I wrote this for The Tidings and for the Pauline.org web site. Although it is television, I thought you might be interested
Revelations: Christ-centered or Christ-haunted?
Flannery O’Connor, the Catholic novelist from Georgia once wrote, “I thinkit is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted" (From "Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose", 1961).
If the many religious apocalyptic films and novels produced and consumed by audiences around the time of our entry into the 21st century, such as Omega Code (1999), End of Days (1999), the Left Behind series (1996), and even Stephen King’s analogous end-of-humanity tale The Stand (1978; 1991), are any indication, some might say that O’Connor’s observation can now be applied to a larger geographic area – the television audience.
On April 13th NBC television is giving us a new version of the end of the world called Revelations. It is a six-part mini-series that will air at with the possibility of further episodes or even a series, if it is successful. Revelations is Catholic-looking, complete with nuns in habits, a priest, and a Cardinal at the Vatican, but judging from the first episode, the only one available to reviewers, its overall theology is confused and uninformed from a Catholic perspective
The production qualities of the series are excellent and the cast impressive. But are Armageddon, a generous budget and Bill Pullman, Natascha McElhone (The Truman Show; Solaris), and John Rhys-Davies (Gimli in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) enough to attract viewers in the religious entertainment era ushered in by last year’s Passion of the Christ? They just might be.
Mysterious and disastrous signs that signal the end of the world as described in the Book of Revelation are everywhere. An organization hires a nun, Sister Josepha Montefiore (Natascha McElhone), to track, record, and analyze the episodes of religious phenomena. So far, the data indicates that Armageddon is immanent. Dr. Richard Massey (Bill Pullman) is a Harvard astrophysicist and atheist whose daughter has been brutally murdered. Sister Josepha convinces him to help her verify that the end is really coming, and if so, to finda way to stop it. At the same time Sr. Josepha and the Sisters she lives with believe that Jesus is coming again and they must find him and save him from the devil. The mother superior informs Dr. Massey that they operateindependently of the Vatican and interpret scripture as they see fit. Meanwhile, a comatose young girl writes mysterious symbols that Sr. Josepha and a priest try to interpret.
Revelations is written by David Selzer (Dragonfly; The Omen.) In an interview in March, Selzer told reporters that he has not seen or read any of the books and films about the apocalypse and that Revelations is a completely original treatment. Revelations is not aboutthe Tribulation and Rapture approach to the end times, he said, but “is a story that is character driven about two people who form an alliance in their exploration of the end times as described in the Book of Revelation, even though they disagree along the way.”
The idea that anyone can stop the end of days as initiated by God is theological hubris at best. But Selzer happens to think there is something to the fact that there are “currently 35 wars going on in the world and that at any moment any one of them can become a nuclear flash point.” This indeed falls within the power of humanity to stop. Just how this human reality and the theology of the end times mesh is unclear from the first episode.
The series’ ecclesiology and representation of religious life may irritate some Catholic viewers. Selzer has structured the conflict between Sr. Josepha, the nuns and the Vatican in a way that rejects the divine authority of the Church to interpret the Scriptures, yet he hopes viewers will focus more on the characters, their journey and their relationships. Selzer told reporters that he does not have a problem with the fact that Sister Josepha is a “wild card who is deemed blasphemous by the Vatican because for him, she is on a journey of discovery.
Further, while Sr. Josepha is presented as a highly educated nun she gives credence to a vague image of Jesus that appears on the side of a mountain in Mexico. This sequence was a distraction to me.
Revelations is a personal project of Selzer who acknowledges that he is on a personal journey, that the production is more about questions than answers. From the interview, it seems that he is trying to make sense of the terrible things that are happening on earth today and God’s presence and action in the world by exploring the Book of Revelation. This may explain much of the theological blurring because this aspect is not expressed so clearly through the drama and horror of the first episode that emphasizes strange, mysterious, and religious phenomena.
Revelations is good television, but will remain to be seen if it is really “faith-based”. One way to tell would be to ask: what is the image of the human person that emerges in the story? What is the image of God that is presented? Is the image of God benevolent and loving or is God distant or full of hellfire and damnation?
Is the worldview of Revelations Christ-centered or, as Flannery O’Connor noted, Christ-haunted? And if so, what might this really mean?
What the the Catholic Church teaches
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses Catholic teaching on the end times in several places, especially when explaining the Lord’s Prayer (pp. 2816 – 2820). It also says that Christ’s resurrection and our final resurrection at the end of the world are linked (cf. Paragraphs 998-1001): This information can assist viewers as they view Revelations.