What we know?

Whatever one thinks of the uses of digital media (or the misuses) it has lived up to the minimal promise of connecting the world. Each year internet access expands, devices to connect become more accessible – still lots of room to go to achieve the full possibilities of a connected world.

One of the downsides to all this is the plethora of information available on the internet about just about anything. While some people dismiss Wikipedia as a source of accurate information about some topics, there is at least a level of “peer review.” Take for example the wiki article on John Duns Scotus, a medieval Franciscan theologian and philosopher. Perhaps you are asking, “who?”  Exactly my point and yet the article is pretty complete in a monographic way, at least as an entry point to delve into the life and works of Scotus. I would note it was edited as recently as March 15, 2023.

If you are really interested in the life and works of Scotus, the Wikipedia article has tons of online and printed references and you can dive head first into the topics of the univocity of being, formal distinction, individual nature or “thisness” (haecceity), his critique of illuminationism and his renowned argument for the existence of God. For sure, it is an acquired taste. Or in my case, in a long-ago philosophy course in Metaphysics, most of the class was doing something on Thomas Aquinas. The professor noted that I was a Franciscan and should write on Scotus as he was a brother Franciscan. I agreed in my reply while internally I was thinking, “who the heck is that?” I am still waiting for Scotus to pop up in a cocktail party.

Point being: there is some great information about most things. Scotus is pretty rarefied air, but other topics such as history, religion, politics, economics and others are… .shall we say, diverse in quality, accuracy, and perspective.

Given the old adage to know history or risk repeating it, I wonder how much history we now consume, not through the fruits of researchers and authors, but through the cinematic direction of the movies and series streamed into our homes. How often do we read “Based on a true story.” And then for cinematic or other reasons the story is somehow different. Entertaining to be sure, but wandering away from what we know or can be known.

My concern is not with the cinematic presentation, it is with the viewer who has accepted the “Based on a true story” as the story itself. As a Franciscan friar I can attest that the primary source material for many people as concerns the life of Francis of Assisi is “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” is a 1972 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli.  Based on a true story. But the story of Francis is so different from the 1972 film. The 1989 film “Francesco” is far closer to the true story as recorded in the historical documents, but not as heart warming and upbeat.  Also based on a true story, but closer to the real Francis of Assisi as best we can know.

Maybe my point is this: if this is important to you, don’t settle for a cinematic based on a true story.  Go to the sources available and you will find a much richer, nuanced story.

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