The Way – Disneyland for (Non-)Believers

In 1958 the young theologian Joseph Ratzinger, today Pope Benedict XVI, cautioned in a lecture against a hazard for the Catholic Church: For a long time the enemies were outside the church, like atheistic philosophers, laicist statesmen or just protestants. Now the enemies were inside, they were the catholics themselves. By passing it off as progress and a new form of piety, as professor Ratzinger warned, they started to undermine the foundations of Catholicism. It was quite incredible, that he diagnosed this during the decade of the people`s church in Germany. Maybe at that time it was still too early, but today it sounds prophetic and one can understand what he meant. To prove it one need not to go to church, one can go into cinema. In the film „The Way“ (Der Weg) the director Emilio Estevez, the virtuous brother of the disobedient Charlie Sheen, focuses on his father Martin Sheen. The actor plays a father with an intricate relationship with his son. The son, played by Emilio of course, wants to go on pilgrimage, but he dies at the very beginning of the long Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostella. In deep mourning the father travels to France, completes the cremation and decides to pilgrimage to the destination his son couldn`t reach, carrying the ashes and spreading a part of them on every waypoint. Estevez takes up time for the narration and he bewares of horseplay as French comedies recently love to do. „The Way“ takes the father`s sorrow seriously and also the other pilgrims. Sheen meets a failed author, a divorcee, who suffered violence and has to live with a abortion, and even a man trying to slim to rescue his marriage. Quickly the four pilgrims become a surrogate family undergoing many – sometimes funny, sometimes blue – episodes on their way. So far, so good. But something is remarkable in this film: We hear dozens of personal reasons why the individuals go on pilgrimage.

The four friends meet a lot of people, who are also predominantly Catholics, but they understand the Way of St. James also as a personal trip, where they hope to find themselves. In two hours nary a answers the question, why he goes on pilgrimage, with the following words: „The reason is, I am a Catholic and as a religious human beeing it is normal to go on pilgrimage.“ They all understand themselves precisely not as religious but as spiritual. This difference is exactly the problem professor Ratzinger mentioned. For them Catholicism and indefinable spirituality are the same. And isn`t that the lesson we can learn when we read Paulo Coehlo or the international bestseller „I`m Off Then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago“ (Ich bin dann mal weg) by the German comedian Hape Kerkeling? Under the fig-leaf of Christianity they are searching for a nice experience beyond the mainstream, either to increase their motivation for their jobs or to have extraordinary holidays with deep, deep feelings or just to write a best-selling book. And perhaps professor Ratzinger is right, this diet Catholicism could be more dangerous than any opponent outside the church. At the end of the film a hollowed religion and a few balanced people is all that remains. One should not allow oneself to be deceived, when our pious group reach the cathedral. They do not enter it as a holy room, they enter it with veneration as one could enter a famous museum. In the thirties of the last century the German author Ernst Jünger, who became a Catholic when he was over one hundred years old, wrote in his book „The Adventurous Heart“ (Das abenteuerliche Herz), that the churches were becoming museums more and more. Maybe that will be the new role of Christianity. And possibly the cinema can become the substitute for pilgrimage. The advantage is, you don`t have to wander so far.

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One Response to “The Way – Disneyland for (Non-)Believers”
  1. thomas sagt:

    jetzt auf englisch?

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