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Christianity and Film part 2 (of 7). Guarding

by David Lichty

Movies engage the mind in very specific ways. They both form, and challenge, assumptions. For Christians, much of our Bible comes in the form of stories, some given without commentary. We are simply told what happened. God does this in the Old testament. Jesus himself does it in the Gospels with his parables. He told stories to illustrate things. Movies are our time’s parables.

YES, many of them we disagree with, but we can look for the messages they wear on their sleeves and the ones they hide under our pillows. Down the road we will look at when and why not to guard ourselves, even when our Christian culture is the thing telling us to. You don’t protect yourself from a presentation of a world view. You check it, reject it, embrace it if it’s right, learn why you or others might fall for it if it’s wrong, learn how to talk about them, or JUST sit with them with some level of understanding, even when you are so opposed on something so strong.

Seeing movies that offend us can help us engage with people who offend us, and every element of our culture needs to do that better right now. But today, we’ll consider when and why we should guard ourselves, which things really deserve to be avoided, and maybe even rejected on their faces, and I’ll help as much as I can with how to know, how to pre-evaluate content. Protection is person specific, not movie or content specific. We don’t wall off a movie, we wall off us, according to our specific needs.  Yes. Ourselves. I can think of three broad areas of consideration myself. They’re not the only ones, but they’re good ones to use as examples.

1.  Violence.

What I mean here is graphic violence. That includes the responsible presence of it, where you may not even see gore, but you feel the punch, or the evil, of it. If this just takes you out of the movie, then you’re wasting your time, even with something generally considered responsible and warranted like Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan.   Here, I’m talking about a visceral impact from seeing violence, not a decision about its morality. If you’re okay with Saving Private Ryan because it really happened, then you don’t have the response I’m talking about today. You’re using your judgment and making a decision. That we’ll get to later. In this case I mean a response to the presence of gore, violence, brutality - regardless of context - that will be so distracting, or make such an unwanted impact on you, as to make make seeing the movie at all pointless. Spare yourself the time and trouble. Skip these.

[here in class I ran clip 1 of a video on the MPAA for about a minute - it’s in the video]

People often complain that stronger ratings are given for sexual content than for violent content in America, suggesting that it shows misplaced priorities. This is a case where I actually agree with some of the ratings boards against this charge.

2.  Sexuality.

I’m not talking about ripple effects on society, but direct ones on us, on me, on you. We are designed to respond to sexual imagery.  It affects us in a way violent imagery simply can’t.  People don’t leave violent films wanting to kill. People do leave erotic films all charged up for getting frisky. But even this is specific to each of us.  It’s not just a problem for guys, and it’s not a problem for all of them.  It’s not just a problem for teenagers and children.  What turns you on may have no impact on someone else.  If you’re don’t want to be turned on, its no one else’s right to do it. It’s not within the artist’s perceived prerogative to provoke. If you know that you are prone to any of this temptation, guard yourself.  Find out what’s in a picture, and stay away.

3.  Language.

It is right to restrict your own experiences if *you* are starting to pick up linguistic traits that you’d rather not. They can be profane, crass, racial - it’s your call how you want to express yourself. It’s fair to also guard your legal charges, especially at certain ages when we’re quoting what’s cool.  When Pulp Fiction came out, Deliverance, The Poseidon Adventure and Jeremiah Johnson were 22 years old, and kids weren’t still watching them and finding them cool.  Pulp Fiction is now 22 years old, and it’s just as cool today as it was then.  I’m sorry if you don’t like his films, but Quentin Tarantino’s movies are cool, and with a capital C.  Everyone in a Tarantino movie is an armchair philosopher, with a skillful, if very foul mouth, according to some.  Anyone over 12 will get that, and will be able to quote a lot of it after one watch.  There is a time to restrict language if you don’t want you or your kids to embrace it.  Even they may be glad they didn’t embrace it, sometime down the road.


The MPAA, America’s rating system is all but useless.  It tells us nothing we need to know about a film, even on these content issues.  What the content standards are is known only by those giving the ratings, and can only be guessed at by others.  The standards change without much notice.  Exceptions are frequent.

[Here I ran the longer clip, featuring bits from This Film is Not Yet Rated, about the ineffectiveness of the MPAA ratings, and a better system with the British Board of Film Classification.]

