After promoting the controversial, religion-baiting film "Angels & Demons" for a combined 19 minutes last week on "Good Morning America," ABC finally featured a Catholic priest to object to the movie. Unfortunately, the interview was relegated only to the network's website, not the ABC morning show. (Considering the four days of fawning coverage to the film's stars last week, this hardly seems fair.) Father Edward Beck appeared on the internet-based "Focus on Faith" to talk to Chris Cuomo and point out the inaccuracies.
Beck critiqued the filmmakers behind "Angels & Demons," which falsely features the Catholic Church participating in a brutal massacre of a secret society, asserting that they should be more responsible for "doing their homework, even with a work of fiction." Cuomo bizarrely responded by claiming Beck needed to consider "the atheistic [position], which is, 'It's all fiction.' So, the church doesn't have any right to hold its own truth when it is a fiction in and of itself." He reiterated the disbelievers take, stating, "Anything you say you believe in is based on a fiction, because God is a fiction. So, what's wrong with having a fiction about fiction?"
Beck quickly retorted, "No. Whether or not the church kills people is not fiction. Either they do or they don't." Beck went on to note other offensive elements of the movie, such as the fact that the deceased Pope in the movie turns out to have fathered a child through artificial insemination. The New York-based priest complained, "Now, I mean, how unrealistic do we really want to make this?" Appearing to miss the point, Cuomo replied, "You taking yourself too seriously in the organized church?" (It should be pointed out that some of the tone was light-hearted as Cuomo and Beck are apparently friends.)
Cuomo did acknowledge the argument that Christians have against "Angels & Demons," allowing, "Well, here you have a little better case than you did with than the last movie. 'Cause, here you have the Illuminati. He [author Dan Brown] does have them as a inherently murderous faction of people bent on world domination." (In the movie, the Catholic Church is portrayed as having previously attempted to wipe out the secret society.) Of course, Cuomo then went on to assert that "The Da Vinci Code," a film that essentially denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, was less offensive.
In an interesting aside, Cuomo did attack liberal documentarian Michael Moore while discussing the half truths of the film. He compared, "I mean, a lot of people believe that this is what Michael Moore does, that he takes on a legitimate issue like health care, but then picks just one little convenient part and then skews it all to his favor and then presents it as his truth." (On June 12, 2007, Cuomo interviewed Moore about his movie "Sicko" and explained, "Look, I like the stunt. I think it raises the provocative question. But that's not journalism. This film is not journalism.")
In theory, Cuomo should be applauded for featuring a dissenting voice on a controversial topic. It is very disappointing, however, that ABC chose to feature that view only on its website, an outlet that will reach far fewer people than the four days and almost 20 minutes of softball coverage devoted to the subject on "Good Morning America."
A transcript of the internet-based "Focus on Faith," which appeared on the website on the week of May 15, follows:
CHRIS CUOMO: There it is. A clip from Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons." Actually wrote it before "The Da Vinci Code," but it's coming out after it. Lots of controversy, because you could be of two minds on this: One, that it's such an interesting look at the inner world of religion that they try to keep hidden from you. Or it's complete fiction and really is doing jeopardy- jeopardizing the faith. What do you think? We're here on "Focus on Faith" to talk just about that. I'm Chris Cuomo. Father Edward Beck. Now, I know that you're a huge fan of these movies and take them as truth. So, this must be a little difficult for you. So, what do you think is going to happen this time with the movie?
FATHER EDWARD BECK (ABC News religion contributor): Well, I don't mind the movies. I went to see "The Da Vinci Code." I read the book. I read "Angels & Demons." I'll buy my popcorn and go see "Angels & Demons." What bothers me is that people take this as factual. And the representation of the church as what the church is. People who are not versed in ecclesiology, who don't know anything about the history of church and, unfortunately, this is what they get presented with because pop culture is what people are exposed to. And they don't do their homework. And I think filmmakers have to be a bit more responsible about doing their homework, even with a work of fiction if you're going to put non-fiction stuff in it.
CUOMO: Now, there's all these different layers of opposition to that view. The first is, the atheistic one, which is, 'It's all fiction.' So, the church doesn't have any right to hold its own truth when it is a fiction in and of itself. You have to address that.
BECK: What is fiction?
CUOMO: That- all of it. Anything you say you believe in is based on a fiction, because God is a fiction. So, what's wrong with having a fiction about fiction?
BECK: No. Whether or not the church kills people is not fiction. Either they do or they don't.
CUOMO: But, the belief systems and where it all comes from and the development of it. That's where a lot of the criticism of the Dan Brown films as well.
BECK: But, what they do is they take kernels of historical truth and they totally distort them. Let me give you an example: The Illuminati figures large in this novel.
BECK: They have Copernicus, Galileo, Bernini, right, Bernini the artist, as part of the Illuminati. Well, the Illuminati was founded in 1776 in Bavaria. Those people lived 100, 200 years before the Illuminati even came into existence. So, just do your homework and say, the group wasn't even around. How could you put these people as part of it?
CUOMO: Or was it?
BECK: Well, some people say, well, it existed in another form.
BECK: So, Dan Brown just traces it back. And then the Pope in this movie- the Pope in "Angels & Demons" has a child through artificial insemination.
BECK: Now, I mean, how unrealistic do we really want to make this?
CUOMO: You taking yourself too seriously in the organized church?
BECK: No. But, what I think happens is people do. People take it seriously. I don't mind the movie, I'm going to go and enjoy it.
CUOMO: Oh, you mind it. You mind it. Don't try and be all even minded on this. You mind it. It bothers you. Every time I bring it up, you get red. [Laughs.] You get-
BECK [Laughing]: That's not true. What I mind is that people don't do their homework and they present stuff as fact that simply isn't.
CUOMO: But, that happens all the time with major institutions, that somebody decides to either try through parody or through half truth- I mean, a lot of people believe that this is what Michael Moore does, that he takes on a legitimate issue like health care, but then picks just one little convenient part and then skews it all to his favor and then presents it as his truth.
BECK: Right. But then it's the institution's responsibility to try and set the truth straight if people are getting bad information, right?
BECK: So, that's why we talk about it. That's why William Donohue, whatever you think of him, writes his books to counter that. Because if you just let it stand there, and there's not counter to it, people say, well, I guess it's true.
CUOMO: Well, here you have a little better case than you did with than the last movie. 'Cause, here you have the Illuminati. He does have them as a inherently murderous faction of people bent on world domination.
BECK: And the fact that they're still existing when there's no truth to that.
CUOMO: Right. So, you have a little bit better ground. With "The Da Vinci Code," it was more about all the symbology and the lore that goes along with Christianity, and, specifically, about Jesus and whether it made sense for him not to be married and who was Mary Magdalene? There was more factual interpretation at play there.
BECK: There are interesting questions to raise. What I don't like is when the church is portrayed as sinister and murderous, because it almost makes it seem like this force for good in the world is actually a force for evil and that this institution will actually break all the commandments that it tries to tell people it should keep. And I think, in a conscious way to do that and to set it up that way is just misleading.
CUOMO: You're going to see the movie though?
BECK: I'm going to see the movie.
CUOMO: You're going to give them that $10.50. Probably make me take you and I'll give them the $10.50.
BECK: Well, we can go see it together and argue about it afterwards. But, I don't think I'm going to like all of it. Maybe as a suspense movie, but it's going to irk me when suddenly the factual inaccuracies pop in there.
CUOMO: I know. Get ready to be irked would be my sense.