Sunday, June 20, 2010

PBS "God on Trial" on Masterpiece Theater

In 2008, PBS and WGBH aired a Masterpiece Theater film by Andy De Emmony, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, “God on Trial”. A number of Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz, while in their “barracks”, follow their tradition of arguing with God and put Jehovah on trial for the murders of the Holocaust.

The film looks like a stage play, and it runs through a long series of philosophical ruminations about the Jews being God’s chosen people, and about the whole moral concept of individuals’ having to dedicate themselves to a shared common purpose rather than a goal that they can chose for themselves, as in modern individualism.

Even from the viewpoint of common purpose, the Jews have trouble understanding all the calamities they have faced over history, but it seems that each time their heritage survives where as the culture bullying them dies. They go into detail over the sacrifice at Massada, and later discuss the nature of personal sacrifice and its moral significance. For someone who does not share the common purpose, the sacrifice is only that, and becomes a blunt lesson.

The script presents the Genesis Flood and the Exile to Babylon as two "Purifications" of the Chosen People. In religious terms, a "purification" is an episode of massive punitive sacrifice where "wickedness" in a population is atoned, without the opportunity for a process like Christian grace.  Purification is accompanies by expropriation.

There is also discussion as to whether God, while all powerful and purposeful, is really "good" in allowing individual injustice and in allowing good people to have to sacrifice to advance unseen plans for an entire people. The whole history of the Jewish people seems to contradict the idea of "free will".

The PBS website for the film is here.

“Cause and Effect Post” has this YouTube of the a critical passage. “Nothing is too sacred to question”.



Wikipedia attribution link for Auschwitz-Birkenau main track, which I visited in May 1999.

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