Film and Book Reviews

Christianity's 'best and worst faces' captured


By Tim Kroenert

July 5 2018 

The unifying metaphor in For the Love of God, a documentary from Australia’s Centre for Public Christianity, pertains to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. In its composition, the suite, say the presenters, is a work of mathematical precision and musical perfection. In the hands of the wrong performer, however, it can be taken from a sweet and supple piece of music to… something rather more unpleasant.

Something similar, they say, applies to the teachings of Jesus. There are innumerable examples throughout history of the church or individual Christians playing badly out of tune with Jesus’ words, often with disastrous results. Also, however, there are those who have picked up the melody impeccably, and when they have done so, the results have been sublime.

They set out to illustrate this with a sometimes-dizzying journey through events of the past two millennia, locating the best and worst faces of Christianity and its impacts on Western civilisation. They do so with eyes wide open, whether being rendered speechless by the violence of the Crusades, or questioning the religious labelling of the brutal politics behind the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

In the plus column, they examine the role of religious faith in Martin Luther King Jr’s leadership of the American civil rights movement, and in the ministry of Catholic Saint Damien De Veuster to lepers in Hawaii. De Veuster would inspire Gandhi, who acknowledged the priest, in his compassion, humility and self-sacrifice, as the most Christ-like of many of the Christians of his acquaintance.

The presenters visit key locations, from the site of the Nuremberg rallies, where they excoriate the historical church for impassivity in the face of Nazism, to the road from Jerusalem that was the setting of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Their commentaries are bolstered by scholarly talking heads, and actors who deliver readings of pertinent historical and biblical texts.

Closer to home, the film pits British colonialists’ appeals to “divine providence” against the scriptural imperative embraced by many missionaries, that they and Australia’s Aboriginal peoples are of the “same blood”. This comes to a head with the rallying of many pastors against the leniency (rationalised in the language of racial denigration) initially shown to the white murderers at Myall Creek.

“Christian ideas have shaped much of what we love about the West today,” says director Allan Dowthwaite, expressing the hope that “viewers will appreciate how radical and challenging Jesus was both for his time, and for ours today”. As a film that is pitched as a “corrective” to modern Christianity’s faltering reputation in the court of public opinion, For the Love of God is refreshingly even-handed.


Exempt from classification