The Iran deal isn’t perfect, but it beats war

Iran_nuclear_program_map-en

As the October 15 deadline approaches for President Donald Trump to inform Congress if he will recertify the nuclear deal with Iran, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), his final decision presents an opportunity for him to chart his own course in Republican foreign policy—one that puts Americans’ interests above the interests of their Middle Eastern allies who consider Iran their greatest geopolitical threat.

Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) right after the JCPOA, requiring the president to inform Congress every three months if Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. If the president finds that Iran is not complying, the United States doesn’t automatically exit the deal, rather, Congress then has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on the country.

During the presidential campaign, Trump often criticized the JCPOA as “an embarrassment to our country,” saying Obama should have treated the release of American prisoners in Iran as a prerequisite for any deal, and claiming Obama gave Iran the impression that it would not walk away from the negotiating table regardless of the outcome.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal in July, “If it was up to me, I would have had [the Iranians] noncompliant 180 days ago.” Then, in his speech before the United Nations on September 19, he blasted the Iranian government for masking its corrupt dictatorship, funding terrorists, “undermining peace throughout the Middle East,” and “building dangerous missiles.”

But Iran’s missile program can’t reach the U.S. Furthermore, even if it could, without nuclear warheads, it would be completely impotent against the superior conventional militaries of Israel and the U.S., not to mention the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In addition, Iran’s missiles don’t factor into the deal.

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has also expressed outright hostility toward the deal and the nation of Iran itself. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on September 5, she insisted that Iran has violated the deal. But the only two examples she could give were when Iran briefly exceeded its suggested limit of heavy water twice in 2016.

Under the agreement, Iran is only allowed enough heavy water as it needs, and the signatories estimated that 130 tones would be enough. The reason for this limit is that such water could be used as a moderator in nuclear power stations, which could then produce plutonium from the spent fuel of the reactors. Once Iran reaches that level, it’s supposed to sell its excess water.

Haley complained that when Iran surpassed its heavy water limit, former President Barack Obama, rather than declaring the country in violation of the deal, “helped Iran get back into compliance.”

But Obama was not purposely looking for an excuse to rip the deal up like Trump and Haley. Furthermore, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) brought the issue up, Iran complied in a timely manner and shipped the excess water to the country of Oman.

Haley said the IAEA “does good work,” but pointed out that the agency is saying that “of the sites they’ve seen, the Iranians are in compliance.” She said that “no one is talking about the sites they haven’t seen.”

She is convinced the Iranians are trying to develop a nuclear weapon at military bases and has been lobbying the IAEA hard to demand the Iranians allow the agency to conduct intrusive inspections of those bases. She offers no proof for her suspicions and bases her reasoning on nothing more than Iran’s history of belligerence toward the U.S., most of which predates her graduation from high school.

But as Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, recently noted,

The IAEA to our knowledge has not requested access to any site and been denied. Furthermore, the agency cannot and should not seek access to a site simply to test the Iranians’ cooperation. They must have a legitimate reason.

Nevertheless, Haley and others in the foreign policy establishment, who are urging Trump to decertify the deal, would not be satisfied if Iran was found in compliance after opening all its military bases.

For instance, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) said as recently as October 3 that Trump should decertify the deal, even if Iran is complying.

But how bad of a deal is the JCPOA for the U.S.?

The deal provides Iran with over $100 billion, but that money is not foreign aid—it’s Iran’s own money that the U.S. and other countries froze when they placed sanctions on the country.

What does the U.S. get in return?

Americans get peace of mind, if they want it, that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. It may be decades before Iran’s government moderates and modernizes. But in the meantime, it would be much easier for the U.S. if it could focus on its citizens and on countries that actually pose a geopolitical threat, while letting the IAEA keep an eye on Iran.

Trump has so far recertified the deal twice, and the IAEA has confirmed eight times that Iran is complying with the deal. Furthermore, most in Trump’s administration have concurred with the agency and see no reason for the U.S. to withdraw.

