The Messiah in a Post-Truth World

In times that seem so distant now, cultures shared experiences and truth. To imagine the Bible, Shakespeare, and fireside chats as universal reference points, or even the days in which there was truly such a thing as must-watch local network TV like Seinfeld of Friends, seems unimaginable.

Today, the question which video screening service do you subscribe to can yield a plethora of answers and in politics, depending on your leaning, followers can choose which historical narrative suits their ideology. Conspiracy theories, debunked claims, and alternate facts have left us so anaesthetized to lies that serious seekers of truth must make a concerted effort to validate every claim, wading through a rising tide of bias to confirm their suspicions.

This skeptic’s haven is the world that Netflix’s new show, The Messiah, inhabits. Taking its cues from Homeland style anti-terrorism surveillance, CIA agent Eva Gelar (Michelle Monaghan) and Shin Bet operative Aviram (Tomer Sisley) follow a man called Al-Masih, who may be the Messiah or a con artist with deep ties to terrorist groups. Performing miracles such as predicting a sandstorm and raising a young boy from the dead, he leads followers to the gates of Israel where a humanitarian crisis ensues that is sure to remind viewers of what is happening on America’s southern borders. There, Al-Masih vanishes only to reappear in a small town in Texas, saving a girl from a class 5 tornado that leaves only one building standing, a church led by a preacher who has lost his faith.

In each situation, the show preys on the viewer’s vulnerability. Events do not take on a strictly causal relationship. Al-Masih, despite preaching the kinds of messages that many souls long to hear, appears to have no motivation or even clear objective of his actions. For long episodes that expertly develop the backstories of characters around him, he sits motionless, speaking only cryptically. For his part, events seem to happen to him, rather than because of his actions. In fact, the only choices he seems to make are the ones others force him into, to appear on a televangelist’s show, to sit down with the President of the United States privately, or to help a young girl reveal a secret to her father that will not only test his faith, but the values from which they stem.

If there is a real lesson from this show, it is that misinformation and bias have worked so completely on our consciousness that it has eroded our collective conscience. If you have ever wondered how you would act if there were a war, or another holocaust or civil rights movement, consider that the actions and views you support now already reveal exactly how you would behave.  

There’s no reason for anyone to take up false narratives to inform or validate opinions of events. History holds the key to every mistake we are about to make, from following a false prophet, a leader that will become a dictator, or merely standing on the wrong side of a civil rights movement. Al-Masih’s effectiveness comes from the fact that his common values don’t come from holy books like the Quran, Tanakh, or Christian Bible that speak to only one culture. His rhetoric is more akin to shorter bits of wisdom learned from history, such as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Al-Masih’s seemingly-derived-from-nowhere rhetoric creates credibility that is hard for every character in the show to wrestle with. No matter what conforming narrative they seek to validate.

Viewed through this lens, the desire to truly know whether director Kate Woods’ Messiah is about a prophet or a charlatan is lessened considerably as the noise from detractors and supporters become whispers. There is freedom in acting with integrity and ethics. It is only those whose moral compasses are broken that must follow a leader.  

Categories: TV shows

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