What’s wrong with Christian films

September 17, 2014

I confess that I had God’s Not Dead here this weekend but I didn’t watch it. I’ll borrow it again at some point, I promise. I’ve been on a Community kick lately and opted to watch that instead. I was in the mood to laugh at the genuinely funny, not, from all the reviews I’ve read, watch a film liable to make me want to tear my hair out and scream in frustration. A philosopher wrote a very long rebuttal to the film, too and it’s totally worth the time it takes to read it.

On the topic of other Christian movies, though, how’s this for a headline?

Christian Movie Producer Wishes Christian Films Got Dirty

The suggestion isn’t a foray into porn, but a request for more proper films that really dig into an issue to get to its roots rather than tickle the pretty leaves and think that’s good enough to understand the tree as a whole.

Christian film producer Laura Waters Hinson has a problem with Christian films: they dont [sic] cover the really tough issues accurately.

Hinson said something that bothers her in the industry of Christian film is that they don’t get dirty and cover the issues as deeply as secular cinema. She said what makes a great film is an “accurate portrayal of darkness, and how it can be overcome by light never really comes.”

“I think that’s where, just to be frank, Christian movies fall so short,” Hinson said. “There’s not an actual authentic representation of real people really, truly struggling. And film makers being bold enough to show the depth of the brokeness. Being too afraid…needing to whitewash everything. So really the payoff of the light never really comes.”

Bottom line, the problem has to do with the brute force attempts to proselytize over telling a moving story believably and well. They resort to stereotypes and pussyfooting and giving roles to Kirk Cameron who’s so religiously devoted to his wife that she had to be the kissing stand in during his make-out scenes in Fireproof or else it’d be a sin to god.

Some of the best secular movies ever made are great because of their light/dark dichotomy. Throw Star Wars in there, throw Harry Potter. Throw any film in where the main character is struggling to do the right thing when it’s clear that gaining all the power and glory seems to hinge on the temptation to join the other side. That’s God versus the Devil everywhere, even if you never see a guy dressed in red with a horns and a tail. The good versus evil storyline is found everywhere, not just in the bible. Take Homer’s Odyssey for example.


Click it if you need a bigger view. I couldn’t copy/paste from ancientgreece.com so I cheated with the “PrtSc” key.

The line just prior to that I’ve “quoted” notes that the ancient Greeks were notoriously optimistic in their stories and they lacked a lot of realism on account of that. So, much in common with Christian films, then, where everything ends with happy happy god god god, I’m guessing.

Back to the Christian Post:

“I think the Christian content that I typically think of, the films, the books or whatever, have to have a clear representation of the gospel message,” Hinson recounted. “Rather than being content to weave througout the themes of the book gospel themes. In films today…it has to have that presentation of Jesus rather than to being content to just fall short, to leave questions unasnwered, to allow the audience to make their own conlusions, to trust the audience. I think a lot of Christian Content doesn’t trust the audience. Which drives me crazy.”

Because the answer, if honestly presented, might lead a wavering believer to drop whatever facades may be left and seek out an atheist group. Read some de-conversion stories sometime.

I think some Christian groups pay lip service to the notion of “It’s okay to doubt and question” because they’re determined to lead the doubter back to Christ at all costs — if they can use enough prayer and badgering and guilt-tripping. But this is the risk – losing the person to critical thinking and the realization that their faith and their religion could actually be untrue. It’s a scary idea to have in your head, and scarier to realize you agree with it. Nothing I ever went through, myself, I was atheist before I knew there was a word for it and forays into Christianity were fads that lasted a few weeks and were soon meaningless to me.

Back to the Post:

Hinson spoke at the 2014 AEI Evangelical Leadership Converence in the “Song and Cinema: Why Engagement Upstream Matters” panel along with singer/songwriter Charlie Peacock and moderator Mark Rodgers.

Hinson said that she believed culture was a huge part in the most important thing cinema is a part of: Storytelling. “I think for me as a film maker I think story telling is at the heart of culture,” Hinson explained. “I think that the stories we tell create the culture that we live in.”

But the bible is true and every piece of it really happened, even the contradictory pieces that god put in there just to test your faith because god wrote the whole thing himself and the bible says so…

And other stories believers might tell themselves…

Yeah, humanity builds stories and decides on behaviour based on the stories it chooses to uphold as valuable and true to a perfect form of humanity, or near enough.

