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Assumptions and worldviews in the details

by David Lichty

Christians and Movies pt.4: Assumptions and worldviews in the details

No writer says, “Here’s my world view, now how can I craft a story to slip all of my assumptions in under the radar and sneak it into people?” But most films will have messages and assumptions, and we need to find the right way to be careful with those. It may be something other than avoidance and blanket condemnations.

Last time, David Attwell showed us how we can find the Christian world view appearing even in places where we would not expect it to, or where we wouldn’t bother looking for it, in the common, the mundane, even things maligned by the Christian culture. This time I’m going look at the reverse, the messages that can slip in from the things we do like, that we do approve of.

The Twilight Zone

Lots of people who enjoy good writing and smart stories know that The Twilight Zone is not simply some old, cheesy science-fiction show with stories that have a twist. Before creating, and writing just under half of the 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling was one of the best known writers of intelligent television:

1957 - Writers Guild of America and Primetime Emmy for Best Writing - Playhouse 90: Requiem for a Heavyweight
1958 - Primetime Emmy - Best Teleplay Writing - Playhouse 90 episode "The Comedian”

Then he moved to this little series where he wrote tremendous moral and ethical stories. They’re still marathoned on holidays, and people who like thoughtful drama still watch them.

Show clips with the plots of two episodes

The Twilight Zone seems to have a persistent “be careful what you wish for” message. It’s not exclusive to the Zones, but it is common there. This could subconsciously accumulate, training us to fear praying. It’s most likely to come up as people pray ‘for things’ specifically: don’t pray for patience because God may put you in a car accident and traction for 6 months, or He might give you mono.

This doesn’t mean that The Twilight Zone is a campaigning against Christians, God or a healthy prayer life. It’s just drama. Conflict is drama, stories necessitate it. We don’t need to reject The Twilight Zone, but rather consider where our new feelings may have come from, and consider them on their own warrants. Do I have better reasons to reject these new ideas? Probably. So we go with that. We don’t protect ourselves from ideas by avoiding them, but by confronting them directly, and in detail.

Jesus movies: Show clips from King of Kings, Jesus of Nazareth, Greatest Story Ever Told of Jesus being terribly stone faced and Hollywood Holy

If we only see these stern, pause before they talk, stare past people Jesuses, we may come to believe that he really would be like that, only partially human, too Holy to be real. But isn’t the famously shortest verse in the Bible translated into English as “Jesus wept”?  History reveals that he was not the complete stoic portrayed in so many movies, yet if we see enough of them, we could wind up believing that Jesus could not have wept from any sadness around him, nor been genuinely happy. We may even wind up inventing a theological reason for this crying that excuses Him from emoting, when none are given. His friend was dead, and his other friends and the people around were distraught. He empathized and sympathized. That’s the context.

We can be affected by the assumptions underlying any stories we encounter, those we expect to like and those we expect to hate. This does not mean that we cannot relax and enjoy a movie without first making sure it’s rated G, or made by and for believers. We have no mandate, Biblical or otherwise, that our stories have to be fully understood in every detail, or that they end happily.  Jesus didn't even tell all of his parables that way.  He trusted you to do a little discussion about what made its impact on you.  And he knows our limits.

It also doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong if we’ve gotten emotionally involved with the characters, only to find that the film, and they, affirm a very non-Christian conclusion. Seeing something is not participating in it. Watching a crime in a movie does not make us ‘complicit’ in the crime. You’ll hear people toss those terms around, but they rarely back them up so well. It’s the kind of thing that sounds insightful and challenging enough to accept just because it has been asserted by a mild authority on the topic. If someone tries to lay that on you, make them earn it. If they can. We do not become complicit when we watch a crime in a movie. If we *agree* with it? Maybe then.

A too-common, insufficient Christian approach to opposing views in film

We are just as responsible not to misidentify things as evil as we must be careful not to treat evil things as if they are good.

I have at least three books on discerning a Christian world view, each of which
1) explains the concept of world views
2) describes the Christian one
3) explains how to see the world views under many film’s stories

. . . and then they pretty much stop.

