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Feel-Goodery

It makes me sad that studios like Fox have had to design specific divisions for the evangelical Christian (Fox Faith and Provident Film).  Clean, cozy stories for the cleanest people?  What?  I don’t get it.

If you’ve read the Bible through and through, it’s a pretty harrowing read in some places, and from it, we’ve taken stories we teach the little ones in Sunday School.  “But it’s the Bible,” you protest.  I don’t care if it’s the Bible.  When teaching some of those stories, there should be no glossing over the fact that these people are crazy-bad.  The whole package of rape and plunder and beheadings shouldn’t be wrapped up in shiny packaging and mounds of ribbon.

How anyone could claim that some movies are worse than the Bible is beyond me.  [And I’m specifically thinking of No Country for Old Men here, which I just saw for the second time last weekend, and if you haven’t seen it yet, be prepared for a squirmy, on-the-edge-of-your-seat viewing.]  I’m not endorsing movies that exist for sensationalism.  Certainly not.  But those movies that, yes, have bad language in them, or violence, or sex, are not necessarily bad.  They mirror truth; they mirror reality.  There is evil in the world, and there are people combatting it every day (and I’m not talking about the war against terrorists!).

Having a separate forum–do you get sanctified popcorn and candy, too?–to see movies devoid of how life really is won’t bring you closer to the culture at hand.  In fact, you’ve sequestered yourself away from reality, in all of its forms, and what good does that do you?  You feel better?  You feel sparkly clean?  You don’t have to see what those people do?

I’m particularly pleased with an article I just read in Critique, “Why the Gospel is NOT a Romantic Comedy” by Brian Watkins, that addresses this problem.  [I’d link it for you, but it’s not yet online.  Instead, you can go to the main website here to read other thought-provoking pieces.]  In talking about No Country for Old Men, he says, “We find a similar sentiment all throughout Scripture: we don’t belong here.  There is a gap.  Yet there is something deeper inside of us that hopes for something unseen.  There is a future glory unrealized and we live as foreigners in this current world that has been broken by sin.  What we’ve been given in the work of the Coen brothers and McCarthy is an honest (yet fictional) depiction of a broken world.”  He continues: “In her essay ‘Catholic Novelists’, Flannery O’Connor writes: ‘I don’t believe we shall have great religious fiction until we have again that happy combination of believing artist and believing society.  Until that time, the novelist will have to do the best he can in travail with the world he has.  He may find in the end that instead of reflecting the image at the heart of things, he has only reflected our broken condition and, through it, the face of the devil we are possessed by.  This is a modest achievement, but perhaps a necessary one.’”

When Christians balk at the foul language or the violence or the sex, “we are telling the artists who created the piece that we would rather them gloss over the evil they see and commit to the good.  This censoring of vision is ultimately something a true artist is incapable of doing, as their primary task is to interpret the world in front of them….In fact, by inadvertently subscribing to a more sugary brand of fiction we in turn exacerbate a growing sense of relativism.  Though our aim in personal censorship might be well-intentioned, it is a fruitless effort that keeps us far too safe and distances us from the rest of society and biblical truth itself.  We must no longer treat our artistic standards like a moral compass.”

And since I’ve written Eve on exactly these premises–earthy, gritty, real–these words ring true to me.  I, for one, don’t want to dumb down my writing, simply to please a few people who want tidy moral sentences.  Give me real any day, and I’d venture a guess that you want the same thing, too.

I’ll end with more Flannery O’Connor: “…[violence] is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace…This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.”  [Pick up The Complete Stories if you want to see how violent some of the stories are.]

See Magnolia.  See There Will Be Blood. See No Country for Old Men. See Gone Baby Gone.  These are the true mirrors of our times, and you have to see them if you want to be reminded of the evil you’re up against.

But again, you can choose to tuck yourself away in that cottony, feel-good world of yours, and I’ll honor that, too.  Just, please, don’t become complacent, thinking you’re in-the-know.  There are people out there who need good discussions, who want to have their questions answered, who want to doubt, who need to doubt–and who do they have to discuss these things with, when you’re off in la-la land?

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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