Mel Gibson

National Geographic: Medieval Peru = child sacrifice + some vague pagan religion thing

National Geographic: Medieval Peru = child sacrifice + some vague pagan religion thing

More than a decade ago, Mel Gibson came out with “Apocalypto,” a movie about the bloody pre-Columbian civilizations on our side of the Atlantic. And two months ago, the February issue of National Geographic had a story about a new archeological site — Huanchaquito-Las Llamas — in Peru that bore out the movie’s thesis that Mesoamerica and South America alike were charnel houses of human sacrifice.

More on Gibson in a moment. The National Geographic piece showed that some time in the past few hundred years, a society had carried out a mass orgy of child sacrifices early in the 15th century. The question, of course, is this: What did these rites have to do with religion and faith? We will get to that.

The text from this piece has only gone online recently, hence my delay in posting commentary about it.

THE YOUNG VICTIM lies in a shallow grave in a vacant lot strewn with trash. It’s the Friday before Easter here in Huanchaquito, a hamlet on the north coast of Peru.

The throb of dance music, drifting up from seaside cafés a few hundred yards to the west, sounds eerily like a pulsing heart. It’s accompanied by the soft chuf, chuf of shovels as workers clear away broken glass, plastic bottles, and spent shotgun shells to reveal the outline of a tiny burial pit cut into an ancient layer of mud.

The first thing to appear is the crest of a child’s skull, topped with a thatch of black hair. Switching from trowels to paintbrushes, the excavators carefully sweep away the loose sand, exposing the rest of the skull and revealing skeletal shoulders poking through a coarse cotton shroud. Eventually the remains of a tiny, golden-furred llama come into view, curled alongside the child.

The grim count from this and a second sacrifice site nearby will ultimately add up to 269 children between the ages of five and 14 and three adults. All of the victims perished more than 500 years ago in carefully orchestrated acts of ritual sacrifice that may be unprecedented in world history. …

The Old Testament chronicled child sacrifice, the article says, although the writers didn’t add that God thoroughly detested the practice. Tiny detail, there.

Other than the sacrifice of virgin girls in Minoan Crete to appease demons, the Eastern hemisphere had comparatively little of it compared to the blood baths in the West.

Until the discovery at Huanchaquito (pronounced wan-cha-KEE-toe), the largest known child sacrifice site in the Americas—and possibly the entire world—was at Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (modern-day Mexico City), where 42 children were slain in the 15th century.

In Huanchaquito:

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Hey, Los Angeles Times: GOP'ers aren't the only conservatives living under cover in Hollywood

Hey, Los Angeles Times: GOP'ers aren't the only conservatives living under cover in Hollywood

Conservatives in Hollywood are like male calico cats: You know they exist, but they’re tough to find.

The Los Angeles Times recently came out with a piece on what it’s like to be Republican in Hollywood and how -- even during this Era of President Donald Trump -- GOP'ers must remain undercover. You’d think things would be different in 2017. After all, liberals in cinema circles were anything but hidden during the Barack Obama administration.

But Hollywood wanted Hillary; they got The Donald and so there’s still a lot of wrath in La La Land. And so the Times set out to find the folks who are swimming upstream, as it were. Did they see any "religion ghosts"? We will come back to that question.

As an Academy Award-winning producer and a political conservative, Gerald Molen has worked in the entertainment business long enough to remember when being openly Republican in Hollywood was no big deal.
“In the ’90s, it was never really an issue that I had to hide. I was always forthright,” recalled the producer, whose credits include “Schindler’s List” and two “Jurassic Park” movies. “It used to be we could have a conversation with two opposing points of view and it would be amiable. At the end, we still walked away and had lunch together.”
Those days are largely gone, he said. “The acrimony — it’s there. It’s front and center.”
For the vast majority of conservatives who work in entertainment, going to set or the office each day has become a game of avoidance and secrecy. The political closet is now a necessity for many in an industry that is among the most liberal in the country.

The article then touched on Friends of Abe, a conservative organization whose membership of some 2,500 persons is secret because getting outed is a career killer.

Leaders of Friends of Abe said its members have sharply divergent views on the current president.
“There are very conservative people in FOA who are troubled by his rhetoric,” said executive director Jeremy Boreing, a filmmaker and self-described Trump skeptic. “There are others who are very gung-ho and supportive of him. There are people who are cautiously optimistic and others who are just cautious.”
He said it was too early to tell how Trump will affect the organization, but “if Hollywood continues to overreact to Trump and toxify people’s professional lives, FOA will grow. We got started under [George W.] Bush, not under Obama. Hollywood was a more pleasant place for conservatives during Obama’s tenure because Hollywood was in a good mood.”

The reason I’m commenting on that piece for this column is because a lot of conservatives are people of faith, yet religion isn’t mentioned at all.

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Hollywood discovers God! Again! Seriously, this New York Times piece is worth reading

Hollywood discovers God! Again! Seriously, this New York Times piece is worth reading

I've been around the Godbeat scene so long that I can remember the days when journalists would wait four of five years before they would write the same Big Trend Story all over again.

You know the ones I'm talking about. Things like the whole "Death of the Religious Right" story or the latest update on "Why megachurches are getting bigger." And did you know that interfaith marriages are a big deal in modern Judaism?

Another one of the standards has been the "Hollywood discovers that religious people watch movies" story. Because of my longstanding interest in this topic (hint, hint), I have been watching journalists discover this trend over and over ever since "Field of Dreams" and  "Home Alone." Hey, do you remember Michael Medved? Then in 2009, The Los Angeles Times even interviewed me about the roots of this trend behind the hit movie, "The Blind Side."