Our MPAA ratings system is not any part of a law.  No movie theater has a legal responsibility to keep your kids from seeing anything if they don’t want to pay for the extra staff.  And they don’t want to pay for the extra staff.  They do it because it’s expected, but that can change.

We need to be informed, and we need to be the guards.

We cannot expect others to do it for us, because they occasionally won’t.  They will in Britain, Canada, actually in most countries, by law, but that legal requirement is not the case in America.

Look up content, read reviews.  Know what you’re going into.

For movies released since 2000, The British Board of Film Classification, their rating system, lists the specific content that led to their ratings, including some qualifications about social responsibility, things like how showing a child hiding in a refrigerator in a junkyard automatically cuts off those under 12 because it can be imitated by young children.

Start here:

Note how the context of the events is factored into their ratings system in this example from an animated film with bees as the central characters:

BEE MOVIE (2007) The film contains no material likely to offend or harm and is suitable for all audiences. The hero, Barry B. Benson, leaves the hive and has a number of adventures. As part of his journey he is subjected to numerous comic attempts on his life, but there is never any real doubt that he will be okay.


They take into account the context. “Numerous attempts on his life” could also describe the Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man, but in this context, the BBFC gave a very low restriction.

The IMDB can be even more detailed, but it’s user generated. It is probably verified, but not necessarily checked or edited.

Here you can compare the MPAA (our system), the BBFC (the Brits’) and the IMDB (anyone who wants to write)


MPAA Rating - PG-13 for Frightening Sequences Including Some Violence How informative.

The BBFC cites all of the factors, and even specifies what took the film past their PG and into the 12 rating. You not only know THAT it’s a 12, but even how 12 it is, which in this case is not very 12.

Note: The following text may contain spoilers The work was passed ‘12’ for moderate threat. The BBFC Guidelines at ‘PG’ state that frightening sequences should not be prolonged or intense, albeit fantasy sequences may be a mitigating factor. Although the majority of the film can be comfortably contained at ‘PG’, there is one quite scary sequence in which Harry and Professor Dumbledore are attacked by menacing looking creatures that have emerged from an underground lake. Harry is pulled into the lake and dragged beneath the water. The scene has the potential to upset younger or more sensitive children and was considered best placed at ‘12’. In another scene Draco Malfoy kicks Harry (below screen) and appears to break his nose; blood can be seen on Harry’s face. Tables are turned later on in the film when Harry defeats Malfoy in a wand battle in the school toilets. Malfoy, who is rendered unconscious, has several bloodstains on his white shirt and his blood can be seen to mix with and cloud the water on the flooded floor. Malfoy, however, is soon completely healed by a nearby teacher. The mild language in HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE includes the words 'God’, ‘bloody’, tosser', 'sod', 'hell' and ‘git’. These terms, together with the very mild sex references (mostly about ‘snogging’), would have been allowed at ‘PG’.

The IMDB is more thorough, but note the Sex & Nudity section, which is not very intelligible.


Sex & Nudity

flirtations between characters they are seen kissing numerous times and another girl is jealous another boy and girl are seen showing bits of flirtation they later share a kiss Romance is one of the main themes in this movie

Violence & Gore - 6/10

The film contains a darker tone than most of the previous instalments, punctuated by brief instances of violence. The film begins with a Death Eater attack on London; although a bridge is destroyed, there is no loss of life as everyone is clearly seen to escape the bridge before it collapses. Throughout, the Death Eaters are seen to have a taste for destruction, smashing windows and walls and burning buildings; however, nobody is physically harmed by these actions. There are a few drops of dragon's blood shown falling from a patch on the ceiling. A nose is broken, with some blood shown. Occasional, brief duels with wands and magic spells, one of which results in a bully's chest being slashed. There is considerable blood, however, the wound is hidden by his shirt. A hand is cut with a knife, but no blood is shown. Poisoned wine causes its victim to have seizure. However, he is immediately saved by the ingenuity of the hero. Masses of emaciated ghouls try to drown two characters in a lake. They are unsuccessful, as magic fire is conjured to frighten them off. A magic spell kills a character, but leaves no injury.


6 uses of bloody,
2 uses of bloody hell,
1 use of dimbo,
1 use of piss,
1 use of wussy,
1 use of dragon turds,
1 use of dragon balls,
Merlin's beard is used a couple of times.