Love conquers all.
Good triumphs over evil.
The circle of life.
Triumph over adversity.
Build it and they will come.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And more, if you care to comment and add some.

Unsurprisingly, people have already done the literary legwork to document the appropriately pro-Christian themes in many secular movies. I’ve just run across the Movie Theme Index which will help any Christian conscious movie lover pick the best films to watch for miracles (Green Mile and Pulp Fiction get mentions) or repentance (Dead Man Walking, City Slickers) or surrendering to the divine (Patch Adams, Forrest Gump).

I understand the desire to create Christian-specific theatrics, but if broad appeal is the goal, films like God’s Not Dead will always miss by a mile and only make money when churches buy up all the tickets and force their flocks to sit down and watch them. Secular film buffs don’t really want a bunch of heavy handed god business getting in the way of a love affair or fight to the death. Unless it’s Thor doing the fighting…


Young adult author: robots help youth think about ethics

August 11, 2014

I’d say Jack Heath is correct to say so. I’ve never heard of him but his new book Replica sounds like something I’d enjoy reading. He doesn’t just promote his book in the piece, though:

The meaningful distinctions between human and android are fading. But while science class won’t prepare us for the resulting moral questions, English class can. Particularly if students study books like Lain Tanner’s Ice Breaker, a new book about a boatload of mechanical refugees hiding from the humans who wish to wipe them out. Or Brian Falkner’s ingenious thriller Brainjack, in which a self-aware computer virus uses neuro-headsets to infect human brains.

I haven’t heard of either of those. I’m trying to think of robot related books I read in my youth but at the moment all I can think of are movies based on stories. A.I. also known as Supertoys Last all Summer Long by Brian Aldiss and I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. And Kryten, from Red Dwarf. The series was eventually serialized into four books by the creators, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, all of which I own.

Kryten and Dave discuss Silicon Heaven: The afterlife of all electronic appliances when they die. The concept is used to keep robots, many of which are stronger and more intelligent than their masters, from rebelling. A belief chip is installed in robots to ensure that they will believe they will go to Silicon Heaven after a life of servitude to humans.

There’s some ethics right there. Is it fair to create a myth just to keep the underclass happy and accepting of their eventual fate? In this particular episode Kryten has learned that an improved android replacement is coming and he’s to be shut down. Lister helps him understand how unfair that is. Kryten succeeds in wrecking the replacement by telling it there is no silicon heaven. It’s Kryten’s first big lie as he still believes the place exists and won’t be swayed by Lister’s logic.

The next season, Lister gives Kryten some pointers on how to become a better liar and thus more like a human, something Kryten craves. There’s also an episode in the series where Kryten gets exactly what he wishes for – a human body – and has to deal with how that feels and changes who he is, and not for the better. Some of the show winds up pretty dated by this point but the writing was top notch and the topics explored by the characters could be pretty deep sometimes. I still pull out the first six in the series to watch on a regular basis.

Back to Heath:

The point of fiction is to wrap a philosophical problem in a story – to breathe life into it with quirky characters and spooky settings and, ideally, flash grenades. The point is not just to make the reader understand, but the make them feel. And just like with the robots, it’s feeling that makes you worth something.

And if you can empathize with the characters in a story and feel what they’re feeling, that same connectedness can also be applied toward real people and probably should be done more thoughtfully by everyone. Apathy may be a little easier than empathy and bullying doesn’t require the same commitments that caring does. But if you can cry because your favourite character met a bad end in the book, there’s probably hope for you.

CFI-Saskatoon thanks Pastor Sandra Beardsall for a fantastic talk on feminism and the United Church

June 19, 2011

Don’t you all wish you were in Saskatoon and members of this awesome group? It was terrific. Sadly koinosuke couldn’t be at today’s meet but she’s the one who contacted the Pastor about talking to us so I promised I’d take copious notes and report back. Hopefully my notes don’t make hash of what she said or misrepresent any of it. If any Freethinkers who were there want to add comments, please do. I’m going to do this in parts, the second to drop tomorrow morning, and a third in the afternoon if needed.

Sandra is currently a professor of Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College on the U of Saskatchewan campus. She participates in research related to Christian history and the development of interfaith/interchurch dialogue. She talked about the history of Enlightenment and how the philosophies of René Descartes and others ultimately affected the Church.

