Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Christian at Entertainment Weekly

It was a little line in an easy-to-miss paragraph in the middle of the story about the "25 Most Controversial Movies of All Time" in the June 16 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Writer Jeff Jensen came "out of the closet" by confessing, "I also happen to be a Christian."

It was an absolute shock. Here, in the middle of a story that featured nudity and R-rated movies, was a pop culture writer admitting that he has faith in Christ. And defending his right as a Christian to get hooked on the trashy material he is reviewing. He says he is attracted to anything society tells him he shouldn't see. "Whenever I hear a director say something like 'If you don't want to be offended, then don't go,' I totally want to go."

He wrote, "My more permissive tolerance for pop culture has put me at awkward odds with my religious peers."

I don't know why--Jensen represents everything in American Christianity today. He should be congratulated for taking the risk of announcing his faith in a publication that is not known for moral values and will probably get a wide response, from liberal hecklers to fellow Christians who want to point out his faulty thinking in scripture.

But the truth is that Jensen is a typcial American believer. A commitment to Christ is pretty much meaningless when it comes to how one approaches pop culture today. Christians not only go to the same R-rated movies and watch the same trashy TV shows, but some studies show that evangelicals actually watch MORE cutting-edge inappropriate material than none-believers!

Jensen says that he has an "appetite for more urgency, more risks, more soul in my movies." Yet all of the films he mentions in the article have absolutely no soul--they lack redemption and are just plain trash. Though he agrees that they are "outragous. Deplorable," he also calls them "Challanging. And even deeply rewarding."

And there is the problem with Christianity today. Believers not only live no differently than non-believers, but they extract unplanned meaning from what is actually money-making entertainment. These people who say they are trying to "engage the culture" would have been called "backsliders" years ago. They are not living their faith as they are living in the world and hoping they survive with their faith. They are not shaping culture by going to R-rated movies and watching trashy TV shows as much as they are BEING shaped by those very things they shouldn't be watching.

I had a college student who told me she was addicted to the sex-filled TV show Friends. And that she was a Christian. I told her I didn't see how she could reconcile the two. She claimed the show had "no impact" on her and that she thought it was good to keep current on pop culture trends to try to influence society, to which I responded that the show had a much greater influence on watering down her beliefs than she would ever know.

I would say to that student and to author Jensen that Eve in the Garden of Eden was the first person who attempted to "engage" non-believing pop culture when she talked with the serpant and bought into his sales pitch that eating the fruit from the banned tree would let her see things she had never seen before. Certainly there's nothing wrong with a mind-opening experience like that, is there? And there is even nutritional value in eating it!? Except for one small problem--God said don't eat it.

The same is true of the trashy film and TV world. No matter how "believers" want to justify what they watch by saying that they saw "redemption" in it or that they need to be exposed to it in order to understand how the secular world operates, the truth is that God said to avoid the "prince of the power of the air" and only watch good things and set your mind on the things above.

Entertainment Weekly named Passion of the Christ as the most controversial movie of all time. It's a silly choice, made by young writers that know little about movie history (the entire top 25 list includes two movies from the past few months--what a lack of historical perspective!). But Passion is notable in that another "Christian," Mel Gibson, attempted to influence society by using R-rated violence to show Christ's suffering. Yet the film really showed what the years of making R-rated, profanity-filled, rear-end exposing films can do to a man who claims to have religious faith. Gibson's past is filled with compromise in the movies that he makes, so it is no surprise that he would push a film about Christ to the R-rated level and American Christians would consider that progress. No, instead of him influencing society it merely reflected the movie industry's dark influence over Gibson as a movie maker.

Instead of influencing the culture with their own faith, naive writers like Gibson or Jensen are actually allowing their own souls to be influenced by the very evil that Christians are supposed to avoid. It doesn't mean a person of faith has to avoid everything violent or profane (since we're living the real world we will encounter enough of that every day), but it does mean that the line that a believer crosses needs to be drawn much tighter than it is now. When the opportunity for CHOICE comes up in making entertainment decisions, the choice for the true believer should always be held to the higher standards of avoiding evil and clinging to what is good.

Namely, next time one is offered pop cultural fruit, check to see if it's not just another trick to trap victims into thinking they are wiser than God.


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