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Holy wars

Constantines Sword

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James Carroll explores how the roots of religious - intolerance are still viable  in a really big way.
  • James Carroll explores how the roots of religious intolerance are still viable in a really big way.

*Constantine's Sword (NR)
Kimball's Twin Peak

It's too bad, actually, that Ted Haggard appears in Constantine's Sword, a thoughtful documentary about Christianity's legacy of violence, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

In the film, the New Life Church founder indeed personifies the terrifying dangers posed by religionists becoming more powerful in what's meant to be a secular culture. He proudly announces his well-known status as a participant in a weekly evangelical conference call with President George W. Bush. And his claim that it's anti-American to stop evangelicals from dominating the Air Force Academy, to the point of actively harassing Jewish cadets, is not at all a minority view.

Yet Haggard's disgracing as a sexual hypocrite turns him into more of a joke than he should be for while he may be gone from the public stage, there are a dozen more, ready to take up his sword.

And, as Roman Catholic priest-turned-journalist James Carroll working with Oscar-nominated documentarian Oren Jacoby demonstrates, sword is not too strong a word. See: military and cultural violence; a religion of peace transformed into a weapon of war; irrational hatred and persecution of Jews.

That's the big ball of horror Constantine's Sword tries to wrap up in its 95-minute look at the history of the Catholic Church. Such an audacious attempt was probably sure to fall short. But that's not to say it isn't worth a look.

Based on Carroll's 2001 chunky book of the same name, it is a concise, if truncated, analysis of how we got to a place where fliers advertising local screenings of The Passion of the Christ can be officially sanctioned and distributed by the U.S. Air Force.

Carroll leads us on a tour of the intertwined histories of the Roman Empire, Europe and the Catholic Church, as well as his own history as a man and a Catholic, as the son of an FBI agent-turned-Air Force intelligence expert (a man complicit in the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam) who became a war-protesting priest and then a writer obsessed with unraveling the roots of anti-Semitism.

From Emperor Constantine, the fourth-century Roman general whose conversion to Christianity may have been nothing more than a ploy to hold on to power, to the literally unholy alliance of the Catholic Church and the Nazis during World War II when the Pope signed a treaty with Hitler agreeing not to intervene in any Nazi persecution of Jews Carroll calmly and reasonably shows how religion and military power have gone hand in hand for the past 1,600 years ... and how he came to understand that himself, and how he came to feel it was something worth pointing out.

And yet this isn't merely a dry history lesson. The personal truly is political for Carroll as he worries that Christianity's crusading against anyone not Christian has now moved back to focusing on Islam.

If the "war on terror" is being waged by a U.S. military that is overtly evangelical, how can we believe our leaders when they say this is not a religious war?

Carroll has no answers, and Constantine's Sword wonders out loud whether we have learned any lessons whatsoever from the distant past or the near past. The inescapable conclusion is that we have not. This film may be nothing more than a cry in the dark, destined to fall on ears deliberately deaf to its message. But at least it is crying out anyway.

scene@csindy.com

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