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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label entertainment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label entertainment. Show all posts

Monday, September 14, 2015

Rebelling Against the Lovable Lothario

Entertainment has an enormous impact on our understanding of the world. It's important that we not only watch with a critical mindset ourselves, but that we talk with our kids about what they see.

Film and television can manufacture characters through whom we see ourselves. Sometimes the characters live an idealized life, such as super-hero stories or spy adventures. Mostly, though, the main characters are put into situations where while they have a heart of gold, they must struggle and work through those flaws they will eventually overcome with enough persistence.

Sitcoms like Friends and How I Met your Mother work off this premise. Both shows start with a young, educated but struggling to make it group of 20-somethings carving lives out for themselves in greater Manhattan. Both series follow an arc showing how each person in the group eventually achieves success, usually an unbelievably high level; of success, in their professional lives and how their friends have carried them along the way.

Friendship is a key element in many of these shows, so it should be no surprise that they are highly attractive to teenagers, whose emotional development begins to rearrange the priority of their relationships. As children reach puberty, they start to try and define themselves as individuals and place greater emphasis on their own friendships while lowering their reliance on their relationships with their parents. Thus, when adolescents watch these shows, they naturally fantasize about living a similar life: hip, urban, independent with their friends surrounding them.

Of course, sitcoms have another purpose, too. They are designed to make the audience laugh, so they need to build in outrageous situations and characters, too. Generating jokes each week is no easy task, and many series have leveraged a sure-fire way for generating a multitude of jokes—what I call the lovable lothario. Characters like Joey Tribbiani or Barney Stinson are persons who sleep around and generally treat women more as trophies to be counted than human beings worthy of respect. They're attractive and skilled in the mechanics of seducing women and there's an endless supply of cheap floozies ready to agree to their advances.

Of course, the shows don't want to give too much credence to demeaning women, so we see them get slapped in the face or rebuked by their friends with a wag of the head and a disapproving "tsk, tsk" as well. But the friends know that underneath it all they really have a heart of gold and they just need to grow up a bit and they'll be fine. The message is subtle, but it reduces the terrible act of manipulating another person to get pleasure with no regard for their feelings or their future to a character flaw akin to being too geeky or being a perfectionist.

Who Would Really Stay Friends with Such a Person?

None of this is a revelation to anyone. Yet, I must wonder how many of us have asked our children if such a person is worthy of being called a friend in the real world? What would happen if we discovered that one of the people in our clan behaved in a way similar to the lovable lothario? Is the well-being of those women valuable enough to distance a person of that Ilk from their group? Would their reputations suffer simply as a result of befriending such an individual? Would it matter if it was their sister that was being manipulated so? If not, why does television make it seem the lothario is basically a good person? How many times does one person have to use someone else before he should be considered not loving but dangerous? These are all great questions we should be asking our kids.

I don't think the lovable lothario exists in real life. If one is that crass and selfish to take the most intimate of acts and leverage it for nothing more than personal pleasure, I see no way anyone like that can maintain a heart of gold. Real people cry real tears from being used. And to be fair, I don't think sitcom producers want anyone to model themselves after the lovable lothario, either. He's an extreme persona, but he helps demonstrate that the regular carnality of the other characters can be excused as being not so bad in comparison. We need to counter that message by really talking with our kids and asking them to think through real world perspectives. Such will go a long way in helping them to spot and reject the problematic values entertainment seeks to inject into their lives.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Rise of the Anti-Hero

"If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation."1 – Andrew Fletcher.
It is no secret that we're in the midst of a cultural revolution. As western society pushes more aggressively towards post-Christian secularism, we are beginning to see changes in more obvious ways than before, so much so that others are beginning to take notice.

An Op-Ed column by writer Greg Burke appeared  in today's Los Angeles Times entitled "Disney's 'Maleficent': Romancing the devil." There, Burke observes that the movie company known for its family-friendly fare is now "risking the wrath of monochrome Christians everywhere."2

Disney has portrayed evil with interesting specificity in previous films. Even in 1940's Fantasia, evil demons in the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence were clearly depicted, especially when juxtaposed with the hallowed blurriness of "Ave Maria" which is supposed to counteract the evil frivolity. For fallen men, evil is always easier to see than holiness.

