Taking God to the Movies (6): Two Questions & A Conclusion
Bruce Riley Ashford
Before concluding this series, I want to address a few of the questions and issues that often arise in a discussion of cinema and worldview.
To Love or to Hate?
In Hollywood Worldviews, Brian Godawa makes the point that we tend to “love” or “hate” a movie with such ferocity that we are unwilling to give it an honest critique, and likely to discourage others from sharing their thoughts about the movie. A person might “love” a movie because they “love” the actor or actress involved, because they feel deeply about some of the experiences portrayed in the movie, because they like a particular genre, or because they are fascinated by the special effects But in fact, most movies are a mixture of good and bad elements, and would not require a comprehensive endorsement or rejection. When viewing and analyzing movies we should endeavor to step back from the movie and give it an honest appraisal.
To Watch or Not to Watch?
This brings us to a second question: to watch or not to watch? Brian Godawa writes, “Rare is the film that can be fully embraced in all it communicates. Some people believe that since movies are such a mixture of truth and error in their worldviews and values, Christians should avoid watching them for the sake of holy living.” Obviously, since I just finished writing a series on watching movies, I do not think that it is wrong per se to watch movies with which we disagree. But there is some merit to the objection raised above. I will begin by stating its merits, and end by stating its drawback.
The merit of this objection is that there are indeed some movies we should avoid for the sake of holiness. The first and most obvious principle is that a Christian who wants to honor Christ and his gospel will not view films that are pornographic. Further, there are times that a Christian will choose not to view a movie for other reasons, such as pervasive foul language, sickening or desensitizing violence, or any other number of reasons. I have not gone into detail on this question because the purpose of this series has not been to give guidelines for what to watch or not to watch, but rather to give guidelines for how to watch movies when we choose to do so.
The negative aspect of the objection presented above is its cultural separatism. One who refrains from watching all movies that would have any element with which one disagrees must also refrain from many other things, such as reading most books, magazines, and newspapers and watching advertisements, ESPN commentary, and listening to the radio. But I think we lose more by cutting off all contact with the surrounding society and culture than by wise and discerning engagement with it.
The point of this series has been to demonstrate that Hollywood screenwriters have worldviews, compose their films from within those worldviews, and convey messages through those same films. These films both reflect and shape the socio-cultural context within which we live and minister, conveying messages about God, man, salvation, morality, and many other significant topics. Together with popular music and television the movies form an arena of discourse in our communities.
In light of this, those of us who are Christians (1) are obliged to watch movies with wisdom and discernment, being aware of the messages and moods conveyed on film; (2) recognize the power of movies as both reflections and shapers of our socio-cultural context; and (3) recognize that movies often provide an opportunity for us to discuss with others the hope that is within us.