Director-producer-writer Peter Rodger took an admirably ambitious project on when he decided to make Oh My God, a documentary opening today in Los Angeles and New York. Starting out in his native Australia, Rodger traversed 23 different countries and asked various people he encountered "What is God?" Rodger, disheartened by historic and current conflicts at least partly motivated by religious intolerance, was hoping to discover there is more that unites religious believers than divides.
The filmmaker interviews Roman Catholic priests, Hindu children, African bush people, Jewish rabbis, Buddhist monks, Muslim teachers, and even a Druid or two. Rodger also poses his question, somewhat inexplicably but magnanimously, to entertainers and fellow countrymen Hugh Jackman, Baz Luhrmann and Jack Thompson as well as to musicians Ringo Starr and Bob Geldof.
While a few of the interviewees in Oh My God have unique and illuminating things to say, many of the responses are simplistic and some are downright embarrassing. One reaches the conclusion fairly early in Rodger's gorgeously photographed but obnoxiously quick-cut-edited film that the question "What is God?" has no satisfactory nor universally agreeable answers, even among those who claim the same religion.
This is most apparent, disturbingly so, when Rodger speaks with a Muslim imam who states "To kill homosexuals is a good thing in the sight of God" according to the Koran, as well as with the leader of an Islamic institute in southern California who cites the same scripture in repudiating the imam's claim. Christians don't come off as any more unified, with various clergy and lay people giving divergent interpretations of the New Testament. A fundamentalist Christian woman in Texas who owns a gun shop implies that Christians have the responsibility to kill non-Christians should their presence and/or beliefs encroach too closely.
I came away from Oh My God not having learned much I didn't already know and disappointed by Rodger's shallow approach to trying to spark meaningful inter-religious dialogue. Still, the movie will likely be helpful to novices just starting out on the path of religious understanding. It may prove to be a valuable resource in that regard or for high school and college students. God knows Rodger's well-intentioned question remains an important one to ask, even if it is ultimately unanswerable.
Click here to watch the trailer for Oh My God.
UPDATE: Oh My God is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.