Aronofsky and the Greens The creators of "Noah" join environmental leaders to discuss art and activism

The Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, brought art and politics together Wednesday in hosting an intriguing panel discussion titled, “Noah and the Nexus of Faith and Environmentalism.” As I’m sure you’ve heard, Noah is a major motion picture based on the biblical story of the flood and Noah’s ark, and has been criticized from multiple angles: For depicting God as irrationally wrathful; for characterizing Noah as a “vegan hippy-like gatherer of herbs” who also “mysteriously has the fighting skills of an ancient Near Eastern Ninja;” and, by our own Matthew Bulger, for being clichéd, tedious, and underwhelming. It’s a provocative film for the range of reactions it elicits, another being the positive reception amongst environmental activists for Noah’s not-so-subtle climate change subtext.

Left: Darren Aronofsky, Director, producer, and co-writer of Noah; Right: Ari Handel, Co-writer, "Noah"; Credit: Center for American Progress
This is what brought the film’s writer, director, and producer, Darren Aronofsky, and co-writer Ari Handel together with the executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, CAP’s managing director of energy policy, Danielle Baussan, and Jack Jenkins, a senior researcher with CAP’s faith and progressive policy group. Moderating the panel was best-selling science writer and Climate Desk correspondent Chris Mooney, who deftly integrated the panelists’ expertise into thoughtful questions. Mooney asked the filmmakers if they were surprised that conservative Christians criticized the film for veering too far from the original text. It’s clear in the Bible, Handel responded, that God is angry at the humans he created for their corruption of the earth and for their violent ways. He picks the only people who aren’t wicked and instructs them how to save humanity and all animal species. So to say there’s no ecological or environmental theme in the biblical story didn’t make sense to the filmmakers. Aronofsky talked about his long-held fascination with the Noah story and how it always scared him because he figured if he were living it he wouldn’t be good enough to get on the boat. He also stressed that the story isn’t just for Christians, but is part of our human heritage. A self-described nonreligious Jew, he said, “if you don’t think about whether it really happened or not, it becomes so much more powerful.” That idea was picked up by the Sierra Club’s leader, who said we must “transcend the logistics” of the Noah story and ask what it means to us: “What’s my role to create a prosperous world through my own actions?” Brune and the CAP panelists shared data on the growing embrace of environmental action among faith groups, including the singing anti-fracking nuns of Kentucky; an Orthodox parish in Alaska that blesses the sockeye salmon while refusing to bless the companies whose actions are harming the salmon population; and other evangelical groups who are really pushing the message of stewardship over dominion of the earth. Also mentioned were the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, a group of ranchers and tribal groups protesting the XL Keystone Pipeline whose members rode into DC on horseback a few days ago and set up a ceremonial teepee as part of an encampment on the National Mall. The overriding message from the panel was that people need to break through cultural, political, and religious barriers to come together to combat climate change and take on the gigantic companies who oppose renewable energy. If faith-based communities can be energized with environmental messages told through sacred texts, should humanists support the message over the medium? In his closing statement, Aronofsky said that such discussions with esteemed environmental figures was a welcome outcome of making the film, and he added that he and Handel (his Harvard roommate with whom he’s worked on a number of Hollywood movies) were “taking this show on the road” and were happy to talk to any group in the atheist, environmental, or faith-based communities. Perhaps we should invite them to discuss the role humanists can play in the nexus between faith and environmentalism.Tags: