The title of the movie Higher Ground comes from a hymn of the same name. In the hymn lyrics, the writer Johnson Oatman, a Methodist minister, is pleading for a more ethereal, profound faith experience. He doesn’t want to be beset by doubts about his faith or succumb to worldly temptations. He wants to live on a higher, more saintly plane.
Corinne, the main character in the movie is just like the hymn writer. She is part of a caring faith community that has provided direction to her family and changed their lives for the better. She struggles however with doubts, particularly after her closest friend in the church is left crippled by a brain tumour and after Corinne starts reading more widely. Corinne wishes she could have profound faith experiences like some of her fellow church members who speak in tongues and who hear God talking to them and are sure God is intervening directly in their lives.
In one pivotal scene, Corinne is in her bathroom pleading with the Holy Spirit to come and fill her with power. In another scene, she sits in her car begging God to intervene in some tangible way to prevent her from leaving the church. She doesn’t want to abandon the community that is such a key part of her family’s life.
As I was watching the movie I wondered how many Corinnes there are in Christian churches today–people who no longer believe their religion is a positive force in their life or in the world –people filled with questions and doubts they feel they cannot voice without being ostracized from their faith community–people who no longer believe in God or if they do, have stopped praying or no longer have a personal relationship with God – people who stay in the church because they don’t want to rock their family boats – because they like the community the church provides–because church involvement is just a part of a long-established pattern in their lives.
Although Higher Ground is a 2011 movie the questions it raises are still important in 2020, possibly more so than ever, as people seemingly caught up in the kind of religious euphoria Corinne longs for, are enthusiastically supporting immoral and corrupt political candidates they believe will help promote perceived Biblical injunctions and evangelical priorities. It may be prudent for all of us who claim to be people of faith to follow Corinne’s example and start asking some pretty hard questions about the things we believe and the implications of doing so.
- It is interesting to note that the movie production company recently founded by Barack and Michelle Obama is called Higher Ground. Their purpose is to “sponsor inspirational projects which touch on a variety of issues including race, class, democracy and civil rights.”