Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Peculiar Religious Obliviousness of "Kings"

NBC's new series "Kings" was advertised as a "what if" story of a king arising in a place that looked remarkably like America after a major war. This looked like a large-scale epic, beautifully shot, with Ian McShane in the leading role. The capitol, rebuilt from the rubble, looked like the proposed Freedom Tower to be built on the World Trade Center site. The Gruntleds tuned in, looking for a modern political allegory, and wondering who thought monarchy was the answer.

To our surprise, the story is built directly out of the story of King Saul and King David. McShane's "King Silas" leads Shiloh in a war with Gath. Young David Shepherd single-handedly defeats Gath's Goliath (tank) while rescuing the king's son, Jack. The story does not shy away from God - King Silas takes his mission from a divine sign. Young David is annointed by a preacher named Samuel(s).

And yet, after a valiant hour, we gave up. The show is well done - good acting, decent dialogue, really nice photography. But I just couldn't forget the Biblical story in order to get into this story - not after the show went to such great lengths to remind us of the biblical story. This wasn't, as the official website contends, "a contemporary re-telling of the timeless tale of David and Goliath." This is the story of David and Saul - but without God as the central character.

The Bible is a rich field of story and image, the most fertile bed of the imagination of the West. I have no problem with allegories and analogies drawn from Biblical models. But it seems to me a perverse misreading of the Bible to treat its stories as if they were themselves allegories of politics in religious dress.

I was once in a group of earnest young people wrestling with how to understand the mystical experience of God. One young man, not really in sympathy with the project, said it would be easy to find out: just go into the desert and fast for forty days. If you had a mystical experience, then it was real. This was such a perversely backwards way of understanding mysticism that we were left speechless. If you go into the desert and fast, but are not earnestly seeking God, you are not recreating the absolutely vital core of the desert mystics' experience.

The story of David and Saul is the most poignant story in the Bible of trying to serve God while wielding earthly power. If you tell the story of Saul and David but they are not earnestly seeking to fulfill the vocation God gave them, you have missed the vital core of the David and Saul (not David and Goliath) story.


Nate Crimmins said...

And to make matters worse, they did some of their filming on Union's campus...

Gruntled said...

I can see that. The capital is clearly meant to be New York-like.