Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's worse Angels and Demons or Gorefest the Movie?

We as Christians are asked to live in the world, but not be of the world. We should not revel in sinful activities and should instead seek Christ and his teachings which come from his Church. So, how are we to react to mainstream media, including movies? Are we to become proverbial Stylites and move away from society, by building emotional and spiritual towers, in order to avoid occasions of sin? How does this relate to movies?

In today's world, movies are inundated with drugs, sex, violence, foul language, and profanity. Sometimes it seems completely gratuitous, without rhyme or reason, added simply to titillate viewers. Sometimes films which lack creative power will resort to cheap tricks to mask its obvious shortfalls. Every second word is F* this or F* that. Romantic relationships are not implied but rather graphically displayed on screen. How should we react to this?

I believe we should avoid these films IF they have no creative or artistic raison-d'etre. Obvious examples are pornographic or extremely gory movies. Movies such as these are an assault to our sensibilities. They may even have the ability to dull our sense of justice. But I do not think we should avoid all movies simply because they contain objectionable material. We still live in the world, and as we know, often this world is not a pretty place. There is war, famine, sexual abuse, violence, foul language, and profanity. If a film's purpose is to portray something that's real, it would not make sense to distort reality. For example, to portray a drug dealers who is overly polite to his customers or for a war to involve people playing dodgeball and exclaming "shucks" whenever they are hit. This would not be realisitic.

Take a movie like Schindler's List. This movie shows graphic war scenes, it shows violence and despair, but it is based on reality. They are not simply adding these things to make money. These are realistic adaptations of truth. Similarly with the Pianist, which shows the sinfullness of Naziism. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Passion of the Christ. Many said it was far too violent. But my opinion was that the violence made the message all the more powerful. Had the director made Christ walk effortlessly with the Cross and then painlessly be crucified, many would be left wondering why anyone would have a devotion to the Cross of Christ. How would the imagery of the New Testament make any sense? When Christ said take up your cross and follow me, would he mean do something easy? As I've elaborated on in a previous article, my favorite part of the Passion of the Christ movie was when Mary rushes to assist her child who is suffering tremendously. He lifts himself from the ground, his face covered in blood, gasping for air, and he says "Behold, I make all things new." This is so powerful and it would not have been possible without the previous violence of the film.

I believe there are movies with no foul language, violence, or sex which are potentially far more problematic than ones that contain them all in spades. These movies may even be rated G. Movies like the Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, the Compass, and the Harry Potter series have much more potential for harm. The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons are problematic because they try to pass off falsehoods as truth. Sure, everyone knows the movies themselves are fictitious, but what people do not realize is that the background information is false. For example, when Tom Hank's character says the Vatican killed a famous scientist because he taught the heliocentric model, therefore Mr. Langdon has to investigate this, well people who know no history from that period will likely not believe Mr. Langdon is a real investigator, but they may very well take for granted that the Vatican really did kill the famous scientist. Similarly, if someone in a movie says "Let's go to the capital of Canada, Toronto", not many people will say well, this is a fictional movie, so I will not believe Toronto is the capital. Of course, the capital is Ottawa, but many would be led to believe otherwise.

Then you have a movie like the Compass, which blatantly promotes atheism to children. Sure, it's rated G or PG, but the content is absolutely unsuitable. Children cannot logically think about the claims made in the film. When the film attacks the Catholic Church or Christianity, the children may not even be aware of the issues they raise, but what happens when their parents tell them about the Church, but the children have heard many falsehoods already about her. They may believe the lie more than the truth. Harry Potter is along the same vein, because it promotes the illicit practice of witchcraft which is against Christianity, but it is targeted to youngsters. These films bring people to the near occassion of sin, and cause people who are not very familiar with the truth to potentially drift away from their faith. This is the sin of scandal and it is very serious.

In the final analysis, I believe movies with objectionable material can be viewed assuming they have some value. But I would advise people with children to be very careful what they watch. Even, for them to be careful what they themselves watch. If you are going to watch a religious-themed movie, make sure you know the truth first. And I would also advise those who make movies to be careful about leading the young ones into sin or deceit, Jesus said it would be better to have a millstone tied around your neck and be cast into the ocean.

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