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Zeitgeist is a 2007 documentary film by Peter Joseph examining possible historical and modern conspiracies surrounding Christianity, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Federal Reserve bank. It was officially released online on June 18, 2007 on zeitgeistmovie.com.
The movie attempts to weave an elaborate web of cause-effect claims tying everything from banking to religion and government mind control into a cohesive conspiracy theory.
A review in The Irish Times entitled “Zeitgeist: the Nonsense” wrote that “these are surreal perversions of genuine issues and debates, and they tarnish all criticism of faith, the Bush administration and globalization—there are more than enough factual injustices in this world to be going around without having to invent fictional ones." Skeptic magazine's Tim Callahan criticizes the first part of the film on the origins of Christianity:
Some of what it asserts is true. Unfortunately, this material is liberally—and sloppily—mixed with material that is only partially true and much that is plainly and simply bogus. […] Zeitgeist is The Da Vinci Code on steroids.
Other reviews assert that it is "conspiracy crap", “based solely on anecdotal evidence” and “fiction couched in a few facts”, or disparaging reference is made to its part in "the 9/11 truth movement".
Academic coverage of Zeitgeist has also been sparse, mainly lumping the movie in with other conspiracy movies, and typically treating it as part of a contemporary phenomenon of “truth” movies. According to an article published in Scientific American by Michael Shermer:
- “The postmodernist belief in the relativism of truth, coupled to the clicker culture of mass media where attention spans are measured in New York minutes, leaves us with a bewildering array of truth claims packaged in infotainment units. It must be true—I saw it on television, at the movies, on the Internet, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, That's Incredible, The Sixth Sense, Poltergeist, Loose Change, Zeitgeist the Movie.”
A more severe overall treatment is given by Jane Chapman, a film producer and reader in media studies at the University of Lincoln, who analyzes Zeitgeist (“A fast-paced assemblage of agitprop”) as an example of unethical film-making. She accuses Joseph of deceit through the use of unsourced and unreferenced assertions, and standard film-making propaganda techniques. While parts of the film are, she says, “comically” self-defeating, the nature of “twisted evidence” and the false attribution of Madrid bomb footage as being in London (which she calls a “lie”) amount to ethical abuse in sourcing (in later versions of the movie, a subtitle is added to this footage identifying it as from the Madrid bombings). She finishes her analysis with the comment:
- Thus legitimate questions about what happened on 9/11, and about corruption in religious and financial organizations, are all undermined by the film’s determined effort to maximize an emotional response at the expense of reasoned argument.
Chris Forbes, Senior lecturer in Ancient History of Macquarie University and member of the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney, has severely criticized Part I of the movie as having no basis in serious scholarship or ancient sources, relying on amateur sources that "borrow ideas from each other, and who recycle the same silly stuff" and "not a single serious source" can be found in official reference lists attached to the movie. Of the film he says "It is extraordinary how many claims it makes which are simply not true."
Forbes claims there is no evidence in Egyptian sources saying that Horus' mother Isis was a virgin. Similarly, neither Krishna (the eighth son), Dionysus (whose mother had slept with Zeus) nor Attis were ever supposed born of virgins. He points out that "son" and "sun" are not homophonic words in either Latin, Ancient Egyptian, or Greek, and therefore no such misunderstanding would occur; that the December 25 birth is not part of any of the myths—including that of Jesus, for whom Christmas Day was appointed as a festival day in open knowledge that the real date was not known.
Forbes also criticizes the movie's use of Roman sources to suggest that Jesus didn't exist, noting that a long list flashed across the screen of supposed contemporaneous historians that did not mention Jesus is actually a list of geographers, gardening writers, poets and philosophers, who should not be expected to mention him. The allegation that Josephus' mention of Jesus was added later is criticized as misleading. Josephus actually mentions Jesus twice, with only one reference believed by scholars to have been doctored in the Middle Ages but to change an already existing mention of him. He also argues that the film misrepresents Constantine when it presents him as making Christianity compulsory, when he only legalized it; and inventing the historical Jesus, when early church records show that the historicity of Jesus had been a key element of faith from early on.
Individual claims in Zeitgeist
At 1:26:34, the narrator claims that the federal income tax is unconstitutional because it's a "direct, unapportioned tax," and goes on to claim that all taxes must be apportioned to be legal. I guess I should give the writers credit for reading U.S. Const. Art. I, § 2, cl. 3 and Art. I, §9, cl. 4: they effectively require apportionment. Moreover, Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., in 1895, limited Congress's authority to impose an income tax.
However, in 1913, Congress ratified the 16th amendment:
"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." U.S. Const. Amend. 16.
What the movie said about the federal income tax was completely false.
- . http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2007/0825/1187332519087.html
- . http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-02-25#feature
- . http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-09-10/film/able-danger/
- . http://www.utne.com/2008-01-01/Politics/Towers-of-Babble.aspx
- . http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/17/nyregion/17zeitgeist.html
- . I Want to Believe,Michael Shermer,Scientific American,July 2009
- . Documentary in Practice: Filmmakers and Production Choices,page=171–173
- . http://www.publicchristianity.com/Videos/zeitgeist.html
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