Thanks to those writers in the 16th and 17th centuries, ideologies evolved from an automatic given that God was the root of all things to people developing theories and mindsets with a more internalized, self-based origin to thought and philosophy. “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes eventually declared and that was a bigger deal than I ever realized. It was a big deal for philosophers at the time, too, as they worked on ways to build on this wild epiphany and completely new thought process. This was the Enlightenment of humanity, finally being able to give humans credit for their own minds and thoughts instead of automatically assuming (without question) a god’s personal hands were guiding everyone.

The Church and theologians had some trouble with the idea that the self could be the center of knowledge. Sandra listed several reactions they had to this concept.

The first she mentioned was the creation of a more deistic approach to God, the notion that a prime mover of sorts got the world rolling but overall has left us the hell alone to do our own thing, for good or ill. Deists, she said, focus mostly on ethics and behaviour, the need to do one’s duty, employ reason, and delight in creation. (Not to be confused with Creationists, though. Different ball of wax.)

The second was the development of orthodoxy and a retreat in some circles toward a focus on “correct belief.” She went on a bit of a tangent here to discuss Europe’s changing political structure at the time that had a lot to do with why the orthodox movement enamoured so many believers. The feudal system had collapsed or was on the verge or something and merchant-based commerce and trade was starting to gain in popularity, shifting money and power around in bunch of good and not so good ways. I scribbled down “guard turf” for some reason… She was talking about how the nature of Authority was changing at this time, so the social stress of that helped lead people back into thinking of the past and past beliefs being better for people. Safer, I suppose, traditional? (That part’s lost to my brain now. I have large gaps in my history knowledge and this is one of them. If I feel like it later I’ll look for some links to expand on this and learn more. You see why I say this was fantastic, though, right?)

The third reaction was a move toward “pietism” and the creation of the Evangelical and Spriritualism movements that gained a lot of popularity later on. Germans get the credit for jump-starting this, apparently. (I’ve got Quakers written down here and Jacob Bain — I guessed on spelling and might have gotten that completely wrong. Some spiritualist/mystic styled guy of some reknown.) The emphasis for these people was to bring belief to the heart, I guess could be said, to share experiences of God from very personal perspectives, independent of doctrine or theology. I wrote “emphasis on interior experience, feeling; congruence of the inner and outer self” here.

From all these diverse paths, more things grew out of them. Those I’ll get to in part two.

“Skepticism and the Fate of Philosophy”

March 9, 2011

Those in and around Saskatoon can head over to the St. James Church Basement tonight for another Philosophy in the Community session. Professor Anthony Jenkins will be discussing this issue. (Breaks added)

Philosophy has, throughout its past, been profoundly marked out from other fields of study by the peculiar roles skepticism has played within it. From its role in ancient philosophy to the varied roles skepticism has played in early modern philosophy, skepticism has been embraced or exploited as a part of philosophy itself.

But it has also been exploited, for both religious and also for more secularly humanist ends, against philosophy. In no other and for no other discipline has scepticism had or could it plausibly have any such roles as these.

In this talk, then, we will be examining critically each of these diverse roles skepticism has had in relation to philosophy, as well as the positions philosophers and the critics of philosophy have attempted to provide in opposition to skepticism. We hope that through such an examination we may be better able to understand and appreciate not only what philosophy is and has been but also of what it can still meaningfully be.

So, if you’re ever felt skeptical about skepticism, or philosophical about philosophy, this might be the place for you tonight.

Details (if you didn’t click the link):


The Refinery
St. James Church Basement
609 Dufferin Avenue
(at 12th Street, just off Broadway)

Random quotes for lack of other ideas

February 16, 2011

“A hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one.” — Heraclitus of Ephesus

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes … and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

“Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely intelligent can resist change.” — Socrates

“I do not know how to teach philosophy without becoming a disturber of established religion” — Baruch Spinoza

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.” — Albert Einstein


2 debates worth noting

January 26, 2011

Locally, at least. Last night there was a debate going on in Regina regarding religion and faith. I don’t know all the details of what went on in terms of arguments but tonight there’s another one here in Saskatoon at the University called “Does God Exist?” It starts at 7pm and costs $10 to attend. Location is the Arts building, room 143. George Williamson (Professor of Philosophy, University of Saskatchewan) will be speaking for the atheist/Freethinker side of things this evening. Said he in an email about last night’s debate:

The whole debate went off with a fair bit of humor and good cheer. I think I acquitted myself well, though of course there are some major limitations with the case I finally went with. I at least enjoyed myself, walking a thin line with some smart-ass, barbed comments gently delivered. We were supposed to do a short interview with a local TV station but they didn’t show up until the debate was in full swing. There was a mention of it on the 6 o’clock news apparently, with some shots of the debate from the back of the hall, but I never saw that.

