07 April 2010

Paul Verhoeven discussing Jesus of Nazareth.

In my opinion people should be obligated to wear dress clothes when attending a serious discussion about a creative work. But then, Jesus didn't preach to crowds of ties and cuff links, did he?

If the world was shaped to my liking, there also wouldn't have been this drinking fountain right in front of me, nor would there have been an elevator just to the left (not pictured).

Not since I saw Lynch speak at UC Irvine on the topic of transcendental meditation have I enjoyed as surreal a cinephilic experience as last night: Paul Verhoeven at Powell's Books engaging in dialogue concerning the recent English translation of his novel Jesus of Nazareth (Jezus van Nazaret). Unlike the Lynch lecture, however, the focus of the night was indeed Jesus. Another difference is that Verhoeven alone answered all Q&A questions.

Twice he greatly impressed me. The first time was when an elderly-type white haired man stood and asked what was so endearing about the mythology of Jesus. Verhoeven answered that Jesus was supposedly god-as-man on earth, as opposed to god in heaven or gods in mountains. The second time a twenty-something wanted to know if there was a common divinity among prophets of different religious backgrounds. Verhoeven answered that there certainly was. The kid then asked, if their source is a shared deity, why aren't all religions in harmony? Verhoeven replied that Muslims, for example, believe that Muhammad's words supersede the words of the Old Testament, and that Christians, for example, believe the same about Jesus, and also believe you can't enter heaven unless you accept Jesus, and that doesn't leave much middle ground.

These replies impressed me because they were succinct and thoughtful. Other topics wowed me by their idiosyncrasy. Hearing Verhoeven speak, naturally, and thankfully, isn't much different than watching a Verhoeven film. He proposed the idea that Jesus was actually just a highly talented exorcist, and that he was notable most of all for this trait. He refuted the scholar whose claim was that Jesus was a homosexual (the "ultimate attack"), and suggested instead that the scholar was gay. He also stated that Jesus' libido was "annexed" by the kingdom of heaven.

The final audience question was what Verhoeven would say to all the churches and Christian communities if he was able to say one thing to them on the topic of Jesus. Verhoeven replied that he didn't write the book specifically for the Christian community or to carry a message to anyone, he simply wrote the book in order to instigate discussion, contemplation, and reflection. He said that his book represents his thoughts, based on twenty years of scholarly study (as he enjoyed saying), and nothing more. Of course he has to say this, given the nature of his book, but it's still great that he can say this. He knows what he's doing, just as I know he only wrote this book to prepare people for his Jesus movie (his favorite New Testament movie is Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, but he doesn't feel a great one has been made yet).