Two men are shown intoxicated and with empty bottles and glasses in front of them. Frightening/Intense Scenes - 7/10

Several intense scenes throughout, involving attacks by evil wizards and scary looking ghouls. Most scenes are brief however and do not result any injury caused is almost always instantly magically healed, such as scenes involving poisoned or cursed characters. A man drinks a potion which causes him to be in a state of extreme despair. However, once he has finished drinking it, he calms down. Dead bodies, reanimated by an evil wizard corner a teenage boy and pull him underwater, nearly drowning him. He is saved. One very big jump scare where Harry is looking at something in the water in a cave and suddenly a hand pops up. Dumbledore's death is very sad.

For Christians and film content, there is an issue when people have different personal limitations. Two standard passages of scripture apply to this topic:

a. Stronger and Weaker Brothers

[clipped from Romans 14] As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand…The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God… Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess[b] to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil… Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

b. Milk vs. Meat

[from 1 Corinthians 3] “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.”

Today we’re focusing on number 1: Stronger and Weaker Brothers


We all have areas where we’re the weaker brother, or we’re the stronger one. As Christians we need to respect each other’s specific needs or allowances when it comes to film. The Lord made each of us specifically. There are things each of us will connect with which will affect us negatively, but to which others just won't respond. We shouldn't judge the differences between our movie habits and others' on the mere basis of It has dirty words in it It depicts meanness It doesn't end on a positive note It made *me* very uncomfortable - “checked my spirit”, if you will A movie may “feel evil” to me, but that doesn’t mean that it is genuinely evil.

It may have just offended my culture.  It may have hit very hard on a truth that is ugly, and therefore uncomfortable. We must be careful not to confuse our opinion or discomfort with conviction. Look, if you can make a good case for a film’s evilness, do so.  You may help someone.  Just know that if your argument hinges on how you felt, or employs phrases like “Come on, come on, you KNOW in your spirit..” that you’re not making a case anyone but you could receive, because only you have your spirit.

Maybe this is an area where you are the weaker brother - we all have our places.  In that case, don’t condemn another for her ability to handle the material differently. The question, "How can you, as a Christian, like this?" is pretty loaded. It's really kind of a trap. We could say that about anything. As a Christian, how can you engage in farming, with all the death and mess? Or how can you work as a prison guard when scripture says we are to "visit those in prison" not help keep them there? If it’s bad for you, it may not be, nor should it be, bad for everyone.

If you ask that question, try to ask in humility, not superiority. Expect a real answer, and try not to merely resist it. Remember, you asked. The person isn’t trying to rope you into liking the film, but trying to share with you what they got out of it - because you asked. My connection to the 1994 movie The Crow may not be shared by many, but that doesn't make it any less valid, edifying or worthwhile.

Also, we need to avoid flaunting the things we avoid.  “We don’t watch rated R movies” or “We don’t watch Harry Potter because we don’t want to participate in witchcraft, like it says in Leviticus 19:26" said with pride may do little more than advertise our own personal holiness.  How does that help share anything true about Christ?

Likewise, not everyone can safely watch what you can.  This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree, or even try to help the weaker brother become stronger, if you are actually able to be convincing; or to show the stronger brother that she is not as strong as she thinks, if you’re actually right about that.  You will have to do more than ‘challenge’ the other person.  Make your case, but don’t just judge - either way.  It’s worth considering that sometimes discernment itself can be fluid, and what might be tolerable or even appropriate might shift as details of time, situation, and experience shift.

Finally, what do we do when unwanted material sneaks up on us? Movies can be practice. It is often just uninvited practice.

Try to sharpen your service to others before you sharpen your disgust. You can stay disgusted - you really can! - and still use your insight to learn something that could help you talk with others who see the world differently than you do. "This is the way life is.” Sometimes a film portrays that, and even challenges us with it, because as Christians we want the world to work a certain way, and often it doesn't.

How do we handle that?

Christianity and Film part 2 (of 7): What and how to guard

Appropriate guarding when it comes to movies is of ourselves, not the world, from what we don't want to experience. It also has more to do with the impact a movie may make rather than our agreement with its philosophy.

from Christianity and Film (2016)
Creator: W. David Lichty & David Atwell
Posted by David Lichty