Let’s see the movie first

Rajan Zed of Reno is a Hindu chaplain who has given Nevadans reason for pride. When he was called on to say the first Hindu prayer in the U.S. Senate and the occasion was disrupted by Christian bigots, he handled it with dignity.

There are those who believe any congressional religious exercises are a violation of constitutional protections against government involvement in matters of faith, but since Congress has no intention of discontinuing prayers, and since there is no such thing as a nondenominational prayer, it is essential that such occasions be open to all faiths. In the months since that experience, Chaplain Zed has said prayers in a number of state legislatures.

But not all of his initiatives have been as laudable.

On March 2, he issued a news release in which he “demanded that the upcoming Hollywood movie, The Love Guru be shown to Hindu leaders and organizations prior to its public release.”

The Love Guru is a Paramount/Spyglass production that is described on the Internet Movie Database this way: “Pitka, an American raised outside of his country by gurus, returns to the States in order to break into the self-help business. His first challenge: To settle the romantic troubles and subsequent professional skid of a star hockey player whose wife left him for a rival athlete.”

Paramount agreed to screen the film as Zed requested, but before it could be done, Zed began rounding up statements of support from leaders of various minorities and faiths, many of them taking a “I strongly support the right to free speech and expression, however…” approach to the film. All this sound and fury is about a movie no one has seen yet, and the impression left by much of the publicity material issued by Zed is that he is going into the screening looking for something to dislike.

He has compared his demand for a showing of the film with the demand of Jewish leaders to see the Mel Gibson film Passion of the Christ in advance, but the two are not analogous.

But near as we can tell, neither Christian or Jewish leaders requested an advance screening of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the story of a young Jew named Brian Cohen who, in the time of Jesus, was mistaken for the messiah and finds his chatter being turned into doctrine. That’s because Brian was a comedy. The Love Guru is a comedy. It’s supposed to poke fun at its subjects.

In addition, Mel Gibson was reportedly a Sedevacantist (an ultraconservative Catholic splinter group) who had defended the Holocaust denials of his father Hutton Gibson, so the advance suspicion was easy to understand. And Fox had refused to distribute Passion. No similar history dogs Love Guru director Marco Schnabel or its writers, Mike Myers and Graham Gordy.

Have things reached such a pass that no one can make a movie—especially a comedy—that somehow touches on religion without having to run a doctrinal gauntlet?

In the absence of anything more solid than knowledge that a movie with a vaguely described guru-related plot is being released, it would be better to wait for the movie to reach theaters and let it be judged on its comedy merits. Judging it on its religious merits is going to be an exercise in futility because it’s not a religious movie.