to atheism.

Riley is not a Christian who’s lost faith; he is not an angry atheist; he is like Nietzsche. He’s got his own beliefs and his own ideals. And, when he gets presented with “God has commanded me to eat people, and eating people

Is abhorrently evil,” it’s not exactly a challenge for him to chalk premise one out the window like the baby in the bathwater and make the unselfish choice instead of the self-serving one. Which he does. In an act of sacrifice, Riley turns himself into dust. *Screams*

Part nine: the morality of eating people, part two The lord is burning my throat. Unlike the rest of Crockett Island, Riley was not waiting for supernatural intervention. The potential Christian redemption cycle that he was being set up and primed for in the first few episodes is long off the table.

This happened when Father Paul lied to him about how he knew Lisa could walk, remember? That was the moment that the tables started to shift. That is when the idea that Riley was just a person not in a state of grace that Jesus was surrounding himself with was taken out of the equation.

That storyline was cut off; flipped on its head (narratively). Suddenly, his difference in belief, like Sarah’s and Sheriff Hassan’s, are front and center as part of who they are and part of their arcs. The more miracles that start happening after that moment, the greater the divide becomes

Between people like Riley and Sarah and Sheriff Hassan (the people who don’t have a Christian belief system; the deadlings) and the Christians. Tensions begin to rise in a similar manner to that of the third “God’s Not Dead” film, where, the more righteous and determined Father Paul becomes to fight for this church, it

Becomes a bigger and bigger problem. In “Midnight Mass”, it ends up in a full-on war. In “God’s Not Dead”, it ends up in like a glorified pep rally. And, in GND, the only way to relieve that tension is for God to come down and personally

Speak to Reverend Dave and tell him, “Cut the crap.” Which he does. He lets it go; he lets the church go, and he decides to build a church elsewhere. I don’t know if I explained the plot to the third one at all.

If I didn’t: basically, this kid accidentally kills someone and sets a church on fire, and Reverend Dave is like, “Please, school board, fix my church,” and the school board’s like, “Maybe we should just tear it down,” and then that’s what the fight is about. He doesn’t want them to tear his church down.

But, eventually, God comes to Reverend Dave after he punches a kid and is like, “Bro, you gotta take a step back,” and Reverend Dave does it. This, by the way, is why I like this movie; I think I said that in the beginning. I do actually really like the third one.

I think it’s…I think it’s watchable. There’s a lot of interviews where the actor who plays Reverend Dave says that he wanted to show him as, like, a normal guy, like, “Pastors are regular dudes.” And the way that they do that in the first two movies is just, like, have him spill his

Coffee a lot. But, in the third movie, they really took it seriously, and they they showed him not just being like a normal person with like a family and family troubles, but being, like, someone who makes wrong choices sometimes, even in the eyes of God, and who has to, like,

Atone for them and has to change his ways. And that, I think, is a really, really great, like message. I think that’s a good way to take the story; I thought it added depth; I’m here for it; I love the third one. I’ll watch the third one if I have to.

If I ever end up quarantined again in, like, a youth group, and they want to watch “God’s Not Dead”, I’ll be like, “Put the third one on,” and I would be fine. He does literally build a new church outside of the college campus, and I’m sure that there’s

Some kind of, like…there’s probably a connection there with, like, Solomon building a church in hell and, you know, Jesus building churches and stuff, but we’re 18,000 words in. I’m…I’m done; I’m calling it. Anyway, for Riley, “God’s is dead” does not insinuate that God was ever alive at any point,

Which is what makes it so interesting that he then becomes the Jesus of this story. He goes from being the apostle to playing the role of Jesus in this story, being the one to understand the truth in the way that no one else can; making a sacrifice for the

Betterment of others; literally dying as opposed to giving up his beliefs and living the way that Father Paul was living in that moment. He gets the most Christian death of all of them. He literally gets greeted by an angel of the woman that he killed as forgiveness and is,

Like, carried up into the heavens…more or less. He gets the most Jesus-like ending without having to believe in Jesus at all, and the characters who have been waiting desperately for this return of Jesus–the ones who have been living out their redemption cycles, waiting for more proof of the divine, waiting for

The resurrection, trying to prove their worthiness in the eyes of God–when Father Paul and Bev Keane stand up there and say drink this rat poison, lay down your life in the name of God, trust that he will bring you back, a lot of them are willing to do it.

And this is exactly what Nietzsche was worried about: their belief in a transcendental, all-good, all-powerful God that is more than they could ever understand, and the, frankly, very good arguments that Father Paul and Bev are making, hinder their ability to make a moral judgment.

The supernatural proof that they have been provided hinders their ability to make a psychological assessment. They’re unable to be critical in any way. Morally speaking, the only way that they have out is the first way that we talked about; they have to change a premise. And they choose to change the second one.

They can’t argue that this isn’t coming from God; they can’t argue that it’s morally wrong; they just have to believe that their perception of what is morally right and morally wrong is wrong. They have to change the second premise, and they have to decide that eating people is, like, probably fine.

Because, if they don’t, then they can’t follow God’s commandments; and, if they’re not following God’s commandments, they are actively denying the Lord and, therefore, actively following the devil. They are now vampires, a lot of these people. A lot of these people are now experiencing not only the physical sensation of desiring

That person’s blood, the changes in the way that they’re seeing things, you know, the world looks different now. And they also are experiencing that, like, absence of guilt and shame; that release from all pain and responsibility. Of course they decide that they should be killing people. What else would they do?

“Do you have guilt in your heart for doing what you had to?” “Not at all.” “Then ask yourself why God let that cup pass you by.” It’s a euphoric feeling. There’s no pain; they’re drunk with it; they’re caught up in the power; in the fight for God.

And it’s sort of like ships passing in the night when we look at “God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness”, because Reverend Dave has also become increasingly violent and aggressive in his own fight for God.

He is wrapped up in his desire for justice; he is grieving, and he wants to believe that Jude’s death meant something. He wants to believe that his friend wasn’t just killed because some poor kid was sad that he got dumped.

He wants to believe that his best friend didn’t just die because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, if he could just get this church fixed, if he can just keep it there, then maybe it won’t hurt so much.

Everyone is telling him that he needs to stop; that maybe he’s taking this too far; and I think that part of him probably knows that, but he’s so caught up in this desire to fight for God–to live out Jesus’s story, to be the Jesus in the redemption cycle–that he just keeps pushing through.

He’s searching for the same liberation from pain and suffering that the characters in “Midnight Mass” have already received. “Murderer.” “Well, I suppose so. But here’s the thing: I had no guilt; none. And, knowing that I should feel guilt, but accepting that I did not, finding grace where the guilt should be, I…”

As the night rages on in Crockett Island, we watch a handful of characters slowly come to realize what it is they are doing. They are killing each other; they are killing their parents, their children, their friends, and they don’t even care.

The line that Jonathan Waterboy so neatly drew for us in the first “God’s Not Dead” film? Washed away. Soaked in blood. Can’t see it anymore. And they want to know why God would allow that to happen.

If the idea is that following God is following goodness, why would God allow us to live in this doxastic state where we understand that what we’re doing is wrong, but we also understand that what we’re doing is good. Why would he allow us to live with this cognitive dissonance?

Why would he allow humans to live in a world where they cannot tell what is right and what is wrong? Why did God command that Abraham murder his own son? Are they all just Abraham waiting for a ram to be brought up the other side of the mountain?

Is there any moral weight to what happens at “Midnight Mass” at all? Or were they all just going to end up in the same afterlife anyway, and nothing matters because this is the way that it was supposed to happen? Lisa’s last line indicates that the monster itself died, so his blood stopped working

To cure her. Was all of this just so that they could destroy that demon? Are they Jesus, or are they the persecutors? What is their role in this story anymore, and why would God allow them to be confused like this?

The massacre that they have carried out on Crockett Island has pushed a very simple cognitive dissonance as far as it can possibly go; and now everyone is feeling a bit abandoned by God, even the most devout. So, Mildred is Sarah’s mother, the woman that Father Paul had an affair with years ago;

And she is the reason that he is doing all of this. He wants a second chance to get it right with her, and to get it right with his kid. He’s watched Sarah grow up with another man as her father, and he hasn’t been able to say anything, and he regrets that.

That’s at the core of why he’s doing all of this, and everything else is just fodder. “That’s why I put that thing in that trunk; that’s why I bribed and lied and smuggled it back here. That was the reason; I didn’t want you to die.”

Mildred was pretty stoked when she was young and hot again, but Mildred has not been a fan of what Father Paul’s been doing since he gave a very violent sermon. And she says to him when he kind of confesses what he’s done…you know what, just play the clip.

[Music] “But that’s over now, John. We made our choices; we lived our lives. She grew up, and we faded away, and that’s how it’s supposed to work. It’s supposed to be over.” So, after Father Paul tells Sarah’s mom that he just did all this so she’d be hot again,

They walk out of the church, and they find Bev Keane and the other vampires being absolute fucking menaces, okay? I think it goes without saying that Bev Keane was not one of the characters who came to any sort of realization about what she was doing over the course of the night.

But, either way, Father Paul walks out, sees her being a cunt, and just kind of suddenly realizes that maybe he got this wrong. “It’s between them and God, isn’t it?” “No.” “I’m sorry?” “No; we got this wrong.” “Oh, don’t be ridiculous” “Oh, Beverly, please, look at them, would you? We are the wolves.”

And it’s heartbreaking; because this is the moment where you realize that he was never a villain at all. He really, truly believed that he was doing God’s work; and the realization that maybe he was wrong ,and maybe Mildred is right, and we’re not supposed to get do-overs, and

People aren’t supposed to behave like this, that realization hits like a cold bucket of water. “I was wrong. We…we…we were wrong. We are wrong, and this needs to stop.” And when he comes into the church a few moments later and sees Sarah–his daughter who doesn’t

Know that she’s his daughter, that he so desperately wanted to be with and to take care of and to start over with—is pouring gasoline all over his church, just everywhere, preparing to burn that shit to the ground so that there’s no shade for the vampires to hide in in the

Morning, he looks her in the eyes and just says, “Good.” He gets it. It took all of, like, five minutes. And, just like Reverend Dave, he sacrifices his church. Because it is the best thing for everyone involved.

Two sides of a coin: these two devout religious men choosing to sacrifice and give up a place of worship that has meant so much to both of them and has played such a pivotal role in their own personal journeys to being men of God and followers of the Lord and leaders

In the church. They both give it up. The only difference is that Reverend Dave makes this decision after he gets his supernatural proof, after God commands him to chill, and Father Paul makes this decision in SPITE of his supernatural proof. “Don’t be ridiculous.” “Oh, Beverly, please, look at them, would you?

We are the wolves.” “John?” The people of Crockett Island, except for Bev Keane, have their return to consciousness moment in spite of their supernatural proof. Whether it is a feeling of physical guilt returning, or like an intellectual understanding

They should be feeling guilt and yet they are not, they suddenly have been forced to accept both of our premises. The only way out is through. They have to accept that eating people is wrong, and God has commanded me to eat people. They’re thrown smack into the middle of another inconsistent belief system.

Instead of engaging with the psychological constraint and saying that maybe this wasn’t God that commanded them at all, or throwing out the premise that God has any moral authority in general and discarding their belief in God, instead, the people of Crockett Island

Choose guilt; they choose personal accountability; they make the choice that Riley made, and they choose personal accountability. There is a parable in “The Brothers Karamazov” about a woman who was sent to hell for being a terrible person; but she really doesn’t want to be there, so she tells God about this

One time that she gave an onion to a beggar on the street, and he’s like, “Alright, fine.” And, so, she gets the opportunity to be pulled out of hell via holding onto an onion root. While she is holding on desperately to this onion root and climbing to her freedom, all

Of the other sinners also start trying to grab her ankles and be pulled up as well, and she’s not having any of that, so she kicks them off, and suddenly the onion root disappears, and she’s stuck in hell. Getting very “Hadestown” vibes but with an onion.

It’s like the Orpheus and Eurydice country vegetable medley. The idea there is that moral redemption is always possible up until the very last second. Had she just allowed the others to come with her, that would have been enough; that would have been the good deed.

The onion didn’t matter; no one cared that she gave an onion to someone one time. You can always do the right thing, even if it’s with your dying breath–sometimes even after. And “Midnight Mass” kind of echoes this parable when, after having slaughtered and/or cannibalized

Most of the island, the remaining people of Crockett choose death; whereas “God’s Not Dead” sort of sticks more to the original understanding of the Abraham and Isaac story. Cause Abraham could have said no at any point. Up until the moment that he had his blade pressed into Isaac’s neck, he could have said,

“Ehh, maybe not.” He could have had a Father Paul moment where he said, “Maybe I got this wrong,” but he didn’t. So God sent a ram instead. Because the story of Abraham and Isaac is not about morality; it is not about moral decision-making.

It doesn’t matter if Abraham was able to decide whether or not that was a moral action; it doesn’t matter if he was on or off the hook, because that story is about faith in God; that story is about belief.

Pastor Dave could have stopped his aggressive fight for the church at any moment, but he didn’t; so God had to step in and tell him to cut the crap because, like the Abraham and Isaac story, what’s important in the “God’s Not Dead” films is not morality; it’s not action; it’s just blind faith.

Just like it doesn’t matter what Grace was doing before she gave her life to Jesus, it doesn’t matter what other choices Professor Ratball has made in his life, as long as he chooses to give his life to Jesus and accept him as a savior with his dying breath. That is all that matters.

It doesn’t matter how Abraham felt about killing his kid; none of that matters. The only thing that matters is that he trusted God, and that is why God sent the ram. In “Midnight Mass”, choices matter. Choices are important. Actions in the face of God are what’s important.

The “God’s Not Dead” movies, they use the closest thing they have to a supernatural element as a reward for faith: they cure cancer, and they give joy and happiness to people who have given faith. We don’t know if the characters in “Midnight Mass” are saved or not; we don’t know if they

Are redeemed in the afterlife; we don’t know if they’re in hell; we don’t know if they’re given an onion; we don’t know what’s going on. The only character that we do see beyond the ashes is Riley; and Riley is then escorted

By an angel with the face and image of the woman that he killed to what looks like a very, very Christian heaven. From the fact that she’s wearing all white, to the fact that she is forgiving him, to the sun coming behind her, it is so explicitly Christian.

And the reason it stands out is because Riley very much did not think that that was what was going to happen. There’s a very, very long, drawn-out dialogue between Riley and Erin where they talk about what they think happens when you die; and Riley basically is like, “I don’t know; you

Trip balls for a couple minutes, and then you’re done.” “Dream to end all dreams; one last great dream as my mind empties the fuckin; missile silos, and then…I stop.” And it’s not until the moment that he gets this Christian, bringing-you-to-the-gates-of-heaven death that you realize how important that scene was.

All of this despite his refusal to carry out what was presented to him very reasonably as God’s plan. He is rewarded with a Christian afterlife not for his Christian beliefs, but for his very Christian actions; for choosing to behave like Jesus; to act like Jesus; to live the

Way that Jesus lived; to help people; to sacrifice yourself. He is rewarded with the Christian idea of heaven, which is just forgiveness and light and freedom. The fact that we don’t see what happens to the rest of the characters only serves to

Support that thesis; to support that idea that that’s not what matters. It was impactful when we saw it with Riley because Riley didn’t want it; Riley didn’t think he was going to get that; Riley didn’t believe that; a release that we didn’t know we wanted with Riley.

The rest of the characters, we don’t need to see the afterlife presented for the rest of the characters because it doesn’t matter. What matters is their choice, and their choice in the last moments of their life is to sing, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”.

And it is Riley’s mother, actually, after sacrificing herself to get the children out and to the boat to safety, she is the first one to start to sing. She is the one who, after everyone looks around and is like, “What happened,” and the sun

Is rising, and there’s nowhere to go, she is the one who starts to sing. “Nearer, my God, to thee. Nearer to thee.” And it reminds me of the moment when Mary is given a tour of hell, and she is so horrified

By what she sees that she encourages all of the sinners to pray so that they may be freed. Mary, who is, like, mostly known for being a virgin and being Jesus’s mom also did this other incredible thing.

The islanders choice to sing and to praise God in the face of the hell that they have created, in the face of the horrors that they have just committed, directly echoes the way that the sinners listen to Mary, and they pray.

Riley’s mother plays the part of Jesus’s mother, Mary, in saving the sinners. And she does this while being a sinner, which is not something that Mary did. Mary was immaculate; Mary was free from original sin; Mary wasn’t even born with Eve’s mistakes; it was a fluke of nature.

The character Riley, who doesn’t even believe in God, gets to play the role of Jesus and gets rewarded with a Christian death for his Jesus-like actions despite his belief, and Riley’s mother, who is quite far from the idea of Mary in the fact that she is a sinner

Herself, carrying out the story of Mary, encouraging these sinners to pray. And, while the biblical tale has the sinners being released from hell, we don’t get that; we don’t get to see if the people of Crockett Island are saved because it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter; that’s not the point; it was never the point; the point is free will. “Free will.” I just said that. “I mean, you could shoot me right now; it’d just mean I’m five minutes behind–” *Gunshot* Part ten, part ten, part ten, part ten, um part ten

I’m so tired, but I’m so close to the end. “It’s supposed to be over.” Because the Christian redemption cycle is a cycle, it is cyclically cycling Solomon’s son’s sickly souls for sport. We all kind of know what the fuck is going down, right? We all know what’s gonna happen.

There’s only so much that one can change without sacrificing the integrity of the arc. Jesus dies; is dead for three days (we have a period of darkness, lack of faith, fear, and confusion amongst his followers); supernatural intervention (i.e the resurrection, redemption:

Jesus grants forgiveness to all of the sinners in hell and on Earth–except for Solomon, fuck Solomon; clean slates all around); and then you do it all again. Otherwise, what else are you doing with your time? You’re not writing 30-page, single-space essays on a series of movies and television shows

For two wildly distinct audiences just because you thought the title would be funny one time at 2 AM. Instead, you’re stuck. Because, if you know that God’s not dead, and everyone else around you knows that God is very much alive–your sunday school wine-mom brunch buddies, they’re believers; your tears-or-it-didn’t-happen

Summer youth group group chat; your homeschool co-op believes; even that group of strong conservative men that you hunt naked with in the woods twice a month while your wife thinks you’re golfing, they believe in Jesus–it’s too late; that only leaves you with one question left to ask. Well…? What would Jesus do?

Or, rather, what did Jesus do? Before he got snogged to death by Mr. Iscariot in that garden over there, what was he up to, really? How far were you from that grassy knoll, huh? Why were they so mad? What do you know about the Library of Alexandria?

Where were you on January 6, 2021, Mr. Christ? The answer is “busy,” actually. Super busy. Jesus had a packed schedule, and we know this because he had like 12 assistants keeping track of it for him. It’s all there in a checklist.

If you want to do the shit that Jesus did, just crack it open. Turning water into wine…no. Okay, not that one. Making blind men see? Skip. Walking around the Earth, spreading the word of God? That one I can do. Gain some followers? I can also do that. Help the sick; yes, totally.

Feed the hungry? Also that one. Love thy neighbor? Mmm…okay, so here’s the thing… Point is: there are a lot of things that people do to emulate Jesus’s life at that point in the cycle: to go forth and to spread his good word, to volunteer at hospitals, to do food drives, blah blah blah.

But there is one thing; there is one holy grail, elder wand, infinity stone act in all of Jesus’s canon that really just wipes everything else out of the holy water. And I get it, okay? I do; I really do.

