Christspiracy review

Kip, Kam, and a rescued lamb

NOTE: Christspiracy tickets are now available!

There is one scene from Christspiracy, about three-quarters of the way through, that stands out for me. It’s from the Gadhimai Festival in Nepal, a Hindu festival which features a mass slaughter of animals “sacrificed” to the Hindu goddess Gadhimai. The mass slaughter cannot begin until the first animals are killed. We see large crowds of festival celebrants everywhere. After the knife descends on the first victim (the act of slaughter itself is mercifully hidden from the camera), the crowd erupts in blood-curdling cheers. They are happy—indeed, delighted—to see the slaughter begin.

Wait a minute. “Christspiracy”: isn’t this about, like, Christ? What are Hindus doing in the movie at all? And besides, we all associate Hinduism with ahimsa, Gandhi, vegetarianism, and things like that, so what’s with this mass slaughter of animals?

The movie is about coming up with an answer to the questions that Kameron Waters asks Kip Andersen at the beginning: Is there a spiritual way to kill an animal? How would Jesus kill an animal? As Christspiracy examines these questions, it branches out in many different directions—different in time, place, and religion—to explore the many psychological, historical, and ethical ramifications of trying to kill an animal “ethically.” So the movie does not just pile on about the atrocities against animals. Christspiracy makes you think.

And hang on to your hat: the movie doesn’t stop until we’ve visited four continents and examined five different religions over thousands of years.

It is this criss-cross of viewpoints that makes Christspiracy unique. It’s quite different from co-filmmaker Kip Andersen’s other exposés (Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy, and What the Health), which are all firmly rooted in the present-day in the milieu of modern science. It is different, also, from other religious critiques of animal slaughter.

Let’s cut to the chase. The tagline of Christspiracy is: “The biggest cover-up in 2,000 years. Revealed.” From the figure of “2000 years,” the title “Christspiracy,” and Kip’s original question, we can surmise that the answer will have something to do with Christianity and something to do with animals. Well, it does, but the movie quickly deviates from what you might expect.

What you might expect would be: reasons for Christians to be vegetarians; discussion of health issues, citing Genesis 1:29 and the example of the Seventh-day Adventists; appeals for compassion towards animals, trotting out various Bible verses; and pictures of cute animals.

Dr. Deborah Rooke

We do see some of this, but the film makes major detours—including an actual chase scene! These detours eventually become the main preoccupation of the movie. The final key events in Jesus’ life—his protest in the temple, and his crucifixion as a direct consequence after that—can only be understood because Jesus was protesting against animal sacrifice. And the closest modern analogue to what Jesus was protesting is the animal sacrifices at Gadhimai. Once seizing on the theme of animal sacrifice, the film never releases it until it has been thoroughly turned over in a hundred different ways.

Animal sacrifice seems like an obscure topic today. Do they even do that any more? We haven’t really seen substantial animal sacrifice in the West since the pagan festivals in the Roman Empire and the Jewish festivals at their temple in Jerusalem. After the Jewish temple was destroyed in 70 CE—an outcome of the Romans crushing the great Jewish revolt—animal sacrifice disappears as a major theme for either Christians or Jews. But by the end of the movie, we see the logic involved.

The ancient temple in Jerusalem was nothing like a modern synagogue or church. It was more like a slaughterhouse or a butcher shop; it was here that the ancient Israelites brought huge numbers of their animals to be offered in sacrifice. In the ancient temple, we see the answer given by the ancient Israelites to how one could find a spiritual way to kill an animal: to offer the animal as a sacrifice in the temple. And the closest modern analogue to ancient Jewish ritual slaughter is—you guessed it—the Hindu festival at Gadhimai.

Dr. James Tabor

There’s an instinctive modern revulsion against Gadhimai, but what is the origin of that revulsion? It’s not just that lots of animals were killed. Imagine, for a moment, that all these goats, water buffalo, and roosters were simply packed off to a slaughterhouse, behind closed doors, and the “festival” consisted just of three days of feasting on the meat. That would be barely noticeable by the American public. We’d just think of it as a kind of Hindu equivalent for Thanksgiving. Indeed, the slaughter of millions of turkeys at Thanksgiving completely dwarfs anything that happens once every five years at Gadhimai.

Christians don’t offer this kind of “spiritual” sanction for killing animals. (Well, mostly: the film shows Christian hunting clubs with prayers before killing.) Christians don’t usually offer a spiritual excuse because, well, they don’t have to. Slaughterhouse activities are kept hidden from the public. Out of sight, out of mind—at least, until animal activists started filming factory farms and slaughterhouses. Americans now have a proliferation of “ag-gag” laws prohibiting such filming.

