Nathan Jacobs is the writer and director of the documentary Becoming Truly Human. The film explores the rise of the “nones,” those that claim no religious affiliation. It’s an alternative perspective to what it means to be spiritual, and to have faith, via a medium that Jacobs’ 5 Sees production company believes can be effective in opening the conversation: film. As a former none himself, Jacobs is a unique person to facilitate the conversation, one that he and I have been pursuing for weeks since I first saw the film.
Jacobs is a different sort of guy, a philosophy professor who drops Wes Anderson, Looney Tunes, The Simpsons, and The Conjuring into the same conversation. He’s a Visiting Scholar at Philosophy at the University of Kentucky, but he’s taking a hiatus to produce films like Becoming Truly Human and Killing Poe. These are films that he says represent his world view but are like the films he’d actually like to see.
“I guess my artistic intent meets my teacher’s heart,” Jacobs said with a chuckle, the last time we talked. “Sure, we could discuss the proofs for the existence of God, but it might be more interesting to talk about the paranormal. The nones are fascinated with that, just like the rest of us. The reality of it hits them at a gut level.”
With The Conjuring, Jacobs finds himself realizing that the paranormal, and its horror-film elements, are merged in the way that director James Wan explores the real lives of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. While nones disconnect the paranormal from religion, the film follows echoes of the oldest explorations of religion, even back to the pagans.
“People are naturally unnerved by a house where someone was murdered, or by an object used in an occult ritual,” proposed the philosopher. “Something connected to the spirit realm hits a person at a deeper level than an argument for the existence of God. One of the projects we’re looking at next involves the paranormal and how that intuition should affect how we see the world.”
Jacobs is aimed at doing films that have artistic integrity and connect to his interests. When asked for an example, he riffs on the beauty of Anderson’s Magnolia. “It’s brilliant on a cinematic level, but it also explores the topic of of chance. Nones often believe things happen for a reason; they see intersections of events that look like more than happenstance. The Stoics called this fate; Christians called it providence. Magnolia asks if life’s happenings are really just chance or whether they are orchestrated. And after weaving together so many seemingly disconnected stories, it connects everything in way that is redemptive in the lives of these very gritty and real characters.”
Film is the medium that Jacobs believes allows for those with different viewpoints to come together and consider how to engage each other. Of course, he recognizes that films could be pure entertainment, but he believes they’re capable of so much more.
“Film pulls together the entire human person,” he proposed. “The intellect, the passions, aesthetics. All of that becomes part of the conversation as we think through or are moved by a journey.”
“For nones, who are not children of the Enlightenment, who don’t approach the world through a strictly analytic lens, journey, aesthetics, intuitions all allow us to pursue answers in a way that doesn’t isolate the intellect.”
The Eastern Orthodox perspective that Jacobs draws from compels him to see the conversation holistically. He finds beauty and comfort in the ritual, and in the process, while turning aside from the Western focus on objectivity or detachment that have dominated apologetics for both people of faith and atheists for years. He wants to encourage nones and others engaged in examining their worldview to not only trust their five senses, but to trust their gut, or their soul.
“In the Western way of thinking, we presume our five sense are the faculties we should use to determine the truth of something,” Jacobs said. “Orthodoxy says that our soul provides us with truth-telling instincts, that we should trust that intuition.”
Whether it’s Magnolia, The Conjuring, or one of his films, Jacobs hopes that we’ll look at our lives, the things we can understand easily and the things we have to explore less tangibly, with our whole selves. In the end, it’s what he believes will help us be truly human.
Becoming Truly Human will be available to rent/purchase on iTunes September 5th, and is available for group viewing through www.Theatricast.com.