Author and sometime Spec Faith guest Brian Godawa wrote an excellent nonfiction work examining the belief system behind movies entitled Hollywood Worldviews (IVP). The book applies to all stories, I believe. In chapter one Godawa addresses the topic that comes up so often in a discussion about Christian fiction: “Sex, Violence & Profanity”.
In dealing with these issues, he first acknowledges that many movies seem preoccupied with integrating evil into their stories. He also verifies that many studies show a connection between the vile acts of violence, sexual perversion, and profanity and an increase in degenerative social behavior.
However, Godawa points out that those studies do not differentiate between movies that put such behavior in divergent contexts. For example, Schindler’s List, a movie about the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust, is filled with man’s inhumanity to man. And so is Friday the 13th. Except, the point and purpose of depicting violence in the two movies couldn’t be more different.
But the question remains. Should Christians be a party to either kind of film? Godawa makes it clear that a decision about this issue should not be one we arrive at based on our own wisdom:
The ultimate sourcebook for most media watchdogs is the Bible. And it ought to be—without its definition of a universal objective morality, we have no absolute reference point for right or wrong . . . The Bible alone provides a justifiable objective standard for making moral judgments that transcend the whims of personal opinion.
He then explodes the myth that the Bible does not contain any sex, violence, or profanity. While I think the “profanity” section is a little weak, Godawa adds a section of blasphemy that I think is helpful.
But the strength of his argument, in my view, isn’t that the Bible contains activities such as incest, rape, murder, adultery, and so on. I suspect most Christians know this is true, at least on a limited basis, if not as extensively as Godawa demonstrates.
Instead, the key for me is his handling of a verse often used to support “sanitized stories”: Philippians 4:8—“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
From Hollywood Worldviews:
Readers of Bible passages like this one often misunderstand the language to be expressing a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach to spirituality. But ignoring the dark side is not at all what the verses are indicating.
It is not only true, honorable and right to proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but it is also true, honorable and right to proclaim that Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44) and that false prophets are his minions (2 Cor 11:14-15). It is not only pure, lovely and of good repute that Noah was depicted in the Bible as a righteous man, but it is also pure, lovely and of good repute that all the rest of the earth around him were depicted as entirely wicked (Gen 6:5). It is not only excellent and worthy of praise that Lot was revealed as a righteous man, but it is also excellent and worthy of praise that the inhabitants of Sodom were revealed as unprincipled men “who indulge[d] the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise[d] authority (2 Pet 2:10).
Godawa next addresses the scriptural admonition (Ephesians 5) to expose the deeds of darkness and to bring them to the light.
I think this exhortation applies not only for wicked deeds but also for false belief systems—the very reason why I feel so strongly that Christians need to look behind our culture’s art to the worldviews each piece espouses, the very reason I believe there is no such thing as safe fiction.
– – – – –
This article, not specifically about Christian speculative fiction but applicable to it, first appeared, minus some editorial changes, at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in February 2010.