I’ve been conditioned to be disappointed in Hollywood. What Christian hasn’t? This year is different. Hollywood is pouring millions into spiritual and biblical films. I’ve applauded the effort, but there are some who argue that I shouldn’t.
I enjoyed Son of God and Noah so far this year, and I’d like to see some of the others that have come out (particularly Heaven Is for Real and God’s Not Dead). Later this year Christian Bale is playing Moses in Exodus: Gods and Kings and Nicolas Cage is starring in Left Behind.
Holy flaming bushes. All of this from Hollywood? Wow, these are interesting times indeed.
I have been a believing Christian since I was 17, and I cannot recall a time where there has been such open dialogue and discovery of God’s intense stories of redemption and hope. These stories used to be embarrassing to talk about, but now they’re selling out theaters. As a debate coach, I have made a few attempts to engage in the discussion on this blog, and I’ve been encouraged by the dialogue.
But there is a disgruntled bunch of Christians who have not been so enthusiastic. Their reactions have become somewhat predictable: enraged, offended, shocked. I wish they would turn their attention to more productive dialogue. I have found their contributions to be largely annoying and unreasonable.
Today it seems the discussion of spiritual matters aren’t so embarrassing, but some who you’d think would be participating are instead embarrassing themselves with illogical and angry responses.
Please allow me to list these five arguments that I’ve seen most common. I believe they’re stupid. If you’ve been a perpetrator of these arguments, wise up and pull yourself together. You’re missing out on some very interesting developments in modern entertainment culture.
1. Stop Criticizing Movies YOU DID NOT SEE
This isn’t really an argument, but for some odd reason some Christians seem to think it is legit. They think it is okay to hate movies they never watched, and double the treasures in heaven if they go on a witch hunt to condemn anyone else for watching it.
Noah, for instance, wasn’t all that bad. Mind you, the film never claimed to be of the Christian genre of movies (its writer is actually Jewish). But should that really matter? Should we be policing what is “Christian” or not? Most movie goers, I believe, just want to see a good movie with deep redemptive qualities. There are few characters in the bible more epic than Noah.
If I were called to become a hardcore advocate against a movie (or any piece of art) to the point of trying to convince others to avoid it, I would have to see it for myself. This isn’t because I necessarily agree with the art, nor is it because I want to fill my mind with garbage.
I will hold my judgment because I’m a rational human being who will not condemn that which I know little of.
We expect this with virtually every other area of life, don’t we? Theologians should be reading their bible, politicians should be reading their bills, and movie critics should be watching their movies. If you feel so called to publicly critique anything, then do your homework and take it as seriously as you think others should, too.
It is a bit hypocritical when you think about it. In my 27 years as a Christian, I have drummed along with the cultural criticism that the masses are “so easily swayed.” They read an article, watch a commercial, hear what their idols have to say and they so easily go with their arguments.
Now we have a chance to not be so gullible. Instead, some read a movie critique and go off on a judgmental rampage, just as gullible as the non-Christians they’ve been criticizing for years.
That’s just stupid. If you feel so strongly about it, watch the movie and engage. Just don’t let that irrationality roll into the other four arguments…
2. Stop Highlighting Conflicts THAT ARE RESOLVED IN THE MOVIE
Christians hate it when people quote the bible out of context. The bible is history’s most incredible religious document. It is unfair to take a few shocking verses and try to convince another that all of Christendom believes such things. Religion haters love noting how God killed his only son, how God promoted genocide in the Old Testament, and so on.
Anyone can make attempts to persuade by focusing on conflicts, but it is disingenuous when you ignore the resolution.
This is what Glenn Beck and Ken Ham did with Noah. They zeroed in on the complex dramatic conflicts and made it sound as if that was how the movie resolved. Their articles were forwarded around the Internet (by many of the Christians who refused to watch the movie).
Don’t do that. People who analyzed the movie fairly know that isn’t true. Your argument is just plain stupid.