Someone dies on a cross and comes back to life, that is probably gonna overshadow the eighth-grade clarinet solo that they had, as far as, like, “previously on” sections go. We’ve been talking about it for two hours; this is the big one; no matter how you twist

It, turn it, mangle it, this is the story of Jesus Christ, and it remains to be one of persecution and martyrdom; of hanging on to belief and truth like it’s a rope dangling from a helicopter in a windstorm of oppression; hanging on to that belief and faith like it

Is an onion root pulling you out of hell. Being willing to die in the name of God is top-tier iconic behavior. It’s not for everyone. And, perhaps, in the year of 33 AD, when sneezing too loudly could start a war, perhaps, it

Wasn’t too difficult to be killed in the name of God, right? But, now, in the year of our Lord 2022 (or 2014 for “God’s Not Dead”), in the United States of Goddamn America, not so many people running around with crosses and bags of nails, you know?

So, if you want to express your willingness to die for your faith, then you need someone to be willing to kill you over it. And, if Reverend Dave and the “God’s Not Dead” franchise have chosen the American education system as their big bad oppressor, then Beverly Keane has chosen literally everyone else.

“Sheriff, of course, I wouldn’t run you out of town; and it makes me sad that you would think that of me.” Bev Keane has decided that literally the entire world is her opposition at all times constantly.

She is a servant of God first and foremost; she is at the top of the spiritual food chain; first in line at the gates of heaven, and she does not care how many dogs she has to kill to stay there.

Whether she is calling out Father Paul for wearing the wrong color robe on his first day, baiting the sheriff into accusing her of some shit that she knows she did just to deny it, or shaming Erin for throwing out an empty bottle of Windex, Bev Keane creates

Persecution against herself for the sole purpose of appearing to overcome it. She wears blinders, and, like Josh and Grace, they walk past the damage that their actions are doing to the people around them in the name of the almighty martyrdom, the holy grail of Christian behavior.

Reverend Dave’s decision in the third GND film to sacrifice his church has the most profound effect on the deadlings in that film. It’s not just the characters who were explicitly Christian and sort of questioning or losing their faith like keaton, but the whole damn school; the whole town; the whole surrounding

Vicinity have suddenly become Christians. And they’re live streaming about it. “Call it a publicity stunt if you want, but we were there. I mean, this dude’s legit.” “There’s no doubt about it; we…we make these films, first and foremost, for the church

To encourage people in their faith, so they can stand up, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the first one was so successful.” But, in order for any of this to work, you need that villain; you need the monster that is Kevin Sorbo’s facial hair. “Nooooo!!”

But, due to the nature of the redemption arc, because Jesus was so perfect, placing your main character on the prophetic side of the redemption cycle, characters like Josh and Grace and Reverend Dave are then stripped of their agency within that cycle. Sure, they choose to fight…but that’s kind of it.

They don’t get to make a lot of other decisions throughout the course of their films. With the exception of the moment where Reverend Dave chooses to sacrifice his church (which arguably wasn’t really his choice because God told him to), all that the central Jesus-like

Characters in these films do is make the same choice over and over and over again, and so they remain stuck in that first half of the redemption cycle, the persecution, and can never really move beyond that. Because, while they may be functioning as the prophetic martyrs within the narrative,

They are not actually prophets; they cannot perform the supernatural acts required to complete that arc, not only because they’re human, but also because these films are made by Christians for Christians, and, therefore, you cannot have your characters performing actions that surpass the actions of Jesus Christ.

So they remain stagnant; they are awaiting an interruption from God that will allow them the opportunity to convince the surrounding characters that… “God’s not dead; he’s surely alive. He’s livin’…” It’s not Grace who loses her faith in the second film, it is supporting character Brooke,

Who is grieving the loss of her brother and is inspired by Grace’s steadfast belief, that finds Christianity. Keaton and Adam who, after Dave hears the voice of God, they are the ones who find God, who choose to give their life to God.

It is Radisson who chooses to believe in Jesus Christ as the savior. The deadlings are the only ones who make choices in these films because they behold their characters to these strict boxes of Jesus-role and deadling-role.

They do not get to make the choices that characters like Riley, who was a deadling then became Jesus, gets to make. They don’t make any choices because they’re locked into this cycle. One of my biggest gripes with the first GND film is that it is not Josh who finds Ratballs

In the street after he’s been hit by a car. Imagine how good that would have been! The…the emotional journey that those two have been on; the emotional payoff that that would have given us of these two characters who have been at odds with each other like

All of the brothers in “The Brothers Karamazov”, and like Riley and Father Paul who have been at odds with each other, and having these back and forths, and discussing the big things of nature; and then the one who was so adamant not to believe in God suddenly needs God,

And it is the character that he’s been bullying and treating like shit this whole movie who is the only one there with any even remote connection to the Lord; he’s the only one who can even possibly kind of take this man into his arms and say, “Do you accept Jesus

Christ?” and he’s the only one who can hear that confession and be like, “I verify; I vouch for him,” and…and give him that salvation in his dying moments. How good that would have been! It would have been so good! Because they have been fighting, they’ve been fighting this whole movie because Riddlestone

Has been treating Waterballs like garbage this whole movie; he has been tormenting him, and Josh has had to stay steadfast in his belief in God and just take it. And he finally wins that argument, and he’s like, “Thank God, I am done with this. I am done with dealing with this professor.

I get my grade, it’s over.” And, then, he’s walking to this Newsboys concert, and he sees this crowd of people in the street, and he goes to see what’s going on, and it’s Ratbomb; and it’s Rainbottom.

And he is on the floor just dying, sad; and Josh has to choose to not just do the Christian thing, which is save this this dying person, but the personal thing, and Josh gets down on his knees and looks this man in the eyes and forgives him. “I forgive you.”

But that’s not what happens. Because that would muddy the waters too much between personal forgiveness and godly forgiveness. It would mean that part of Radisson’s being saved was dependent on Josh choosing to be there and choosing to love thy enemy, which he can’t do because they’re not allowed to

Make these kind of choices. Instead, what happens is by, supernatural intervention, Pastor Dave just so happens to be walking by in that moment. Essentially, the supernatural proof element used in the first “God’s Not Dead” film is basically that God sent Dave to happen to be walking by just at the moment that Radisson

Would need him most to give him the chance to be saved at the last possible moment. “I believe it’s God’s mercy that brought me here right now.” And that is literally Dave’s job, by the way. We don’t get to see him or any of the other Christian characters make any other decisions

Or choices that change who they are in any sort of fundamental way. Like Bev, they all stay exactly the same the whole way through because Bev Keane…Bev Keane doesn’t give a shit about who she converts. In fact, she’d probably rather people stay out of the church, if she had her way.

Which is also a pretty accurate reflection of Catholicism. We’ve never been big on recruitment. We prefer to just sit and stew in our guilt until the free-market spiritual forgiveness scheme finally suffocates all of us with our last 10 Hail Mary’s. “It is almost as if he is preparing you for that.

You sit there, blessed among men, smirking when I say ‘God’s will’.” “I’m frustrated.” “I know.” Bev’s spirituality is so capitalistic that she literally cannot process the fact that she wasn’t chosen by God to become a vampire. She is practically twitching with rage throughout this entire scene that they’re trying to keep

Riley calm until the sun sets. She does not understand why, after all that she has done, after all that she has paid, she was not rewarded as she should be. Her constant pursuit of self-interest leads her to recruit workers underneath of her to

Help cover up Father Paul’s crimes: minimizing her labor, increasing her potential benefit, growing her spiritual capital. And she is just boiling over with the fact that Riley, who has not even taken the sacrament since he’s arrived on the island from prison, has just been gifted eternal life over her. She can’t deal.

She has become a victim of spiritual capitalism, exploited for her labors. So, when she steps into the leadership role at the end of the battle, when Father Paul begins to question what they’ve done, she thinks that she is justified in this because she was a servant first. It is the American dream.

She pulled herself up by her bootstraps. She deserves to be the leader. And the leader has the most power. And the leader can, therefore, export the most good in the eyes of God; and thus gain the most profit, i.e. favor of God, fast track to heaven. “It was always going this way.

You were always…you were always going to be the last, the hardest, test of my faith…you.” She wants to go from follower to profit; she wants to make the jump from religious zealot to saint; she wants to be seen as holy; she wants to reap the benefits of her faith that

The characters in GND already do. But all that’s required of them is faith. And, in the end, it is her inability to see past herself, her blind pursuit of self-interest, that leads her to let everything burn down. Which is the ultimate cause of her own destruction.

There is a bug flying around, and we’re just gonna be friends with it, just for the record, if it’s in the shot… “The polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, idolaters, and all of the liars; their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Let it burn.” She chooses to do what is best for herself over and over and over again. She digs herself deeper and deeper into a hole that she will never get out of. And, despite her move into spiritual leadership, she dies in exactly the same place that she

Started, literally digging herself a hole to bury her face in the sand. *Sobbing* *Singing* She does not sing with the others; she does not pray; she does not speak to the Lord; she does not apologize; she does not ask for forgiveness. She just keeps digging.

She could not make the leap that Riley does; she could not experience the growth that characters like Keaton in GND do. She never gets a chirotic moment; she doesn’t get a come to Jesus moment because she doesn’t do anything to earn it.

She does not make any alternative narrative choices outside of her initial role. She does not exercise her free will. And the way that Christianity is presented in “Midnight Mass” requires action for reward. “…because, your whole life, I think you’ve needed to hear this. You aren’t a good person.” “Well…”

So, according to Jesus’s pals, there was this one time that he was walking in the desert, and he got tempted by satan himself to turn some stones into bread; but, for whatever reason, he’s like, “No, I’m not gonna do that.”

And, so, then the devil’s like, “Okay, jump off that cliff, but the angels will save you because you’re the son of God.” And Jesus is like, “No, um, I’m not gonna do that either.” And, so, the devil’s like, “Alright, rule the fucking world then.

You’re Jesus, son of God; you should be able to do that.” And Jesus is still like, “No, I’m also not going to do that?” A couple thousand years later, Fyodor Devil’s Advocate Dostoyevsky, he’s alone and grieving; struggling with his faith and the ever-changing Russian political climate of the time; he’s

Writing TBK, and he includes this parable that is supposedly written by Ivan, and it is called “The Grand Inquisitor.” And, in this story, Ivan basically writes fanfic about the Grand Inquisitor story, and he imagines that, in the 1600s, Jesus did come back.

In Ivan’s world, he comes back and immediately gets arrested; because, remember, we have all come to terms with the fact that humans cannot be trusted to decide what is good and what is bad; what is right, is what is wrong. We cannot be left alone to our own devices.

We learn this in Genesis; we learn this in Adam and Eve. We talked about it a couple sections ago; we’re no good with the decision-making. And, because of this, the church had to step in and feed the people, and govern them, and

Bring order to a chaotic society; and, so, the inquisitor is basically grilling Jesus about the fact that he said no to everything the devil asked him to do, and he’s like, “If you can turn stones into bread, why did you not feed our hungry people?

If you can bring life back, why are you not bringing people back to life? If you could rule everyone peacefully, why are you not doing that?” He points out that Christ’s decision not to use his magic powers to turn the stones into bread led to people suffering because they were starving.

“Because you’re right. There is…there’s so much suffering in the world, so much. And, then, there’s this higher power, this higher power who could erase all that pain; just wave his hand and make it all go away but doesn’t? No.”

By not being the all-powerful God that you are, and fixing things and healing people, you are allowing your people to suffer; and, for that, you must pay. Because they punish people on Earth for their crimes, and people get punished in hell for

Their crimes; so, if Jesus is going to come back into a world that is shaped by his existence, shaped by his church, then he is gonna also be held accountable for his crimes. The existence of God does not negate personal accountability. And why does a good God allow terrible things to happen?

Ivan tells this story mostly because he’s trying to push Alyosha’s buttons, because every conversation that he has with Alyosha leaves him spiraling. But he also tells this story because it is something that he uses to justify his belief that the church should actually be in charge.

He thinks that the church should be in charge of governing people and sending people to jail and all of that; he thinks that they should make the laws. Even if they are doing satan’s work. Because he thinks that people will listen better and follow laws if they believe that

They are being given by God, because, without God… “…then everything is permissible. And, not only permissible, but pointless. If Professor Radisson is right, then all of this, all of our…” Two things we need to talk about with Josh’s use of this quote in this scene. One: it’s not real.

It is in the book; it is a concept in the book; it is a very, very important concept in the book; but no one ever phrases it like that. “As Dostoyevsky famously pointed out…” This is not a direct quote. It’s also not a direct quote from Dostoyevsky himself.

I have a strong dislike for people who quote things that characters say as if the author is saying them. I just think that you’re missing a layer there if you are saying that this is something that the person said.

If you’re gonna do it, put a comma and the title of the book that it’s from, but don’t go around saying that, like, John Green said, “Okay, okay.” Like, yes, technically, but he didn’t just say that for fun one day. It’s in a book.

So, the concept is in the book; it’s a very, very important concept in the book that gets explored really thoroughly, but, when they’re saying “God”, it is more of a reference to the immortality of the soul, which is directly and intrinsically linked to the concept of

God, but what they’re talking about is the idea that you will live forever after you die; that your actions on Earth have consequences after your death. That is what they are talking about; not about God and whether or not God will tell you that something is permissible.

They’re talking about whether or not your actions on Earth have consequences after your death; they’re making the argument that, if your soul just ceases to exist at the moment of your death, then everything that you did on Earth before that doesn’t matter.

Which is why Ivan thinks that the church is important; because he thinks that people need to be kept in line while on Earth, despite the fact that he doesn’t believe there’s an immortal soul, and he doesn’t believe there’s anything after. That is what that quote is talking about.

That is why the church needs to be making laws and controlling people on Earth: to keep them in line while they are alive. Because, if they know that they’re not going anywhere after, then they will do whatever the fuck they want.

Someone needs to be keeping people in line, and someone needs to be making laws. That is why he thinks that the church should be in charge of laws. And that brings us to the second thing. Which is the use of the word “permissible.” It gets quoted like that a lot.

I will give it to the directors and the creators of the film that it is most often quoted like that; because that sounds a lot better, doesn’t it? “All things are permissible? Then everyone is allowed?” And Dmitri actually does kind of say it like that at one point.

I think he says, “…then men can do what they like,” which is a much more, like, titillating way to say it. But the word that is used, at least in my translation and, like, two of the other translations

That I checked, I got two ebooks and I have one physical copy, and the word is mostly “lawful” or “legal” or, like, a version of that, when they quoted that section. Which I think is a much better translation for what they are talking about…which is laws.

See, I told you that he did not read the book. Anyway, so the grand inquisitor is berating Jesus with questions and accusations and shit. “Instead of taking men’s freedom from them, thou didst make it greater than ever.

Didst thou forget that man prefers peace and even death to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil? Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering.

And, behold, instead of giving a firm foundation for setting the conscience of man at rest forever, thoust didst choose all that is exceptional, vague, and enigmatic.” Thank you, drama school. Where Nietzsche saw the death of God as an opportunity for humanity to build a new, better

Moral system, many of the characters in “The Brothers Karamazov” see it as disastrous, if not downright evil. Ivan’s proclamation that everything is permissible, lawful, without a god is both utterly horrifying and completely seductive. There is a character in “The Brothers Karamazov” called Liza or Lise; I don’t know how it’s

Pronounced, if you haven’t caught on to the fact that I’m not big on pronunciation accuracy, then here you go: I’m not big on pronunciation accuracy; at least not with things in the public conscious; pronounce people’s names correctly; don’t be a dick.

In TBK, we meet Liza as a 14-year-old girl who is paralyzed and using a wheelchair. She is wide-eyed and innocent and suffering this terrible affliction until an encounter with Alyosha’s father figure, Elder Zosima, in which he performs some religious healing, and suddenly her condition is improving.

Elder Zosima is like a monk, by the way. And, after this, throughout the course of the novel, she becomes very tempted by Ivan’s ideas. Basically, Ivan’s idea that everything is lawful without a god spreads like wildfire and causes lots of problems, and Liza is one of these people who gets infected by it.

She starts acting out; she’s deliberately cruel to the people around her; she is slamming her hands in doors, causing herself pain; she is putting herself through physical and emotional suffering as penance for these dark thoughts and doubts and fantasies that she’s having. Which we’ve all been there.

Because she’s a kid, and she’s also about to be married off to someone who is very much not a kid. She gets a little bit older; I don’t think she’s 14 when they start talking about getting married, but still. She recounts all her dark fantasies to Alyosha; slams her finger in the door.

This is very common with the characters in TBK; they all think that suffering is a way to make penance with God. But it’s interesting because our Lisa in “Midnight Mass”–already established to be a sort of holy figure; completely devout, innocent, sweet victim of a horrible crime; suffering

A physical affliction in a wheelchair–regains the ability to walk through a similar encounter with a spiritual leader, and we get a similar outburst from our Lisa when she decides to pay Joe Collie a visit. This is her first time speaking to him since he shot her in the back.

And she rips him a new one. She talks about how angry she was; she talks about how she hoped that his place was dirty and disgusting; she hoped that he was miserable and alone because of what he’s done to her with one of the best lines in the entire show.

“You reached through time, Joe Collie! You reached through time, and you stole…” Which, again, why do I write anything? And she follows up this outburst and this outpouring of anger and frustration with an act of radical forgiveness.

She literally says, “If God can forgive you, and he says he can, then so can I.” And Joe Collie falls apart, and it is like getting hit in the chest with a baseball bat every single time you watch it. “And if I can forgive you, Joe Collie, then anyone can.” *Sobbing*

It’s soo good. It’s so good. It’s a moment of such, like, strength and…and growth as a character. It’s so good! It’s not really something that we get to see a lot of from Liza in “The Brother’s Karamazov” just because we don’t really get that much of Liza in “The Brother’s Karamazov.”

Apparently, there was gonna be a sequel, but… Anyway. Lisa does this, and it gives such strength and dimension to her character, and exemplifies her faith, and puts her on this pedestal, as well, of not only someone who is a devout

Believer, not just someone like Josh who goes to church every day, not just someone who holds on to her belief no matter what, but someone who struggles sometimes and who makes the choice to choose to behave and to act in a godly manner.

And it’s this moment, not the fact that she could walk again, not when Bev Keane killed his dog, it is this moment that triggers Joe Collie into attending his first AA meeting with Riley and Father Paul. God, this show is so fucking good.

Joe Collie, who has been drinking himself into oblivion and hating himself day in and day out ever since the accident, has started to attend these AA meetings; he is trying to get his life together; and he is really starting to do it until Father Paul fucking eats him.

We have Bev with this twisted idea of protecting the town and the community in the name of God killing Joe Collie’s dog at a public event, punishing him even further and causing more stress in the community, and then we have Lisa, equally devout–a character whose choice

To live by the word of God, to be the one who forgives–that creates a ripple effect of actual good in the community and also brings people to the church. For Bev, trying to exist like the characters in “God’s Not Dead”, like Josh and like Pastor

Dave, it is counterintuitive to what she wants, which is more praise from God…I guess. Because she doesn’t live in a world where blind faith is enough; she lives in a world where action is required for the rewards that she is seeking. She needs to make choices, but she won’t make choices.

Had Jonah the whale been allowed this kind of freedom in his narrative, Lisa’s freedom, then we could have had a similar moment of reckoning; we could have had that moment on the street in the pouring rain with Josh and Ratcakes; we could have had it; but we can’t

Because Josh making that kind of a choice would have distracted from the real focus of the story, which is blind faith. Put in “watch ‘God’s Not Dead’ and find out why Adam turns himself in.” Oh, we’re not doing that.

The emphasis on the “fight persecution” and “faith from the same perspective of the prophets” in “God’s Not Dead” limits its protagonists’ actions in both scope and scale, seemingly circumscribing the very thing that the narrative is working to save, which is freedom of will.