The nuclear agreement with Iran is by no means a perfect deal for anyone involved, but it offers a better alternative than the option that Haley and other anti-Iranian hawks prefer. Unless Iran clearly violates the terms of the agreement, the U.S. has no reason to abandon the deal.

It’s really about regime change in Tehran.

For many “conservatives,” however, it’s not about compliance, or even the “terrible deal” itself—it’s about regime change in Tehran.

Cotton, in fact, explicitly stated in June, “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran.”

cspan.org

In a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2007, General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the 1999 War on Yugoslavia, claimed that the U.S. experienced a foreign policy coup after the 9/11 attacks.

“Some hard-nosed people took over the direction of American policy, and they never bothered to inform the rest of us,” he said.

He went on to recall that a general in the Pentagon told him in 2001 of a policy memo that laid out a plan to overthrow the governments of seven countries in the Middle East (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran) within five years.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a presidential debate in 2015 that the U.S. should topple the Iranian regime, claiming the country “has declared war on us.”

Trump’s CIA director Mike Pompeo, last year as a Congressman, publicly called for congressional action to “change Iranian behavior, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime.”

As head of the CIA, Pompeo has approved new authorities for U.S. intelligence officers to begin placing funds in secret accounts belonging to Iranian officers to create the impression that those officers are working for foreign powers.

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, Politico reported, that the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a D.C.-based think tank, circulated a seven-page memo throughout the National Security Council and the White House, urging the new administration to enact regime change in Iran.

“Iran is susceptible to a strategy of coerced democratization because it lacks popular support and relies on fear to sustain its power,” the memo read. It reminded Trump that no one has greater power to foment dissent abroad than the American president, stating that the goal in Iran should be “a tolerant government that adheres to global norms.” It suggested Trump “use trade unions, student organizations and dissident clerics to highlight the economic, political [and] moral shortcomings of the Iranian regime.”

Trump officials were careful to tell Politico that the administration relies more on internal, rather than external proposals and mentioned they had also consulted the Brookings Institution for foreign policy advice.

But Brookings has also called for regime change in Iran. In 2009, it issued a report entitled, “Which Path to Persia,” which prescribed a deceitful war of aggression. It argued that the U.S. should create a situation to make Iran look as if it’s blowing a chance for a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue. This would then allow the U.S. or Israel, to attack the country, “in sorrow, not anger.” The tactic, the report stated, would convince at least some in the international community that “the Iranians brought it on themselves.”

Newsweek reported that Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under former President Richard Nixon, also visited the White House shortly after Trump’s inauguration to advise the president on the Islamic State (ISIS). Kissinger cautioned that defeating ISIS could lead to a “radical Iranian empire” across the Middle East.

Kissinger’s viewpoint mirrors that of an influential Israeli think tank, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), which the University of Pennsylvania has ranked one of the three top think tanks in the Middle East and Africa. BESA released a paper on August 2, by Efraim Inbar, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, entitled, “The Destruction of Islamic State is a Strategic Mistake.” In it, Inbar argues, “IS can be a useful tool in undermining Tehran’s ambitious plan for domination of the Middle East.” ISIS, he states, should be weakened but not defeated, adding,

The West yearns for stability, and holds out a naive hope that the military defeat of IS will be instrumental in reaching that goal. But stability is not a value in and of itself. It is desirable only if it serves our interests.

When Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon was the White House chief strategist, he asked former U.S. ambassador to the UN and senior fellow at AEI John Bolton to draw up a game plan for Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA. Bolton obliged, and in it, urges the president to “expedite delivery of bunker-buster bombs; announce U.S. support for Kurdish national aspirations, including Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria; provide assistance to Balochis, Khuzestan Arabs, Kurds, and others—also to internal resistance among labor unions, students, and women’s groups.”

Cotton, proposing along the same lines as Bolton, has noted that Iran has numerous minority ethnic groups, including Arabs, Turkmen, and Balochs who “aren’t enthusiastic about living in a Persian Shiite despotism.” He too advocates a combination of economic, diplomatic, and covert actions to pressure Tehran’s government, and “support internal domestic dissent.”