Andrew Linzey: Anglican priest and animal advocate

No one seems to have noticed an interesting reality which this reveals: both sides in the “ag-gag” controversies acknowledge that there is an instinctive human revulsion against violence. It is both a reason for animal activists to expose the activity, and for the industry to want to conceal it. Without this revulsion, ag-gag laws and Christian hunting clubs would be unnecessary. Slaughterhouses would be no more consequential than tractors plowing fields.

This revulsion is not unique to hypocritical Americans. And that takes us into other times and places. Christspiracy uncovers these connections, looking at least briefly at most of the world’s major religions—not just Christianity, but also Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even yoga.

Jesus in the temple (Greco) – public domain image

It’s an issue central to the historical Jesus, who was disgusted with the ancient temple’s sacrifice of countless animals. In the film’s denouement, we find the real reason for Jesus’ death. The Romans wanted Jesus dead because he was a threat to public order. And he is a threat to public order because he disrupted the animal sacrifice business in the temple. It’s not just because of the “dishonest moneychangers,” but because of the killing of animals. This protest was what got Jesus killed.

Most Christians don’t want to hear about this, and mostly they don’t hear about it. In the early church, Paul’s views—which rejected vegetarianism—eventually won out. Paul (in his letters) says, “The weak man [weak in faith, that is] eats only vegetables.” “Eat anything sold in the meat-market without raising questions of conscience.” And there you have the biggest cover-up in 2000 years—a time bomb ticking away at the heart of Christianity, threatening to call Christians back to the original teachings of Jesus, before Paul and later theologians got hold of them.

This guilty conscience (and the accompanying denial that we have anything to feel guilty about) seems to be everywhere. We need a “spiritual way to kill an animal,” and this need for self-deception extends across sectarian and religious lines.

Police in India with Kameron.

Hindus honor the cow as a sacred animal, but have little compunction about killing goats. The Buddhists have as their very first precept the principle not to take the life of any sentient creature. One of the Buddhists interviewed in the film says that while he will not personally kill an animal, he has no compunction against eating an animal that someone else killed. To most of us, this will sound like a rationalization. And on and on it goes.

Why the guilty conscience? Why aren’t animals slaughtered for food just as casually as someone might pick an apple? And why is this guilty conscience so pervasive, regardless of religious belief? And why the need to deny that we have anything to feel guilty about in the first place?

Hypocrisy is an equal-opportunity employer, crossing all religious lines. But so is compassion. We find that the head rabbi of Israel has become vegetarian. We find Matthieu Ricard, a French Buddhist monk, who has become a vegan. We find Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest, one of the foremost Christian scholars, who defends animals and advocates vegetarianism.

I will add a few things about the content. I would rate the movie about “PG-13” for violence; there are some disturbing scenes, but there are no graphic depictions of the act of slaughter itself. I was very much impressed by how well researched the movie was in its historical detail. I am glad that the filmmakers chose to interview Charles Vaclavik—a little-known self-published author—who really initiated the modern conversation about the historical Jesus and vegetarianism in English.

At the time that I wrote The Lost Religion of Jesus and Disciples, I could only fantasize that some enterprising filmmaker would turn this sort of information into a full-length documentary. (Full disclosure: I have a minor part in Christspiracy.) Despite having studied and written about the subject of the historical Jesus for many decades, I actually learned a few things about the subject from the movie. Thank you, Deborah Rooke!

Doubtless there are a few things that people will quibble about. While arguably the injunction not to kill is the most important moral precept of the world’s major religions, it is not always listed at the beginning. The Jewish “ten commandments” put not making any graven images and honoring the Sabbath ahead of not killing. In Islam, the first creedal affirmation is that there is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet, and it takes a while before we get to Islamic moral commands.

There are other places where things are not fully explained. It’s not obvious (except on close viewing) that the Gadhimai Hindu festival is in Nepal, not India. (Nice chase sequence, though, as they head for the border!) Plus, why is the Hebrew translation of the word “robbers” significant to our understanding of the New Testament, when the New Testament is written in Greek? Who is Epiphanius, anyway? And who, or what, are the Ebionites?

Rivers of blood in the ancient temple.

