Judging from the enthusiastic response on social media, Sony's decision to release the movie "The Interview" on Christmas day seems to be a victory for the American way of life, but there is a tragic irony in the very truth of that view. For the "way of life" thus vindicated is addicted to a view of freedom as the right to say and do anything one wants, indifferent to the substance of what is actually being said in freedom's name.
Personally, I am repulsed by the prospect of a distributor releasing on Christmas Day a public film depicting the assassination of a living person as something "funny." Apart from the fact that such a film is provocative toward a North Korean leadership and culture that already appears fear-saturated and perhaps dangerous, made by producers and evidently actors who think that it is some kind of progressive political act to engage in this kind of provocation, the theme of the film should be seen as offensive and even shocking to anyone with an open heart and a respect for human life. What is funny about depicting the murder of a named individual who is currently alive? And how is it reflective of any spiritual meaning of Christmas to release such a film on a day celebrating the birth of Christ, or to non-Christians, celebrating at the very least family gatherings based upon loving human connection?
The entire public discussion of "The Interview" has focused not a whit on the actual moral substance of the film and exclusively on the importance of an ideal of free expression, no matter how offensive the expression is. This amoral view of the substance of freedom is reflected not just in relation to "artistic" freedom and the First Amendment, but also in relation to the freedom of a "free market" that sees workers mainly as factors of production-for- profit rather than beautiful human beings deserving of respect and dignity and that exploits the natural world without regard to beauty of creation and the sacredness of all life through which creation, whatever its wondrous origin, is made manifest . Freedom conceived in this way also embraces, in the name of democracy, a political process that vindicates the ability of billionaires to manipulate the consciousness of a society of isolated and socially separated television-watchers in order to influence their voting patterns.
To me, the spiritual-progressive meaning of Christmas is that we human beings should affirm our capacity for love of one another, and that we should aspire to the creation of a world that embodies that loving impulse in all that we do and all that we create. This would mean devoting our moral presence in our time on earth to co-creating a world beyond the present narrow liberal worldview that, while recognizing its importance in having helped to liberate earlier generations from state-sponsored and religion-sponsored bigotry and persecution, today legitimizes a fearful, individualistic culture cut off from the deep, rarely-affirmed longing in each of us to fully recognize one another's sacred and beautiful humanity and our equally powerful longing to bring into being a beloved community in which that capacity for mutual sight is more fully manifested.
Of course it is a bad idea for a film distributor to be intimidated into not showing a film because of blackmail or threats. But it is also important not to make a fetish of the form of freedom to the point that we cannot see and respond ethically to the moral substance of what that freedom produces. From that substantive point of view, the decision by Sony to release "The Interview" on Christmas Day, and to make such a film in the first place, is deflating and discouraging.
And yet... Merry Christmas!