To wage war on the Iranian regime is to wage war on the Iranian people.

But, what those on the warrior bandwagon fail to understand is that any attempt to wage war on the Iranian regime, regardless of how dissatisfied most Iranians are with their backward government, would necessarily wage war on the Iranian people.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani won all the major Sunni-populated provinces by overwhelming margins in this year’s election. This says something about Iranian religious minorities’ view of Rouhani, considering voter turnout in those provinces exceeded the national average. Furthermore, Iran is not an artificially created country like Iraq and most African countries that were colonies of the West. Iranians of all religious affiliations and ethnicities can trace their history in Persia back three thousand years.

But a more pressing problem for the would-be saviors of the oppressed Iranian people is the fact that there is no serious opposition to empower.

Iran’s only operational dissident group is the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), with roughly 5,000 to 13,500 members. The fact that most of them are dispersed outside of Iran means that MEK could not possibly destabilize Iran’s government. Furthermore, the group sided with Saddam Hussein in the eight-year war between Iraq and Iran that cost hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives, meaning MEK is not even popular with the Iranian people. Some may argue the U.S. could heavily arm the group the way it has done with dozens of dissident groups throughout history. But the State Department has already designated MEK as a terrorist organization.

In addition, claims that the Iranian regime’s policies—particularly concerning its nuclear program and aid to fellow Shiites in the region—lack popular support is void of evidence. A recent poll shows that 81 percent of Iranians believe it is “very important for Iran to develop its nuclear program” and 68 percent thought that Iran should “seek to increase the role it plays in the region.”

Another argument for regime change is that all Iranian politicians must be hard-liners because they have to support the revolutionary philosophy of the Islamic Republic to get elected.

But this thinking assumes all Iranian politicians take their constitution more seriously than American politicians take the U.S. constitution.

The U.S. has already been down this path before.

In 1953, the U.S. overthrew Mohhamad Mossadegh because he started drifting a little too far to the left for Cold War sensibilities. A quarter century later, in 1979, Iranian revolutionaries cited that grievance more than any other as the reason for their 444-day occupation of the U.S. embassy.

Regime change sounds like a noble goal to pursue when it is on paper and in theory, but it is because of regime change that a nuclear Iran is an issue in the first place.

Where does President Trump really stand on Iran?

Trump’s motives for his opposition to the JCPOA are a bit harder to pin down than most politicians. For starters, the president is no ideologue and takes practical conservatism to a level unseen in recent American politics.

But while the virtues of homespun, practical conservatism are many, it can just as easily produce dangerous homespun ignorance.

In a televised speech at the Rose Garden with the Lebanese prime minister, Trump praised Lebanon’s government for fighting Hezbollah—a militia with representation in the Lebanese parliament. A former U.S. official, in fact, has told Reuters that Hezbollah and Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq have been “very helpful” in recapturing vast swaths of the caliphate that ISIS declared in 2014.

Then on Sept. 26, Trump tweeted,

Iran just test-fired a Ballistic Missile capable of reaching Israel. They are also working with North Korea. Not much of an agreement we have!

The tweet was in response to a video of the test firing of a Khoramshahr missile that aired on Iranian state television. The only problem is that the video footage was from a failed Iranian missile test last year.

But bombastic gaffes and seeking out advice from militaristic ideologues doesn’t automatically make the president and his administration militaristic.

Unlike Ted Cruz, who promised to rip the deal to shreds “on the very first day in office,” candidate Trump promised to honor America’s word to its allies, who also signed the deal with Iran.

Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in 2015, “We have a horrible contract, but we do have a contract.” He added, “I would love to tell you…I’m going to be the toughest guy in the world, and I’m just rippin’ it up, but you know what? Life doesn’t work that way.” Instead, he promised to enforce the terms of the deal “like you’ve never seen a contract enforced before.”