It’s a bit surprising, in considering the Buddhists, that most (possibly all) of the Buddhists cited were followers of some version of Tibetan Buddhism. What happened to Vipassana, Zen, and Plum Village Buddhism? All of these schools are quite prominent in American Buddhism, and they include notable vegetarians: Tara Brach, Konda Mason, Bob Isaacson (of Dharma Voices for Animals), and the late Thich Nhat Hanh.

The movie is long enough, I think, that the filmmakers could justly plead editorial necessity for such omissions. They don’t want the movie to go on for six hours. The movie is not just a lecture, but an invitation to learn more.

Christspiracy is a brilliant, thought-provoking, and very different type of documentary. It is sure to excite both controversy and discussion. Our civilization is perched on the precipice of self-destruction, seemingly intent on the destruction not only of animals, but also the climate, the wilderness, the rainforests, and the biosphere, as well as ourselves. This film calls us to reflect on how we got here and where we need to go now.

Tickets are available now at www.christspiracy.com.  It’s showing in theaters all over the country on Wed. March 20 and Sun. March 24.  Just in time for Easter! Fifty percent of the filmmakers net proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to animal charities.

15 Replies to “Christspiracy review”

  1. So they didn’t put your interview in it? I hate that! Well I have my tickets. I’m glad this is finally getting exposure.

  2. Having minored in Biblical studies beginning so long ago that “Jesus Christ Superstar” had not yet debuted, & having read just about every version of “the historical Jesus” offered since the time of Paul, reading each with the critical eye of an investigative reporter, I still find reviewer Keith Akers’ version the most persuasive: https://www.animals24-7.org/2020/12/21/the-lost-religion-of-jesus-simple-living-nonviolence-in-early-christianity/
    Looking forward to seeing Christspiracy!

  3. Dear Keith –Thanks for your review. Very glad to read that Charles Vaclavik is included in “Christpiracy” — along with you and JamesTabor. I fast-forwarded and noticed Robert Eisenman, but did not get to actually see/hear his part. After about 40 minutes of viewing,my access to “Christspiracy” was interrupted — and ended– when it was removed from viewing as promised to the donors. So I never got to see the entire thing. A breach of promise — or so it seems to me. Apparently the producers were upset that the private viewing had been opened to the public. Well, so some people got to see the documentary for free — would that really have hurt theatre ticket sales? After all, it was reported that fundraising had far exceeded expectations and the actual budget. So is making a profit now the primary goal, rather than getting the word out? Hopefully the private viewing for sponsors will be restored — maybe it has and I did not notice? And hopefully there are plans to market the documentary via DVD, online, etc. The very, very limited theatrical release seems woefully inadequate — e.g., only two actual showings in Manhattan, New York City, with a population in the millions!?! I could and would probably promote it — if first allowed to view it in full.

    1. PS to my remarks above. I did get to see “Christspisracy” in a local theatre. I concur with Keith’s broad and deep review. Little to add except: I do wish the film had delved a bit more into the actual “cover-up” or “(con)spiracy” — i.e., organized Christianity’s arc away from vegetarianism, started by Paul. As Keith wrote, it was good to see Charles Vaclavik on screen (his book is well worth reading). I also appreciated the observations and insights of James Tabor — regarding the slaughterhouse aspect of the Jerusalem temple, and the idea that the Last Supper sacrament of bread and wine was meant to communicate: the bread and wine is all we need, not the flesh and blood of animals. If the film is released in DVD format, it would make an appropriate Christmas gift for friends and family.

  4. So excited to see this! Just bought my tickets!! Plus just added your second book there to my Amazon cart. Read The Lost Religion of Jesus a few years ago and revisit it often! 😊

  5. I missed the parenthetical comment about you being in the film. I bet the average person doesn’t know the New Testament was written in Greek. I’m often puzzled by Aramaic translations of the New Testament. Certain people seem to think we should work backwards from Greek to Aramaic to figure out the New Testament. This always seemed suspect seeing as how the New Testament does not show signs of translation from Aramaic or Hebrew, according to scholars.

  6. Thanks for writing this review, Keith. I always appreciate your knowledge and your insights.

  7. Thank you for your review, Keith. Very informative. I was concerned the movie was going to be “Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” redux, or, as you indicated you feared, a trotting out of Bible and verse on why Christians should be vegans. It appears much more interesting and nuggety, and I look forward to seeing it.

  8. Good review, Keith. Fascinating stuff. I will follow up with more via email.

  9. Keith, I just saw the movie at the theater today. It is fantastic!! Absolutely the best animal rights film since Earthlings!!!

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