Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Problem of Evil (according to Hollywood)

Often, there are times when watching a movie, that I yell at the TV screen (in my mind at least) shouting: "Just Pray!!!" The story writers in movies and TV effectively portray life-threatening situations, fearful circumstances, times of mind-numbing pain and anguish and at times blatant evil. The ways people respond to these situations are as varied as life itself - except for one glaring omission. People don't pray. God is rarely, if ever, seen as a solution.

Movies and television shows rarely show a spiritual response to what are in essence spiritual problems. This is especially true in the horror genre where authentic evil is being presented. [A caveat should be made here. I don't watch horror/slasher/occult movies - ever. This includes movies like Harry Potter and Ghostbusters. I don't like them - mostly because of their poor understanding of the supernatural, bad (actually destructive) theology, the promotion of fear, and their glorification of violent evil. I've seen scenes from some of these movies - usually through previews or reviews but refuse to watch the movies themselves.]

The solutions proposed in most movies seem to lie in a narrowly defined parameter of acceptable responses to these life crises (usually escape/fleeing or having a hero appear or rise up from the group to save the day). The most disconcerting types of solutions are those offered when the story is dealing with something that is blatantly evil - often supernaturally evil. Here is where the responses don't make any sense.

The first style of response is usually human Ingenuity - a scientific response to a supernatural evil. A movie like "Ghostbusters" is typical of this response. The heroes in Ghostbusters get rid of all the ghosts, apparitions, etc., by zapping them with their containment machine. The strange, unbelievable thing about this is that they completely accept the reality of supernatural, spiritual evil but propose a scientific, materialistic, non-spiritual solution - and suggest it works. I guess Hollywood makes dreams come true.

The second solution to the evil threat in many of these movies is the glorification or maybe the beatification of the occult. This usually involves using "good magic" or witchcraft to defeat the "evil or bad magic/witchcraft." This is the approach of the Harry Potter books and movies. There seems to be no awareness that evil cannot be used to defeat evil and that a house divided against itself will fall.

Jesus talked about this in Matthew 12:
24But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub,[d] the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." 25Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

The third solution is the most distressing to me. This is where the protagonists actually become evil to defeat evil. They become the thing they are battling to somehow use the power of the evil force to overcome the evil they face. Afterwards there is some deliverance or rescue of the hero that needs to take place to deliver them from evil - but again it is some human or scientific force that is able to do it. In this situation there is at least the recognition that the evil is supernatural and that they cannot overcome that power with their own strength. The scary part is that the solution advocated is to become evil like your enemy to defeat your enemy. So to defeat a vampire you must become a vampire. Movies like "Van Helsing" and now a new movie "30 Days of Night" advocate this approach.

In all of these films God and the power of the Cross is neglected, negated or ridiculed. Prayer is seen as ineffective and the option used only by the weak or by the sniveling. I suppose when light is removed from the scene, there are only varying shades of grey. When there is no acceptance of the reality, goodness and power of God in Jesus Christ, the only place to turn is human effort or witchcraft.

It causes me great concern because there are many who are raised on a steady diet of this stuff - especially children [which to me is one of the real dangers of the current expression of Halloween with its strong emphasis on the occult and the violent, bloody aspects of the horror genre]. It is also unbelievable that there wouldn't be anyone in any of these movies who, if faced with this circumstance, is actually praying. Hollywood is producing movies portraying real evil. Okay, then provide real solutions to evil, and those solutions need to involve the Cross. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death." Revelation 12:11.

Marc Newman says it this way in Movie Ministry:

The problem with this kind of Problem of Evil is that it makes people feel helpless and hopeless in the face of the real, supernatural evil that most suspect is really out there.

Audiences deserve better. Evil is not eternal. Perhaps we in the Church need to do a better job of explaining the reality of the spiritual world. We must not leave that job to Hollywood. When we enthusiastically tell of our own encounters with God's redemptive goodness, it exposes these fraudulent attempts, such as 30 Days of Night, to debase supernatural warfare (albeit fictional) by turning it into a mere materialist turf war. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places," the Apostle Paul tells us (Ephesians 6:12). And Hollywood does better when it gets that part right.


Bill said...

Here in the states there is debate about prayer in public school. But what kind of prayer would that be? I don't trust the public school system to come up with meaningful prayer.

In a similar vein, I don't trust Hollywood to provide a realistic or theologically accurate depiction of prayer.

However, for a much older Hollywood portrayal of efficacious prayer, you might consider It's a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra.

hillschurch said...

Good point. Thanks for the comment.

I don't trust the administrators of our school system to come up with anything meaningful either. Toronto in particular is incredibly politically correct.

As for the older films, I agree and the theme of "A Wonderful Life" is great. We have a copy and watch it every Christmas. Actually Marc Newman says much the same thing in his article at Movie Ministry. The older movie response to evil was holy water, holding up a cross and often prayer acknowledging God and that the evil they were dealing with was beyond their ability to deal with.