In Bannon’s recent ‘60 Minutes’ interview, he said, “President Trump wants to get out of the deal and either go make a better deal or just view it from the outside.”

This doesn’t imply that Trump or his economic nationalist support base are interested in pursuing a costly, covert, or overt, crusade to topple the Iranian regime.

Trump views his image above all else. If he thinks it will help his image to remain in the deal, he will. If he feels it would make him look like a strong leader to tell the rest of the world to take a hike, like he did with the Paris Climate Accord, he will do that instead.

Government officials recently told the Associated Press that “the future of the Iran nuclear deal may hinge on a face-saving fix for President Donald Trump so he doesn’t have to recertify the Islamic republic’s compliance every 90 days.” Likewise, White House sources have confirmed that Trump feels the periodic reviews mandated by Congress are a “source of embarrassment.”

The fact that Trump hates being forced to recertify a law he railed against fits his broader persona. Trump dislikes the nuclear deal with Iran for much the same reason he dislikes the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). They’re not his deals.

Trump’s tirades against the JCPOA could be his way of railing against the INARA, which requires his personal stamp of approval every three months on his predecessor’s legacy. 

If Trump decertifies the JCPOA, what then? 

If Trump decides to declare Iran in noncompliance on October 16, would Congress be willing to reimpose sanctions unilaterally without the support of America’s allies?

The objections of the deal’s critics don’t make sense without any grand vision of forced regime change in Iran. Although the IAEA inspections are not as intrusive as people like Haley would prefer, at least the West gets to monitor Iran’s nuclear program—a luxury we don’t have with North Korea.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said recently, “if the U.S. leaves the treaty and Europe follows, then this deal will certainly collapse and Iran will go back to what it was before and, technically speaking, to a much higher level.”

The U.S. will never force Iran to give up its nuclear program, a program more than 80 percent of the Iranian population supports, without declaring war on the country and launching a full-scale invasion. But if one believes former General Clark, such a plan would not fall beneath many in the foreign policy establishment.

But even if Trump decertifies the deal and Congress reimposes sanctions, U.S. allies would likely not do the same.

After Trump’s remarks at the UN, 78 European officials signed a letter to his administration, expressing great concern over “reports that the U.S. Administration might unilaterally declare Tehran non-compliant with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.” The letter quotes the IAEA’s director general who declares Tehran in compliance and states, “Iran is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.” In addition, more than fifty Asia Pacific political, diplomatic, military and civil society leadership figures also signed a joint statement, urging the U.S. to uphold its end of the bargain.

This is a recipe for a trade war between the U.S. and the rest of the developed world if Washington tries to impose secondary sanctions on other countries’ financial institutions for not bending to its will.

American citizens do face existential threats. Among them: hurricanes, floods, a madman leading a brainwashed regime in North Korea, and rising insurance premiums because of the Affordable Care Act that prevent people from getting the healthcare they need. But a nuclear-gagged regime with a limping economy in the Middle East and a few hundred rockets that can’t even reach Western Europe is not one of them.

“This could be the calm before the storm,” said Trump at the White House on Friday.

“On Iran? On ISIS? On what?” asked a reporter.

“You’ll see,” came the subtle reply, with a wink, as the president and first lady posed with military leaders and their wives for a photo-op.

If Trump is as swayable on Iran as he was on Afghanistan, then Americans have already seen.

They saw for eight long years as thousands of lives and millions of dollars sank in Iraq. They saw as the most left-wing administration in the nation’s history rose from the frustration Americans felt toward a senseless so-called “conservative” foreign policy. Then, they saw as ISIS rose from the ashes they left behind to become a greater menace than the original evil they sought to depose.

Obama nailed it in 2012.

“The 1980s called and they want their foreign policy back,” he said in a presidential debate, mocking Mitt Romney’s boorish Cold War-lite statements.

Apparently, the 80s are still on the phone.