It feels like a contradiction; it feels like a cognitive dissonance; it feels like it should be tearing apart every neuron in their little brains every time the director calls action; it feels like hypocrisy at its finest. But we know from “The Grand Inquisitor” and from the Instagram stories of the disciples

That Big Man did not use his free will to turn the stones into bread, he did not use his free will to push satan off that cliff, and he did not run off and join the army under a false name to save China.

He used his free will to do one thing and one thing only: he used it to trust in God. That’s what he did. Because man does not live on bread alone; and, if you are living in the GND universe as a godling or a deadling, then that’s it; that’s your move.

So it’s gotta be a big one; it’s gotta make noise; it’s gotta be the Taylor Swift “Reputation” stadium tour, and it’s gotta have a ripple effect so massive that it almost feels supernatural. You get one shot per movie. You can only afford to have the Newsboys on set for so long.

“I want everyone to go to their contacts and click on everybody you know and text them three simple words:’God’s Not Dead.’ And there’s 10,000 of you out there; and everyone knows about a hundred people? That’s a million messages right there.

A million times we’re gonna tell Jesus that we love him in the next three minutes.” “Midnight Mass” places the emphasis on the “sacrifice” and “forgiveness” portions of the cycle, so its characters have a full range of experiences. They can bounce back and forth between godling and deadling, faith and not faith, like me

At a party when I didn’t take my meds. You can take Riley from deadling atheist to Jesus in a rowboat and back again; you can take him, put him up against the prophet-esque Father Paul, who is exhibiting nothing but

Jesus-like kindness, and you can set that up of “Jesus and apostle”, and you can flip it upside down, turn it inside out, wring it out over the narrative like blood dripping from a rag you can’t get clean. Father Paul dies, then comes back, starts performing miracles, dies again, comes back

Again, starts fucking shit up, and he is still not the Jesus. It all comes back to that moment when Father Paul looked Riley in the eyes and lied to him about how he knew Lisa could walk again. He had free will in that moment, and that’s what he did with it.

There is so much free will in this series dripping all over the place that, divine intervention be damned, these characters will not do what they are supposed to do; they do not stay in their assigned roles. So, later, when Father Paul chooses to lie to Riley again about Joe Collie visiting his

Sister, because he doesn’t know, when he chooses to continue playing God, it is that choice that brings Riley back to the rec center when he gets eaten by Dobby. Which is the only reason that he is able to tell Erin what is happening and send these

Notes to his family, so that, later, when they all become bat food, they understand what’s going on, and they choose to fight it, and it’s the ultimate undoing for Father Paul, and it’s all because he’s a dirty liar. That was a lot. Um, none of that was in the script.

This comes from, um, right, okay. “There’s so much free will dripping all over the place that divine int…these characters will not do what they’re supposed to…they won’t stay in their assigned roles…to lie again about Joe…” It’s only because Father Paul used his freshest free will to lie that he gets taken out of

The position of Jesus Christ. Riley gets placed in it, is given the opportunity to make that sacrificial choice, and it opens up the floor for everyone else to make the same kind of sacrificial choice and save the world. Part eleven: who do you say I am? This is the last one.

Final episode of “Midnight Mass” contains the second of my three favorite moments. It’s dark; shit is on fire; most of the island have either become bat food or become the batman; and Bev Keane has appointed herself judge and jury; standing outside of Saint

Patrick’s church, deciding who shall continue to live as an eternal blood-sucking soldier journeying to the mainland to spread their glorious gifts onto the unsuspecting world; and who shall be jet fuel. She’s about two seconds from having one of her minions strip some poor dude for parts when Mildred steps in.

Remember when I said that Father Paul walked out of the church to find Bev Keane being a menace? This is…this is Bev Keane being a menace. And mildred is like, “Bev, maybe don’t,” and Father Paul tells her to bring him to the church because all are welcome. All have to be…

“All have to be welcome, or this isn’t really a god’s house!” Father Paul, who we have seen lose himself in the madness of being an immortal demon creature, has had this world-shattering experience. His faith has been challenged; shaken to its very core; run through a blender with a copy

Of the Necronomicon and the first installment of the “Maximum Rise” series, only to be dumped out onto a blood-soaked altar and set on fire. Just put that clip of you saying, “Burning offering? For me?” And, then, just go right into…

This man’s church is a war zone; his friends hate him; he has created a monster that he cannot control with the help of another monster that he cannot control; all of this under what he believes to be the instruction of a god that he has dedicated his entire life and existence to.

“That’s the thing about priesthood: it’s never supposed to be about me; it’s supposed to be about God!” By all accounts, Father Paul should be feeling so abandoned by God; so utterly betrayed by heavenly father that lucifer himself should have shown up to give him a pep talk.

The devil should have brought him on with a salary no man could match. And Christians aren’t allowed to lend money to other Christians, so God couldn’t have done shit. I mean, he probably could have hired him legally, but when was the last time a Christian organization had books that were clean? *Cheers*

Father Paul should be so lost, angry, and dejected, that, if God has not been killed for him, he should be murdering God with his bare hands as we speak. And, perhaps, maybe he is harboring a deep, Radisson-like hatred for the God that is dragging

Him by the collar down a blood-soaked road to a freshly minted hell of his own design, but we don’t know that, and we’ll never know that because he doesn’t say anything like that, and he doesn’t do anything like that.

You know what he does do when confronted with the consequences of the choices that he made? That is exactly what he sees. His choices. Not God’s; not the angel’s; not Bev’s. His decisions. Because, God or no God… “There’s nothing in the scripture, or in the world for that matter, that suggests God negates

Personal accountability.” He finally finds himself standing in Riley’s shoes, staring out from a curb at the mess that he has created, and he does not look away. He does not wander aimlessly without faith. He retreats into it.

He recommits himself to the God that saved him; the God that made him; the God that inspired that priest; the man who offers to start an AA chapter just so that one guy doesn’t have to go to the mainland twice a week; who brings daily mass to the elderly who cannot go to

Church anymore; who once scoured an island looking for a very specific-looking mouse just so he could keep one kid’s faith alive. The God that created that man who says things like, “I am of no use to people in a state of grace,”; that is the God that Father Paul commits himself to.

That is the God that he chooses not just to believe in, but to act like. And, when he walks into that church that he has just declared to be God’s house, and he sees Sarah dumping kerosene everywhere, he just says “Good.”

Because he knows; and he sees in that moment that the best way for that building to be God’s house is to burn to the ground. “He said, ‘this building is not my church’.” It is a powerful moment in both of these films when our godly hero chooses to sacrifice their

Place of worship because it is a sacrifice. And sacrifice is what makes the story of Jesus Christ different from traditional hagiography. This act of free will, of martyring oneself, is the most potent act with the most profound effect on the people around them.

So, it begs the question: does it matter that the only reason Reverend Dave sacrificed his church was because God told him to? We’ve already made the claim that Riley doesn’t need to believe that Jesus Christ himself

Walked the Earth and gave his life in order to free humanity from their sins in the eyes of an all-forgiving all-powerful god. He just needs to do the right thing. He just needs to recognize evil. It doesn’t matter why Riley recognized the evil, be it by its biblical definition or…or

By the harm that it’s causing. It matters that he put a stop to it. “I don’t think that Reverend Hill rolled over. I think that he saw people suffering, and he made a sacrifice for them. Surely, their parallels to Christianity are not lost on you.”

It doesn’t matter if Reverend Dave only put down his sword because Daddy told him to; and it doesn’t matter who was there to offer Professor Sorbo his salvation in the eyes of God. It just matters that he got it.

“The God that you don’t believe in has given you another chance; another chance to change your final answer.” To sing, recite, or teach a text is never a neutral act.” If we are looking for a traditional monomyth in the “God’s Not Dead” films, we are not going to find it.

That’s not what they’re for. They are made by Christians, for Christians. They are acts of praise. They are retellings of the Christian redemption cycle with characters fulfilling the role of Jesus, without actually being Jesus. Which makes them a lot less like protagonists and a lot more like saints.

And, if they are saints, then these films are just visual hagiography; hagiography being the retelling of the lives and achievements of saints, culminating in a chirotic moment where that saint’s badassness is officially acknowledged by God himself to the world.

The chirotic moment is the moment when the Lord comes and says, “I choose you.” Holland says, “In hagiography there is no room for interpretation of events prior to the chirotic moment, because everything leads up to that and is painted in the light of that.

There is no moment where the protagonist could have gone a different route or made a different moral choice. Time is not linear anymore; it is all the same. In narratives, before a climatic moment, everything is up to many interpretations.”

The GND movies go down one way and one way only; they ask one question (“Who do you say I am?”), and they answer it: God is good always, and always God is good. They are straightforward; they are palatable. Pureflix is the Dhar Mann of feature length video content.

Does that mean that they are harmless? No. They are offensive; they are full of stereotypes and misinformation, and I do not even want to know where their money comes from or where it goes. They are problematic in the most basic sense of the word.

There are so many well-researched and well-articulated articles and videos about that fact, and, yet, they still made four of them. They’re doing it for somebody, somewhere out there. That is why I wanted to give these films a fair shake.

“The biggest thing is that…that God has a specific purpose and a plan for your life; and, uh, and he is real, and there is hope in him.” “So, April…” What’s interesting about the film’s use of that phrase, “If there is no immortality of

The soul, then all things are lawful,” or, “If there is no God, all things are permissible,” is that they use it to support the film’s idea that the bible gives us answers. It gives us guidance that belief in Jesus Christ can give us the freedom and liberation

From pain and suffering that we all so secretly, deeply desire. But, in context, in “The Brothers Karamazov”, that statement actually brings about a lot more questions than it does answers. When Dmitri poses that specific question, “All things are lawful, then?

Men can do what they like?” he’s proposing it to a journalist right before his trial for the murder of his father, which he did not commit. And the journalist responds by saying that clever men already do what they like.

Ivan is concerned that a world where no one believes in God or is governed by a belief in God will fall into complete chaos and injustice, when it’s already happened. Dmitri is found guilty. Dmitri gets sent to jail for something that he didn’t do. A murderer walks.

It’s already happened; the death of God has already occurred in their world. You cannot unring that bell. “God is dead. We have killed him. We have free will.” That monstrous world that Ivan describes–that selfish, evil, lawless land where cannibalism

Runs amok–that is the world that “Midnight Mass” presents to us as a direct product of the belief in God as a moral authority. In “The Brothers Karamazov”, the belief in God brings nothing but questions; in “God’s Not Dead”, it gives us answers; and, in “Midnight Mass”, it gives us justification.

If Dostoyevsky was putting Eastern Orthodoxy on trial to see if it prevails, then Michael Flanagan is nailing Catholicism to the cross to see if it will rise again. They are rewarded for their actions; they are rewarded for how they choose to love.

In the final moments of “Midnight Mass”, the people of Crockett Island stand amongst their burning homes–the wreckage of their God’s work. *Singing* And they begin to sing. They liberate themselves from their belief in a transcendent God that would require such monstrous acts of them through a return to their most basic principles.

As the sun rises on Crockett Island, Ali and Sheriff Hassan begin to pray; Erin lies like Jesus on the cross beneath the angel; Father Paul and Mildred hold Sarah’s body on a bridge that she loved as a child; and Lisa and Riley’s brother are sat on a tiny rowboat in the middle

Of the water, watching everything that they have ever known and everyone that they have ever loved turn to ash. And Lisa looks at him and says… “I can’t feel my legs.” Suffering has returned; liberation is over, even for the innocent. “Weeping may last through the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

“Midnight Mass” was never about resurrection; it was never about bringing God back from the dead; it’s about standing in your darkest possible moment, when you have become the devil, and answering the question. It’s about keeping God alive whoever you say that he is. Alright. That’s it. We’re done. We’re done. We’re done.

God save the queen. I can’t believe I’m done…I’m so happy to be done filming this. This has been the hardest thing that I’ve done in a really long time. Like, between the fact that I started the script in September and just the sheer amount

Of research that was required, and there was always something else that needed to be looked into and explored, and the script didn’t make any sense for so long; it still doesn’t; editing is gonna be a fucking nightmare, but… And, then, the tech issues…

And I film all this on my phone; I have to keep everything on a hard drive because I don’t have space on my computer to even run Final Cut. Like, this is…this has been such a monster. So, thank you for watching all of it. I appreciate it. I would like to do more.

I’m planning to do more. I hope they don’t take this long. I’m trying to get better at other social media, so I do post some stuff about this on my Instagram; but, like, my Instagram’s, like, mostly my family and my friends, so it feels really weird to post anything, like, advertisey?

So, don’t expect, like, influencer-level content if you follow there. But, if you do, I do sometimes post about like the process of these and…and how they’re coming along, so there’s that. Um, you can follow my tiktok…that’s mostly gay shit. And, um…yeah. That’s about it. I appreciate your help.

Not that you did anything, but…you know. I apologize to chairs, so… I can hear my neighbors; okay. I…it’s 2:02 AM, I can hear my neighbors talking, so I think they’re probably about to come complain about how loud I’m talking so… Bye. That’s a wrap! I keep on waking up, walking alone in the street… I keep on hearing the voices; they’re trying to scream… A child in a blanket of lead, on the river I wade through Searching reflections for all of the answers I thought I knew

I wanna burn down the farm Set fire to the wood that built me so strong For a world that I cannot Survive I want to watch it all fall Swallow the ashes I make of the stall In the hopes that they might Make me feel alive

Family of monsters can live as long as their youngest So, cut down the fountain of youth and tie it to her wrist A child in a cave, on the edge of the river I’m hiding Traded her matches for all of the time she’s spent biding

I wanna burn down the farm Set fire to the wood that built me so strong For a world that I cannot Survive I want to watch it all fall Swallow the ashes I make of the stall In the hopes that they might Make me feel alive

Call the fire department Tell them there’s been an arson Forget the village buckets There’s not a damn thing left Call the fire department Tell them there’s been an arson Forget the village buckets There’s not a damn thing left

I wanna burn down the farm Set fire to the wood that built me so strong For a world that I did not Did not survive I want to watch it all fall Swallow the ashes I make of the stall In the hopes that they might Bring me back to life

#art #religious #interpretation #midnight #mass #gods #dead

Interpretation—A Global Dialogue on Museums and Their Publics

– Hello, I’m Heidi Holder, Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chair of Education at the Met. And I’m delighted to welcome you to the second session on the first day of our virtual convening titled Interpretation. As part of our program, People: A Global Dialogue on Museums and their Publics.

This is a critical time to examine interpretation, which refers to those activities, experiences, and products that publics and museums do and engage with to make sense of the objects and artifacts within institutions care. In the next session, we will explore innovative ways to approach interpretation that can be drawn from inside

And outside of the art and cultural field. How do we challenge traditional approaches to complex stories? What are the possibilities of new technologies? Or what are the effects and how meaning is conveyed to audiences? How can we amplify different vantage points and perspectives on objects and artifacts and more?

We hope that you’ll use the chat in the presentations and during the panel discussions. Our hope is that these presentations are catalysts for discussions that you’ll join us in that conversation by participating in the chat with questions and comments. We are also offering closed captioning. You can turn closed captioning on or off

By using the CC icon towards the bottom right of your Zoom toolbar. Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce our speakers. Haidy Geismar is Professor of Anthropology University College London. She’s also the Curator of the Ethnography Collections, co-directs the Digital Anthropology Program, and is also faculty vice dean of Strategic Projects,

Developing a new set of research and teaching activities focused on media, heritage and collections. She’s author of the 2018 book “Museum Object Lessons for the Digital Age”. Jack Tchen is a historian, curator, dumpster diver, and teacher, and he’s Inaugural Clement A Price Professor of Public History and Humanities

And the Director of the Price Institute at Rutgers University, Newark. His book, “Yellow Peril” an archive of anti-Asian fare from 2016 is a source book on Western xenophobia and violence. He’s founding Director of the Asia Pacific American Studies Program and Institute at NYU. He co-founded the Museum of Chinese in America.

Kamini Sawhney, is the Director of the Museum of Art and Photography in Bangalore India. As MAP’s first Director, Sawhney is focused on creating a new museum experiences for audiences in India. In her earlier roles Sawhney was the head of Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation at the CSMVS Mumbai. Before her career in museums,

She was a journalist and television anchor reporting on political and cultural events. Governor Brian Vallo is a member of the Pueblo of Acoma tribe in New Mexico. Governor Vallo has 30 years of experiences. Governor Vallo 30 experience working in areas of museum development, cultural resource management, repatriation of ancestoral and cultural patrimony,

The arts and tourism. This session will be moderated by Vishakha Desai. Dr. Desai currently serves as the Senior Advisor for Global Affairs to President Lee Bollinger, Chair of the Committee on Global Thought and Senior Research Scholar in Global Studies at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

Prior to joining Columbia university, Dr. Desai had a variety of positions at the Asia Society from 1990 to 2012, initially as the Director of the Asia Society Museum and for the last eight years as president and CEO. It’s now my pleasure to hand it over to our session participants. Let’s talk, let’s listen.

Thank you. [ No Sound ] [ No Sound ] – Greetings, and thank you Heidi and the entire Education team at the museum for organizing this very special 150th anniversary program at the Metropolitan Museum. I am delighted to be able to moderate this very special session at this point in time.

And I come to you not just as a former director of a museum, or former President of the Association of Art Museum Directors, but particularly as, first and foremost, a museum educator, then a curator, then a director, and now an academic observer both of museums and of things global, and also

As a writer of a new book called “World as Family” in which art plays a very important role. I want to frame this discussion with just a few observations because we have wonderful group of panelists who are really going to take us through the what, and the why, as well as the how

Of the interpretation in museums. So over 50 years or so of my life as a museum person which means that my entire adult life pretty much, I’ve learned one thing, and that is that often when we think of museums especially historical museums, we think that somehow they are either

Cabinets of curiosity as they were called in Germany, window cabinets, or as high temples of aesthetics, somehow housing objects that go above and beyond time and space. At the same time, we know all of us who’ve worked in museums, that it is actually not true, because if you think about museum objects

While you might feel that objects are unchanging, the reality is all these objects are also riddled with many stories, many contexts, and many lives. What do we mean by that? What I mean by that is objects can also be thought of as the time when they were made, the intent of the object,

And then there is the observation and a life of an object over many centuries. For those of us were art historians training in early art from other parts of the world, we know that over 200, 300 years or even a millennia, artists can go through many, many different iterations.

And it’s important to recognize therefore that while the object may seem static in museums, the lives they lead, the context they provide, and the stories they tell, are anything but static. And that is just about the objects. There’s also about the information or the interaction of object with viewers.

So that viewers, especially now when we all try to get many different kinds of years to come to the institutions and change the institutions in the process, we have to recognize that viewers too bring their specific stories, their specific perceptions, and therefore their particular way of looking at an object.

So with all that, let’s just be clear about one thing. And there are about three things that I would say I’ve learned over a lifetime of working in a museum. And that is that actually objects that you interpret, which is the focus of our panel, that interpretation in the very word interpretation

Is a particular point of view. There is no such thing as only one way of looking at an object or presenting an object. So therefore let’s be clear that as museum professionals, those of us who work in museums, is that our point of view is just a point of view.

It is not the point of view, and therefore let’s get away from what sometimes we call in the performing arts industry “the voice of God,” the institutional voice, because everything we do has a particular point of view. So that’s number one. Number two, what is our responsibility? Our responsibility as museum people,

And I say this now, both as an insider or an outsider, is that how can we create a space for opening up other points of view, a point of view that actually may not be your particular point of view. In other words, number one, lay the intent bare.

