“The Sins of Christian Cinema” – J. Adam Snyder
Within the recent years, Christian cinema has exploded upon the Hollywood scene, and often with mixed results. A good majority of these films are independently funded by various Churches and religious organizations, and tend to consist of small-budgets yet still manage to make blockbuster sales at the box office. It therefore comes as no surprise as to why such films are being mass-produced so quickly, given the large target audience who is often encouraged by their congregations to see these films upon release, sometimes as if it is there Godly-duty to do so.
Despite not identifying as a Christian myself (which shouldn’t matter), there has been a small number of Christian-based films I have enjoyed, “Soul Surfer” and “The Blind Side” to name a couple. While certainly Christian, these two films present true stories of love and grace, and do not attempt to proselytize the viewer. The faith of the main characters serve more as personal inspiration for their benevolent actions, all the while not becoming preachy about it. The result is that these films come across as being respectful and genuine.
Let me state something for the record: I’m not against Christians making Christian films, as no-doubt some overzealous Christians will falsely assume. Afterall, the theater is an art form and all have the right to free expression. I enjoy seeing the beliefs of others being presented across all creative mediums, and the cinema certainly has a place for Christian-based projects.
However, there is a serious issue with the Christian-film genre that I feel the need to address, for not only are many of these films offensive, they are also dangerous. I understand Hollywood is a business, and despite the more tolerant and liberal viewpoints of the actors and directors (acting and directing are artistic professions, and most artists tend to be inclined towards left-of-center views by default), the executives and producers of the industry are driven solely by the all-mighty dollar. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this mind you. An industry thrives on creating a profit to stay innovative, and Hollywood provides not only the benefit safe of marketing people’s hard work, but also a living for all those involved in a creative project. All the way from the directors and the actors to the make-up artists and camera crew.
The issue I am referring to is in relation to the content that a sizable amount of these Christian-based films present. Hollywood is committing a great disservice to the majority of loving, moderate Christians by catering to the conservative fundamentalists of Christianity, a dying but still influential group that is primarily interested in having their religious dogmas and political prejudices reinforced and exploited. The end result is the production of abusive films that echo only the dangerous views of a small but loud sect within the Christian faith for easy wealth, as opposed to creating an artistic experience that reflects the more compassionate viewpoints of Christians that everyone in society can enjoy regardless of their spiritual background or beliefs.
From “God’s Not Dead” which gives the liberal character cancer and kills the atheist (all the while presenting these characters as obnoxious assholes), “Passion of the Christ” with its heavy anti-Semetic racist undertones, to “I’m Not Ashamed” which gives a false and downright disgustingly offensive portrayl of the Columbine tragedy. Such films are nothing more than hateful indoctrination and inspire irrational and deleterious feelings of zealotry among their target audience. They are essentially right-wing propaganda, lacking the substance from the authentic teachings of Jesus. Love Thy Neighbor is showcased in these films as only loving those who share your beliefs, and Do Not Judge Lest Thee Be Judged is presented with self-righteous hypocrisy of judging non-Christians and liberals as being vile people who are agressively driven to eradicate Christianity from the face of the Earth.
Creating this “us vs them” mentality only further divides our civilization, and only further leads to garnering Christianity more of a negative image. I’m very grateful for having loving Christian friends in my life who debunk that image, because if I didn’t, and if I were to just finish watching say, “God’s Not Dead” for the first time, I would get the impression that Christians are absolutely abhorrent and angry, which would only make me suspicious of Christianity in general.
It doesn’t stop only at those films unfortunately. Other Christian-based films such as “Old Fashioned” present a mentally and emotionally abusive relationship between a Christian man who is “courting” a non-Christian woman (the term “dating” is frowned upon in the film, go figure) as being moral. Throughout the “plot,” which is severely lacking mind you, the lead male character attempts to make the lead female character “a Christian” by telling her what clothes are appropriate for her to wear, what music she can listen to, and even going so far to forbid her from being in a room with him alone, lest she “tempt him” into the “sin” of premarital sex. Such a message is anti-feminst by depicting women as being powerless and incapable of making their own decisions, and as such, must rely on a man’s “strong” guidance. Not to mention the notion that we men cannot control ourselves around women is entirely asinine and only reinforces the already harmful and pervasive notions of rape culture, that a rape victim is at fault for the actions of the rapist.
These films also reek of rabid political statements, seeming to be more focused on pushing a right-wing agenda as opposed to a spiritual message. In “God’s Not Dead 2” for example, the film portrays a fabricated scenario that involves a teacher being taken to the Supreme Court for simply explaining how the non-violent teachings of Jesus inspired the actions of civil-rights leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.. Throughout the course of the story, there are many snide attacks at liberals, secularism, and “big government” with a showcase of Christians and pastors being arrested for refusing to renounce that Jesus existed (something that would never happen within any courtroom or legal jurisdiction in America, anywhere). Hell there’s even a cameo by, and I fucking kid you not, Mike Huckabee who briefly chimes in to inform everyone that the world is at war with Christians and it is time for Christians to “fight back” and “put God back in leadership.” This eludes the film to feel more like one is watching Fox News or listening to rabid far-right rhetoric, the kind that stems from the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and not actually a film about the teachings of Jesus. In short; these films speak to the choir. A small, but fanatically loud choir that will pay good amounts of money to have their biases regurgitated and consumed again.
If Hollywood wishes to make films that actually showcase the teachings of Jesus, and seeks to move beyond the quick cash-grab that is the Christian-right, they will have to abandon that fundamentalist base. Why not make a Christian film that simply features, say, a man who decides to care for the impoverished in his area? Or a couple who takes in a runaway youth and helps them get their life back? Or perhaps even a tale about a certain pastor whose Christian beliefs inspire him to fight against social injustices?
As long as such films are done in a way that isn’t preachy or politically driven, but focused solely on how one’s faith can lead one to do benevolent things, I feel Christian cinema might actually be able to redeem itself. Because as of now, the genre has become little more than a showcase for Pharisees.
© – J.Adam Snyder