The thing is, the best literature grapples with the deepest human conflicts, and they typically resolve the conflicts in the resolution of the greater story. Just like the Bible. There are some incredible dramatic arcs in scripture that deserve to be on the Silver Screen.
“But Noah is a madman who wants to kill his own grandchildren!” Okay, that was an extrabiblical part that raised my eyebrows. But the movie didn’t end on that note, and you shouldn’t act as if it did. Noah was trapped in a box at sea; he had just witnessed the destruction of the entire planet; he was struggling to stay focused on that which God had called him to do.
For those of us who watched the movie, we saw how Noah overcame the madness and chose the route of compassion and mercy, just as God intended. Honest viewers identified with Noah, as did I, and totally understood his struggle between contradictory convictions.
3. Stop Quoting the Bible AS IF THAT’S THE ULTIMATE THROW DOWN
For over two hours, I thoroughly enjoyed how Aronofsky interpreted scripture — the same bible, mind you — and appreciated how he didn’t water it down with 21st century assumptions. The animals walked in two-by-two, miracles happened liberally in the pre-flood world, and the Creator was never doubted throughout the film.
This just wasn’t good enough for some. Rather than get into a worthy conversation of Arinofsky’s interpretation, the ultimate throwdown was quote a bible verse. Twitter and Facebook lit up with Rev 22:18-19, Genesis 6:9, and so on.
This is just plain insulting. I know my Bible very well, thank you very much, and I suppose I’m glad you do, too. But can we at least have a conversation about the movie rather than throw a verse at me?
Christians sometimes quote bible verses at people like atheists quote Richard Dawkins. There are some great conversations to be had from literary interpretations like the movie Noah, but they fall flat with someone’s snub, “read Genesis!!!!”
Funny, I’ve witnessed a lot of these folks get humiliated quickly when the rational movie goer does read the bible. I recall one news broadcaster up in arms about the scene where Noah gets drunk and is found lying naked on the beach. “OMG! The movie Noah shows the prophet getting drunk and laying naked on the beach!”
Yeah, much like Genesis 9:21 says. It didn’t end up on your Sunday school flannel board, but it’s there. Noah got drunk and lay naked. Deal with it.
So while some Christians are throwing down bumper sticker responses, the rest of the world are enjoying some fairly intense research and discussion.
There has been a genuine increase in bible reading since Noah came out, and I have thoroughly enjoyed some of the more healthy discussions of Arinofsky’s complex drama. I don’t want to miss out on the conversation surrounding God’s word.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I cringe when I see the bible verses thrown around concerning Heaven Is for Real. The movie is an account of a boy who apparently has a connection with heaven. Entire expositions have been passed around online that rattle off verse after verse about the real heaven.
Which brings me to the fourth stupid argument…
4. Stop Forwarding Articles YOU DID NOT INVESTIGATE
Christians throw down with article links, too, as sort of a step up from bible verses. They seem to enjoy articles from the fringe margins of Christianity. Ken Ham (a 6-day creationist) and Glenn Beck (a Mormon) were favorites from the Noah bashers.
Here’s another article that went viral: Sympathy for the Devil. It was written by a blogger theologian who accused Aronofsky of secretly making the movie to make a mockery of how silly Christians can be. See, Aronofsky didn’t tell the story that was in the bible. No, he told an evil pagan story that only the author discovered and all of Christianity failed:
“I believe Aronofsky did it as an experiment to make fools of us: ‘You are so ignorant that I can put Noah (granted, it’s Russell Crowe!) up on the big screen and portray him literally as the “seed of the Serpent” and you all will watch my studio’s screening and endorse it.”
I am no expert on paganism, but there were a few red flags that went up for me when people forwarded Sympathy For the Devil to me. Particularly with the author himself. (1) No hyperlinks to back any of his claims, (2) insistence to never see the movie more than once, (3) conspiracy accusation that Aronofsky was pulling a fast one on Christians and the blogger was the only smart person of millions who watched the film who was able to connect the dots.
