- September 25, 2017
When it comes to finding entertainment options that reflect the Christian faith, believers can often feel like they’re trapped on a desert island. There have been great advances made in recent years as Christian filmmaking has grown in amazing ways, but the culture at large doesn’t seem that interested in telling Christian stories. Even when the film industry does take an interest in making films for Christians, the results are often mixed. Here are a few reasons why the film industry and Christianity don’t always see eye to eye.
Entertainment vs. Religion
The first reason why the film industry and Christianity don’t always mix is because they have different missions. Movies are about entertainment and making money. Religion is meant to feed your soul and give you purpose. We find identity in our religious beliefs while a trip to the theater is seen as a mere hobby. That’s not to downplay the significance that movies can have in our lives, though. Just looking at a recent list of Christian movies you’ll see several films like “War Room” that spoke to people in a special way. Film can move us on a deeply personal level, but it will never be more than a momentary glimpse into something greater than ourselves. At the end of the day, Christianity has more staying power because of the life-changing principles and the loving God that lie at the center of it.
No matter how good the film is, art meant for entertainment cannot save any man’s soul. On the best of days, movies can only inspire a superficial change. This is perfectly okay as no film was ever produced in order to redeem or forgive sin. Only God can do that. The film industry and Christianity are at odds because each has a different calling.
Christianity’s Lack of Anti-heroes
Once we step beyond the essence of what separates the film industry and Christianity, we examine the kinds of stories that Hollywood wants to tell. Where do the values of Christianity intersect with these stories? Over the last few decades the entertainment industry has fallen in love with the idea of anti-heroes. In the early days of TV and film, most heroes were straight-laced men of virtue who would easily be seen as the protagonist. Audiences would watch their adventures and cheer with them along the way. With the exception of a few characters, the good guys were very honorable until the 60’s and 70’s. Up until this time it was also very common for Hollywood to make big-budget films about the Bible (“The Ten Commandments” and “King of Kings” come to mind).
As film started to grow darker and grittier through the 70’s and 80’s, audiences indicated that they wanted heroes who were morally questionable. Instead of characters that embodied every quality of a hero, it was time for flawed men who didn’t look heroic but were thrust into the role nonetheless. Hollywood was more than willing to oblige because characters that are imperfect are more fun to write. This led to cops like Dirty Harry and John McClane and, in more recent years, TV characters like Don Draper (“Mad Men”) and the title character of “House.”
The problem with making Christian entertainment in a world that loves anti-heroes is that it almost feels disingenuous to make those treasured characters fit into a gritty template for filmmaking. Noah and Paul were, of course, flawed individuals (Aren’t we all?), but come across quite saintly compared to the foul-mouthed “Deadpool.” There’s plenty of drama that comes from anti-heroes, which is why shows that feature them often clean up at the awards shows. By comparison, Christian stories aren’t as easy to sell.
The film industry and Christianity is at odds because Hollywood believes that drama mainly comes from extreme situations and by pushing the envelope.
Hollywood’s Search for the Cliff’s Edge
It may be hard to remember, but there was a time when both TV and Film had very firm standards when it came to mature content. Under the Motion Picture Code that spanned three decades, the film industry was supposed to promote traditional values that would uphold the moral sanctity of our Judeo Christian society. This code enforced everything from mild vulgarities to the length in which a couple could kiss onscreen.
The entertainment world today seems to be in a hurry to make things as morally questionable as possible. We’ve already discussed the ways in which heroes have changed, but it’s more noticeable to look at the ways in which sex, language, and violence have changed on TV screens in the last few decades. Certain forms of nudity and most foul language are both business as usual.
The film industry has been very progressive since the Motion Picture Code went away in the late 60’s. Although there have been certain film movements over the years that relished gruesomeness and sexual exploits, the standard for what can be depicted continues to be pushed further toward the edge. As films become more graphic, the idea of Christian films coming from Hollywood seems like a strange juxtaposition. To the industry’s credit, however, it has seen that Christian audiences are a large market that is being underserved. While the few films that are being invested in are rather small, it’s nice to at least have some options.
Christian Beliefs On Display in Secular Films
Whether Christian beliefs are depicted in faith based movies or more mainstream films, themes from the Bible have often been a source of inspiration for screenwriters. Since America was founded as a Christian nation, it only makes sense that this belief system would make its way into the popular culture.
The ideas and traditions at the core of Christianity have been seen in everything from old westerns and horror films even to today's blockbusters. Forgiveness, spiritual warfare, self-sacrifice, redemption, and so many other features of the Christian religion can be seen in the stories that our culture wants to tell. We just seem to have a problem when it comes to giving the full picture.
The Belief Buffet - The Film Industry and Christianity
If you’re writing films these days, you’re probably looking for inspiration in a number of different places. If you want to write a compelling mystery, you might watch the nightly news for a crazy story to tweak. Inspiration for comedies comes from looking at current trends to see how a popular fad or problem can be adapted into a feature length script.
Screenwriters almost seem to pull their scripts from an imaginary buffet line. One section of the buffet contains professions: writers, policemen, and so forth. Another part of the line deals with emotional issues like fear and revenge. Then you check out the buffet's selection of locations and find the spooky house or Italian villa you need for your story. When it comes to religious messaging in films, we often see Christianity being perverted to fit the story's narrative. It's either a Puritanical system where religion is being oppressive or used in a Christian-Buddhist hybrid that waters down both religions. The film industry and Christianity don't always mix because the former is often just using the latter to fit the plot. Hollywood would rather at times sell their own message and tack a little Jesus on top than make religious films. Christianity doesn't belong on a buffet line as it is the only meal that can satisfy. What Hollywood sees as an intriguing plot element, believers see as the one true way. That's not to say that Christianity in films needs to be all or nothing, but there can be problems with only telling part of the story.
We can all enjoy seeing Christian beliefs played out onscreen in some manner, but stories that inaccurately depict the story of redemption are doing a disservice to the world. An unbelieving world needs the full gospel. A mature relationship with Christ isn't formed with ankle-deep theology. If we want to see Christian films at the local theaters that are willing to show the whole truth, we need to invest in these projects and have high standards for entertainment. The film industry and Christianity don’t always mix, but we can vote with our dollars toward getting better representation in pop culture.
Being able to tell Christian stories on film is not just about having safe entertainment for our families. It's also about being able to explore the Christian experience in all facets. We're not just looking for laughs or to pass the time, but to understand our place in the world and to make His name great. The K-LOVE Fan Awards honors the films that are making strides in the film industry already. In 2017, “The Case for Christ” became one of the best-reviewed Christian films ever and had box office success as well. God is doing great things in the Christian entertainment industry and we want to shine a light on these achievements. The K-LOVE Fan Awards also brings together the hottest names in Christian music for an unforgettable show. Click below to see how your family can enjoy the ultimate fan experience at the year’s biggest event.