"Even if you don't believe in me, at least believe in my good works..." John 10:38
Paul is a somewhat-crass, somewhat-sweet science fiction comedy about two hapless guys who stumble upon an extraterrestrial in the middle of the desert.
Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are two British comic book writers who go on a tour of UFO sites across the American Southwest. On their road trip, they have an unexpected close encounter with Paul, voiced by Seth Rogan, an alien who has been "among us" since he crashed his UFO back in 1947. Of course, by picking up a hitchhiking interstellar creature, they expose themselves to the authorities - who are hot on their trail.
In a sense, with all their sci-fi experiences, it would seem Graeme and Clive would be the perfect pair to run off with an extraterrestrial. But at first, the two simply cannot believe their eyes. Is it really true?
Questions of skepticism and belief continuously pop up in this movie - squeezed between the barrage of allusions to other films like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Aliens, Back to the Future, Close Encounters, Mac and Me, E.T., Predator, The X-Files, and Star Trek, among others.
Belief in aliens, government cover-ups, evolution, morality, weapons, and a literal approach to Scripture all get tossed into the mix here. Sadly, all Christians are represented by vengeance-minded fundamentalists - allowing the characters to dismiss all aspects of the faith due to the actions of a few extremists. In a sense, it seems it's easier for the filmmakers to believe in UFOs than the power of God.
In a sense, it's a good argument to wrestle with... if an alien were to come to our planet, how would they understand our faith? What would these extraterrestrials see when they surveyed the religious traditions around the world?
Perhaps they would see that terrorists kill innocent people in the name of Allah. Perhaps they would see pastors abusing their authority by scamming congregants out of money or sexually hurting the children in their care. Perhaps they would see angry, hateful emails forwarded around the Internet, sent by those who claim to be church-going Christians. Perhaps they would see synagogues, mosques, temples, and churches being burned by adherents of another religious group. If this is what they saw, how would they understand any concept of faith?
There are a number of inactive Christians who pose these arguments to us. They see these hypocritical public actions of believers - and dismiss the entire faith because of that.
While it might be impossible to completely silence the extremists and abusers, this reaction is a call to the rest of us - to make Jesus' works of compassion, social justice, mercy, forgiveness, love, humility, and selflessness more visible by his followings in our world today. Our challenge is to erase the stereotypical image of a Christian as seen a movie like Paul: vengeful, close-minded, condemning, fundamentalist, violent, and suppressed.
Jesus himself was troubled by misconceptions of his ministry. Herod thought that Jesus could do magic. The Romans thought he could rally an army against the Empire. The Pharisees thought that Jesus was a morally-loose egomaniac.
After one such skirmish in the Gospels, Jesus told his opponents, "If I don't perform good works inspired by God, then don't believe me. And even if you don't believe in me, at least believe in the good works that I do." (John 10:37-38). In other words, let our actions speak to our faith. And in the meantime, even if others still remain unconvinced, let us continue to do good works.
In the movie, even though Paul the alien dismisses religious belief, he still operates out of compassion for others. He comforts his friends in times of uncertainty and doubt. He rescues his companions from a burning building. He uses his powers to cure blindness and to raise a man from the dead (even though such an act might potentially kill him). Sadly, even when another character kindly says "God be with you" (since God's good works are evident in his little green man), he still pushes it aside.
In a way, Paul had Christ within him - but closed himself off to such a possibility because of his impression of Christians. Even though it was a fictional comedy, this dismissal saddened me.
It saddened me because there are so many people in the world today who have Christ within their hearts and act out of gospel-centered values, yet still regard religion and spirituality as empty, hypocritical, or evil.
What can we do to change that? How can aliens, inactive churchgoers, and the rest of the world see what faith is really all about? How can we share the faith that compels us to live as Christ lived, to act as Christ acted, to speak as Christ spoke, and to die as Christ died?
Going forward, it is my goal that, should I have a close encounter on the side of the road with a stranded alien, that extraterrestrial would understand the faith that drives me to hope, to redemption, and through my actions, make the world (or any world, in this galaxy or the next) a better place for all God's creatures.