Conscience over faith?
Over the weekend, my wife and I watched one of the best films we have seen in a long time. The film is called Water and is directed by Deepa Mehta. Water is set in the 1930’s against the backdrop of Ghandi’s rise to power in India. The film tells the story of an 8 year old girl who is sent to live the rest of her life in a commune with other widows due to the death of her husband (whom she never met). In Hinduism, a woman is considered half of her husband, so, when a man dies, the widow has three options: Burn herself alive with her husband, marry his younger brother, or live an ascetic life of self denial with other widows for the rest of her life. The young girl befriends a beautiful young woman (who is also a widow) and by chance introduces her to an idealistic young man who despises his society’s treatment of widows, but has to choose between his faith and his conscience.
The making of Water set off a firestorm in India. For four years, Hindu extremists did nearly everything to shut down the production of the film, including riots and death threats. Finally, the director decided to make the film in Sri Lanka when she realized it was not safe to make the movie in India. Although many Hindu extremists consider the movie anti-Hindu, the director denies that the film is anti-Hindu. Instead, she declares that the story is about the “universal” struggle between faith and conscience.
Forgive me, but I have to interject that I can not relate to the “universal” struggle between following the dictates of my faith and following the dictates of my conscience. If anything, watching Water helped to confirm what my conscience has been telling me my entire life, namely that following Jesus is the most moral path a person can take. The characters in Water had to choose between an obvious flaw in their religion and doing what their hearts told them what was right, especially regarding the fate of an 8-year old girl whose spirit was being crushed by the oppression. Interestingly, Ghandi is portrayed in the film as standing up for the rights of the widow and the outcast. One person in the film said, “Ghandi is one of the few people in the world who listens to the voice of his conscience.” If this is true, then Ghandi was a far more remarkable man than I have previously realized. This would mean that Ghandi chose to give dignity to the poor and the outcast despite what his religion taught him. This does not surprise me because there is, in fact, a tradition of pagan saints in Scripture (see Romans 2).
Watching this film made me appreciate in a deeper way the moral life of the founder of my religion, Jesus of Nazareth, the man who came to set the captives free.