I’m a debate coach, and a few of my former debaters jumped in and shared their insights on a couple of my Facebook threads. They lead me to this thoughtful rebuttal posted by Peter Chattaway that (1) has hyperlinks to back his claims, (2) is from someone who talked with Aronofsky, is a noted Christian film critic of 22 years, and isn’t trying to convince the world to avoid the film, and (3) is a piece by piece deconstruction of the conspiracy theory offered by Sympathy for the Devil.
If you were one who believed Mattson’s conspiracy, read No, Noah Is Not Gnostic.
This article should have put the argument to rest, but there were a few who still held to the conspiracy theory of Mattson. He conceded to the challenge (sort of), but he should really be ashamed of himself. So should everyone who insists to stand by an article of fabrications that happen to validate a faulty point of view.
Let that one sink in, because it is really stupid. I had one commenter try to tell me that just because Mattson was wrong doesn’t mean what he said wasn’t true. You should never insist something to be true after it has been debunked. Such irrationality shows you to be more loyal to your flawed thinking than you are to the truth. And that’s just plain stupid.
5. Stop Thinking the Devil Is Behind ANYTHING YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
It’s okay to not understand something. Why some Christians find this threatening is beyond me. Good grief, is their faith that fragile?
Back to Heaven Is for Real. Christians seem to think they know everything there is to know about the afterlife. To some of them, they know exactly what heaven is like, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination (to your imagination, that is). A movie that explores the supernatural is immediately condemned by these folks, any interpretation different from what they have come up with must be in league with Satan, leading people from the “truth” that they have concocted for themselves.
John MacArthur wrote an entire book on heaven. He explores what he believes heaven will be like, and I say good for him. But anyone else with an exposition he calls “products of demonic deception.” I’ll reserve my true judgment for later after I’ve seen the film, but I bet you some good money demonism won’t be the first metaphor to come to mind after watching Heaven Is for Real.
Claiming the devil is behind all of this is one big straw man. They seem to think by making the creators of biblical and Christian art out to be Satan himself, they will persuade people to reject and hate the art. This is a logical fallacy that doesn’t persuade; it is stupid.
Mattson’s article, Sympathy for the Devil, takes the cake on this type of argument. Mattson may not have appreciated the artistic liberty Aronofsky took when writing Noah, but calling him the devil is an insulting stretch into the absurd.
Stop making these arguments. They are illogical, everyone knows it, and they’re stupid.
Next time a movie comes across our radar that embraces biblical stories and Christian themes, I encourage us all to remain calm and carry on. Consider:
- Watch the movie. Perhaps watch it before all the Christian (and Mormon) vitriol hits the internet.
- Deal with the conflicts and how they are resolved. You should be challenged, not comforted, by Christian themes and biblical stories.
- Consider how ALL of scripture applies. Resist the temptation to pluck scriptures out of the Bible to condemn a writer’s interpretation.
- Validate the claims made for and against the movie. Don’t just forward critics’ articles like a gullible blow-over. Take critiques with a grain of salt.
- Be open and understanding. Join the conversation with dignity and respect for others’ tastes and views. You may just learn a thing or two in the process.
This goes for all art, really. And relationships. And how we engage the entire world. Otherwise, we’re just clanging cymbals among the greater discussions of life.
I enjoy this conversation. In the past few months, I wrote these critiques that were my attempts to participate in the greater discussion the movies surfaced…
- Son of God. I enjoyed the movie, but was at the same time was disappointed. I explored a few interpretations in a blog post, but read some of the comments and you would think I’m from the devil.
- Noah. I enjoyed this movie even more, but biblical literalists had a cow over this one. I encouraged creationists to consider reasons they could appreciate it (read it here). There were people who literally came unglued at me.
- Frozen. The Christian roots of this movie weren’t so explicit, but it was a story based on a Hans Christian Anderson novel. While some Christians zeroed in on supposed subliminal messages, I focused on the main theme in my article But the Cold Does Bother Me. I’d like to see Christians participate in conversations like this.