Christians Rated “R”: Part 1 (Why)
Since the Hollywood first began its assault on humanity with all of its ubiquitous glitz and glamour, it has been known to push the envelope concerning objectionable content. While it is not alone in this direction (music, theatre, and any form of the arts are also known for this), the purpose of this article is to address movies, though the views presented here could be taken into the other categories as well. As Christians, many of us are more than ready to push back against this style of movie-making. It conveys a lifestyle and actions that we do not agree with, and therefore it is our responsibility to ensure that such movies do not get made. However, is this a truly justified stance? Can there be some truth found in movies that contain objectionable content? Could there be some “good” in rated R movies? Overall, is it wise to see a movie that seemingly goes against what is written on the hearts of Christians?
In his book Reel Spirituality: Faith and Film in Dialogue, Robert K. Johnston presents an argument for going to see movies even though they have received an R rating. In fact, he argues that the rating system for movies today, though not without its uses, is certainly flawed when presenting all the information, which it does not do. Throughout the book, Johnston focuses on the function of storytelling and claims that the Bible itself is a book of stories. He is not implying that they are false, but merely points out that the way that the Bible presents its information is formatted like a narrative, and that is what separates the movies that contain objectionable content that are worth seeing and those that are not worth seeing.
The contrast between the two styles of movies can easily be distinguished by the stories that they tell. In some cases, the violence or other content is necessary to the telling of the story. If those elements were not present, the film would not have its intended effect. The content is crucial and is not put in simply for entertainment, but rather to present the case. In Reel Spirituality, Johnston uses the phrase “sanitizing” movies. To present a film as real-life, it must be true to life. The characters and their personal traits should shine through so the story can be effective. Films such as We Were Soldiers or Saving Private Ryan can be gruesome at times, but it reflects the true nature of the narrative. Compare those with movies such as Jackass and one can easily see the difference between areas where objectionable content is necessary and where it is simply added in to draw and audience and to entertain simply through its crudity.
Once the distinction between useful and useless content is established, then one can begin to look at a film from a different perspective and begin to question how the content helps the story. Sometimes, the content or negative themes of a movie are not the overall intent of the movie at all, but are simply ingredients. In order to see what the true meaning behind the production of a film is, one must learn to distinguish between what is simply an asset to the story and what type of lesson the story is trying to convey. This is the case in several examples, including the Bible itself. Interestingly enough, although many would skip a film due to objectionable content and miss the nugget of truth that it might contain, they will turn to the Bible, which includes narratives of beheadings (1 Samuel 17), graphic sexuality (Song of Solomon), and brutal murder (Judges 3:20-22), to mention a few.
God has put these stories in His Word for a reason. Certainly we are not here to question that. If He does not shy away from saying, when Ehud stabs a certain king, “the hilt went in after the blade, and the fat closed in over the blade…and the dung came out,” then why should we continue to cover our eyes? I’m not saying that we should actively engage in all types of explicit movies, but this is our story. This is the truth, and sometimes the truth is not pretty. Jesus himself was beaten beyond recognition as a human being. We as Christians should address that, for it is our story. War is hell, and prostitution is a sick thing, but it is our story. It is the story of a humanity that we are a part of, and it is our responsibility to tackle these issues. Yes, they should be viewed in the light of our beliefs, but even if we do not condone such actions, it is our job to address them.
Ps. Thank you to Prof. Shaw for being awesome and helping me to appreciate the narrative in movie-making.