But, as even Burke notes, in Malificent there's a fundamental shift in the understanding of evil. Not only does he claim that "Jesus has lost some reputational ground," but he believes "It's easier to identify with a Maleficent than a messiah."3 He writes:
Once a force of pure evil, the demonic Maleficent (played by Angelina Jolie) has morphed into a sympathetic Earth goddess akin to Demeter, cursing yet protecting her Persephone-like surrogate daughter, the sleeping beauty Aurora.

In endowing the horned Maleficent with motherly love, veteran Disney writer Linda Woolverton takes a stance similar to that of Scandinavian/European black-metal bands such as Immortal, Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth: They embrace darkness in order to align themselves against those who claim to represent the "Light" — the legions who invoked Christ while destroying primeval cultures and slaughtering the metal folk's tribal forebears. Maleficent's brutish screen opponents, crowned with medieval helmets, lack only crosses on their chests to identify them directly as Crusaders.4
The mistaken history and pejoratives aside, I think Burke is onto something and this change in the public's self-understanding is not exclusive to Disney. The anti-hero is the rule of thumb in entertainment today. One has to look no further than hit television shows such as Dexter, Breaking Bad, or The Walking Dead to see how heroes with moral clarity have been replaced by protagonists (if one can use the word) who week after week are playing by their own rules and using demonstrably evil means to achieve their individual ends.

In Book II of The Republic, Plato was deeply concerned with the popular entertainment of his day. He felt that the stories people told had a profound impact on the society as a whole. He states that the most stories were having a corrupting influence on those who partake of them by not only being false, but offering dangerous lies by making what is naturally bad good and vice-versa . He calls such corruptions "ugly and immoral as well as false—misrepresenting the nature of gods and heroes, like an artist whose picture is unlike the object he sets out to draw." 5

Unlike Plato, I don't see state-governed censorship as the solution. However, while our entertainment reflects our declining values, it also reinforces those "ugly and immoral as well as false" views on just what a hero should be. We know that children who watch these shows are affected in many ways,6and such representations are multiplying exponentially. I think it demonstrates that we are truly in an age that Paul warned us of in II Timothy 3.

We need good, educated Christians and apologist to not only debate Christianity's values in the public square, but we need more educated Christian artists to create thoughtful entertainment that can support and exemplify Christian principles. Otherwise, we may lose our culture entirely.


1 Fletcher, Andrew M. An Account of a Conversation Concerning a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind. Volume 11. (Edinburgh, 1704.) 10. Available online at
2 Burke, Greg. "Disney's 'Maleficent': Romancing the devil." The Los Angeles Times. 13 June Web. Accessed 13 June 2014.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Cornford, Francis MacDonald. The Republic of Plato. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.) 69.
6 Wilson, Barbara J. "Media and Children's Aggression, Fear, and Altruism." Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1 Spring 2008. The Future of Children. Web. Accessed 13 June 2014.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Debunking 'Bible Secrets' Television Shows

Every year before Christmas and Easter, the media turns to stories about religion to try and boost their audiences. Like clockwork, the History Channel has just begun a series titled "Bible Secrets Discovered". This is the latest in a genre (including "The Bible's Buried Secrets," "Jesus Family Tomb" and others) that seeks to publicize some novel scriptural understanding that undermines the Bible's credibility. Are their charges true?

Below is a four-part audio series plus a two page downloadable PDF outline where I show how these 'Bible Secrets' shows engage ins a bit of misdirection to achieve their goals. More P.T. Barnum than true scholarship, when examining the facts thoughtfully, one can quickly see why these shows present an emperor who has no clothes.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ten Great Movies to Use in Apologetics

Yesterday was the annual Academy Awards ceremony, where those in the motion picture industry celebrate their craft. It is a major event that is televised all over the world, primarily because of the huge amount of clout and status movies play in modern culture. Motion pictures influence our morality and our worldview more than most realize. Plato's statement "Those who tell the stories rule society" is shown to really be true.