Personal Experience with Amtrak

I recently rode Amtrak for the first time, and I must admit that the United States can do better in the area of rail travel.

Raised in a fairly nostalgic home environment, my childhood VHS entertainment featured a steady stream of old films like Young Tom Edison, Where the Red Fern Grows, North by Northwest, and of course a pile of Westerns based on eras when trains were the form of public transportation.

Some of the best action movies in history have, in fact, involved suspenseful train scenes. Think of the Mission Impossible series, Money Train, From Russia with Love, and Skyfall.

Trains have always represented adventure, suspense, and independence in my mind.

My desire to travel by train as a kid went largely unfulfilled, though, as passenger train service had essentially died in the southern U.S. three decades before I was born.

Image from bootsnall.com

Before giving my full experience on America’s passenger train monopoly, though, I must admit that European rail had spoiled my expectations. I’ve traveled on nearly every form of European train, from sleeper cars, to German first class, to ex-communist-bloc clunkers with no plumbing (See image to the right). So, I fully expected that Amtrak wouldn’t come near Western European standards.

After my last Greyhound bus experience, which included a ten-hour delay because of a station shooting in Richmond, having to pay $160 in Nashville (more than my entire round-trip ticket) to retrieve my truck after the employees impounded it (Greyhound’s website contained no warning that parking was not available at the station), I had promised myself never again to pay a cent to that poorly-run, antiquated hound .

Moving to Washington, DC, I was unwilling to pay the extra airfare for all the luggage and the bicycle that I was taking.

So, willing to hitchhike from Birmingham to Washington, D.C. before resorting to Greyhound, I decided to check Amtrak prices.

The price wasn’t bad, $160 one-way with two free suitcases with an extra $20 for the third. Taking along bikes are free with Amtrak, which was the deal-seller since the much cheaper Megabus does not have room for them.

I arrived at the Birmingham station three hours before departure, hoping to shed my heavy, unwieldy luggage quickly. However, there were no Amtrak employees in sight, and the window remained unmanned.

After about an hour, I finally spotted one employee among the fifty or so passengers who were waiting in a filthy waiting room the size of a dentist office. I asked him where I should check in my luggage. He pointed down a hall that looked like it led to a time portal back to the 1950s and said to wait for the announcement to check them in. I walked down the hall, which ended at a locked storage room door.

I walked back into the sweatbox where the other passengers were quietly awaiting the time of their deliverance. The employee was gone.

I managed to maneuver the 200 lbs. of luggage into a corner that wouldn’t have been available if the bathrooms I was blocking had not been out of order.

No announcement ever came, and my fellow passengers and I headed up to the tracks ten minutes before boarding time. The controller naturally told me I needed tags for my luggage, and I told him there was no employee at the window to do that.

“Well, it’s too late now,” he said glumly.

He told me they would have to be shipped the following day. I told him that was fine, but he promptly changed his mind.

I went back into the station where the sole employee had reappeared. He quickly got me tags and took my bike to the train while I dragged my suitcases up the stairs to the platform.

The train itself was something a passenger could expect in El Salvador, Somalia, Bosnia, or the United States (if said rider had survived Greyhound). The carpet was stained down the aisles with every dark tint imaginable, the seats were stained where they weren’t ripped, and the windows looked like they hadn’t felt window cleaner in a year.

The pace of travel was especially abysmal. On a bad day of traffic, it takes a law-abiding driver two hours to get from Birmingham to Atlanta. It took the relatively empty Amtrak train nearly eight hours; and since Anniston, Alabama closed its station long ago—that’s eight hours with no stops.

Part of that is because unlike in other civilized countries, Amtrak has to stop for freight trains—often for thirty minutes at a time.

The pace and number of passengers picked up considerably once the train got north of Charlotte.

Sleep on the 22-hour ride was virtually impossible, as the staff had the temperature turned down to what felt like 45 degrees.

Amtrak’s food service is actually quite good, although it can be a bit pricey. A full dinner runs $16 – $24 and breakfast $7 – $12. Although if one wants to go continental, it’s cheaper.

