In the News: Elvis, Thoreau, Oprah, and more!

A round-up of the week’s religion news. Continue Reading →

In the News – Heathens, Hymns, and Holy Men

A round-up of the week’s religion news. Continue Reading →

In the News: TLC, THC, OMG

A round-up of the week’s religion news. Continue Reading →

In the News: TLC, THC, OMG!

A round-up of the week’s religion news. Continue Reading →

In the News: Prisons Churches, Museums, and, of course, Hobby Lobby

A round-up of recent religion and media stories in the news. Continue Reading →

Following Snake Signs

by Abby Ohlheiser

The Bible says: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” (Mark 16.17-18, KJV)

And so, in the southern Appalachian Mountains, Pastor Jimmy Morrow of the Edwina Church of God In Jesus’ Name coaxes the snake on his lap with a gentle voice, saying “I ain’t gonna hurt you. I ain’t gonna hurt you dirty boy.” It’s a copperhead snake, a venemous pit viper. He’s a snake handler; his church members are Signs Followers: pentecostals who take Mark 16 literally. They believe, therefore they shall take up serpents, as the verse says.

But Pastor Morrow is handling for the cameras; a small group of documentarians are themselves being documented by filmmakers Jonathan Durham and Katrina Albright. It’s a media-only snake handling session, what Durham calls a change in the ritual of the church. Pastor Morrow is deliberately, directly, engaging with the media.

Durham and Albright are interested in that relationship between subject and documenter. Continue Reading →

Flaunting Malignant Brilliance

by Adam H. Becker

A Film Unfinished (2010, 90 min), directed by Yael Hersonski, is about footage shot in the Warsaw Ghetto in May of 1942. The original film, labeled on its canisters simply as “Das Ghetto,” presents itself as an ethnographic examination of Jewish life in the dire day-to-day existence of several hundred thousand Jews, forced to live within a walled-in space of three square miles with little to eat. It depicts, among other scenes, life in the market place, Jewish rituals — from a bris (circumcision) to bathing in a miqveh (ritual bath) — and the enforcement of order by Jewish security personnel. If not for one hitch, it would be a relatively straightforward depiction of the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto, a place in which conditions anticipated the unforeseen eradication of much of the Ghetto’s population suffered not long after at Treblinka.

The hitch is this: the original footage was shot by the Nazis for propaganda purposes. Although the footage was never used, it seems that the Nazis planned to make a film about the disparity between the rich and poor in the Ghetto. Opulent dinner scenes are interposed with shots of the emaciated bodies of starving Jews in the street. The meaning is clear: the Jews, a parasitic population who needed to be rounded up and put into the Ghetto for the safety of others, are so vile that when corralled together they turn upon their own.
 Yet again the Nazis point us to the extreme of their malignant brilliance. Whereas we expect those who commit great crimes to hide their deeds, to cover them up, and to lie about them, for “Das Ghetto” the camera was brought by the perpetrators to the scene of their own crime. Continue Reading →