Let people know where you’re coming from, that may be a point of view. Number two, open up the processes by which there are other interpretations possible. Number three, it isn’t just the interpretation as in the label you write, interpretation comes from the context, how you install objects, what is in relation to what,

Who is gonna speak to whom in terms of the objects. So let’s think about the context in which the objects are seen. And last but not the least let’s also recognize that it is impossible to be all inclusive about all possible interpretations. Therefore, what you choose will say as much about you,

The institution and where you wanna go with your viewers. So the idea of a dialogic museum, which is something my friend and colleague Jack Tchen has talked a lot about, you would know that that dialogue occurs not just between a viewer and an object, but even in the life of an object,

How it talks from one to the other. Having said all of that, the last piece that I would say we should remember is that art refuses to be put in a box. And what I mean by that is that for art, and this is true particularly art objects as we define them.

But art is as much about telling a point of a particular point, a particular story, of a particular time, specificity of time and history and geography matters, but it also has the capacity to transcend time and space to live independently in that space and that’s not just true of an art object,

It’s true of music, it’s true of all kinds of art forms, dance, literature. That it can speak across boundaries, and it also reflects a specificity of time and place. Given that, it’s fair to recognize that in the Euro-American world, especially in America, for much of the 20th century,

We have privileged one part of art, that is to think about the temple of learning above time and space, art object existing independently of time and space. Now it’s time for us to actually go back to also embodying the specificity of an object, not just the original intent

But how it may have been perceived, what it is the product of, and bring it back and imbue the object with that specificity of their stories, their histories, and the perceptions of those objects. However, if we go too far into that pendulum we will also lose that duality,

The multiplicity that art objects function in. So one of the challenges that we will have is as we begin to think about interpretation for our age, for this moment democratisation of interpretation, let’s also make sure that art exists as much for curiosity, imagination of the world we have not seen,

As it is also about giving voice to the voicelessness that has existed for way too long. With that right let’s dive into the conversations today and I’m really delighted that the first presentation is gonna be by Jack Tchen. Thank you. And we’ll come back and have a conversation together

After all the presentations are over. So over to you Jack. [ No Sound ] – Thank you Vishakha. It’s a delight to be on this panel, and thank you for that wonderful context that I think is extremely useful and gets us much further down into this conversation.

I also wanna thank the Met education staff for putting this on, it’s really been a delight being involved in this. And, you know, I didn’t realize until you mentioned it Vishakha that this was 150th anniversary of The Met, which I should have known. I should also mark that it’s also the 100th anniversary

Of the second international eugenics congress that happened at the American Museum of Natural History. I’ll get back to why that’s significant. But also the Vishakha I think it’s really important to mark that this is your 50th anniversary being involved in museums. So I think that trajectory in some ways

Speaks to some of these questions that we’re talking about. The Met of course, was seen as an institution that originally had reproductions and also was meant to be a way to educate the working people of the city who were increasing by leaps and bounds, right? So we’re talking about the 1870s.

The first number of decades are really the heyday of what we think of as the Gilded Age, in which great numbers of Eastern Europeans, Jews especially Southern Europeans were entering into the city in very large number but also Irish of course, and these are in many ways

People who are not considered part of, kind of traditional founding “Native American group” of Anglo-American Protestants. And in may ways, this is a moment in which the founding institutions such as The Met or the New York Historical Society, other kinds of founding institutions the American Museum of Natural History were information

And really coming up with their systems of classification of knowledge production, of what should be displayed. So I think it’s useful to provide a kind of a historical framing as to what those original foundations were, and then the great numbers of people who began populating this nation

And populating the city and sometimes coming to these institutions because there’s a way to aspire and a way to kind of identify with the culture, of the dominant culture, but it was also a place that many people did not feel comfortable coming to, right? So in some ways we’re now grappling

With these kinds of questions of what those deep historical exclusions and deep historical roots are. So I think the tension that Vishakha has identified is a very important one, at the same time I really do believe in museums and these spaces because I think they are, with all their flaws,

Places in which democratic dialogue, and the examination of unresolved issues of the past can happen. But it becomes then a question of whether we as institutions, institutions builders, or people within institutions, or the educators can embrace that. And whether we can actually rise to those challenges.

So I guess I would like to maybe begin with saying a little bit about this question of whether democratic interpretations of objects can really significantly change the perspectives that we begin to develop in places such as museums or about the city itself, for example.

And I’m really bringing in New York City into this because I think this combination of institutions that we have in the city are really quite unique, and also speak to the possibilities of a polyphonic democratic culture. But at the same time, you’re free to look at any of the mainstream primary institutions.

Then we start getting a more kind of layered complex understanding of how wealth and power have operated. So for me, the question of whether inviting broader perspectives alone will then begin to change our interpretations of objects, I think yes, and no. Yes, in the sense that I think it’s absolutely critical

For those who come from many different places, and Vishakha you’re an example, I’m an example, which has different kinds of deep historical cultures, to have those voices and perspectives and frameworks, historical, philosophical, spiritual frameworks brought into dialogue with the objects that are oftentimes from those cultures that are now in these museums.

So the history, for example, in my case of the British introduction of opium from the colony of India and creating the cash crop with opium and introducing that into China was fundamental to the way I was raised being the anchor baby, and the first one born in the United States.

So my very Chinese mother would talk to me about the opium wars, here I am in the Midwest, growing up on the prairie land. And the streets of this new suburb were full of indigenous names. And there were arrowheads in the ground. And I was trying to figure out

How to make sense of all this, right? And in some ways that speaks to the contradictions of a settler American society, but also how do we make sense of the land that we’re on, and the culture that surrounds us and the culture that dominated the Midwest that I grew up within,

In a way that can actually allow for more interpretations and then the civics lessons than they were gaining. So part of my journey has been to look for those clues, those fragments, in which the Chinese American experience, the history of Chinese laundry workers, the history of garment workers

Was really not considered part of anything important to look at, because after all these were people who were doing very modest work and were not considered to be the leaders and the patriarchs of the founding institutions and significant in those ways. If we were to look in the archives

We could not find really anything about Chinese. That would be true at the New York Historical Society. When I first arrived in New York in the mid, in 1975. And it continues to be true to many degrees. So there’s a question of what are the stories that are told about the city?

What are the archives that exist? What are the histories, the official histories? And really what is the kind of awareness that people who come from very different backgrounds with very different frameworks of understanding the past, what do they bring to that? So then we enter into a space such as New York City

The many monuments, for example, in New York City or the many objects that may exist in a history museum or an art museum, what are the dialogues that we have coming from these different knowledge backgrounds, and what are the official stories that are being kind of told in the school rooms,

In the history books, what is being taught in the PhD programs, what books are being created and what are the cannons of the different institutions that we’re entering into? So what I’m suggesting is that there is a contestations and that the more diversity there is of points of view and backgrounds and experience,

The more significant that dialogue can be but not everyone has the equal access or power to actually be in positions to counter and to be in dialogue. So I think those are really important questions that New York institutions are now just starting to reckon with, or maybe I should say

That New York City institutions have necessarily gone through cycles of reckoning. So, and we’re in one of those moments right now, I think where the larger challenges of our society are now being clearly played out, not only within the United States and within the Americas, but within the global world.

So Black Lives Matter, for example, has raised so many so many questions that also relate to why is it that there was a Chinese exclusion law and why is it that most Americans don’t even know about it? So these questions of where are those blank spots,

What we don’t know is actually just as important as what we think we know, and what we think are the kind of civics lessons or the foundational stories that we live, and are tested on, and are able to gain our citizenship based on.

So I guess I would say that it’s important for us, especially being having a more global and more critical perspective on the practices of any one place or any one nation to also understand how knowledge and knowledge systems are constructed. So it’s not strictly about the knowledge of one person,

But something deeply about the political culture of any given place that we’re in. So I would just say maybe two more things. One is that the work that I started doing in New York Chinatown increasingly I understood as increasingly necessarily being not just about the China trade and the fact that

Yes Chinese too are part of New York, and that we have been in New York for a long time. I mean, those are the usual ways in which we claim kind of belonging and citizenship. But in fact, the China trade was foundational to the very formation of the American identity

Of the U.S. project itself. And that speaks to the trade and the desire for luxuries amongst the European aristocracy, but also as that aristocracy transplanted in the new nation of the United States and Canada, those kinds of Anglo America’s values also transplanted so that the desire for certain kinds of luxuries,

And a certain kind of way in which political arithmetic could be used to enrich the country drove a lot of the dispossession of indigenous peoples. So that like clearing the land based on certain kinds of dubious justifications from the Pope to John Locke. Those dubious justifications enabled the extraction

Of resources from the land in a way they could be used to help further the trade. I would also say that therefore enslavement also is part of this picture, because once the land was cleared there needed to be a cheap, if not indentured, if not very low paying ways in which people

Can be brought in to create value from the land itself. So what I began to realize is that the history of Chinese and Chinatown in the United States it’s not simply an isolated phenomenon of bias and prejudice and therefore the artifacts of all that experience should be isolated

In understanding that, but that the experience of Chinese in this country and the China trade are deeply involved in the dispossession and in the enslavement nexus. So with that understanding it helped me understand how racialization processes, and the ways in which we let’s say then acknowledge or don’t acknowledge monuments for example.

For example, the Theodore Roosevelt monument in front of the American Museum of Natural History. How do we understand that? How do we understand Christopher Columbus’ statue that stands in the middle of Columbus Circle? It depends on the frameworks that we have as to whether we have we bring very different perspectives to that

And we can actually engage fairly in a dialogue. And I would say that we have not been. I served on the Mayor’s Commission for Public Art Markers and Monuments, and it was a chaotic experience in which there was no way to ground the many monuments and markers and public art

In the city other than simply saying we should just have more. And somehow if we don’t have enough women, we should have more women. If we don’t have somebody to counterbalance Teddy Roosevelt we should, well, that doesn’t seem to be really the best way to tell the story truthfully of the history

Of a city, but it does open up the possibilities if we can actually have a historical discussion have a dialogue as to why these objects are there. I’m using that example about the city as really also a way to understand the institutions and the objects that we have within museums themselves.

So I would just say that we have to understand these objects as parts of classification and framing systems and those systems are the things that we really need to understand now especially at these moments in which it’s not just more inclusion, it’s not just more voices, but the fundamental frameworks

Of understanding meaning within those frameworks, have to be challenged and reexamined. So maybe I’ll just end them there because there’s so much more to be said, thank you [ No Sound ] – Good evening everybody. And thank you very much for the invitation to participate in this conference.

And I’m really honored to be on a panel with such distinguished companions. And I’m looking for very much to the discussion at the end. So I think I’m picking up on a theme of the entire symposium, which is working in the field of museums at this place, wherever we might be,

And at this time the stakes feel pretty high. And I’m going to talk today from my vantage point as somebody working within a university, with university collections, to really think particularly about how our current moment raises huge questions particularly for example, COVID-19 around contact between people and objects.

And I hope my argument feeds into some of the bigger questions of the panel about how important objects and materiality of things are as well as digital and multimodal ways of knowing, especially as we are so temporarily distanced from many of our collections. I also want to emphasize that it’s important to think

Not just in terms of outcomes or outputs from exhibitions to events, but really it also about practices and ways of working, and that’s what I really want to talk about today. Opening up formations of practice curatorial collections management, as forms of care not just for objects, but for social relationships.

And I’m drawing very much on the concept of a relational ethics that was proposed by a Savoy and Sarr in the very influential report on the restitution of African collections from France. Rather than thinking always as the kind of end outcome or output of what we do,

We need to think about what kinds of relationships and processes we create around our engagement with collections. And I think as it’s already been alluded by Jack, we’ve really seen some dramatic developments and interventions into the museum world in recent years, museums have been drawn into public dialogues

About recognition of past and present injustice, about colonial histories and futures, about restitution and restorative justice. And this is really intensified over the COVID period. And we see debates about repatriation, colonial legacies, decolonization becoming more mainstream than ever. And to me into popular discourse in a way I think that’s quite unprecedented.

So today I want to briefly present some of the moments of dialogue and practice that have emerged in the work I’ve been doing with colleagues at UCL, University College London, in the ethnography collections, which I curate. These are teaching collections that are housed in our department and give us,

I think a bit more of a possibility of experimentation because we’re not working so much within the confines of a formal museum framework. And working with our collections, we ask every day how we can develop ways of working that share a curatorial and interpretable authority with others.

We are always asking how we can work against the internalization of colonial categories and power imbalances. And we work not just to diversify our output but our practice, even those practices that may be less visible to the public. And this is particularly important given the troubling history of ethnographic collection

Which really demands that we ask these questions of ourselves all the time. And I want to just give you two examples of some of the projects that we’ve worked on over the last few years in which we have tried to extend some of this power and interpretable authority

Outside of the university in ways that I think have actually been incredibly influential shifting and changing the very form of what we do. My first example is a project that we called This is a Maori term. Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, Aotearoa in New Zealand. And it means pathways of spiritual or intangible energy. It was the name of a collaboration between myself and Stuart Foster an interaction designer and Kura Puke, a Maori artists who were both based

At Massey University in New Zealand. And also with Timatahiapo Research Group a cultural and community organization based in Taranaki in the north of Ireland. And the project focuses on this beautiful cloak which is part of the ethnography collections. Originally collected by the Wellcome Institute,

The cloak came to UCL sometime in the mid 20th century. We aren’t sure when, because we have very bad provenance for many of our collections. It was part of a series of donations of nonmedical collections of cloaks that the Institute made to different museums and universities,

Objects they didn’t consider as core to its mission. It was marked only as Maori and had no known provenance. We do not know who made her. We don’t know where or when she was made, but we know she must have been special, a treasure, a Towner, and possibly

Because of her small size woven for a child. The cloak is finding waiver now to New Zealand flax with tassels made out of the hair of the Cudi or Polynesian dog now extinct, and a Wolf fringe bordering the beautiful red and black Tomiko border.

And the condition you can see here is so fantastic. We can gather that not much has happened with this cloak over the years. She’s basically been in storage for nearly 100 years. Intrigued by my characterization of the cloak along with many of our collections as an orphaned object, Kura and Stewart set about

Bringing their massive digital work and grassroots community practice to the cloak. With a background in designing a virtual environments and a long-standing practice of connecting to light and sound to Maori treasures, their intention was in their words to bring the cloak into the light and bathe it with energy from New Zealand.

And working closely with Timatahiapo, we developed a long-term ambition working through the medium of digital technology. Throughout our project the term (foreign language) meaning spiritual energy was used as an encompassing term for the digital, just as digital communication media largely exists as wireless waves of information transmitted all around us.

So do (foreign language) treasured possessions, create networks of conductivity across time and space. And the connection of this cloak through broadband and cellular activity to people in London and in New Zealand was not framed therefore as something new, but actually as a continuation of the kind of work that these treasured artifacts

Are supposed to do, to link people, activate, maintain connections and networks of knowledge. So this is the cloak on display in UCL’s octagon gallery. And you can see the kind of immersive environment that Kura and Stewart came to London to set up in 2014. On June 17th, we created a ceremonial environment

In which transformed our octagon gallery into a Maori space, a Marae, and we at UCL became the guests that were welcomed into this space by Timatahiapo who were at their Marae. (foreign language) at the foot of Mount Taranaki. So as guests, we were ushered into the space, and welcomed and responded with call.

I want to play you a very short clip which I’ve poorly edited, and doesn’t do justice to the events just to show you how the event was recorded in both sites simultaneously So that just shows you how the traditional call and response of a Maori pōwhiri, or a welcoming ceremony where mediated across time and space using basically a FaceTime connection. And what you could also see was that the connection didn’t work perfectly, whilst we could be heard perfectly in New Zealand

Because of broadband inequities in New Zealand, and the fact that they were using a cellular connection rather than the kind of wifi connection we had at UCL, we at UCL was unable to hear all of the words of their welcoming incantation. And as the project progressed and the technology was increasingly a challenge

Frustrating our attempts to communicate clearly, we started to talk more and more about that. What was happening in those gaps. And I started to wonder if actually that imperfect connection was actually one way we could acknowledge the distance and disconnection that is also a part of the cloak’s history

As well as this more celebrated digital connection that we were also creating. Perhaps the failings of technology, the way that it kept reminding us of its presence, as it fails around us, evoked the situation we were in a brave attempt to recreate a connection that can never be fully salvaged to work

Across the distance that is still present and that still remains. At the end of several weeks of exhibiting the cloak, Te Urutahi who you see here in this image in another impoverished FaceTime session, gave our cloak a name, holding our phones high into the air,

We ran around the campus trying to hear clearly and we ended up in the geography department to be told better or to better hear her tell us that the cloak will now be called Tukutuku Roimata, a name that evokes the tears of the ancestors from the spiritual realm into woven

And connecting us with the physical realm through the cloak. And so this is very much a name that evokes absence as well as presence, and the project as a whole explored the capacities of new technologies to connect and explore new relationships between colonial era collections and contemporary source communities in this global context

Speaking to a broader politics of restitution, repatriation, and return. When Kura and Stewart left UCL, they left us with a kind of DIY kit that enables us to plug the cloak in to New Zealand at any time you can dial in, and you can bathe the cloak in the sound

Through speakers and through LED light strips that bring through this digital energy channel lightened sand from New Zealand into our story, and so we continue to activate this relationship. My second very brief example focuses on ongoing work that I’ve been doing with our collections curator, Delphine Mercy

In an afterschool club for high school students. We call this the Young Curators Project, and we explore narrative and poetic strategies for connecting to the ethnography collections. Every student picks an object in the collection to research and they go back into their homes and communities and chooses another object from there

To bring the two together. And then they work with poets, anthropologists, to narrate those connections in their own words for their own exhibition which we show both online and in the university. I just want to show you this little display that was made by Tyanne Hudson, who is from the Harrison Victor’s Academy

In Croydon in south London. She chose to work with lantern slides depicting life in Nigeria in the first half of the 20th century, which speaks to her own cultural background. But she linked them to a collection of cinema tickets that were made during trips that she bought during trips

To the cinema with her family. And this is a little poem that she wrote for her label in the exhibition. And she wrote in a longer text I’m quoting, “I’ve chosen this object because it represents friendship and helps me remember my experiences. For example, when we went to see “Deadpool 2″

As a leaving party and my friend who was leaving didn’t show up”. And she went on to write, “Lantern slides, were used as a way to present information much like PowerPoint, they are photos that can be projected onto a screen used to teach students from UCL

And around the same time they were made. And I chose these images because they are both linked to memories and ways of learning about different cultures.” The films talk about the 21st century, the things we find interesting, and the lantern slides teach us about life in 20th century, Nigeria.

They’re also connected by the way they were shown both on projectors for large audiences. During COVID-19 we created another version of this club because we couldn’t have people into the collection who are Young Curators Online. And this is the kind of online course, which you can do in your own time,

Which creates the dialogue around key issues, statues, and public spaces, and naming of places and important debates around the history and legacies of colonialism particularly in collections. We also train students and oral history recording so they can start to think about what forms of knowledge is in their own communities

That might then become part of a museum or archive. And the course ends with an opportunity to submit an object to a virtual museum of COVID-19. And here you can see a selection of objects that were most meaningful to the lives of young people that participated in the course

During the lockdown of last year. And we start to wonder, are these objects perhaps the ethnographic collections of the future. I’ve only had a very short time to give you two very different examples, both of which are trying to leverage the opportunities inherent in digital technologies, not as ends in of themselves

But as portals to really think about how we might start to reimagine a new future for our collections. I’m very much thinking about the work of Eric Alara and Shelley Butler in that kind of formulation of curatorial dreams, the opportunities that we have as museum workers to imagine how we would really like

To do things if we weren’t always so constrained. And in my curatorial dream, the ethnography collection is activated as a resource not just to connect people to their own cultural heritage, and I very much agree with Jack’s point about it’s not really enough just to say let’s reinterpret

And let’s give multiple perspectives on things, it’s not just about trying to make better displays. It’s also about bringing different people in as the arbiters of those displays to structure and very much inflect the practices that are implicit or often invisible around them. The problematic legacies and histories of the anthropological collection remain.

