07 July 2010

What have we learned?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="280" caption="Agora the Movie"]Agora the Movie[/caption]

This past weekend Steve and I went to go see Agora at the Laemmle in West Hollywood.  The movie is a great film.  I would definitely recommend the movie.  It's set in Alexandria during the time that Christians were increasing in size and power.  There were clashes between the Christians and Pagan and then the Christians and Jews and then the Christians and the government (made up of mostly converted Christians).  Being Catholic myself, I was not that surprised at the portrayal of Christians as a confrontational group that "needs" to convert everyone. The story follows the astronomer Hypatia (Rachel Weisz).

On the ride home, Steve and I started talking about different aspects of the movie we enjoyed, thoughts it provoked, the usual sort of thing.  The one thing that we hit on the most was the idea that regardless of the changes in the last few thousand years we really haven't learned much.  Despite of all our advances in science, medicine, philosophy, we still haven't learned the basic lesson of tolerance.  No matter how "civilized" we are, as a group is difficult to "allow" others to believe as they see fit.  Most religions feel that they believe in the "true god", the "only god", to the exclusion of all other religions.  In the movie, the Christians mocked, fought, and persecuted members other religions because they didn't believe in what they did. In one of my favorite lines in the movie one of the former students asks Hypatia what she believes in and she says that she believes in philosophy.  She tried to teach her students that "we are all brothers" that we are more similar than we are different.  With all the fighting she refused to be pulled into the fighting fueled by intolerance.  In over 2,000 years we haven't yet learned tolerance.

Thinking inward, it amazes me that we are still fighting the same fight we did on the streets of Alexandria almost 2,000 years ago.  Is it really so difficult? Are we, as a people, so small minded hat we cannot allow others their beliefs, their god, their happiness?  Are we so arrogant in our beliefs that we are the only ones who could possibly be right?  Can minds that have built the miracles of the modern age simply not hold the concept of tolerance?  Are we so foolish? So in the last 2,000 years what have we learned?  A lot, but are we still missing?  Learning tolerance.  I'm going to work it.  Hopefully I'm not alone.


  1. I saw the film when it first came out in NYC and loved Weisz' performance as Hypatia. Amenabar, with his choice of costume and casting, is clearly saying "black-shirted, bearded, middle-eastern fanatics are destroying civilization" - definitely a metaphor for today. He also distorts some history in service to his art (the Library didn't end that way and Synesius wasn't a jerk), but that's what artists do. I don't go to the movies for history. For people who want to know more about the historical Hypatia, I highly recommend a very readable biography "Hypatia of Alexandria" by Maria Dzielska (Harvard University Press, 1995). I also have a series of posts on the historical events and characters in the film at my blog (http://faithljustice.wordpress.com) - not a movie review, just a "reel vs. real" discussion.

  2. I agree the "history" of any movie is always a bit off... I generally watch "historical" movies with a grain a salt. I take it more as a thought provoker than an actually history. I will definitely be looking in Hypatia more, thanks for the reference and starting point!