This is the twelfth part of a 13-part German documentary mini-series covering the history of Christianity from its beginnings to the modern day. Although the series is a German production, the narration is in English. It was filmed at many different holy and historic sites.
This final volume in the series picks up at the end of the Second World War, looking at the devastation across Europe. Germany seems to accept its own guilt for the horrors that have occurred and this helps as Christians try to build bridges. Rome stuck to the theme that it was “the one true church” up until the Second Vatican Council and the progressive Pope, John XXIII.
The ever-looming threat of atomic warfare also played a part in the new era. Capitalism also took off, especially in the 1950’s as the West became a consumer’s paradise and the age of consumerism took over.
The lure of money was strong as well during this time and grew. Some have likened the rise of the businessmen to be replacing the role of priests in the world selling salvation through money. It has become a world of the “haves” and the “have nots” as the number of extremely impoverished nations has doubled during this time.
The questions are asked that have no answer. The rich are getting richer and do as they please. 80% of the world’s property is in the hands of 220 people. Is that the true basis of Christian values?
Opportunities and Perils raises questions about our present and future and the role of Christianity in it. On its own, the episode doesn’t seem like much. However, taken in the context of all the history that has come before it and it really puts many of our current debates in perspective. Moral questions such as those about cloning are debated, although such hot-button issues like abortion and homosexuality aren’t discussed.
Noted religious figures such as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop Karl Lehmann, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dr. Bill Haseltine, and more are interviewed for this portion of the series. Likewise, a tape of Martin Luther’s King Jr.’s most noted speech is played. Between these interviews and clips, there is little room for the dramatic re-enactments which became the cornerstone of the series in episodes prior to this one. I did miss seeing them as they have a spiritual impact of bringing the period in question to life. In modern times it’s easy to rely on footage, and there’s no debating that seeing children starving has an impact, but in many ways it’s also nothing new.
Since this is a German production, I wonder if Christian Fundamentalism is as big in Europe as it seems to be here in America. I would have to guess no, and I was sort of disappointed that the rise of this set of beliefs and it’s impact (or potential impact) wasn’t explored.
Opportunities and Perils isn’t really an ending to the series. It seems to be saying “This is where we are right now. As Christians, what do we do about it?” For discussion groups within churches, it’s a good point to jump off as to what exactly the role of Christianity is to be in the next few decades. Is it to sit in judgment of the morality of people and to decide what is right and wrong? More than once in the series, it showed how that tactic, which created a church where certain people claimed a higher moral ground over others, resulted in the further splintering apart of the faith that developed from one man’s message. Thinking of how some have tried to unite believers, is that really the path we should take?
The series as a whole is excellent and at just about 40 minutes long, each episode is perfect for a church discussion group. I wouldn’t recommend viewing Opportunities and Perils without having viewed the rest of the series, as it really doesn’t make an impact without the rest of the series behind it. The usual Book List is on the DVD, for anyone who would like to read up on any of the topics covered during this sequence.
Although not the strongest entry in the series, it provides a good discussion about where we go from here. It’s easy to sit around and debate morality issues, but aren’t hunger and poverty also moral issues? In light of how Christians in the first few centuries after Jesus’ death acted, I wonder if we are doing those who risked their lives so the message could live justice.
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