For a man who calls himself an agnostic, Andrew Denton has spent a lot of time talking about religion over the past few months.
In fact, he talks about nothing but religion in his latest venture, a documentary titled God On My Side, which opens in cinemas this week.
The documentary uncovers the real characters who make up the Christian Right of George Bush’s America. With 70 million Americans now claiming to be born-again Christians, and with the Christian Right said to comprise 40 percent of Bush’s vote, Denton felt the time was right to profile this very vocal portion of the American heartland.
To get an up-close view for the documentary, Denton attended the 63rd National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Dallas, where 6,000 Christian TV evangelists gathered to discuss the best ways to spread the word of God.
The gathering was held at the Gaylord Convention Center, which proved to be a somewhat ironic setting, considering one of the main topics Denton addressed with the people he met was the fundamentalist Christian view on homosexuality.
While God On My Side explores the hardline views of these extreme Christians on topics including other faiths like Islam and Buddhism, the state of Israel, nuclear war and the impending End of Time, the issue of homosexuality draws some of the most ire among the attendees.
I did not want to go down any particular rabbit hole with them, but I did want to explore their thoughts on homosexuality, he tells the Star. There was just this unwavering belief that homosexuality was wrong, and nothing will shake that.
Among the characters he meets are the three elderly McDuff brothers, traditional and extreme Christians who are happy to share their clear view on the rights and wrongs of the world -“ with homosexuality definitely near the top of the wrongs list.
One of the brothers could not even bring himself to say the word, Denton says. When I asked them about the people who say they are born gay, he said in a faltering response, -˜That word you just said.’
Then his other brother piped up immediately and said, -˜That is the lie of the enemy.’ There is no middle ground with these men -“ it is simply wrong. Homosexuality is an issue that they have just hung on to, because you can read anything into the Bible passages you want, and these people have.
At one place in Leviticus in the Bible, it does say homosexuality is an abomination and another place it says it is punishable by death, but these people have taken it so literally, and there is the problem.
With any literal-based belief, there is no room to question or examine. It is just taken as it is written and nothing else can be considered.
Yet Denton, 46, says he found himself in awe of his interview subjects’ responses to the possibility of other valid philosophies and lifestyles.
To have the kind of belief they have in God is amazing. Their faith is rock solid, and yet doubt is seen as a weakness and is not to be entertained. Once doubt was seen as a sign of balance, but that is less so now, and these people don’t seem to enter into any kind of doubt at all.
And no one can say I dug out the more extremes with this film. Most of the people we just found from being at the convention, and I was amazed at their strength of convictions. We never needed to seek out extremes, because they were just there.
The probing, cheeky and often confrontational Denton on Enough Rope is not evident in his new documentary.
Rather, he takes a step back and allows his characters -“ in all their extremes and flag-waving colours -“ to speak for themselves.
Doing this, I had to be incredibly disciplined, he says. We did not go in to make fun of these people, we wanted to hear what they had to say and to hear them with respect. It was not about making it for laughs, and to do so would have obscured what it was all about.
I didn’t want to do a Michael Moore-type documentary where it was me standing in front of the camera telling people what they should be thinking. I actually feel Moore gets in the way sometimes, obscuring stuff that is more interesting.
God On My Side is a new direction for Denton, but in the current age where popular, wide-appeal movie documentaries question our way of life more than TV is prepared to, it seems he has found an avenue to explore the matters that concern him most.
And at a time when there is so much attention to Muslim fundamentalism around the globe, he explains why it is important to shine a light on Christian fundamentalism as well.
There has been such a focus on extreme fundamentalism in Muslims in recent times, and I believe rightly so, but I also believe we need to focus on extremes in other areas as well and what that means to our world.
We can’t just think because it is of western society and it is Christian-based that it is okay. Extreme fundamentalists of all kinds need to be viewed just as closely.
God On My Side opens in cinemas nationally this week.