They’re very much with us. We can’t escape them, but the platforms and the rate them to create sense and meaning can be shifted. Within the collection we have been collecting the documentation from these projects, not in order to connect people to museums and collections, but to develop a new generation of museum practitioners

And to create new, more equitable and open collections for the future. Thank you. [ No Sound ] – Good evening, everyone. I’d first like to thank The Met for inviting me to speak at the symposium. I’m very happy to be a part of the conversation that looks at the museum as learner.

It probably is that the museums should be rethinking their relationship with the community they serve, as equals who share and exchange information that makes the experience so much richer for everyone. So I pulled, I would basically give you an idea of what MAP is all about

Before I move on to the main subject of the discussion, because I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with us. So MAP is a new museum that’s coming up in the heart of Bengaluru in South India. And our mission is to take art back into the heart of the community.

And create a museum going culture because the joke with MAP is we have the most crowded cities in India with the emptiest museums. So we’re hoping that there’s something we can do to change that. And this map gives you an idea of where we are located in the heart of town

Close to the Metro stations, opposite a beautiful park and positioned on one of the arterial roads in the city so that we are easily accessible to everyone. This is an artist rendering of what MAP will look like because construction is still underway and we hope to open in December

Of this year, COVID permitting. And we see MAP as not just a place for objects, but a space for ideas and conversations that we initiate through the collection. So the collection really becomes the catalyst to grow MAP into a kind of cultural hub where there’s plenty of interaction and exchange.

While the collection has different categories of objects, we have pre-modern, modern and contemporary, textile craft and design, living traditions, photography, popular culture. So we are looking to really collapse the hierarchies between what is perceived as high and low art and not view the collection in vertical silos but draw connections across the collection.

We are one of the few if not the only museum in India that has popular culture as integral part of the collection. And the idea is that people from different communities, backgrounds, race, religion, all feel that some part of their lives or cultures reflected here and they are able to connect.

So inclusion and accessibility really are the two pillars of MAP. And we are working on how to be accessible to people with not just physical, but also mental disability. We are fortunate that we are working with the new building. So right from the start, we’ve sat down with the architects

And our consultants, which is the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Center so that we work together to try and make everyone feel that they are welcome at MAP. And this goes for our website as well. We use fonts, colors, color contrast, or text, so that people with visual disabilities

Find it easy to navigate our site. All our events have subtitling and sign language interpretation to help the hearing impaired. So when we talk about accessibility we really need to examine the relationship with the museum has had with audiences in the past. Traditionally, the museum voice was seen as THE voice

That best understood the story and therefore was in the best position to tell that story. Today of course we know that is not true. Curators, art historians, scholars bring knowledge and learning to what they do all very valuable but that is Vishakha said is one aspect of a story.

When we deal with objects, for example that have cultural religious or traditional significance there are several layers of knowledge and storytelling, this would come from members of the community specifically practitioners of that ritual that the object is associated with, worshipers, craftsman involved in its making and so many more.

And context becomes particularly relevant when we are exploring, say living traditions, for example butta pula is a poem of spiritual worship. That’s practiced in Southern Karnataka, the state that MAP is located in. It is a centuries old practice that is performed still today where local spirits or deities are channelized by ritual specialists.

These ceremonies are very significant for the community because traditionally family and village disputes are accord to the spirit as are matters of political justice or even legitimizing political authority. We have a number of such objects at MAP, masks, breast plates, et cetera, that are used in these ceremonies.

And much of the knowledge around these rituals rests with the practitioners in the community. And I would hesitate any interpretation of these objects without drawing on their knowledge. I thought I’ve been speaking of another example from our section on living traditions that includes the work of indigenous artists

From different parts of the country. One of the opening exhibitions on our digital platform represented the work of Bhuri Bai, a Bhil artist from central India. And though her book is now well known, her story has most often been told without her involvement. A conversation that the curators had heard

Was quite revealing because she said that she had all these catalogs, books, articles, about her over the years that she had accumulated but because she was illiterate, she really had no idea of what was being said on her behalf. So taking this into consideration, our exhibition,

“My Life as an Artist” was put together in collaboration with Bhuri Bai, so the curatorial team traveled to Bhopal to meet her record audio interviews and discuss how the exhibition would take shape. These conversations then formed the basis of the exhibition’s narrative. So when we talk about interpretation

It’s often dependent on the scope of the collection, the story that this selection of artwork tells. But what does it exclude? Because those object histories are not represented within the collection and every museum has its wishlist there are bound to be gaps in most collections, and it’s important for museums to recognize that

And to be transparent about it. This is particularly visible in institutions that house private collections where collectors have acquired objects based on a particular interest or preference. At MAP where the core of the collection is donated by its founder, this is a challenge we face as well

And we are very conscious of it. But today, a key factor that is changing the equation between the museum and its audiences is the information freeway. The world online has democratized access to information and learning to a large extent. And yes, it is a double-edged sword. You have inaccurate information,

Information that comes with its own biases, information that is channelized to reinforce our prejudices, but with all its downsides the net has made knowledge sharing much more widespread than it has ever been before. This becomes especially relevant if we think of the museum as an array of difficult histories

Such as colonial pasts, political and racial oppression. Whose story are we telling? As many of us have pointed out. And whose point of view I’ll be presenting? For example, if you look at India’s colonial history and some of the defining moments in that relationship between the colonizer and the colonized,

How do we read evidence? For example, this photograph of the ruins of Lucknow taken in 1860, does it allude to the Indian mutiny of 1857 as the British described it, or the first war of Indian independence as Indians like to think of it. Does the museum as an institution have a role

In altering social attitudes and political structures that enable oppression? In contemporary India, for example, we still struggle with injustice that is experienced as a result of past hierarchies or gender discrimination. The pandemic has simply accelerated the online relationship with audiences as we all experienced. And at MAP we were completely focused

On the roadmap to the physical museum, but the virus literally stopped us in our tracks. And as people brainstorming about the way forward, the message that we were getting from our advisors, our board, friends of MAP, why are you so fixated on the physical space?

For now why don’t you launch a digital museum? And so we decided that if people cannot come to MAP then we need to take MAP to people. And it had its benefits because it expanded the whole scope of how we conceive our audiences. It allows us to reach many more people,

To build a growing international network, and to use the tools that this medium offers to create different experiences. The digital space has also introduced a more informal mode of interaction that’s much less hierarchical because it brings the museum into your home. It creates a new intimacy.

It allows you to be part of cultural discourse seated in your favorite armchair. And technology has also allowed us new modes of storytelling. And we have MAP labs that lies at that intersection of technology and art. And since we are located in the IT capital Bangalore of India,

It made sense to collaborate with the industry to discover tech solutions for art. So our first collaboration was with Accenture on a project that uses artificial intelligence to create a 3D persona of the artist M F Husain. Husain is no more but visitors can interact with him through this holographic persona,

Chat with him asking questions. It’s a way to get young people to know more about one of our iconic artists. We have a small clip of one of those interactions, which we’ll play for you. – What is your name? – You can call me Husain Sahib,

But my full name is Maqbool Fida Husain. – How old are you? – Want to take a guess? As of today I’m over 100 years old. – Are you real? – As close to real, enough to impress you. Please ask me what do you need to know about me?

– So that was the Husain experience. The virtual world has allowed us to connect with museums across the world as well in a time when neither people or objects could travel. So during the pandemic, we developed Museums Without Borders. A collaborative project that makes it possible for objects and people to travel virtually

And encourages new ways of seeing. Basically it juxtaposes an object from MAP with an object from the partner museum. And this could be based on similarities or differences and maybe theams, geographies, mediums. And when objects are placed in dialogues some really interesting conversations emerge,

These are articulated by the curators from the two museums. And this is an example of our collaboration with The British Museum. It contrasts the work of a modernist from India. (indistinct) an 18th century miniature painter from the collection of the BM. We use music as a lens through which to explore them.

So on one hand, you have the solitary drummer beating out a rhythm in this frenzy of despair juxtaposed with this celebratory group of trumpeters. And it becomes particularly interesting when you connect objects in different cultures. For example, the work of two indigenous artists one from India and the other from Canada, Each of their selected words features a central bird figure an owl by Ishiva from the RISD collection and a majestic peacock by Sham in MAPs collection where we juxtapose the unique styles of painting the tremendous impact they work at And let me conclude with another collaborative

Digital project that we are working on with Microsoft, that uses artificial intelligence for cultural heritage. The initiative called Interwoven Global Connections to south Asian textiles has Microsoft working with our curators and collections department to develop the AI tools which can recognize distinct patterns, motives and techniques, which are used in south Asian textiles

From MAPs collection, as well as the data base of images we put together from partner collections in the region. So the platform then connects these textiles with those from around the world, such as the Middle East, Africa, and Central South America. These connections can be explored on an interactive platform.

Our curators have mapped certain journeys through connected artworks with accompsnying text where we then tell stories of how these similarities occur, be it through trade or collaboration, or just by accident. For example, the AI tools may recognize the Paisley motif and link examples of this motif found in Indian textiles with trade textiles

For the European markets in the 19th century, and then how that same motif was picked up in popular culture in the 1960s, and popularized by bands such as the Beatles. And in fact, The Met has come on board as one of our partners on this project. So these are some of the ways

We are looking at our collections, trying to interpret them afresh, and build a more interactive experience with our audience. Thank you very much. [ No Sound ] – Good afternoon. I wanna thank The Met for the invitation to participate in this afternoon’s program and to join all

Of these wonderful speakers for this conversation today. My name is Brian Vallo, and I am the Governor at the Pueblo of Acoma tribe in New Mexico. For those of you who are not familiar with New Mexico, Acoma tribe is located about one hours drive west of Albuquerque.

Acoma is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in North America. This was my home. For the past 30 years, I have worked in cultural resources management addressing a myriad of issues on behalf of my own tribe and other tribal communities throughout the Southwest. This opportunity has provided me

The chance to have dialogue with other tribal communities and all institutions from throughout the Southwest concerning repatriation, concerning museum and exhibit development, interpretation, access and collections management practice. I’ve also had the opportunity to work directly with tribes in creating their own tribal museums. A movement here that is reshaping

And shaping the ways in which indigenous communities in this country are presenting themselves, their culture and their histories. This work experience has provided me with these great opportunities. And one in particular is the opportunity to implement a federal policy called, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

This was a federal policy that was passed by the Congress in 1990. And what this policy provides is protection of items housed in museums, institutions, and agencies of the federal government and the federal system, which include items of objects of cultural patrimony, ancestral human remains, and their associated funerary objects.

This initial work centered on a review of inventories of items protected by this policy, NAGPRA. And again including human remains associated funerary objects and cultural patrimony. These inventories were mandated by this law. So each institution who was a recipient of federal funding was required to provide to tribes

Throughout the country inventories of their collections of native American materials. For the Pueblo of Acoma, and over the course of the first three years of enactment of this policy, we had received nearly 300 inventories of these items and representing almost a million items that fell under those various categories that were identified

As coming from my tribe. This prompted a second, I guess phase of this implementation, which called for visitation to a numerous institutions throughout the country. And in this photo, the photograph here of the exhibit, some of you might be familiar, is at the Field Museum in Chicago.

And this exhibition, when I first saw it along with other representatives from my tribe, we were utterly shocked and dismayed at the presentation, but really at that time did not have much to say or do to address the concerns that we had concerning exhibition.

What we were concerned with and what we were there for was to review items that were provided in their inventory of Acoma human remains and associated funerary objects. These inventories and these visits to the various museums exposed me personally to just a number of issues and concerns around the ways in which museums

In this country were stewarding these collections. And also other general collections of what were classified as Native American art or cultural items from Native American tribes in this country. And this is really a time in my life when my focus transitioned from cultural resources management to a focus on repatriation and museum development.

So I had the opportunity to work with many museums and to visit some of our country’s flagship institutions where it was quite apparent that in addition to the problem that ancestors of my ancestors remained stored in these facilities, that there were some other glaring issues around presentation, around narrative of not only Acoma

Materials on display, but other materials from tribes throughout this country that were on display. A lot of the information was in error. A lot of the ways in which things were presented in exhibit were likely offensive to many tribal people, including myself. And so it opened my eyes to the issue

That at that time had not been discussed openly among tribal representatives. So NAGPRA brought to the forefront various issues for both native American tribes and museums, many of which remain unresolved due to a number of complex reasons. What this has created however, is a movement among native American museum professionals,

Tribal historic preservation officers, tribal governmental officials, Native American organizations, and thankfully a number of museums who share the same concerns and a desire to invoke some change through more meaningful consultation, collaboration, and inclusion of Native America in museums. Some of the initial outcomes of this process and the photo on the left

Of the reburial of ancestral materials, burial items is a result of the NAGPRA law, the re actual repatriation that has been occurring since the enactment of that law of ancestral human remains and associated funerary objects. The challenge here is that there are so many materials, literally millions of items in museums

That need to be repatriated. The cumbersome process associated with this federal policy and museum policies don’t allow for a – any real ease in the process of repatriation. And so while we remain engaged in that process of repatriation, we have also exerted our tribal sovereignty around these issues around federal policy

But also the need for representation in the world of museums. And it took a congressional act to eventually create the National Museum of the American Indian which is now located on the national mall in Washington DC. And this institution represents all indigenous tribes of this hemisphere, and it is

Houses one of the largest collections of Native American materials in a separate facility in Suitland, Maryland. Many tribes work directly with the National Museum of the American Indian on the repatriation of items back to tribes and the review of document existing documentation around collections on exhibit and development and programming,

And a number of other issues that are important to tribal nations in this country. But there’s much work to be done. And even while the National Museum of American Indian does exist, does actively repatriate and does actively engage with tribes and institutions throughout the world. There is much work to be done,

And on all levels where policy is concerned, on the federal level but also within the field of museum studies, anthropology and archeology. But this movement is something that is evolving and is proving that with continued commitment on the part of tribes and institutions, that there is some promise.

In 2014, I joined the school for Advanced Research which is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As the director of the Indian Arts Research Center. And it was there that I had the opportunity to work with many tribal and non-tribal museum professionals from across the country on an initiative

Led by my predecessor, Dr. Cynthia Chavez Lamar, to develop a set of guidelines of how museums can work with source communities. The published guidelines for collaboration had an immediate impact on the field, strengthening established relationships between museums and tribes, instituting discourse on processes for engagement with tribes, by museums for both short

And longer term projects and initiatives, and forging discussion among tribes and museums about building trust, establishing communication, and understandings, and identifying those opportunities for mutually rewarding relationships. The guidelines have strong support of national museum organizations, including AAM and ATALM or the Association of Tribal Archives Libraries and Museum. Many museums throughout the nation

Are utilizing these guidelines. They have implemented these guidelines for specific projects and have used the guidelines to just to begin a dialogue between museums and source communities. I always like to acknowledge the Field Museum in Chicago for being one of the first flag ship institutions in this country to study the guidelines

And to develop a process for engagement of tribal community, source community representatives, and their current and ongoing effort to rehabilitate the Native American Hall. And earlier – an earlier slide, you saw the photo, the black and white photo of a museum tour passing by some display cases of mannequins

Dressed in Native American traditional attire. This is that same exhibit that was on display for nearly 70 years. This movement is creating positive change. It is making the museum field inquisitive and certainly much more responsive to Native American tribes. It is also fueling a critical and creative thought among non-native museum professionals.

I applaud The Met and other institutions for also taking bold steps in response to this movement. This level of commitment is crucial towards achieving equity and true representation of Native America in our museums. In this photo, I want to also highlight that the Yale University assembled students at Yale University,

Assembled an advisory committee of Native American experts to assist them in the curation of an installation at the university. So there’s acknowledgement and there’s engagement and it is active. And this is probably the most profound experiences that we are having now in this time. And again, congratulate The Met on taking that step

In the creation of the Art of Native America, with a advisory committee comprised of both native and non-native experts. The presentation of this private collection of Native American art items in this collection was a process that was quite involved. And the outcome of this was I believe successful.

It really set the stage for the ways in which The Met will continue to work with Native American tribes, will continue to present Native America within its walls and provide opportunities for Native American artists contemporary Native American artists to be part of The Met culture. So many Native American museum professionals,

Tribal leaders, cultural leaders and other experts are engaged in meaningful projects. Many of which will set a new bar for consultation and engagement. I want to spend the remainder of my time to mention briefly the projects associated with the photos in the slide. I mentioned the Yale student exhibition

Which is the first photo. The middle photo is a project at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where we have a very unique situation of this particular institution working around and navigating the complexities associated with receiving a promised or gift of Native American materials,

And how these materials will be presented in the future, how they will be accessed in the future, and more immediate is how these items will be presented in a publication. This involves and has involved almost two years of consultation with tribal experts to determine how best to present these materials

In a catalog, in a publication. And then of course, the third photo, there is two employees from the Field Museum who I had the opportunity to work with during the dismantling of the former exhibit, and the requests that I made of them for us to bring two significant pieces of materials

From Acoma outdoors, to give them air, to rejuvenate them, and re-engage those items with the natural environment even while this was in Chicago. So there are opportunities, and I hope that the commitment of our museums to this movement remains strong. As I said, there is much work to be done

And I’m very grateful that there is a shown commitment on the part of some institutions and our federal government and of tribal communities alike. Thank you very much. [ No Sound ] [ No Sound ] – Thank you very much for a very rich presentations. There’s so many different questions

And also things are coming up in the chat. Lots of people have things to say. They’re very specific questions to each one of you but let me just start with some broad observation and then ask you some questions. I mean, I thought it was rather interesting that we started

With the idea of specific stories, specific histories, and Jack talked about things that are excluded. And then Brian, with your conversation you brought us back to things that are excluded that actually people who are excluded, who need to be part of the conversation in shaping that dialogue.

Most of you, except for Kamini did focus on the more anthropological aspect of museums, meaning it’s in ethnographic collection at the University of London. Or Brian you’ve talked about the native traditions and especially in the historical museums but now also in the art museums and what we can do.

One thing that I keep thinking about is that for many big museums and I refuse to use the word encyclopedic museums and I tell you why, because I have come to the conclusion there is no such thing as encyclopedic museums. There are museums that are accidents of history and museums of partial histories,

Depending on what they have and what they don’t have. So what we have to figure out is not only to deal with what is excluded, but also what is there that also is about symbols of power and sometimes the aura. So I’d like you to really help our viewers,

Readers, listeners, on this call to think about, especially for art museums which is the world that I inhabited for a very, very long time. There is something about the aura of art and Native American collection when it comes into the art museum it somehow is seen as a little different

From when it was at the Museum of Natural History let’s say. So how do we deal with dismembering if you will or trying to really question that idea of aura of art that exists, especially in art museums and deal with ways of actually looking at the material that also gives you the specificity

Because it does have something to do with that kind of duality, that art objects seems to exist in. And Kamini I’ll start with you and also Jack, when you add something to say there. ‘Cause especially in your case Kamini, you at MAP are trying to really bring

In many different kinds of objects together, from traditional fine art object, to photography, to indigenous collection or the tribal collection and more casual objects. But it seems like a lot of the things you’re doing now online, it would be interesting to find that how you will actually follow

That in front of the object itself. There’s something about objects that we still have to deal with especially objects as seen as art museums. Any thoughts from any one of you? Jack, oh, Kamini and then Jack. – I think the object, you know the focus has so far

Been largely in the past on the collections. And I think it’s so under collections, but the collections exist, the museum exist. We always collections exist for the visitor. So I think what we need to focus as well is to balance this whole relationship between the collection

The focus on the collection and the focus on the visitor. We have all these objects in our museums which have a whole range of stories to tell, and it is for us to unlock those stories, but how do we make this relevant to the visitor who’s coming into the museum now?