Amtrak’s employees, at least from my lone experience, appear to match, and even exceed, any flight crew of any major airline in customer service and work ethic. Despite the obvious shortage of staff and the poor infrastructure, the negative aspects of the government-owned company never appeared to dampen the employees’ spirits. They consisted of the friendliest, most hospitable, and most helpful transportation employees I’ve ever encountered. One of the controllers immediately took me to a better seat after the debacle with my luggage. Also, despite overhearing them complain among themselves of having to work 70 – 80-hour weeks, they were always eager to help and make customers’ journey as pleasant as possible.

Other than freezing all night, the trip was largely pleasant. The WIFI which Amtrak wisely undersells was surprisingly reliable.

I read on the way to DC that more than 80% of Amtrak trains are late. Mine arrived about two and a half hours behind schedule.

Amtrak is not a dying entity as many make it out to be—at least not yet. It suffers from a lack of interest on the part of American politicians. Their constituents have grown up without easy train access and don’t realize the convenience they’re missing. Furthermore, trains have always been a lower, middle-class means of transportation in Western countries, and most politicians come from the upper middle class if they are not outright wealthy. They naturally have little interest in allocating their own tax dollars toward a means of transportation that they will never use.

The federal government, despite pouring tens of billions of dollars every year into roads, cannot seem to do little more than slow down the roads’ rate of deterioration. Airlines have attempted to fill the void of good roads, good bus lines, and a good, affordable train system. The result has been smaller seats and less comfort, and as a recent case with Delta showed, very poor customer service.

Despite only getting 2.2% of federal transportation subsidies in 2017, Amtrak has managed to survive as a national embarrassment with a small, overworked, though over-paid staff, dirty cars, and infrequent and slow service. The claim that Amtrak exists only because of plump government subsidies, as anti-Amtrak advocates would have budget-conscious Americans believe, is simply not true. There is a continuing demand for passenger rail service in the U.S.

The government’s treatment of Amtrak is like parents’ pouring thousands of dollars into clothes for their daughter and then telling everyone that their son just doesn’t have the sense of fashion like little Suzie—while failing to mention that little Johnny has to make do with his $50 gift card he receives at Christmas.

The following are a few excellent pieces on some of the problems with Amtrak and proposals to improve passenger train service in the U.S. My personal two cents is that the government should treat rail transportation the same way it treats air and highway travel. Privatize and heavily subsidize!

http://www.heritage.org/report/the-presidents-proposal-de-fund-amtrak-will-force-the-railroad-adopt-needed-reforms

http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2002101800

http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/15/politics/shuster-defends-amtrak-spending/index.html

https://qz.com/409824/yes-amtrak-was-sabotaged-by-congress/

 

 

 

Son of God: It isn’t the Gospels on film.

thCAE87EG1How do you depict the life of Jesus in under three hours and still convey to millions of viewers His eternal existence, virgin birth, ministry, miracles, death, resurrection, and ascension?

Son of God accomplishes just that in 2 hours 18 minutes.

The 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, considered by many to be the greatest cinematic depiction of the story of Jesus, was more than six hours long.[1] But, modern, twenty-first-century adults with underdeveloped attention spans are not going to sit in a theater for even half that time to watch a story they already know.

Beginning with the opening scene of the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey leave no question where they stand on the issue of Biblical creation. John opens up with John 1:1, going further to explain The Word was there when God created Adam and Eve, when Eve ate the forbidden fruit, when God destroyed the world and spared Noah, when He chose Abraham, when Moses led His people out of Egypt, and was there when David slew Goliath. The establishment of Christ’s divinity and eternity from the very start is essential since so much of the rest of the movie focuses so deeply on His humanity.

The life of Jesus is really too much material to cover in one feature-length film and because of this, it can seem a little boring at times.

Son of God flies but drags by at the same time as selected scenes of Jesus’ ministry are presented piecemeal in anticipation of the crucifixion.

