Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hollywood Morality?

Christians have often tended to oversimplify the issues related to morality and spirituality in entertainment media. We see this in the common stereotype of the Hollywood industry as inherently anti-Christian and immoral. In one section of my book, "Televised Morality," I make the following suggestion: "The battle over morality on television is a battle to determine which worldview will be most influential in shaping our cultural values, and which institution will provide the foundation for moral responsibility. It would be a vast oversimplification to suggest that Christians are interested in morality, while the creators, producers, and writers of television are not. The issue is not interest in morality, but differing approaches to moral reasoning and different methods of moral discourse."

In other words, there are many creative voices in Hollywood who are very interested in morality. The difference is that their morality may flow from a different worldview, may be structured by a different paradigm, and may be communicated in different ways. The better we become at recognizing this, the better we will become at evaluating media's presentation of morality.

When "The Passion of the Christ" came out and did phenomenal business, Christians were overjoyed because they believed that Hollywood would now finally get the message that movies with Christian themes and Christian topics can make money. Therefore, Hollywood would start making more such movies. They were right. A short time after this, another Christian-themed movie came out. It was called "Saved!" The creator of that movie expected it to do great business because "The Passion" had showed that moviegoers hunger for Christian-themed movies. That is not what happened. Many Christian communities were very upset by the film and boycotted it. Why? "Saved!" is a satire of the Christian high school experience. It exposes the hypocrisy that is often apparent in shallow forms of Christianity. Consequently, many churches took this to be an anti-Christian film. The creator of the film didn't see it that way. He did not see himself as attacking Christianity but attacking hypocrisy within Christianity - what one might argue is the same thing Jesus did with Judaism.

The truth is that what most Christians really want is not more films that address Christian topics and themes, but more films that present a very narrow view of Christianity. They want only a pristine, uncomplicated version of Christianity delivered by the media -- a version that anyone who has spent time in churches knows is not the reality. Basically they want Hollywood to preach their message for them.

Is that Hollywood's job? When Hollywood puts out movies like "Saved!" that satirize Christianity or that make Christianity out to be more complex and complicated than the stereotype we would like to promote, are they doing Christianity a service or a disservice?


At 4:45 PM, Blogger J Rock said...

I would agree that all we Christians really want are messages that simply restate what we "already" believe. Isn't that why we like the preachers that we like and go to the churches that we go to?

And "no", Hollywood's job is not to coddle us in our entertainment desires. Believing that it is really makes us hypocritically Pharisaical - which seems to me to be exactly what Jesus was so unimpressed with in our Jewish counterparts.

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your blog in always thought provoking. Have you read a book by N.T. Wright called Suprised by Hope, that makes a case for the christian to retihink what he believes about heaven, hell,the churches missions etc. etc.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Greg said...

Yes, I have read that. I found it to be very thought-provoking.

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Bruce Bates said...

I think all programming reflects some kind of personal philosophy of the writers, producers, and networks broadcasting them. However, I don't think it is as intentional as some Christians think it is. Face it, not "everyone" is a conspiracy theorist. And the bottom line of all broadcast art is the "bottom line." They hope it will be entertaining and draw followers thus advertising dollars and if they can, certainly advance their worldview. As they used to say down at NASA, "no bucks, no Buck Rogers."

It's easy from our perspective of 35,000 ft to pick through the worldview elements of any programming. But where the boots on the ground march, I don't always know its this calculated.

Having said that, we must acknowledge as Christians that spiritual warfare is ongoing. That philosophies are advancing and being defeated. And that if we are true followers of Christ, we will humble up to however God teaches us. Christians ought to be the first people in the world to humble up. We shouldn't cheer or boo programming like a football game. Wouldn't a better stance be "Lord teach us" regardless of what is shown?

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Stevens:

Pardon my inability to put a decent comment down about articles that you write about. But when I read the comment about N.T. Wrights book, I had to order a copy from the local library and read what he had to say.( I have read a few other of his books) I have to confess it made me really stop and question things that I had thought were solid beliefs. Thanks for the recommendation of the book. I have also read by chance your book about the Temple in Revelation, and have to say it made me challenge things again that I presumes were true. It will tke any couple of times to digest the material and try to wrap my little mind about what you are saying. Your blog is always interesting. Thanks!


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