So I think the idea of relevance is what we need to search for. And we need, the museum stops has to stop being the dominant voice. We are so used to controlling the conversation. I think we need to become listeners. We need to listen to what our audiences want.

And we at MAP have actually done that because we conducted a study now because we are a new museum. We want our communities to tell us what did they expect to see in a museum? What would they like to see? What do they hope from us? And then instead of us deciding exactly

You must see this and this is how we must see it. Let’s try and bring together both the visitor and our courts and try and create an experience for everyone will enjoy. – So the conceptual focus from museum as collection of things to a place of interaction

Between viewer and the things, is that an important important inflection point to change. Jack any thoughts? – Yeah, I agree that’s very important. At the same time there is so much power invested in a certain way in which the Canon and the gaze has actually existed,

So that it’s very tricky to figure out how to, in some ways, surface that gaze. So that sufficiently understood that it can actually be in some ways put in its place and not just dominant without any critical understanding. Here I’ll just mention the great French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who has studied both empirically

But also qualitatively the whole idea of distinction and how distinction is made and especially Western democratic cultures, and how it’s related to thoughts of prestige, thoughts of what’s important, but also what’s especially important for elites to understand and to appreciate. So why was George Washington, you know this is my favorite research example.

Why was George Washington so obsessed with getting the latest Chinese porcelain wear during the heat of the Revolutionary War in Manhattan? You know, I mean what does that tell us about what those objects represented and how the consumption and association with those objects meant for George Washington?

And it’s not just an idiosyncratic personal quality it’s something that was pervasive throughout the larger culture, of kind of Western enlightenment, Western enlightenment culture of distinction. So it has certain kinds of capital, it’s not just financial, but it’s also the cultural educational, social capital that is embodied.

And the aura, as you were saying Vishakha of that object. I think it’s really important for us to unpack all that in the process of also bringing more voices in because I think it’s very possible that the larger culture itself also is imbued with those kinds of notions of distinction.

And then it’s really not so dynamic conversation or not such a dynamic set of listenings. – So that part of it is what you would say is that knowledge systems embody many other presupposed notions of power, status, for who, unless we question that, and interrogate that it will only be a patchwork.

And that is one of the big fundamental thing. And I think that Brian one of the last slides that you mentioned which is a Yale professor who said to engage with native culture is to rethink America. That actually something to that effect.

And I always think of a Vartan Gregorian who used to say you know, because he too was an immigrant. And he said that every immigrant who comes to this country learns how to be American, but in the process also changes what it means to be American.

And that some point we have to acknowledge that we still haven’t learned the latter part, that it also means to change America. It’s not just that people come in to become what it means to be American. So from your perspective Brian, and also for you

Haidy, that when you work with this anthropological objects especially those that are alive, if you will, and you’re trying to bring the cultures together and I love the way Haidy talked about how even the fact that it couldn’t work properly was to remind us of the disjuncture of that process,

Which I think is really interesting. But the question that sometimes people would ask is that, therefore at what point is it appropriate for you to have that object? And it was in the chat function as well. At what point repatriation is the most important thing?

And I come from that whole questions of repatriation with sort of a double set of eyes, you know both as an Indian who grew up in India, but also as an Indian American who also sees a firsthand experience, my own experience as working with a young African American kids

And getting them excited about objects from the world that they knew nothing about, and really getting very passionate. So how do we think about this issue of repatriation? And I think Brian, you’ve talked a lot about engagement, not just about repatriation to the native land, if you will.

So both of you, what are your thoughts on this particular question, especially because the Sarr-Savoy Report has been so much on people’s minds. – Brian, would you like to go first or should I? – Haidy go ahead. – Thank you for the question. I think I’m very supportive of repatriation and, you know

We’re very open to those discussions with our collection, but I think it has also become perhaps divisive in ways that are obscure some of the kind of generative potentials of the discussion about repatriation, that gets hidden by kind of this polarized perspective between the people that kind of are trying to hold

On or resist this kind of, you know, revisiting of a painful past or don’t want to let go of their authority over objects versus people who have, you know are carrying a really heavy legacy of pain and suffering that has stemmed from those moments of extraction,

And those histories are there and very real. But I think what, you know, why people ask for objects back is because that’s a way a strategy to deal with the relationships that were forged through the ways in which those objects were taken. And we have got opportunities to think about

Remaking relationships in the present that refuse to just perpetuate those dichotomies or perpetuate some of those power imbalances and are re reframed in different ways. And when you see that happening, I think and Brian was talking about that in some of his experiences at places perhaps like the Field Museum,

When you see those relationships developing over time and the conversation about repatriation can change or shift to become something different. So whilst I think it’s very important to recognize you know, the histories of theft and injustice and to make amends for that, and I think that can happen for your return of objects.

The reason those objects are going back as a form is about rebuilding relationships and that’s the most important thing, and we can work on those relationships in a whole host of different ways. So someone in the chat said, is there a request for repatriation of the Maori cloak that I presented?

And no, that cloak is because of the relationships that we have built up at the moment it’s happy, the community that we’ve connected to are happy for the cloak to be in UCL. They have relationship with it and they have and they do set the terms of engagement it.

And we won’t do anything with the cloak without consulting that community, as that relationship shifts the conversation may change and then may be a request in the future, this is a dynamic changing environment. So I think it’s frustrating when the conversation about repatriation becomes so zero sum that it forgets

That really this is about rebuilding, rebuilding trust and relationship building. And that’s what I was trying through all of this. – Very important point you’re making, just at the center of it all the real 300 pound gorilla is the power dynamics, right? Who has the say? Who decides what?

And how do we change that? And I thought, Brian your discussion around that was particularly powerful. And so when you think about repatriation Haidy just, I mean, actually talking about the kind of work you’re doing, but are there issues that come up where you find that the power dynamics still operate

In such a way that the voices of people who are excluded don’t get command and therefore in the name of collaboration it’s an acquiescence to, you know, status quo. – Thank you for the question. So repatriation just makes all of us uncomfortable, right? That discussion, even when the federal policy became law

Many institutions, including our own Smithsonian Network wasn’t sure how to respond. And it took some time for many of these institutions to determine how they would engage in the discussion. But even before that, their understanding of the federal policy was, it was varied, right? From one institution to the next.

And even as inventories were being developed because many unfortunately many of these institutions did not have inventories, and so they were under a time constraint to get the inventories done, and eventually they arrived on our doorsteps but the process almost 30 years later has improved within some institutions while with others,

And I will, you know, use The Met as an example. We’ve not had that conversation. And I don’t know if that conversation will ever happen. And there are many things and so other things associated with us, right? So you have active illegal trafficking of cultural patrimony even today.

We’re currently working on another federal policy. Hopefully it becomes a law this year, that would strengthen this NAGPRA law, the provisions of the law while also provide more protections of these cultural patrimony items. And that’s a whole another conversation. But within museums, I would say that there has been

There have been enough and thankfully successes of repatriation and consultation, meaningful consultation that not only address the repatriation, but open the door for that idea of building trust, a willingness to commit time and resources on the museum’s part, to have a discussion with source communities around not only, again not only repatriation,

But stewardship of these collections while they remain in these institutions until repatriation occurs, access cultural sensitivities around access, even by source community members, because even there that becomes that’s a huge issue. And, you know and then there are other unique situations depending on the institution that sometimes are put on the table

That most tribes are willing to, you know listen and have a conversation about. So, you know, it’s evolving it’s evolving and it’s going to take some time. The other thing, if you don’t mind if I can go back to the aura of art, right? So we haven’t really had the discussion about

The terminology within some institutions because, you know item of cultural patrimony protected by this federal policy for some institutions would be classified as art. There’s still much work to do in that area, but you know, this movement if it will continue and it will, I think, foster those difficult conversations moving forward.

– I mean, I think in a way, what you say is that sometimes I’ve heard from my native friends that museums of natural history are a little more forthcoming than the art museums, partly because there is something around this notion of possession of art and the aesthetic that somehow takes them

To different realms. It’s worth coming back to this ton of questions, which we can’t even go to. But I want to ask last question before this panel ends and that is that Louis Console, colleague and a friend was on this conversation mentioned that how in the late ’60s

Which was another influxion point and early ’70s civil rights struggle in New York City that gave rise to museums like the Museo del Barrio, like the Studio Museum in Harlem, so some things happen. And some of us who came of age at that time we really bought into the idea of museums

With the potential of being institutions of change. That’s what made us passionate, you know because we were all the warriors in that struggle. Then where we are today, and what happened in the ’80s and ’90s is quite different from where we are today. ’90s was even another inflection point

With kind of multiplicity and multiplicity of cultures and the multicultural reality especially in America. I would like all of you as museum leaders to observe and reflect on this moment, we feel it’s an inflection point, too much is going on if anything COVID has really laid bare the fissures of the society,

Things that were always there but they have laid bare. They also have made it possible as Kamini says, about potential of expansiveness of some sort, if you are to project out 10 years, where do you think the museum world will be? And where do you wish it to be?

In terms of interpretation of objects because that’s our panel, interpretation generally speaking in the museum world. So limit your conversation to interpretive aspect of where do you think the world will be 10 years from now I’ll be too old. So I don’t have to answer that question.

Kamini you’re the baby in terms of museum world, because you are a new director of a new museum, where do you think that all this is gonna lead to in 10 years from now? – No, I would be very nervous to make any projections

Vishakha, because one year ago, one and a half year ago did any of us imagine we would be where we are or the whole world would be turned on its head. So I think museums, you know, in any case they cannot be these temples of intellectual asceticism

In future, they really have to reflect a language and an interpretation that looks at the non-elite start-up society as well. And I’m not saying that we go from one extreme to the other, but as one director asked me who are you doing this for? Who are we doing this for?

So I’ll be doing this for an exclusive club or be talking to each other, or I’ll be talking to the people who visit us. So that I think is extremely important for us to do. And going forward, if we don’t only look at the interpretative aspect, but also the hybrid model

For me, I see the way forward as both the digital museum and the physical space sort of forming hybrid going ahead, because I see both of them distinct parts where it’s two parts, at least from up the whole, each has their strengths, the tools that they give us to

Be able to communicate with our audiences. So I think it’s important to address both of these and look at a hybrid model going forward – Thank you. Haidy. – In one sentence. I mean, I think what happened in COVID when museums had to shut as well as exhibition spaces,

I think is really instructive because I think too much emphasis is placed on exhibitions actually, a lot of what we’ve been talking about today has been there, but it isn’t visible. It’s the things that happen in the store rooms and then the library and archive and in offices,

And in the kind of relationship building that’s not happening through public exhibition spaces. And I think, you know, particularly in the UK it’s because museums have become so associated with kind of revenue streams from blockbuster exhibitions. That’s one of the reasons why there has been such a crisis because that seemed to disappear.

And I think we need to bring back actually this idea of museums or spaces for all these other things to, spaces where people can come. Like I think Kamini says absolutely participate in processes of the archiving and collection and research of their own cultures

And as spaces where they can learn about other people. So my final one, I think would be, I mean, Jack said in his talk, he felt optimistic about museums as spaces. And it’s hard to feel optimistic particularly when you work in with ethnographic collections it’s a very heavy history.

But my vision my curatorial dream that I was trying to kind of suggest would actually be to recuperate the good parts of the ethnographic collection without the colonialism without the extractivism, without the violence but the bit, that’s actually about the commitment to understanding the world in its most broad iteration.

And I think art just to tie it all up, art is really working against us in so many ways. And you know art has become a way out for ethnography collections. We talk to artists, we rarely reinterpret collections and they kind of make it all look better because we’re allowing them

In and we give artists authority in a way that we don’t necessarily feel comfortable giving to everyday people that haven’t had an early art training or aren’t participating in elite global art worlds. And I think we need to go back to kind of a more essence of the ethnographic

If we can separate that from it’s difficult history. – Thank you. I think in a way just you take the good bad and the ugly and make sure that we can continue to recognize it and move forward. It’s really very important. Brian, last word, and then I’ll get Jack to round this out.

– Well, I hope that in the next 10 years, that institutions whether they be flagship institutions in this country, or our tribal museums, that we are presenting Native America in a way that is representative of the contemporary voice of Native America, through that lens of knowledge of traditional knowledge and history

Of our own people. And I really hope that there will be a greater level of collaboration between institutions and source communities that needs to happen. And stewardship collections care, conservation, that these areas are also at the forefront sometime in the short-term future,

Because there is a great deal of work that needs to be done. Some understandings that need to be developed, and a mutual commitment between source communities and museums to really care for these items which are so important to our cultures. So I look forward to that continued movement. – Thank you. Jack.

– Yeah, the creativity that we prize so much, the individual creativity that is oftentimes embodied in the notions of the Renaissance artists, those are very valuable I don’t want to discredit that, but at the same time I think what’s being said is that the creativity of generations of people, the creativity of cultures,

The creativity of social groups to tackle problems that we’re facing. I’m very mindful of the clock ticking about global warming. And it’s hard for me to think about the 10 years, without thinking about the six years and change that is supposed to be the tipping point

In which things are gonna get a lot worse and the cascading impacts of fires and hurricane systems. And once in a hundred, once in a thousand year you know, occurrences, aren’t going to start combining. And our current pandemic is really a part of that. It’s a symptom of that.

So I feel that, that same creativity has to be applied in this very artistic, beautiful, joyful way, but in a way that reconnects us to the land. And I know this is an indigenous framework that I’m really just in some ways expressing and relying on the intergovernmental panel on climate change has referred

To specifically indigenous local knowledge as part of the solution that we have to embrace. And that raises profound questions about the carbon economy and extractivism and how we have to really creatively and collectively and collaboratively re-imagine what we’re doing every day, and that to me, seems like a grand creative project

That we should all be happy to take on. But again, the problem of thinking of that as an individual effort or somehow the right one person in the right one position where the right technology to solve all that, I think that’s not gonna be the answer.

So this has to be a much bigger project that we all take on. – Right. I think in a way, what you are saying is that first and foremost, let’s recognize that institutions, museums, and otherwise are part of a larger ecosystem, cultural and otherwise, therefore what is our obligation

To the survival of the planet? That’s kind of a big question. And what is our obligation to the continuing richness of this humanity of 7.7 billion people that inhabit this world. And having just on this book “World as Family” is exactly about that, which is to say,

That unless we think of this larger humanity as part of our family and in that family, we respect, we use, we have dignity, the words that number of people mentioned in the chat it is really not about just access and equity, it’s about partnership. It’s about empathy.

And it is about dignity of others that you bring into the conversation to create this larger world, that Kamini as you said, is to recognize that museums are not just collection of things, they’re about systems. They’re about other things that people don’t get to see and how do we change all of that?

So you’ve all provided out… Jack, you have something to say? – Just add in the only way we’re gonna have a chance to grapple with this is to really deal with the land and our relationship with the land. I mean, I’m learning that the U.S. soil is largely depleted

Because of the system of agriculture as really a destroyed land, the forests are being completed. So really to acknowledge and to enlarge what is alive and not to have the hierarchy in which humans are above all else, and some humans are more equal than others.

I mean, somehow we have to be able to grapple with that in a creative and profound way. – And with that, I hope that all of you who have been on this Zoom conversation have enjoyed this conversation. There’s much more to say, I know that tomorrow

Will be yet another group of fabulous panelists. So please remember to register and continue the conversation. And please join me virtually in thanking our panelists for really providing for such food of thought. Thank you very much everybody, and have a good evening. If you’re in New York, and good day

No matter where you are. Bye-bye. [ No Sound ]

#InterpretationA #Global #Dialogue #Museums #Publics

In Conversation: Interpretation

– [Dana Bishop-Root] Hi everybody. Welcome. Thank you for being here, thank you for tuning into the livestream in your home. I’m Dana Bishop-Root, Director of Education and Public Programs at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Thank you for coming here, for arriving here to this museum, this building and land that holds multiple histories,

Memories, and experiences, generations of histories, memories, and experiences. Histories, memories, and experiences both before and after borders were made. Thank you for being here tonight together, for joining in any way that you can, for bringing with you your lived experiences and knowledge and your complex and beautiful histories, welcome.

The In Conversation series began towards the beginning of the pandemic as a virtual way to share conversations between artists, curators, and our many publics, with people in their home spaces. As individuals who make the museum, we are a community of learning. The In Conversation series communicates art as a relationship we build together,

The relationships between artwork, artists, each of us, and the world. When we were imagining what the series could be and asking ourselves the question of how can museums learn and grow from what the artwork on our walls teaches us, from what artists imprint on us every time we get

To have a conversation with them? How can this learning transform us? How can we connect seemingly disparate exhibitions throughout the museum to ask public-facing questions to build language together? Alyssa did this. She responded immediately to this prompt. Through her work as a co-curator for Sharif Bey: Excavations,

She has developed public programs that do just this. The first Conversation she created centered on multiple forms of literacy, and this conversation, Interpretation, directly tied to Excavations, but it is also an opportunity to build language across and throughout the museum in all of you. Alyssa centers her work on critical care,

The vulnerability of asking questions, and facilitating exhibitions and spaces that create both self-reflection and collective discourse. They both directly acknowledge structural and internalized oppressions while creating in-between spaces, a magic of possibility and of wonder. I’m honored to introduce you all to Alyssa Velazquez, Curatorial Assistant in Decorative Arts

And Design and the co-curator of Sharif Bey: Excavations. – [Alyssa Velazquez] Good evening. Thank you all for being with us here tonight for our first in-person Conversation, informed and inspired by Sharif Bey: Excavations. I make up merely one portion of the museological team that organized and contributed time, expertise, and to be frank, heart into this exhibition.

Thank you all who are involved in its inception. On behalf of myself, the rest of the Carnegie Museum of Art, and our partners on this project, thank you, our audience, for being with us tonight. Speaking of which, I want to tip my hat to our speakers, Kilolo Luckett, founding executive director

And chief curator of ALMA|LEWIS in Pittsburgh, (audience applauds) multidisciplinary artist, Frewuhn, And founding director of The Roll Up CLT, Jessica Gaynelle Moss. I hold immense gratitude for all of you, and I know I just gave a one-liner for each of these individuals, however, their biographies are so rich and far-reaching that I really encourage everyone here to research their organizations, websites, and past collaborations, because we could honestly, and I am not kidding, spend the remainder

Of the time with their stellar bios alone. If you should need to use the restroom at any time, the bathrooms are located to the left of the main doors you came in. Emergency exits are out the main door as well, and we will be opening up our four-person conversation

For audience Q&A towards the end of our time together. This event is being livestreamed, so hello virtual audience, and it is also being recorded for posterity. Special thank you to our staff, Jordan Bohannon and Tom Fisher, running tech on both of these fronts as a means of remembering this special moment,

As well as our setup staff without whose assistance, none of this would’ve been possible. And I do believe that is all the housekeeping, so if you haven’t seen the exhibition yet or heard Sharif Bey before tonight, I wanted to show this brief clip that we produced

As part of our opening before I switch to our PowerPoint and continue our panel discussion, so bear with me as I deal with the tech switcheroo. – [Sharif Bey] As it pertains to engaging the world, we have these fundamental institutions that shape us. For me to have an exhibition at the Carnegie Museum represents the culmination of my unique orientation and journey into the arts. When I think about my earliest experiences at the museum,

One of the first things that I responded to was the idea of innate beauty. You see the Hall of Minerals, or you see the dinosaur bones, or we see the hall of birds. And then we see expressions of color and form and surface.

