Constantine's Sword refers to the Christian Cross, the vision of which
caused Constantine the Great, to cry out the timeless words " In Hoc
Signo Vinces" (in this sign, you will conquer.) transforming a symbol
of love and peace into an icon of war. James Carroll, an ex Catholic
priest, looked at this side of his religion in his acclaimed book of
the same title published in 2001. Having read the 750 pages covering
the two millenniums of Christianity, fascinated by the writers ability
to weave facts into a tale as absorbing as the best work of fiction, I
was intrigued to see whether he could condense such a rich tapestry of
history into the time limits of a commercial documentary.
He couldn't; but the film that was made captures the essential message of the book,while adding a new more important role of social commentary on the America that only came into existence after the book was published. With the multi-front assault on the very concept of a "Wall of Separation between Church and State," lead by right wing evangelicals, this film immediately jumps to the forefront of the intellectual resistance to this transformation of America.
Constantine's Sword has two distinct threads. The first is the history of Christianity as a force of oppressive xenophobia, culminating with the abetting of the worst crime of our time, the holocaust. The other thread is in the present, focusing on the resistance of a single family, that of Mikey Weinstein, who challenges the evangelical dominance of a single institution, the U.S. Air Force Academy. Left on the editing floor, dictated by the time constraints of the medium, was adequate connecting tissue between the two. The real story of the aggressive evangelizing of the Air Force cadets is that of the future, with footage not accessible; a future that this film is attempting to prevent.
Compared to centuries of atrocities by Christians against Jews, vividly shown in the film by descendants of some who suffered, the stress of the young Weinstein men at the academy is trivial. What is not trivial, is the change in tone within the current administration that encourages such actions, leaving the unasked question: if this is happening now, what will the future bring. With this film, James Carroll has continued his career of self sacrifice that began by going against his beloved father, a three star Air Force general, in opposing the war in Viet Nam, a breach that was never healed. I can only imagine how it pained him to see vital elements of his book excluded from the film in order to give it visual impact.
They chose a prominent evangelical minister to present the argument for the legitimacy of aggressive evangelizing at the academy, who did so, with charismatic forcefulness. This provided the only moment of ironic laughter from the audience, as the minister was Ted Haggard, who later was publicly disgraced by exposure of his personal sexual hypocrisy. In the 21st century, America's political direction will be shaped at least as much by market share, by exposure to competing messages, as by the intrinsic merit of underlying ideas. The laughter at Haggard's words just may distract from the the profound message of the connection between past and future that Carroll is making. But then again, this segment may bring more people to see a film that otherwise would be too heavy for a night out at the movies.
In a world of sound bite politics, this film is a serious study of a religious revival that is transforming our country, and as a global power, affecting the world. I give it my most enthusiastic recommendation with a single condition- that anyone who is moved by this film, as you will be, also go out and buy the book-- and take the time to savor every word.
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