Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
So wrote the French philosopher Pascal in the 17th century, and his words are quoted by one of the monks in this solemn and engrossing film. “Of Gods and Men” is based on an event in Algeria in 1996, when eight Trappist monks were taken hostage by terrorists. The film centers on the fact that the monks could easily have evaded this fate but chose not to.
Why does suffering exist? You might argue that random genetics or natural disasters causes suffering, that this is an inevitable implication of natural selection. But what about suffering caused by human neglect or intent? Global warming. Religious intolerance. Gossip and slander. All the social and individually petty ways in which we sow seeds of violence instead of building peace. With all our knowledge and education and technology, don’t we in a sense know better? Certainly the state of our world today is a compelling question for believers: “Why does God allow suffering?” Whatever philosophical or religious slant on life you take, you can’t avoid grappling with the question of suffering. The movie Of Gods And Men allows us a unique view into how persons of faith existentially live this question…
See Of Gods and Men website
Read review by Roger Ebert
Questions For Discussion
- Roger Ebert, in his review of the movie, states that the Brother Christian, "should have had the humility to lead his monks away from self-sacrifice...It is egotism to believe their help must take place in this specific monastery...Are they committing the sin of pride?" How would you respond to his claims?
- Should the monks have engaged in more political advocacy? Were they really helping the muslim villagers?
- How did the pacing of the movie augment or distract from the narrative?
- Describe any visual scene or piece of music or dialogue that particularly impacted you.
- In his letter, Brother Christian states, "I know the contempt the people of this country may have indiscriminately been surrounded by. And I know which caricatures of Islam a certain Islamism encourages. This country and Islam, for me, are something else. They are a body and a soul." How does the movie attempt to convey this conviction of Christian's? Do you think the filmmaker was successful in this? (Here is a transcript of the full letter.)
- Do any scripture verses or bible stories come to mind after seeing this film? Any verses from the Koran?
- When the terrorists come to the monastery at night on Christmas Eve, Christian refers to Jesus as "Isa Al Masih", which seems to placate the lead terrorist. What does this scene suggest? (See Jesus Through a Muslim Lens)
- Why do you think screenwriter Etienne Comar wanted to make this film
- Which of the monks do you identify with most? Why or why not?
- How does the movie's portrayal of the monks' singing and praying affect your experience of the movie?
- The elderly monk Luc quotes Pascal: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction." How does one guard against doing perverse evil in the name of God?
- How did you experience 'The Last Supper' scene?
- Under what circumstances, if any, would leaving the monastery have been an act of faithfulness and not cowardice?
- How was a sense of community formed through their decision-making process? Is it the same for us, living in less dangerous conditions?