In the past, I've offered a list of ten movies that Christians should see but are generally neglected today. However, in lieu of the Oscar festivities, I'd like to take a different tact. Here is my list of ten movies that you should be using in your apologetic. Each one of these movies will help you in some way share an important truth about the Christian worldview. If you'd like to hear more about exactly how these movies can be used in witnessing efforts, check out this CD teaching entitled "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel".

10. The Book of Eli
How does divine providence work? If you have God's protection does that mean it will be easy? Here's a great way to see how God can be working in the lives of His servants like Eli who know that they must follow His calling even if situations don't fall into place as they should. The film is marred by a lot of gore and too much foul language, and that's how it gets its R rating.* It makes me wish I could own the version they show on the airlines, so know that going in, but the primary message is still fascinating.

9. The Matrix
Want to get a conversation started about spiritual things?  There's no better fodder than the original Matrix. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a young computer hacker who finds out that it is actually his mind that has been hacked and everything he thinks is real is nothing more than a computer simulation. This film, directed by the Wachowski brothers, takes on more philosophical and spiritual themes than you can count, but the biggest is the idea that the beliefs we're most comfortable with may in fact be false ones and we may need to give up our comfort for the truth.

8. Spider-Man 3
What if the thing that makes you feel better, more powerful, and more popular is also a more subtle and seductive side of evil that is unknowingly changing you into something else? Peter Parker must grapple with a temptation that is making his soul as black as his suit. This movie illustrates how sin works. Sometimes the thing that makes you feel better is not necessarily better for you.

7. Twelve Angry Men
This is the only movie that I repeated from my last list, but that's because it so poignantly  portrays one man's desire to sway others to the truth of a matter even if their prejudices make then want to believe otherwise. Henry Fonda must be understanding but firm, never giving up on his convictions. This is the way to argue for your position.

6. The Truman Show
The Truman Show has a single message: Reality is important.  Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a person whose whole life has been fabricated for a reality television show. Sensing that there's more out there than he's been told, Truman becomes increasingly determined to find out the truth of the world, even risking death.  The movie is a bit heavy on the religious allusions (The show's and thus Truman's creator is named Christof after all!), this film demonstrates why seeking a reality beyond what one has experienced is part of what it means to be truly human.

5. Amazing Grace
This is the only movie with an overtly Christian message in the list, and that's on purpose. Most friends and family will roll their eyes at a Christian who wants to invite them over for a Christian movie night.  However, this story ties the John Newton hymn in with William Wilberforce's twenty year struggle to outlaw the slave trade in Britain, so it has broader historical implications. It is a fine example of both how Christians can lobby for unpopular views that are ultimately moral and how the Christian worldview, specifically that all men are equally valuable has played a major role in the betterment of civilization.

4. Inception
Can you change a belief?  While Inception spends a lot of time on the question of dreams versus reality, that's not its real target. No, Inception is about how we form beliefs. Cobb states that while he cannot make a man believe something by dreaming, he can plant a seed in a man that will then become a real belief inside the man. "The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define, or destroy you."

3. The Dark Knight
Another of Christopher Nolan's films, this second installment of the Batman trilogy hits exactly on concepts of sacrifice and redemption, when Commissioner Gordon states "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Certainly Jesus saw both of those concepts come to pass and in a similar manner, Batman must ultimately take the sin of others upon himself for the greater good of saving society.  However, this movie is not quite that neat as it also brings up the question of "Do the ends justify the means?" However, you fall on this, it makes for some great discussion.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird
Standing by one's convictions can be scary, even dangerous, but such acts can also have implications that ripple well beyond what one would expect. In this classic adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a 1930's southern town defending a black man against the charge of raping a white woman. Atticus' determination to do the right thing leaves a marked impression on his children and ultimately on all those who finally see the truth.

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
It would simply be unfair to leave off the superb film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterful tale. This is how the most unassuming of individuals can step in and do what little they can, and how it can mean so much. Tolkien infused not only Frodo, but also his heroic and reliable friend Samwise Gamgee with a will that overcomes the most difficult of circumstances in order that good should triumph. As Tolkien put it in the books "It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till." This is a call to apologetics if ever I heard one.