Neither did I. I didn’t even remember there was a debate going on over there. Clearly I’m letting the side down… I’ll be at tonight’s thing, though, and will take notes for a post about it later. George will be facing off against Dr. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy from Talbot School of Theology, Biola Univeristy.

Should be good.

edit 4:53 pm: in Regina, George debated Michael Horner. Tonight’s debate is hosted by Campus (Crusade) for Christ and university students won’t be charged to attend provided they bring their student cards. The $10 charge is for the rest of us. I’m looking forward to it and my iPod is charging right now; it’s so easy to keep notes on that thing.

The nature of character

January 13, 2011

This is the part two I promised I’d write yesterday. Part one had to do with morality and how it seems to be culturally determined and socially enforced.

Professor Emer O’Hagan’s talk last night was titled “Do We Lack Moral Character?” but she said little about morality specifically. Her lecture focused much more on the definition of character and the debate that goes on in terms of whether our character traits are inherent (aka “global”) or if they are determined more by situational stimuli (local).

She started by outlining the situationist argument which is basically the theory that one’s character traits rely mostly on what we’re doing and what’s happening around us. She mentioned a few studies done in the past that seem to lean towards this idea, one of which being Milgrim’s obedience study.

It was set up to make people think they were participating in a completely different study where they had to ask another person questions and shock that person any time the response was incorrect. The “learner” wasn’t actually hooked up to anything dangerous. He was one of the researchers and left in another room to play the recording that sounded like someone being tortured to death by increased levels of shocking.

What Milgrim and his team discovered was that people will follow orders no matter what the end result. Some required more prompting than others, but ultimately many listened to the authority in the lab coat and continued administering the shocks, even after the screaming stopped. Not that they were happy to comply, of course. Most of them found it very distressing and wrong but the need to obey in that situation still took precedence over compassion or integrity.

Someone else mentioned the Stanford prison experiments. I piped up about what I thought I knew about that one once O’Hagan admitted she wasn’t too familiar with it, but I got facts wrongs. I hate getting facts wrong, so I’ll make sure they’re right here. Philip Zimbardo invited some students to participate in a role playing experiment where some of the boys would be guards at a prison they made in the basement, and the rest would act as the prisoners. They were told at the beginning that they could quit at any time, but once the game got going, everyone got so involved in their roles that the majority forgot that part. Zimbardo hoped to run his prison for 2 weeks but had to pull the plug before the first week was up. He was also caught up in the prison aspect and ceased to be an objective observer.

O’Hagan mentioned several other studies that tried to track compassion (would theology students off to speak about the Good Samaritan be one if they were in a hurry?) and honesty (in the 1920s, children were checked in a variety of situations to see how many would lie or cheat) and helpfulness (finding a dime in a phone booth radically increased likelihood that they’d help a person pick up the stuff they dropped outside the phone booth). She wasn’t coming down on the side of the situationists on this topic, though. She preferred the opposing approach, that character is the property of a life, not a moment.

During the Q&A, one of the people in the audience suggested that incentives need to be considered. Are people generous because it comes to them naturally, or do they just want the tax break? Are people helpful because they genuinely want to help, or are they avoiding guilt trips/wanting to impress someone? How much do expectations and chance of reward come into play? Can social policy/prisons/cities be designed to promote good character traits, and should they be?

It was also mentioned that making character assumptions about someone can be a grievous error since it often leads to misunderstandings and disappointments. If people are going to be sorted by particular traits they appear to possess, people might overlook other flaws of character that should also be taken into consideration if we really want to understand someone’s motives. We should also be more up front about our own motivations and our limitations as well.

By and large, it made for an interesting discussion and I haven’t hit on half of what got said. More about the study of moral character can be found here, including history and the role luck plays in all of this.