You can blame Mel Gibson and "The Passion of the Christ," of course, but there is more to this evergreen story than one or two big-ticket items.

Still, I was cynical when I saw this New York Times headline the other day: "Secular Hollywood Quietly Courts the Faithful." I expected another quick-turn news feature about this "hot topic."

In this case I was wrong. The basic message of this in-depth business feature was that this is a topic that is not new and that it is not going away, in part because Hollywood has entered an era in which making profitable niche-market films is almost as important as making special-effects blockbusters. And then there is the trend of evangelical churches adding massive video screens to their sanctuaries, so that preachers can spice up their sermons with video clips.

Instead of settling for shallow coverage of the latest wrinkle in this old story, this Times piece went for the deep dive. Here is the overture:

The Rev. Roderick Dwayne Belin, a senior A.M.E. Church leader, stood before a gathering of more than 1,000 pastors in a drafty Marriott ballroom in Naperville, Ill., this month and extolled the virtues of a Hollywood movie.

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Mel Gibson and his 2016 multi-media tour: Can this fallen star ever repent enough?

Mel Gibson and his 2016 multi-media tour: Can this fallen star ever repent enough?

Mel Gibson, for years one of the most despised men in Hollywood, appears to be back on top with the release of a new film “Hacksaw Ridge.” This has brought together a delightful brew of movie reviews, Gibson gossip fests and interminable articles on how this industry pariah and renegade Catholic is trying to redeem himself, through a marathon of interviews in news and entertainment media.

There is valid religion-beat news here. It’s impossible to sidestep the faith factor in the story of how the maker of“The Passion of the Christ” has now come out with a movie about a Seventh-day Adventist conscientious objector who survives one of World War II’s bloodiest battles without so much as a gun by his side.

In one of those journalistic mixes of opinion and fact that are all too common in newspapers these days, the Los Angeles Times expounds on all this.

 At the recent Academy premiere of "Hacksaw Ridge," there was a 10-minute standing ovation.
Not terribly surprising, except it was for Mel Gibson.
Ten years ago, Gibson was the most hated man in Hollywood. First, during a DUI arrest,  he verbally assaulted police officers using anti-Semitic and sexist language. Then he was caught on audiotape threatening his then-girlfriend with rape and other physical abuse as well as dropping the N-word.
Forget standing ovations; many believed he would never work again.
But forgiveness, like everything else, has always followed a hierarchy in Hollywood. The elite — those who've won awards, broken box office records, sold successful franchises — are often welcomed back even as newbies like Nate Parker or middlings like Lindsay Lohan are cut loose. 

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And this just in: The young, male, video-games crowd doesn't remember the great Ben-Hur

And this just in: The young, male, video-games crowd doesn't remember the great Ben-Hur

First, sorry for the delay on this week's "Crossroads" podcast. We had some technical difficulties, which happens every now and then in the Tower of Babel environment that is the Internet. Every now and then the software gods just don't get along.

The topic of my chat this week with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in) was, on one level, the box-office problems of the latest version of "Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ." But my earlier post on this topic also focused on the ongoing interest, in the mainstream media, in Hollywood's quest to tap into the "Christian" movie market, in the wake of the $611 million box office haul taken in by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

It's a great story and a very timely one. Basically, the folks behind the new Ben-Hur made a big-budget religion-niche movie, thinking that the young, male, action-movie demographic would show up for the chariot race scene.

What chariot race scene, you ask? Well, the one that movie scholars -- but not, it's safe to say, today's video-game fanatics -- remember with awe from the 1959 classic.

What were the producers of the new flick thinking?

That would be a great hard-news story, methinks, as opposed to a kind of no-sources analysis thumbsucker like the Atlantic piece I previously discussed.

Well, what do you know? The Los Angeles Times team produced a real news story about this bad, bad summer in Hollywood. The headline: "Hollywood's summer problem? Reboots people don't want."

The opening is pretty brutal:

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Yet another turning point in the search for Hollywood’s Christian market?

Yet another turning point in the search for Hollywood’s Christian market?

Highly secularized showbiz moguls suddenly realized that religion could pay off when Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie “The Passion of the Christ” posted $370 million in box office. That remains history’s highest domestic take for an R-rated movie and tops for any Christian-themed film, beating out the three  C.S. Lewis “Narnia” stories.

Woodenly scripted cheapos like 2001’s “Left Behind” that did poorly ($4.2 million total box office) no doubt dampened studio interest. Even after Gibson, Hollywood seems generally uncertain how to capitalize on this market, and treatments of faith are too often either phony or snarky. Hollywood insiders have struggled to find the magic faith-based niche formula.

But something important may be developing. Note that #5 in the Christian genre’s all-time box office is “War Room,” about the ineffable power of prayer to change lives for the better. It  grossed $67.8 million last year. Then there’s the current film “Risen,” timed for the lead-up to Easter. It earned a healthy $11.8 million with its opening last weekend and ranked #3 in the market (all data in this item are from

Both films come from Sony Pictures’ Affirm Films subsidiary, which has received surprisingly scant mainstream media coverage and has obvious potential for a good story.

Sony launched Affirm in 2007 with the mandate of “producing, acquiring, and marketing" films that uplift and inspire. Senior Vice President Rich Peluso, formerly with EMI Christian Music, says Affirm works “the space between faith and entertainment.”

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CNN attempts to bifurcate Jesus

I was reflecting on the interesting election coverage we experienced over the last year(s) and how the religion angles were handled. After 2008, perhaps we can agree that religion angles were handled better in this cycle. Which is not saying much.

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