Friday, May 6, 2005

Crusades-Film Writer's Personal Jihad

A reviewer from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops writes that the Crusades blockbuster "Kingdom of Heaven" contains "a not-so-subtle strain of anti-clericalism....[I]t is distressing when, in the movie, the Christian camp is comprised of mostly caricaturized clerics—of the arrogant or cowardly variety—and war-mongering brutes drunk with ambition, bloodlust and religious fervor."

Knowing the film's author, William Monahan, a former colleague of mine from New York Press, I have to add, "Anti-clericalism? Gee, ya think?"

Believe you me, 20th Century Fox—owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which also owns Fox News and the New York Post—knew exactly what it was doing when it hired Monahan to tell the story of the Crusaders' fight for Jerusalem. And I'm not just saying that because he made his name with a novel featuring a gangster named Jesus Castro.

I remember Bill from 10 years ago as charming, libertarian-leaning, with a razor-sharp wit that he used in print to anger as many people as possible.

Monahan's most notorious New York Press piece, "Dr. Rosenthal, I Presume" (6/21/95), was a devil's-advocate response to a New York Times op-ed by A.M. Rosenthal that had recommended the United States spend $100 million to eradicate female genital mutilation in Africa. Making copious use of the f-word, Monahan argued against spending "a hemorrhage of nonexistent national treasure on a problem no one actually understands."

While Monahan grudgingly acknowledged that FGM "isn't nice, it isn't perfect," he insisted that there were sound societal reasons for the practice, as it "control[led] reproduction and disease." He cited what he claimed was a similar example from biblical times:

A savage custom that has become traditional generally has a practical point attendant on its birth. The Jews of the desert cut off their foreskins for the same reason that Australian aboriginals slashed the foreskin laterally; because they didn't have any soap and water. A covenant with God was an appliqued afterthought.
That's one memorable quote on religion from the writer of "Kingdom of Heaven"—here are some more, as cited in the Catholic League's "1995 Report on Anti-Catholicism":
The cover story of the New York Press, "The Angel Factory: Making Martyrs & Monsters," by William Monahan, used John Salvi, the gunman who opened fire in two abortion clinics in late 1994, as an example of "a Catholic success story...the sort of Catholic the Church has been sadly lacking for years—which is to say, a Catholic." The article attacked the Church at length, criticizing the sacraments, religious, saints, martyrdom, the Pope, Catholic education, etc. In explaining Salvi’s behavior, Monahan wrote, "Salvi was thinking crazily, but he was thinking in Catholic terms," and that "the Church definitely can’t say that he wasn’t listening in catechism class."
It's entirely possible that Monahan's animosity towards Catholicism and Judeo-Christian religion in general has softened since his New York Press days. But somehow, reading the reviews of "Kingdom of Heaven," I don't think so.