Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Adjustment Bureau: Bad Theology AND Bad History

Retrieved January 22, 2012 from

Fr. Barron's commentary offers a lucid discussion of how bad--and widespread--the theology of the movie, The Adjustment Bureau is.  In a pervasive tendency from the nominalism of William of Ockham through the Enlightenment to modernist , especially protestant, theology, God's will is in competition with the free will of human beings.  Barron shows, using the analogy of the piano teacher who takes her student from the discipline of scales and prescribed practice to the level of freedom where the student is able to express herself through her playing and even compose her own music, that this is a false understanding of God's will and its relation to ours.  God is not in competition with us.

What struck me, having just watched the movie, is how the bad theology is accompanied by a distorted history of similar provenance.  One of the 'angels' or 'case officers' whose job it is to keep humans on track with the Plan, explains that the Chairman (God) tried free will at various periods in history, saw what a mess humans made of things, and decided to intervene again to put things back on track.  He then periodizes history according to the modernist, Enlightenment, Protestant-atheist convention which sees nothing but darkness between the end of the Roman Empire and the Enlightenment.  It is always ceases to amaze me (a line I recall from Kinky Friedman concerts back in the day) how this narrative persists in face of all scholarship to the contrary not only in Hollywood and in popular prejudice, but even in supposedly serious and well regarded works like Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve (see Fr. Barron's excellent commentaries here and here).

Incidentally, Joseph Pearce links us via the blog at St. Austin Review to an interesting account (from Perth, Western Australia) of JRR Tolkien and his teenage love in terms remarkably similar to the story of The Adjustment Bureau--with a priest playing the role of the 'angel' with a plan.  Love is to be sacrificed to career, a plan that the young people contest and change.  Tolkien married the teenage love of his life, Edith Bratt, had a great career anyway and the couple had a son, Christopher, who went on to become my Old English tutor at Oxford.  You can see a bibliography reflecting Christopher Tolkien's own distinguished career here.

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