Should You Believe Eli?
~ By Adeleke Adeyemi
“I was so busy trying to protect the book and learn it that I forgot to live it.” — Eli (played by Denzel Washington) in The Book of Eli
‘Apocalypse and aftermath… again!’ should be the caveat emptor — ‘let the buyer beware’ — posted on this latest Hollywood offering. On display is its fascination, and sometimes paranoia, with the alluring theme of what holds promise for Man’s immolation — the Apocalypse — by the god(s) of the universe. Perhaps more important is the hydra-headed question of ‘What next?’
This is the task The Book of Eli set itself. One thing it does quite well is its showcase of many of the common views people have of the Bible. First: the Bible, Christianity, and religion in general constitute a tool to gain control over the weak-minded simpletons of our world. That’s why Gary Oldman’s character Carnegie wants the book.
Its words have power, he says; that it’s a weapon that will help him achieve his goals of control and power in the post-apocalyptic wasteland the world has become. Second: Bible is a great piece of literature, but nothing more than that, part of a collection that includes greats like Shakespeare, Milton, and others ‘greats’… but no more or less important than the others beyond their literary value. Bible as Literature course is very interesting, but it completely missed the point of what the Bible is really about.
Finally, there’s the view that the Bible is a great source of inspiration and moral direction, that it is a guide for learning how to be a good, nice person. This is illustrated when Eli shares what he believes is the point of the book, or at least it’s what he got out of it.
All interesting viewpoints…that, quite frankly, miss the point! The Bible is more than just a piece of great literature worthy of preservation as a part of humanity’s literary heritage. It’s more than just guidelines on how to live a moral life, or just inspiration to give people a “higher purpose.”
The Bible is entirely unique. Here’s something composed of sixty-six different books by 40 different authors in three different languages from several different parts of the world over a span of over a thousand years, and yet it’s a single, comprehensive, non-contradictory revelation of God’s love for humanity, the problem of sin, and God’s solution for that problem.
From Genesis to Revelation, this is what the Bible is about: this message of humanity being devastated by sin, separated from God and doomed to hell (and not being able to do anything about that through our own virtues and good works. God loves us so much that he himself provided a solution for that problem of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: God’s son, God in the flesh.
This need of a Saviour sets the Bible apart from being just literature or a guide for being good. However, there’s hardly a hint of any of this in The Book of Eli. While it may not be necessary for that to be a part of the movie to make it good; but if the aim is to try and show why the Bible is important, these facts seem rather strange to leave out.
While The Book of Eli falls short of articulating a thoroughly grounded Biblical vision of the way things are, the film has a lot going for it. Eli’s character affirms the idea that we walk by faith and not by sight, and it’s a nice bit of story-telling that we don’t discover his physical blindness until the very end. A further interesting twist: the most famous prison in the world (Alcatraz, in San Francisco Bay) has become the repository for the last best hopes of humankind.
Clearly, there is more emphasis on the Old Testament sense of justice (lots of gore-gumption; it’s an action thriller) than on the New Testament message of grace (although Eli does eventually confess how much more he needs to do for others than for himself). As for the Bible as a tool of oppression, there are unfortunately many examples to ticked off, from the Inquisition to slavery to the decimation of native peoples in the Americas. The Oldman character is a stunning depiction and brilliant accounting of good ideas in the service of perverse objectives.
Will another movie follow to show what the world will be like without other versions (and indeed perversions) of the Bible? Like Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormons and the “New World” Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Quran, littering as they do the landscape of the soul of humanity.
Adeleke Adeyemi, a geologist and author is the Editorial Consultant of the Supple Media print edition and the Senior Staff Writer of Timeless newspaper in Lagos, Nigeria.