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Faith, Indoctrination and the film Paul
Posted Mar 21, 2011 - 10:10:13

Paul starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Seth RogenThis weekend my wife and I went out and saw the movie Paul. For those unaware, it's a very funny science fiction comedy in which Simon Pegg and Nick Frost help an alien (the titular Paul, voiced by Seth Rogen) escape from Area 51. It's nerdy, it's funny, and it's exactly the sort of film I love.

The part that had me thinking about it afterward though was a point I don't think Pegg and Frost were thinking about when they wrote the film, but they inadvertently covered quite well: the difference between faith and indoctrination.

I'm going to enter mild spoiler territory fairly soon, so if you don't want to know anything, I suggest you read something else. I'll try to be as vague as I can, but I can't really talk about this without revealing at least a few minor details.

While on the run in the film, Frost and Pegg's characters Graeme and Clive pull into an RV park managed by Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch) and his daughter Ruth (Kristen Wiig). Moses is an "intense" Christian of the "Universe is only 4000 years old" variety, and has force fed Ruth this her entire life.

Upon meeting Paul (our alien), Ruth freaks out - the existence of anything beyond her worldview shatters it. Proof of something different causes her to abandon her beliefs on how the universe works, including Christianity.

Moses, on the other hand (besides for a very long time being convinced that Paul is a demon) maintains his faith once he's confronted with Paul's true nature. He adapts his point of view, without abandoning the core of his philosophy. Paul's existence doesn't disprove God or shake his faith in Jesus - it would merely make him re-examine his view of life beyond Earth.

The core difference between these characters is that Moses had faith, while Ruth had merely been told what to believe.

Ruth truly did believe in the closed world philosophy that she proclaimed prior to being confronted by Paul, but she only did so because she really didn't know any other way. Indoctrination that's never questioned is something that's easily swayed - she took the idea of God as seriously as the idea that the world was only 4000 years old and that Earth was the only place life existed. They were of the same weight to her, as she only believed them as that's what she was told.

Once one of those was shaken, she found it hard to continue believing in the others.

Moses on the other hand (although his past must be largely inferred by the viewer), came to his faith on his own. He understood the difference between the "important" bits (God) and the "details" (the mechanics of the Universe). He sees a spaceship and goes "Oh look, a spaceship," not disproof of his faith in an ineffable creator.

Moses, for all of his closed mindedness, displays the traits of true faith.

I'm sure the extreme right will miss this message, likely making a fuss about how offensive the film is to "true" Christians. They'll see Moses portrayed as an ignorant brute, not as misguided, overprotective father. Heck, I'm not really certain Pegg and Frost had any intention of even conveying this in the film. But intentional or not, it's apparent from my point of view. In the end, the message I hope people take away is that for faith to be real, it must be questioned. Ruth never questioned her beliefs, which is why her faith was weak enough to be shattered. Moses's attempts to "save" her and close her off is exactly what caused her to abandon the Church.

To ever truly have faith in anything, we need to hear more than one idea. Contrary to what some people think, challenge and doubt are the true allies of faith.
- Traegorn

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Back at Eau Claire, someone illustrated the difference quite nicely between simple belief and faith.  Belief is seeing someone walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls and feeling confident they'll make it across.  Faith is riding on their back the whole way across.
I want to see this movie badly.

Ironically I was voted most likely to be abducted by aliens in HS and it's even in the yearbook. I wonder if having an Alien Movie with the same first name is close.
Trae you never cease to amaze me.
I was a bit concerned after the first paragraph that this was going to be a christian bashing experiment, but I was wrong. You actually brought up one of the major problems with most christians today.  Thank you for this amazing blog.
I endeavor to amaze. :P

But I'm rather surprised myself to think you'd ever expect a "Christian Bashing" article out of me.

I bash bigots and closed minded people on occasion, but never faith itself.

Trae Dorn
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