On the musical front, Hans Zimmer does not disappoint, and any lull in the action is quickly compensated for by the superb soundtrack that makes this by far the best musical accompaniment of all time to a movie on the life of Jesus.

The special effects were only decent. The digital reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple was good for The History Channel’s “Bible” series but leaves the technologically spoiled movie brat a little unimpressed when viewing it on the big screen.

The movie did have its moments, though, such as the way Jesus handles the Pharisee when he heals the lame man let through the roof. After being accused of blasphemy for forgiving the man’s sins, He gives the Pharisee the message of “oh, you don’t like me forgiving his sins, do you? Why don’t I heal him while I’m at it?”

The scene when Jesus calls Matthew, the tax-collector to be his follower is particularly moving. It opens with a file of Jewish tax-collectors’ cheating their own people and the same Pharisee’s expressing his disgust for the Jewish traitors. Jesus then steps in and relates the parable of the self-righteous Pharisee and publican at prayer. Matthew rises under grave conviction and just as Jesus arrives at the part when the publican prays; with tears streaming down both cheeks, Matthew finishes the rest: “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

The Garden of Gethsemane scene is also quite creative as it cuts from Jesus’s praying in the garden, to Caiaphas’s praying in the Temple, to Pilate and his wife’s praying to their gods in the palace.

Ironically, the best acting is performed by those portraying the antagonists, but for this, a good bit of credit can be given to the screenwriting. The bald Fraser Ayres’s portrayal of Barabas, giving the aura of a thuggish, nationalist skinhead is a stroke of genius. Adrian Schiller as Caiaphas gives the impression of an evil, corrupt ruler who is out to silence the “peasant,” who’s “stirring things up.”

The casting of Diogo Morgado as Jesus caused many to complain about Morgado’s not being a Jew. But, it is simply not reasonable to expect directors to find actors of the same ethnicity for every role they cast. Moreover, Morgado was not the only ethnic discrepancy. Black African actors portrayed both the man who bore Jesus’s cross and one of the wise men from the East. Simon of Cyrene was most likely a Jew who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and the wise men from the east were probably Medes and Persians, present-day Kurds and Iranians.[2]

Morgado successfully conveys many of the characteristics of Jesus, such as compassion, love, and gentleness; but to such an extent that it takes away from Jesus’s authority, which the Bible says He spoke with when He taught. This especially affects the scene when Jesus overturns the money changers’ tables pic– probably the most pathetic scene of the entire movie. Jesus is portrayed heartbroken as he effortlessly turns over a few tables and weakly confronts the Pharisees before walking out of the Temple with His disciples. This plays into the hands of false teachers who claim Jesus was nothing more than a Jewish reformer who, disgusted with the corruption of the synagogues and Judaism of His day, broke away with His followers and formed another sect of the Jewish religion.

This is in stark contrast to what actually happened. Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus’s running the money changers out of the Temple, and Mark tells us He “would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.” Whether He personally, physically threw them out and barred them from reentering, did so with the help of His disciples, or the money changers feared His thousands of followers is not given to us in Scripture and would certainly have been interesting to see played out in a director’s imagination. But a scene like that wouldn’t fit in too well with the nice-guy image of Jesus that the movie seeks to portray.

The lack of chronological accuracy is immediately observable to any viewer who has read the Gospels.

This included a couple of old ladies who were sitting in front of me in the theater, who during the duration of the film felt it would not be complete if they didn’t comment to one another during every scene on the inaccuracies of that particular sequence’s portrayal.

For starters, Simon Peter is alone when Jesus multiplies thie fish in Peter’s boat and when he calls him to be His disciple. Whereas in the Bible, (Mt. 4:18-20, Mark 1:16-18) Peter and his brother Andrew were together when Jesus called them. But assuming the film is basing the choosing of Peter off Luke’s depiction, in which Andrew is not mentioned (Luke 5:1-11), James and John are notably absent, and the movie makes it look as if Jesus was a complete stranger to Peter. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had already healed Simon’s mother-in-law in the previous chapter and was in Simon’s boat to begin with because He had been preaching from it.

