I was invited by an old friend to review a part of the Zeitgeist movie and answer some questions about it. I ended up watching the whole thing, largely because I kept waiting for it to all make sense, for all the dots to be connected, and for the big answers or big solutions to be announced.
I was disappointed.
The idea of this particular format of presentation is not only not new, it even existed pre-internet. When I was in high school in the 1970s, a televised history class one day presented a slide show in time and in beat to Iron Butterfly’s unforgettable In-A-Gadda–Da-Vida (“In the Garden of Eden,” some say), which by 1972 was an oldie. The entire Oklahoma City public school system saw this televised presentation.
Likewise, the conceptual framework of the Zeitgeist movie is not a revelation but a rehash of most of the more interesting conspiracy theories. The idea that people should not lend unthinking acquiescence to what they are told by government or the media is certainly worthy. But, a bunch of alternative history or alternative reality theories that are no more substantiated, and usually less so, is not likely to create an environment of critical thinking.
Indeed, there is a large scale abandonment of critical thinking training proceeding at breakneck speed in America. That is why debate squads are now rare in high schools and colleges, but numerous members (fifty at one local high school has been recently reported) of every faculty have special sports coaching contracts. Team sports teach many good things, but critical thinking is not one of them.
The Zeitgeist movie begins with the assertion that religion is a fraud and that if the intelligent reviewer will but do the indepth research the authors of Zeitgeist have done, they will reach the same contrarian result. Of course, in the movie itself, the poor narration and even grammatical errors notwithstanding, only conclusions are presented. No substantiating documents or evidence are presented. Otherwise, the movie’s sweep through thousands of years of history could not be accomplished in two hours.
The Zeitgeist authors are clearly trying to repackage the “international Jewish bankers control the world” conspiracy theory, without using the word “Jewish,” and graft it onto the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, World War I and World War II, federal income taxation and national banking systems as progenitors of economic slavery. Oh, and if you research any of these issues and reach a different conclusion, the authors of the movie are concerned that you may have reviewed “biased sources” or “very general” sources.
Oh, lest I forget, my friend asked me to consider the Zeitgeist claim at the beginning of the film that there have been many “God the son” stories in the religions of antiquity such that the claims about Jesus are simply borrowed from those earlier religious claims. This is not a new argument. It has been made many times. The first time I saw it was in Gibbon’s The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, which was published in the 1700s (Gibbon died in 1794). Gibbon’s theory, as I recall it, was that because the Gospels seemed to track an earlier religious claim, possibly Mithraism, the Gospels were accepted by Roman soldiers, eventually leading to the acceptance of Christianity as the state religion of Rome. However, as I recall, Mithraism was not much of a competitor for Christianity because Mithraism only allowed males into the sect, i.e., it was not family friendly, and was only one of many “pagan” beliefs that migrated to Rome during that era. The parallels in the stories of Mithra and Jesus that scholars could agree upon were not terribly compelling or even numerous, but the Zeitgeist movie claims otherwise.