Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Christianist mogul behind the film.

The man who is ultimately behind the film Amazing Grace, which has evangelicals swooning and claiming credit for ending slavery, is Philip Anschutz, a Right-wing Christian billionaire who was also behind the big Christian push for his film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As the New York Times wrote, the films produced by Anschutz “are often designed to accommodate a religiously devout audience.” Anschutz admits he intends his films to push his moral values. He told an audience at a Christian college that he expects the films he produced “to carry a moral message” and that he’s in this “to attempt some small improvement in the culture.”

Anschutz puts his money into films that push a more personal agenda as part of America’s “culture wars” and he is a major funder of the Discovery Institute, the people behind the Intelligent Design fraud. Anschutz is also generous with other far-right groups such as Colorado for Family Values and Morality in Media.

But Anschutz has more ambitious goals than to just fund theocratic groups. He wants to mold America’s culture. And his films are not the only way to do that. He has purchased dozens of major newspapers across the United States including the San Francisco Examiner, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald.

Anschutz, who is worth more than $5 billion is often described as a “devout Presbyterian” but his form of Presbyterianism is not what most Americans think of when they hear the term. His is the old fashioned Calvinist kind of Presbyterianism. But a little hypocrisy doesn’t worry him either. He is the owner of the white elephant Millennium Dome in London and plans for it include a super-casino. But the profits from the dome will help Anschutz push his morality agenda even if gambling will be a major source for those profits.

And he admitted guilt in a plot where he inflated the value of his company, Qwest, pushing up the stock price and then dumping his shares at the higher price. For that he was fined $4.4 million.

Anschutz has also been generous to political candidates, almost all of them Theopublicans, particularly to anti-gay candidates. He has donated to Marilyn Musgrave, Richard Santorum (several donations but he lost anyway), anti-immigration advocate Tom Tancredo, George Bush, John Ashcroft, Sam Brownback, Robert Knight (extremely Right) and others.

One of his first film ventures was a dud on the second coming of Jesus. The co-producer of the film, Bob Beltz said: "We wanted something that we thought would have more of a mainstream impact, that would expose unchurched people to the person of Christ in a way that they might walk out of the theater saying, 'Is it possible that Jesus could really be that wonderful?’” It didn’t quite work out that way and Anschutz learned to be a more subtle with his message.

Anschutz wants to make a profit. He doesn’t want to just dump money down fundamentalist blackholes that suck in resources and produce nothing. Amazing Grace is meant to do just that. Just the title and song will push his agenda and he knows it. The song is a favourite in fundamentalist churches during the “altar call” when people are urged to come forward and “accept Jesus”. It pushes the born again message hard and heavy.

Part of the agenda here is to make fundamentalists look good to the public. And if evangelical Christians can get the credit for ending slavery, even if they were, for the most part, avid supporters of slavery, so much the better.

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