Another example of shoddy chronology is when Jesus reads from Isaiah and tells those in the synagogue: “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” This scene appears toward the middle of the film, whereas in Luke, it happened before the miracle in Peter’s boat.

But it doesn’t end there. As Jesus and His disciples are being chased away from the synagogue, one of the Pharisees tells Jesus of John the Baptist’s death and warns that if He doesn’t watch it, he’ll be next. Since King Herod is completely removed from the movie, including during Jesus’ trial, they apparently had to come up with some way to explain John’s death. But making it look as if the Pharisees killed John is plainly irresponsible.

But it gets even more bizarre.

Jesus acts shocked and goes and sits sorrowfully under a tree with His disciples and then tells them “John was the greatest teacher I ever knew.” Presumably, this is supposed to be an offshot of Luke 7:24-28, which Jesus said about John while he was still alive.[3]

The movie is strewn with numerous little inaccuracies like these that make anyone with minimal Biblical knowledge cringe.

But before writing Son of God off as another Last Temptation of Christ or Jesus Christ Superstar, Christians should remember why the film was made to begin with and whom it was made for. Burnett and Downey admit the entire movie does not follow the Gospels accurately.  Burnett clarified that they’re not pastors and are not qualified to teach but are qualified to “make an emotional connection.” Like Jesus’s parables, Burnett said: “this film needs to stand alone so that those who had not read the gospels would be compelled to seek more.”[4]

All too often, movie-goers expect a two-hour movie based on a book that took them ten hours to read to accurately depict every sequence of the story exactly how they imagined it while reading. They then walk away from the cinema disappointed that the producers and director don’t have the same imagination they do. This is only amplified for Bible-based movies because unlike The Lord of the Rings or The Hunger Games, the events in the Bible not only happened, they deal with and were inspired by the Creator of the universe.

But, Son of God isn’t the Gospels on film. It’s an emotional tool intended to draw people to Christ. For instance, if a lost sinner understands the gospel message in church and becomes a follower of Christ, it’s of little consequence whether the preacher mentioned in his sermon that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod before having Him crucified.

Son of God is not another Passion of the Christ. It has neither the budget nor the renowned director and suffers from having to cram the entire Biblical story into one movie. But as an emotionthCAM3FCWPal tool to depict what Christ did for us, encourage believers to live as Christians, and urge non-believers to be learn more, the film succeeds.

While there are many chronological flaws and a few rings of false doctrine, such as Joseph and Mary’s acting surprised when the wise men bow down and worship Jesus, the basic message that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and that He “is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” is amplified from the opening scene of St. John on the Isle of Patmos, to Jesus’s reappearing to Him on that same Isle after John has related Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection to the viewer.

This is definitely a movie that Christians should do their best to convince their unbelieving friends to see. Their friends will most likely walk away unconvinced and seemingly unmoved. Jesus was just a cool hippie, they’ll say, who was murdered by a bunch of religious zealots and Roman tyrants. But like Pilate’s memorable line in the film “He’ll be forgotten in a week” rings so untrue today, so too an unbeliever is not likely to be as uninterested in Jesus a week after viewing Son of God as he or she was a week before seeing it.


[1] Britt Gillette, “Jesus Of Nazareth (Movie Review),” ezinarticles, February 25, 2006, http://ezinearticles.com/?Jesus-Of-Nazareth-(Movie-Review)&id=152171.

[2] Christian Violatti, “Cyrene,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, December 30, 2010, http://www.ancient.eu.com/cyrene/

[4] Tyler, O’Neil, “Burnett and Downey Talk ‘Son of God’s’ Profound Impact: Address Critics on Biblical Inaccuracies,” The Christian Post, March 6, 2014, http://www.christianpost.com/news/burnett-and-downey-talk-son-of-gods-profound-impact-address-critics-115676/.