There should be a humility that comes out of the awesomeness of that which is already here and that was here long before us. I’ve just been especially taken by the formal qualities of the natural world, and the countless birds that are available here. I was given the support and authority to arrange them

In such a way that I would if I were painting or sculpting with these objects. You know, sometimes we have these fragments of history and those of us artists who are inspired by the circumstances revolving around the mystery of these objects have to kinda fill in the blanks.

– [Alyssa] When I think about these opening monologues, I frequently struggle with which strain of thought to travel. In my mind, everything is connected, which is why between Sharif’s sound clip and some of the work in the gallery highlighted in that clip, when developing a series of conversations,

I knew one of the themes that was visible but had the potential for greater legibility was this behemoth term, interpretation, whether it be the interpretation of ancestral history or the adornment of a form of wall base necklace or a bone, as pictured here in the pendant piece to the exhibition’s text.

In its label, we quote a phrase that’s been important to Sharif by the Romanian sculptor, Constantin Brancusi, which is, “When you see a fish, you don’t think of its scales, do you? “You think of its speed, its floating, “flashing body seen through the water. “If I made fins and eyes and scales,

“I would arrest its movement, “give a pattern or shape of reality, “but I just want the flash of its spirit.” Like Brancusi, Bey often elides fidelity in his work, the bone-like connectors of Bey’s conceptual necklace are built with an acute sense of metaphor or interpretation.

As Sharif says, “I’ll leave certain things to the creator, “for lack of a better expression. “I’m not as interested in capturing those things “as I want to approximate or suggest things. “The anatomy isn’t as important as the broader expression.” As in the studio photograph on the right,

There are mass sketches of fish scales, fins, and eyes out of scale, and broadly expressed. Each of the speakers with us tonight has an artistic expression and practice that is broader than Sharif Bey: Excavations. As you’ll see throughout the various presentations, there are only a select number of images of Sharif’s work

Because tonight is really about our speakers and their composite of practices, anthropological, historical, and cultural, in which we view not the scale to scale ratio, if you will, of interpreting and responding to the work itself, but that Sharif Bey and his resulting exhibition serve as a portal of entry

Where we can discuss pedagogical interpretations of artistic praxis. So tonight, we embody just a Brancusian flash of the show’s spirit. And with that potential never-before-used adjective, I am gonna move (audience members laugh) to join these fabulous conversationalists in what I’m sure will be a spirited discussion, and I’m just so excited, but Kilolo,

I remember the first time I met you was actually at the opening of Sharif Bey: Excavations, and I remember us being in such reverential awe of both the turnout and the juxtaposition of the works in the museum’s collections and Sharif’s own work. I wonder if you might start us off tonight

With your own professional and personal interpretation of the value of the visibility of Sharif’s representation and reinterpretation of these spaces and works of art in Pittsburgh. – [Kilolo Luckett] Great, thank you so much, and thanks for inviting me. (audience applauds) And I’ve just been so joyous

In our conversations over the past few months virtually, so it’s wonderful to be in person with you all. So good evening everybody. – [Audience] Hi Kilolo. – [Kilolo] Great, great. Good to see you all, good to be here. And so I’m just gonna take you on a little journey through my artistic practice

And my relationship and inspiration from Sharif. And so I am the founding Executive Director and Chief Curator of ALMA|LEWIS. It’s two names, Alma Thomas and Norman Lewis. They were both abstract artists, and Norman Lewis actually had a presence here in Pittsburgh because he was here from 1955 for the Carnegie International.

And so here you have just a little overview of what my newly found organization that’s only a couple miles away from here, ALMA|LEWIS, and what we do. We have a residency, we have a gallery, we have a Black archive of books, and we just really wanna welcome people in

To experience that virtually and in person. And so here are the two inaugural artists, Marvin Toure on the left and Amani Lewis on the right. Amani is a painter, printmaker, photographer, mixed-media artist, and Marvin Toure is a multidisciplinary artist, and he lives here in Pittsburgh, and Amani is based in Baltimore.

So this is Marvin in his studio, and it’s just really wonderful to be able to center one’s practice through experimentation, and that’s one of the core tenets of what we do at ALMA|LEWIS here. And Fre was really kind of enough to come and spend a little time with us today

And got to see not Marvin, but Murjoni Merriweather who’s a sculptor. This is just some more of Marvin’s work. He’s here in Pittsburgh, and he moved here from New York two years, a little over, little under two years ago, and you can see with his practice, he works in various different scales,

And a lot of his work has to do with memory and loss, and what it is that we find in between. And this is Amani’s work which is up. You have three days, or two days now to see it. The last day’s this Saturday, Reimagining Care.

Amani delved into his family’s archive of photographs and really did a much more, I would say, in-depth way of looking at his family through the eyes of his matrilineal line, five generations back. And these are some works in our gallery, large-scale prints that Amani did. This is all experimentation.

This is a new body of work all on archival paper, and you’ll see kind of some of the work down here in the lower portion here of how Amani has worked with some of the, in learning more about these photographs and talking to and interviewing his family,

And so they were basically through oral history and through these images, Amani has learned more and more about his Jamaican ancestry. And in listening to Sharif and his, and the video and him talking about him adding to history and looking at what isn’t there but also that is present,

That’s something that really informs my practice in what I do. And I’ve been working with Amani for the past four years right out of Amani going to MICA, and Amani’s really, has bloomed as an artist, and Amani actually knows Sharif, so that’s another reason why I have these images of Amani,

Because you’ll see in, just shortly, a show that I put together with Sharif and Amani and a couple of other artists in Pittsburgh. So this is a show that I did called Familiar Boundaries. Infinite Possibilities. at the August Wilson Center. I helped them for about three years, as their consulting curator,

Elevate their visual arts programming, and so I had local, national, and international artists, 12 of them, take over the entire building during the, in concert with the last International, and so you have some of the artists here on the left, from Martha Jackson Jarvis who’s from D.C. to Shikeith

Who lives here, to Nakeya Brown who through her being here, connected her to Silver Eye, and she just was in the Radial Survey, so once again, centering what I do here in Pittsburgh but pushing that out to the rest of the world and also bringing people here to connect

With what’s going on in Pittsburgh. These are just some of the highlights. This is Tsedaye Makonnen, she’s right there, she’s of Ethiopian descent, and she did this beautiful sculpture, this light called You Give Life, dedicated to her aunt. And here’s some other works in the exhibition with Njena Surae Jarvis,

50th Anniversary Dedication to the Black Panthers, and the egungun, Yoruba, blending those two cultural connections to create this energy sculpture called E. GUN GUN. So it’s E. GUN GUN with the Black Panthers, so it’s just pretty powerful what she did, and we did a movement piece with that. Alrighty, 2020, I don’t know

If anybody saw that exhibition that was here at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I got to work with the curators there and did some programming in the galleries and I wanted to kinda take us out of the theater and really activate the spaces in the gallery with the art,

And so I worked with a lot of local art historians and artists to really pick some of the works and talk more about how, from their perspective, and you’ll see, I also engaged two of the security guards who were also artists, and so they picked some of the work to talk about,

And it was a really wonderful experience because visitors got to not only hear from curators, they got to hear from people that actually worked in, that really were stewards of the work beyond the curators, and I always just thought that that was really unusual that we never really engage those people

Because they are the ones that really hold space and safeguard the work, and so listening to Rah Dees talk about Teenie Harris and some other works. By Any Means, I did this, I don’t even remember, I think five, six years ago. I was questioning why living in Pittsburgh,

Why didn’t we see Black curators? Why don’t we see Black arts writers? So I was like, let me just invite those people to come up in Pittsburgh and connect with folks here that are interested in doing that work. So I brought in my friend Rujeko Hockley

Who’s now at the Whitney Museum, and my two friends here, Jessica Lynne and Taylor Aldridge who started ARTS.BLACK, centering Black writing and talking about art criticism from a Black perspective. And I also brought in some other people from Texas, Nathaniel Donnett, and Nakeya, there’s just a whole bunch of wonderful artists,

And we had Alisha Wormsley and D.S. Kinsel, they were all in conversation. And so that was just a really wonderful way for all of us to get together and visit Thad Mosley, everybody knows Thad Mosley, right? And so we got to hear about Thad and his practice,

And also we went out and visited with BOOM Concepts and a whole bunch of other organizations that I won’t get into. We actually looked through the collection, that’s Senga Nengudi’s work right up there. We went to the Warhol, talked to them, talked about how Warhol has influenced so many different works

And people in their writings and their perspective. As you can tell, that’s Eric Shiner up there, he’s no longer here, this was several years ago. Also, I did, I started a group called Black Artists and Arts Administrator Meetup, and this is an older picture,

But just to give you all some kinda foundational work of, okay, this just didn’t happen overnight, I’ve been working at this for a while. This is probably almost eight years old, this image, and some people met and fell in love and got married. Naomi Chambers, if you’re out there, I’m not sure,

But her and Darnell met through this meetup and they’re now (laughs) married with two kids, so art can bring about love in very special ways. (laughs) So, and then this is a show that I worked on called, I curated in New York called Conjuring Wholeness

In the Wake of Rupture, and you can see Sharif Bey, one of his works back there and Stephen Towns and Amani Lewis were all in this show, and so we got to talk about each other’s work in the process, and so it’s not only just you talking about your work,

It’s wonderful to have other people lend their perspective. And then, that’s just Amani talking about her work, and that’s Sharif and some of his work, and then Sharif had a show at Concept Art Gallery, and Murjoni Merriweather and Amani, when they were here doing site visits,

I took them over there, and they just are fan, crush on Sharif, and Sharif has yet to meet Murjoni, and we’re gonna make that happen when Sharif’s back in town, because Murjoni works in clay, and she absolutely adores Sharif. And then this is Sharif

When he was in the Renwick show a few years ago in D.C. that I got to see, and I actually took one of his little clay classes, so Sharif knows I’m always about archiving, and so when I told him, “Oh yeah, “I have all these pictures of you,” he was like,

“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this,” but he’s such a phenomenal teacher, a phenomenal teacher, and so I just wanna leave you with two of my favorite pieces in your show, of this kind of intergenerational works. The one on the left is of Sharif’s father from the ’60s,

And then Sharif making this wonderful work, and I just love the conversation that is happening and I think about my family and the work and the way in which Sharif talks about his work with his family line, and then also looking at these collections and integrating them.

So that’s all I have, so thank you very much. – [Alyssa] Thank you. If you wouldn’t mind passing. (audience applauds) Oh yes, please, clap, I’m a big clapper. Passing the clicker over to Frewuhn. I think in addition to the images that you are showing with all these wonderful people,

It’s reminding me of how self-centered this show is, which I use that phrase purposefully in face of the negative connotations to not brush over the circumstances Sharif overcame to develop his own visual form of storytelling, which was largely self-taught. And Frewuhn, I know, as a group that we’ve discussed briefly offline,

Your own self-initiated learning, but I wonder if you could share with us more of your interpretation of self as laboratory. – [Frewuhn] Yes, can you hear me? Okay, I didn’t know if I was on or not. Hi everyone, I’m Frewuhn. It’s been a pleasure to be in conversation so far

With these lovely ladies who are very respected in their fields and it’s just a pleasure to be here tonight, to be able to talk about my work in conversation with Sharif Bey’s Excavations. I was not previously familiar with Sharif Bey’s work, but since I’ve been invited,

I’ve had the opportunity to dive in and listen and to be able to sit with a lot of Sharif’s understanding of self-initiated pedagogy, which is something that is very intrinsic to my work with liberatory practice. Most recently, I was able to be at August Wilson,

And I was able to sort of perform what it means to be on a trajectory of liberatory practice through nu-hymns, and my work is concerned primarily with, how do we begin with the site of self as the site of protest?

And so the work that I was able to engage in has come out of me being able to sit with myself, to be able to sit with a lot of my background which is fringe to the art world. I’m in the music industry, I’m in cultural anthropology,

I have a background in education, history, so a lot of my work is not, it just overlaps in a lot of ways, and so, okay, so this is a photo of my residency that I was participating in in 2020 at the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston. This is a intergenerational conversation

With Patricia Hogan Williams who is the principal at the Imani School for young children and Viktor Ewing who is an installation artist and an archivist, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with Patricia who was my principal when I was at the Imani School.

We were able to sit in dialogue about protest, and how education itself is an act of protest. When I was listening to Sharif, what stuck out to me the most was his creation out of scarcity and being able to use pedagogy as a site of synthesis, to be able to sit with practice

For those who really need it, whereas there may be limitations imposed on us by race, gender, class, sexuality, all of these things. So for me, I’ve just been able to sit with the idea that in order to ignite any sort of change, we have to have practices in place daily, so for me,

Daily devotions and being able to use my work from working with organizations in Texas, like the Awakenings Movement which is an arts-convergent church, and using my background in theology to sort of cross-pollinate that information. This image here is at Fisk University. I was able to conduct a workshop

During the 90th Annual Spring Arts Festival, where I was working with students that were in various disciplines, English, arts, I was able to work with local community organizations on a two-day workshop where we were able to begin using our own devotional practices and being able to sit with other work

From literary giants such as Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and so on and so forth to be able to begin asking really critical questions and doing the work that sometimes is scary to do to be able to begin to look at yourself and be able to examine what the spirit needs,

What the spirit is craving for, these sort of self-excavations, so to speak. And so this took place over the course of two days and these students were able to, as a result of engaging in this process, get a four credit hour credit for participating in this. So this is a prime example

Of what self-initiated practice can amount to. This is an image of sort of a most, it’s the most recent project that I was working on with the Black Arts District one-off in the cryptocurrency space, in the metaverse space, and this is a mockup of Frewuhn’s Freedom Summer Mixtape Temple,

Which is based on the work that I did at Contemporary Arts Museum which is based off of Freedom Summer. And so during 2020, I was talking to some of my musician friends, they were sending me music, sending me tracks and I was home, this is right around the time of the riots,

Protests that were going on, George Floyd, and we were sitting at home, grounded, sort of just feeling helpless at the time, and a friend of mine sent me some music, and I was singing along to it and something was telling me, this is an anthem.

Something about this is giving me hope in a time where I’m feeling really lost, really dark, and from that, we were able to write a song, and that song gave birth to Side A, Side B, eventually becoming my work that I was able to sit with

At the Contemporary Arts Museum for about a week, just fleshing out what liberatory practice has really looked like for me personally. And it resulted in me being able to participate in the Black Arts District, having my own temple and having the sound installation on display in this temple,

And this temple is based off of a temple that actually exists in India that was built over a site that was, experienced drought. They built it over this site that had an irrigation system so there’s water all around it and there’s a bridge

That sort of serves as a link between the past, present, and future. And for me, just my presence in the metaverse space alone is sort of an example of what, how none of this is really linear. Our process and our trajectory toward liberatory practice is an act

Of futurism, but it’s also an act of protest at the same time. And this is an image at, from the August Wilson performance from the NuHymes, New Anthems performance, where I’m basically using the process as the product. A lot of time, in music and in visual arts,

We’re expected to have a complete process, a complete product by the end of the process, but the performance itself is me being able to engage with this liberatory act of being able to fuse past, present, sacred, secular, moving beyond these binaries and being able to create new work as a result.

And so just sitting with Sharif’s work has helped me be able to understand and be affirmed by the process of excavating, auto-archeology, being able to use self as the site of the first, most violent protest that we could engage in, and being able to in turn turn that work out

And be able to offer it as an opportunity for people to see themselves, not necessarily in context of a larger movement, but being able to really examine, what does it mean to have a daily resistance? What does it mean to engage in protest in a way

That is disruptive even in our own lives, and how we’re constantly being able to identify ourselves as the site of oppression, to be able to move through this work? And I think I’m gonna hand it over to you Jessica. I’m getting a little tongue-tied. Thank you. – [Alyssa] Thank you so much.

That picture of the metaverse reminded me of that imagery of a portal of entry that I mentioned at the beginning, which when I think when we visualize that, I think most of us picture a world on the other side of that dimensional threshold with or without people,

And Jessica, you’ve done so much work with artists on interpreting professional and personal intersectional needs and creating communities, and really opportunities that speak to this. I’m so excited to hear from you. – [Jessica Gaynelle Moss] Thank you, Alyssa. I mean, I feel like first I have

To express extreme gratitude for being invited here today, and also for all of you all for coming out as it’s beginning to rain and a little chilly outside. I also just wanna acknowledge that the care that is being exhibited in this space is not only in theory but in practice

And I see that in how Dana so eloquently uplifted you, Alyssa, and your work, and so I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that and express gratitude and sincere warmth for being in this space today. I see how this team cares for itself and I think that that’s something that is,

That I will interpret as I share my work today, but I feel like is inspirational, and so I just wanna uplift that in this space. I’m also just experiencing so much gratitude by sitting next to these brilliant women. Kilolo and Frewuhn, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us

In this space. It feels so warm in here. Okay, so I just want to acknowledge that I didn’t get here by myself, like many of us haven’t. I came from all of the places and the people, and I wanna acknowledge the countless people who have helped shape me. That could be my parents.

Here, this is my mom on the left, teaching at the Community Learning Center in the Hill District, and my dad on the right being himself on the streets of Sugar Top, and without these two people, I don’t think that I would, I know, confidently,

That I wouldn’t be who I am and so I always want to, like Sharif, uplift my parents and put them in this space, and so let’s start there. I started my journey as a student at Carnegie Mellon University where I studied painting and drawing, and often when I think about the evolution

Of my work, I went from this gesture of painting on a canvas to this gesture of rolling paint on walls. I, like Sharif, I think am just really inspired by thinking about excavation, working with the resources that are available and ultimately creating new tools and resources.

I’m really inspired by this idea of working with fragments of history, this idea that Kilolo was talking about, by any means necessary, and I wanna uplift what Frewuhn said about this creation out of scarcity. I’m really interested in using the materials that exist to create new worlds, and so what we’re seeing here,

When I was a student in undergrad, it was cheaper for me to have a mortgage than it was for me to live on campus at CMU, and so I purchased my first house at 19. I had a bunch of homies who were in the art school

With me come and help me rehab the space, which meant we drunk wine and watched HDTV and then would try to tile a floor, so it was a mess and you can see some of that mess and that evolution and how it evolved, but I really considered the house and the materials

That I was working with to be in the same way that I would work with paint or clay, thinking about how we could use what exist and make it turn into new forms, so the homies that helped me build the house can help, they lived in the house with me,

And we would work on rehabbing this space as we inhabited it. That first seed led to a second seed which led to a third seed, and now I own and manage three different properties in the Hill District that are affordable housing for Black students and artists living in the area. Wow. (audience applauds)

After I graduated from CMU, I went to grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and this was my first introduction, I was a arts administration and policy and management student, this is my first introduction to Theaster Gates, who is incredibly relevant to my practice.