You may need to be able to say, "As a movie, I'm not at all impressed even though as a Christian I would say, “Amen!" to it’s point. And vice-versa, a movie can be great at representing real life, and real people, while ending up positioning itself against a God filled view of things. You may say, “Great movie. I think it’s point is flawed at best, but it’s sure worth seeing and talking about.”

Basically Christians are encouraged to identify which movies are right, and which are wrong. Good or bad. Our side or the other side. I’ve got news for us Christians: 98% of the movies we get to see don’t come from our world view, ad of the 2% that do, 95% of those are lackluster at best. The Christian scriptures say, in 1 John 5:19 (NASB) “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Movies with other world views are what we’re going to get because a world full of other world views is where we live. What do we do with them? If it’s all or nothing, then you get nothing.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, it is very much in the character of God not to do away with the evil that pervades this world, because to remove that would eliminate enough good as well.  Here are two examples from the Christian scriptures.

Matthew 13:24-30
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven [a]may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

Genesis 18: 23-32
Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.”
And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?”
And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”
He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?”
And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.”
Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?”
And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”
And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?”
And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.”
Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?”
And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.”

The dark and the light, falsehood with truth, these are, and will be, living together for out time on this Earth. We have no promise from God that he is going to ‘clean up’ the culture in which we live, and no mandate to scour it free of the things we don’t like, as if that would lead more people to the Lord, or prevent sin from happening.

The real question is how do we get truth from movies, whether they come from our world view or not? What can we learn about the world, God, truth, lies, virtue, corruption, all of those things from the movies we watch, whether they intend it or not? Christians aren’t the only people who understand reality. An honest unbeliever, truthfully examining the world, making an honest film, can’t help smacking into revelations, and since Christian film makers are busy making recruitment pamphlets which can only get support from those required to clap when the team scores one, why not fish on the other side of the boat?

We are commanded love the Lord with our minds, and we do that by using them, by not turning them off, and especially not by allowing ourselves to stop at answers that are too easy, by merely categorizing things as with us or against us. That is, at the very least, only the start of them conversation, not the end of it.

Proverbs 4:7 “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.”
Proverbs 1:5 “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…”
Proverbs 2:6 “…the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…”
Proverbs 2:9-11 “…you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you…”
Proverbs 24:4 “…by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”
Ecclesiastes 7:12 “…the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.”

We think about what we’ve seen, even the ‘popcorn movies’. It’s our job to test everything. In their first letter to the early church in Thessolonica, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy write, “test everything; hold fast what is good.” [1 Thes. 5:21] Test what? Everything. Listen to John in his first letter, “…do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” [1 John 4:1] If we can test angels, we can certainly examine a movie, and sort the good from the bad. Test everything. It’s a requirement.

We are also required to be mature in our thinking, not immature. 1 Corinthians 14:20 says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” In Matthew 22:36-38, Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”

We are to test. And we don’t get to be simplistic:

John 7:24 “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Hebrews 5:11-14 “…we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about it.”
- Roger Ebert

Child’s example: Misogyny in The Sandlot.

A lot of people like it. My first real pastor once asked me if I could bleep or silence a profanity in it, because his youngest son, at age 4-ish, really loved it, and he didn’t want him to pick up the word.

Here’s what he didn’t tell me, or maybe didn’t even notice. ______ noticed this when her family watched the film some weeks ago.
- Teen boys ogling girls or women
- The premise that Girls can’t do anything well, are weak or buffoonish
- The word “Girl” used as a put-down

Emma didn’t like that. Good for Emma. She brings her worldview to the movie, not the other way around. She doesn’t need this class yet.

More good questions to ask yourself around watching a film:

Most of the time your world will not have been rocked at all. When it has been, or has been affected, how can you take care with your responses? Try these:

What do you think about God after seeing this film?

What did you think before?

You can also ask what did you think of people, or you, or rightness - pick your topic, or the film’s topic.

What parts of the movie were truthful or insightful, even if the overall point of the film was off?

Christianity and Film part 4 (of 7): Assumptions and worldviews in the details

How do we sort the good stuff from the bad stuff, however you define those, without tossing the whole film out, or accepting it whole cloth?

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