*Thanks to Trevor Sloane for reminding me to add this caution.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ten Movies Every Christian Should See But Probably Hasn't

Many people I've spoken with bemoan the state of Hollywood and the poor entertainment choices out there. However there are a good number of films with subtle or even overt Christian themes that most haven't seen. So, if you're going to the video store or organizing your Netfilx queue, make sure that these are in there.

1. Sergeant York (1941)
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar in this movie, based on the real-life exploits of Alvin York, a hard-drinking Tennessean who gets saved and is so radically changed he is torn between serving in WWI or being a contentious objector since the Bible commands "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Great story and a very powerful treatment of taking one's faith seriously in difficult situations. Even more amazing since York was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, killing 20 German soldiers and capturing 132 others and did it nearly single-handed.

2. The Robe (1953)
Hardened Roman Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton) oversees the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. But problems arise when Marcellus wins Christ's robe in a dice game, played beneath the dying man. Haunted by guilt, Marcellus hopes that destroying the garment—now in the possession of his escaped slave (Victor Mature)—will cure his hallucinations.

3. Chariots of Fire (1981)
Fueled by disparate desires, long-distance runners Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) face off in a quest to bring Olympic glory to Great Britain. Liddell—a staunch Christian—seeks victory as a tribute to God, while Jewish student Abrahams views winning as a repudiation of anti-Semitism. An amazing study of personal conviction versus immediate opportunity – something with which we all struggle.

4. Shadowlands (1993)
Anthony Hopkins plays the great Christian Apologist C.S. Lewis in this true story of his meeting and eventual marriage to Joy Gresham. Lewis drew from this experience in his books The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. It also shows how life for the Christian isn't neat and tidy and that knowing theology is different from putting it into practice.

5. A Man Called Peter (1955)
Based on a true story (and adapted from the best-selling book by Catherine Wood), this drama centers on young Scotsman Peter Marshall who heeds his calling from God to be a minister. Marshall leaves Scotland and travels to America, where he lands the position of pastor of the Church of the presidents in Washington, D.C., on his way to becoming chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

6. Black Robe (1991)
In 1634, Jesuit missionary Father Laforgue (Lothair Bluteau) arrives in the Canadian wilderness to convert the Huron and Algonquin Indians to Catholicism. This is probably the most historically accurate account of the attempts to convert the Native American peoples. It also puts to rest the myth of the "noble savage" that was developed in Europe. CAUTION: there are some difficult scenes in this R-rated movie, so watch it after the kids are in bed.

7. Lilies of the Field (1963)
Aimless ex-soldier Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier) is on his way to California when his car overheats in the desert. He stops to get some water at an isolated farm and soon finds himself building a chapel for the nuns who live there. The stern mother superior (Lilia Skala) is certain God has sent Smith for just that purpose, and all of Smith's words to the contrary fall on deaf ears. If you don't love the scene where Homer teaches the German nuns to sing black gospel, then you're not alive. Poitier won an Oscar for his performance.

8. Luther (2003)
This epic movie follows the life of Martin Luther (Joseph Fiennes), author of the then-controversial 95 Theses and founding father of the Protestant church who, with the courage of his convictions, faced the wrath of the church in the 16th century, all in the name of religious freedom. Thinking about standing before the most powerful men in the world and denying them to their faces. "Here I stand, I can do no other." Christian history at its most profound.

9. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
A guilty verdict means death—but the jury's not about to let that spoil their day. Twelve men must decide the fate of an 18-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his father. Only one (Henry Fonda) wants to take the time to coolly deliberate the case. Sidney Lumet (Network) made his directorial debut in this fiery drama that illuminates all the petty impediments on the path to justice. What a great study in the power of reason and persuasion when most are guided by the "easy facts". Every apologist can learn from this.

10. Witness (1985)
Cop John Book (Harrison Ford) goes undercover in an Amish community to protect a boy who witnessed a murder. Once inside, the faux-Amish Block must adjust to major culture shock while cautiously romancing the child's mother (Kelly McGillis). A great thriller and a look at how people can be devoted to their faith and one another. Blood and guts violence give this one an R rating, so be forewarned.
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