I was doing the thing, just doing the thing and not knowing what I was doing, and then you meet the master of doing the thing that you’re doing and you learn what it is that you’re doing, and so Theaster is the brain genius who works with, very similar to Sharif, clay,

But also multiple different media, and especially place and people, and so when I first graduated, I worked as the program manager at the Rebuild Foundation in Chicago. I opened up the Stony Island Arts Bank, which started off looking like this after 50 years of being ignored, and after a $5 million investment,

Turned out to be a site for contemporary art in the South Side of Chicago. The idea is instead of asking people to come to one of the world’s most renowned collections at the Art Institute, how can we bring that to them? How can we put that in our own communities

And how can we build resources in the places that we live for us? So that was incredibly relevant to my practice. From 14 through 17, I worked with Theaster managing the Black Artists Retreat, which brings over 300 artists from all over the world to the South Side of Chicago to be in community

With each other. Sometimes this is us like eating barbecue and having barbecue, I remember sitting next to Carrie Mae Weems who got barbecue sauce on her face, in between her and Theaster, but also it’s a space for dedicated research and thought. We have a number of different programs

And events during the three-day convening that are just meant to bring us together, and sometimes there’s a real, there’s a priority on the chill, right? Of course it can be about scholarship and fine arts, but can we just be together? And can it just be that?

And so I really appreciated that about my time with Theaster. I moved from Chicago and became the senior leadership at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, North Carolina. A lot of my work was curatorial, but it was also deeply rooted in community engagement.

That’s Jordan Casteel giving a lecture at the public library. This is me giving a tour with the director of the museum and her husband, I mean, excuse me, the founder of the museum and her husband. It was founded in 1974 by two Black women and so that felt particularly relevant to my practice.

I would give tours to student groups, we would bring the museum outside and into the public, and that was just a really great way to think about how I could expand my practice into institutions. Then I went to law school, at the University of Pittsburgh right here around the corner.

This is me popping bottles when I graduated. This is the Black Law Student Association which I was the director of, and that also was important to me and my practice because there were, there will always be opportunities to defend why we need the spaces that we need,

Why it’s important for us to have our own spaces, and this is relevant because we see, even in terms of religious gatherings, our spaces are a threat. Black bodies are just a threat, and so there’s an increasingly importance on us having our own spaces for the safety and healing of our own people,

And so that is an incredibly important part of my work. Then I got my toe wet in philanthropy. This is Celeste Smith and Shaunda McDill who are two mentors of mine. They work at the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowment on a program called Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh,

And I’ve worked with these two women for the past two years and finding ways to support Black artists locally. We gave away $6 million in the past 10 years to Black artists in this region, and without these two Black women and doing that work,

It would not be possible, and so I just wanna make sure to uplift their names in this space. One of the things that I did when I was at the Endowments and working with institutions is figuring out how the work can extend just beyond me, right,

And so in 2018, when I was in residence at Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, I created a scholarship that supported Black, female, high school students who were interested in pursuing your career in arts administration. This was an unrestricted honorarium, an opportunity to curate an exhibition at the space,

As well as an integration into the rest of the programs and opportunities that the resident artists would have a chance to involve themselves in. I built upon that program when I was at the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowment, and so now, every year, the Above Ground Railroad Grant offers three Black students

Between the ages of 18 to 25 who are pursuing a career in arts administration an unrestricted grant of $10,000, and that will continue, it started last year and it will continue in perpetuity, and I’m so excited about that. I think a lot about space, not space like this but yes

But also space like physical spaces. And this is relevant because I think about how historically in this country, Black people, people who look like me, there have been intentional legal mechanisms that have been put in place to prevent us from owning land because we were previously deemed property,

And so what does it mean then for Black people to take ownership of said property, and so that led me onto this work with The Roll Up. So in Charlotte, North Carolina, there’s a space, it’s a duplex, that’s it on the left, that has a two-car garage,

And whenever the garage is rolled up, that’s a sign for the community, for you to literally roll up and see whatever action, program, event is happening in this space. So we invite artists for six months to a year to inhabit the space. We provide free housing, transportation, food and meal stipend,

As well as an opportunity to engage with the program, or excuse me, with the residents. The only ask of the program is that you’re a good neighbor. There’s no expectations. I’m not interested in you creating a body of work or the labor that’s affiliated with your practice, I just wanna set you up.

I want you to chill. I want you to learn from the livery that’s in there, I want you to meet your neighbors, I want you to invite people over to the house to have meals, and so we offer 15 to $30,000 for residents for the six months to a year that they’re there.

We can see Shan Wallace here in the studio space inside of the house, giving a lecture to neighbors. We see Zun Lee, one of our previous residents, providing an open house and engaging people in his practice. We’ve turned the garage into an exhibition space so that artists can pop up works in progress

And invite people over to the space to have conversations and be in dialogue with them, and we also work with a number of different organizations and institutions in the city to be able for them to be a resource for the artist while they’re in residence. And then I had a baby, ay! This is me upstairs in the galleries breastfeeding my daughter Max when she was 12, when she was about a year. There she is more recently. She loves Dana, that’s for sure. But that work really made me think differently about what it means to be a Black woman and be a Black mother.

I had the privilege and the blessing to work with an artist whose name has already been uplifted in this space, Alisha Wormsley, Alisha B. Wormsley, and Alisha (sighs) and I had a meeting, we had a coffee, and I think I showed up eight months pregnant and she was like, “Perfect.

“I wanna talk to you about this idea I have.” And the idea was to create a residency that would support Black mothers who are artists in the Pittsburgh region. This residency is four-tiered. We have a program that supports mothers so that they can practice in their homes.

We have a program that supports a mother who is a community liaison and can invite our visiting artists to work with our current residents. We also have a visiting artist and I am so honored today to be joined, and you all should be too in the presence of Renee Cox,

Art icon in the back row, who is currently our Sibyls Shrine visiting artist and will be here in Pittsburgh until March the third, and it is an honor, excuse me, March the fifth, there’s two more days for you to get at Renee.

It is such an honor to have you in the city, Renee, and for you to be a part of the Sibyls Shrine program. It not only benefits me and the moms who are a part of the program to be able to learn from you and your experience,

But it is really a win for the whole city, so thanks for being here tonight. Of course. That’s it. That’s it. Thank you guys. I hope you enjoyed that. – [Alyssa] Thank you all so graciously for sharing your practice. I always kind of begin these Q&As with a question based off of the topic at hand, which of course was interpretation, and I wonder if all of you could answer, in your own practice,

What is your definition of interpretation? Big question. – [Kilolo] Since I went first, I would say two or three. – [Frewuhn] I think for me, interpretation is opportunity. It’s synthesis. It’s being able to combine your genius with the existing source energy to create a new product.

I try to steer away from that word, but maybe a new way of seeing, a new perception, a way of being that can live in a space for others to engage with beyond the moment, maybe beyond your lifetime. So yeah, synthesis and opportunity. – [Kilolo] Jessica, you crack me up. (laughs)

I would say fellowship is starting with the inside of how aligning with yourself and how you are an extension to everybody else, and that’s something I think about my mother, everything that you do, what you touch, it touches somebody else and there’s a ripple effect.

And so with interpretation, I’m always about the dictionary and looking beyond what the dictionary says, because interpretation is the way in which you see and feel, hear, navigate, and so that is so expansive, and so I think about my formal educations of learning, and you’re always working within this prescribed way,

This framework, right? You’re in the box. And then you wanna rebel and you wanna look at like, oh, okay, this is my foundation of in the box, and then I’m always like, I wanna see what’s outside the box. I wanna interpret what it feels like and looks like to be outside the box.

And then moving away from the box to, there is no box, and I wanna say that this is something with my practice and the artists that I work with, and this is something that I just wanna give a little shout-out to Marvin Toure because he’s constantly talking about, there is no box.

And so the way in which we see things, it might not be so legible when you are actually learning something, that it’s gonna have to take time to really reflect, and reflection is also part of how I see what interpretation is, so it’s fellowship and it is reflection.

– [Jessica] Thank you for letting me go last. Interpretation, maybe translation? Thinking about the way that everybody speaks a different language, and how often, our words don’t mean the same thing. But that gives us space, and maybe that’s an opportunity, Frewuhn, to think about how we can listen more deeply

To each other, not make assumptions, ask questions. And then, I do this thing in therapy (chuckles) where my therapist will repeat back what she thinks I said, and that translation helps me because it gives me an opportunity to either affirm or deny to move forward in our conversation,

And that’s a tool and a resource that I think has been incredibly important to my practice. But I think about this idea of questions. One of the things Sharif talked about was he was raised in a household that really supported him asking questions, and I second that.

I think that was always something that my parents provided in the space of my upbringing, was a curiosity, and so yeah, maybe translating. – [Alyssa] That’s beautiful. I saw in your various presentations for all three of you, creative spaces, and while you have you desperate practices,

You are all place-makers in your own way. How do you see these places and spaces that you continue to create, shaping artists’ interpretations of the art world? – [Jessica] Okay, I’ll go first. I think as artists, we have to give ourself an opportunity to imagine and create new worlds.

That’s the freedom that comes with art. So I don’t know, Alyssa, if it’s making up this space for artists as much as it is giving an artist an opportunity to develop what it is that they see to realize the vision that they have, and I think

That that’s something maybe that’s unique between all, or similar between all of our practices too, right? Kilolo, I’m so inspired by your care and your generosity of your energy and time that you provide to our artist community, it’s something that I think is incredibly inspiring, and it’s something

That I think that I would like to see emulated in institutions, and with other cultural workers and leaders, and I think that ability to not have to be cornered or pigeoned by the four corners of anything but an opportunity to scratch free, a tabula rasa and create what we imagine feels really inspiring,

And could not be authored by any one but requires the penmanship of many, and so yeah. – [Kilolo] Alright, thank you Jessica. I think about the space that I’ve always wanted to be in is being unencumbered, and I always feel, when you walk into ALMA|LEWIS, I don’t care what’s going on,

You are walking into a space that you are truly free, and so whatever else is going on, or where my mind is, I’m stressed out or whatever, I know when I walk in, that that’s a safe space, and that’s how I’m, that extension is very much,

That’s the embodiment of how I wanna navigate and aspire to be, and that’s what I want every artist, creative person coming into this space, to truly feel that you are free, you are unencumbered, and so I am not judging you, we are looking at your work

And what it is that you’re wanting to do and experiment and research and think through, and today when Fre came in into Murjoni’s studio and you were talking to her, and she has to uncondition, unlearn this whole fast pace of making something for this deadline.

I have this show coming up, I gotta make, so you literally are in this space of really absorbing, reflecting, thinking through what it is that you really wanna do or have that time to think through some things, and just kind of unclutter what it is that we tend

To have to do, being in this world right now. – [Frewuhn] Yeah, that was a treat to be able to be with you all earlier, and just talk through sitting with making mistakes, well what is perceived as mistakes, having the space in the room to quote unquote fail.

I think I’ve been extremely blessed to be in a position that a lot of my knowledge as a performing artist and a student, student teacher, what have you, have been in spaces of, experimental spaces. And COVID presented an opportunity for me in particular

To be able to engage the museum as a laboratory space. SoundLab was something that I kinda stumbled into. It’s one of my exhibiting spaces, but it’s also, it’s been a space for me to have the freedom to fall, and maybe the freedom to fly and to be curious

And to collaborate and to create a trajectory for myself that is solely based on getting free. That’s just the personification and embodiment of my namesake, and my desire is that the folks that I get to collaborate with, the institutions that I get to collaborate with,

Give me room to practice and sit with my practice and sit my process, because I have a lot of questions, I have a lot of inklings, I have a lot of notions about things, and I’ve sat in the academy long enough to know that you don’t take every,

You don’t absorb everything that you’re learning in these classrooms, and you’re engaging with artwork in museum spaces, but that isn’t it. Those four corners or those white walls are not the only way to be with that work and experience that work. And so being able

To have these institutions sort of in a way reparations, giving us the opportunity to use institution as the very space to reimagine new ways of being in them from a non-colonized perspective or embodiment. Yeah, what does it mean to get out of while being inside

Of the space, and having the freedom to do that, and Sharif, in his lecture, in his conversation, was talking about without surveillance, and freedom and responsibility, having the freedom to wander and wonder. And those just sat with me ’cause that’s all I’m interested in, is the play.

– [Alyssa] I know Jessica and both Fre, you mentioned institutions, and you’ve all worked with museums, around museums, and are still in collaboration with museums, so I’m curious how you see this process of interpretation, the exercise of explanation or opinion of what something means shows up in museums,

And to what extent are museums expected to explain what something means, especially when you have an artist such as Sharif who is himself such an avid and active interpreter? – [Jessica] Is that Cauleen Smith still in the entryway? Cauleen said, “How can we expect “to decolonize colonized spaces,” right?

This is the fabric of these institutions, right? We can think about looting or hoarding or this cultivation of resources that don’t belong to you, right, but I think Sharif says that, “How can we,” let me just look so I’m not saying it wrong,

“How can we think about the,” oh my gosh, this is what, I wish you could see what my notebook looks like. (laughs) Just the idea of the colonized materials, right, like working with these birds, working with these institutions, working with these materials that don’t belong to us, right?

How do we think about working to make something new with something that has never belonged to us, like the ownership aspect of it? I don’t know if it’s the responsibility of the institution, but it is interesting to think about the institution as a tool with all of us as artists

And makers that can build and reimagine and play with and explore. I think that’s up to us though. – [Kilolo] These institutions, the public ones, they forget that they are public. And I think all museums should be admission free actually. And that you will get just a wide variety of people coming in here, and I know that the museum was free at one time, Thad Mosley told me, the museum was free one time. Not on RAD Day, but he said for years, this is decades ago,

But I think it’s really up to us to really help in defining the evolution of museums and public spaces. ‘Cause nothing is fixed. We are always in this constant movement. And I’d hope that nobody wants to be stuck and left behind, always thinking about this veracity of learning, just the consumption of knowledge

In so many different forms, so I’ve worked in a lot of institutions. I mean, I did my fair share of unpaid internships here in college. (laughs) I worked multiple jobs so I could do an unpaid internship, but I know that that’s hopefully going away, that everybody,

When they do have an internship, that it is paid, ’cause that’s really important. So I think that there’s some just foundational things that we forget as human beings that really fortify us and we think too much about how what foundation, what sponsorship is gonna do for us,

And we lose our sight on what really is at the core of all of us sitting in this room is, we’re very curious and you wanted to come here and support this institution and the people up here, and I think that that’s something that we just really need

To make that at the forefront of all the decisions that we make, and I don’t think that that is just something naive to say. I do think that that is an essential thing and how we should move forward together. And I don’t know if I really answered your question,

But what you were saying, Jessica, just really sat with me, so I needed to expand on that. – [Frewuhn] That’s interpretation at its best. Snaps. And I’m not gonna even really address it ’cause since you asked it, it has now taken on an entirely new form and shape for me,

So I’m just gonna speak to just the work that we’re in, we’re in a moment right now that is critical because it’s a reconstruction moment, so that means that we do have a responsibility to redefine and reassert what value these institutions hold for us, and we do that I guess by,

I guess holding institutions accountable to use the space as a place for inquiry, for dreaming, for imagining, because in order to, these institutions didn’t take five years to construct. We’re talking about hundreds of years in the making, and there are a lot of people that are vested in these institutions still standing,

Regardless if the initial intention no longer serves a purpose in the current space and time, and so we’re going to need as much time to undo as it has taken to do. And what that looks like, I mean I guess my, how I’ve been asserted in that context has been

To be able to have the freedom to imagine, to play, to have conversation, to have intergenerational dialogue, to build bridges, to sit with local artists, to sit with tenured artists, because essentially, artists are the gatekeepers and the holders of archive and memory, and what’s taking place now is a lot of unlearning

And undoing and forgetting, and activation of rememory, ancestral, spirit, intuitive, indigenous, a lot of things that have not been important and at the center of the conversation that now are being reasserted as a result of the work of reconstruction that needs to happen. So I think it is a responsibility of institutions now

To give the space, just give it. Open your doors and allow artists to come in and do what they do, regardless if there is a product at the end of that. – I love this, and it makes me think of when you said the door,

This knocking of the door and no one answers, right, and you knock on the door again and no one answers, and so for how long am I gonna wait at the door? And then maybe it’s time for me to think about building my own house, right,

And that gives, that aligns with this opportunity of, this idea of power, right, in that we don’t have to continue to wait for, but what happens when we take what we have and our own resources and our own assets and build it for us, right?

So what happens when we no longer understand these spaces as being the peak space, but we work with what we have to uplift our own people in our own spaces to see them in that light, right? – [Alyssa] Absolutely. I agree with whoever said that in the crowd, absolutely. Well, thank all of you for being with us this evening. I know I didn’t pull any punches with my questions, so I also appreciate in full gratitude our speakers this evening. Thank you for your presence.

It has been such a joy and an honor to share a stage with you and to be able to commune with you in person on a show that continues to bring people, disciplines, ways of thinking, and theory together in wonderfully nuanced ways such as this evening. So thank you everyone and good night.

– [Jessica] Thank you.

#Conversation #Interpretation

A brief history of the devil – Brian A. Pavlac

Satan, the beast crunching sinners’ bones in his subterranean lair. Lucifer, the fallen angel raging against the established order. Mephistopheles, the trickster striking deals with unsuspecting humans. These three divergent devils are all based on Satan of the Old Testament,

An angelic member of God’s court who torments Job in the Book of Job. But unlike any of these literary devils, the Satan of the Bible was a relatively minor character, with scant information about his deeds or appearance.

So how did he become the ultimate antagonist, with so many different forms? In the New Testament, Satan saw a little more action: tempting Jesus, using demons to possess people, and finally appearing as a giant dragon who is cast into hell. This last image particularly inspired medieval artists and writers,

Who depicted a scaled, shaggy-furred creature with overgrown toenails. In Michael Pacher’s painting of St. Augustine and the Devil, the devil appears as an upright lizard— with a second miniature face glinting on his rear and. The epitome of these monster Satans appeared in Italian poet Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno.”

Encased in the ninth circle of hell, Dante’s Satan is a three-headed, bat-winged behemoth who feasts on sinners. But he’s also an object of pity: powerless as the panicked beating of his wings only encases him further in ice. The poem’s protagonist escapes from hell by clambering over Satan’s body,

And feels both disgust and sympathy for the trapped beast— prompting the reader to consider the pain of doing evil. By the Renaissance, the devil started to assume a more human form. Artists painted him as a man with cloven hooves and curling horns inspired by Pan, the Greek god of the wild.

In his 1667 masterpiece “Paradise Lost,” English poet John Milton depicted the devil as Lucifer, an angel who started a rebellion on the grounds that God is too powerful. Kicked out of heaven, this charismatic rebel becomes Satan, and declares that he’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.

Milton’s take inspired numerous depictions of Lucifer as an ambiguous figure, rather than a purely evil one. Milton’s Lucifer later became an iconic character for the Romantics of the 1800s, who saw him as a hero who defied higher power in pursuit of essential truths, with tragic consequences.

Meanwhile, in the German legend of Doctor Faust, which dates to the 16th century, we get a look at what happens when the devil comes to Earth. Faust, a dissatisfied scholar, pledges his soul to the devil in exchange for bottomless pleasure. With the help of the devil’s messenger Mephistopheles,

Faust quickly seizes women, power, and money— only to fall into the eternal fires of hell. Later versions of the story show Mephistopheles in different lights. In Christopher Marlowe’s account, a cynical Doctor Faustus is happy to strike a deal with Mephistopheles. In Johann Wolfgang van Goethe’s version,

Mephistopheles tricks Faust into a grisly deal. Today, a Faustian bargain refers to a trade that sacrifices integrity for short-term gains. In stagings of Goethe’s play, Mephistopheles appeared in red tights and cape. This version of the devil was often played as a charming trickster— one that eventually paraded through comic books,

Advertising, and film in his red suit. These three takes on the devil are just the tip of the iceberg: the devil continues to stalk the public imagination to this day, tempting artists of all kinds to render him according to new and fantastical visions.

#history #devil #Brian #Pavlac