Rated Holy – Movies and Games fit for Christians

By: Wolfgang Vondey
Monday, May 31st, 2010

What movies do you like to watch? Do you like a particular genre? What’s your favorite movie? And what kind of movie would you never watch?

If asked those questions, answers will vary. But most likely, few people would answer based on the audience rating of the movie. Have you ever heard someone say, “I just love PG movies” or “I only go to see what’s Rated R”? If anything, the R-rating is a boost for sales.

What games do you play? Do you like a particular kind of game? What’s you favorite game? And what kind of game would you never play?

If asked those questions, answers will vary. But most likely …. Well, you get the point. If anything, favorite games are rated “M” – for mature.

I would be surprised to find that Christian households differ. In fact, most Christians do not care how a movie is rated if they really want to see it.

Of course, like everyone else, Christians have a way out of the dilemma of “R” and “M” rated entertainment: they watch the movie on TV or DVD, or they play the game only at a friend’s house. The idea is that in that manner the reason for rating the movie “adult-appropriate” stays out of their homes. If the objectionable scene is cut, the movie becomes acceptable. If I may use an analogy here: That’s like saying if you only took the murders out of the life of Jack the Ripper, he would make acceptable company. The truth is that the spirit of violence, to take just one example, is not concentrated in objectionable scenes but penetrates the whole movie or game.

This is, of course, where the rating institutions got it wrong. Rating a movie PG-13 for “scenes of strong violence” gives the impression that the rest of the movie is okay. “If it weren’t for those scenes the movie would be rated PG” is like saying, “if it weren’t for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Pacific War went smoothly.” This dilemma exposes the whole problem of the rating system, as another post on our blog has pointed out. PG-13 movies are not necessarily any more redemptive than those rated R. For the audience, there is little we can do to get around the problem. Closing your eyes to the explicit scenes of a horror movie just doesn’t cut it (pun intended). But here I also disagree with our previous blog post on the issue. As the old saying puts it: one rotten apple spoils the whole bunch. Or if you prefer scripture: a little leaven leavens the whole lump. The bites can be eaten, but they are not fit for those who seek unleavened bread. Rated R or PG-13 makes little difference if the product is corrupted. In this sense, let me put it bluntly, Christians have no business watching R-rated movies or playing M-rated games.

There is a word missing among Christian movie-goers and game-players: edification. R-ratings and M-ratings (that is, the reality¬†they stand for, regardless of the MPAA rating) do not edify; they disrupt, disturb, upset, violate any sense of beauty and peace. Edification means to focus on things that are of virtue (Phil. 4:8), on things above and not on the things of the earth (Col. 3:2). We call the lack of edification “entertainment” and fail to see that what really enters into our minds is a spirit of hatred, violence, jealousy, and anger. Audiences feel empowered by a hero who transforms this spirituality into a self-righteous performance of justice, acted out by killing and destroying lives in the name of a self-proclaimed authority. We buy games where we “crush the competition” in a euphemistic exclamation of destruction and murder. Christians listen to the gospel on Sunday morning and play sharp-shooter in the afternoon, unconcerned about the spirit of death, destruction, and violence. Making Jesus the star of the movie does not change that spirit, regardless of whether Jesus is whistling on the cross or is subject to brutal flagellation. The penetrating socio-cultural analysis of Rene Girard has utterly exposed the scapegoat mechanism of the violent death of Christ and with it the fallacy of seeing violence as redemptive. Christians have utterly missed the mark, bought into the philosophies and aesthetics of the world, and begun to justify the display of violence as a necessary tool in the portrayal of the state of the world. The display of violence is not the way of the cross but the way of the crucades. Put differently, the way of the gospel is not to display hell in order to portray hell; it is the proclamation of everything that is not hell in order to reveal the one who has overcome hell. The violence of the death of Christ exposes the mechanism of violence. Modern Christians are in the process of reviving it.

What Christians need is to revive the usefulness, holiness, and beauty of movies and games for the sake of the Kingdom of God. R-, X-, and M-rated entertainment needs to be banished from the Christian life. (Are you already thinking how to protect your own collection?) What would happen if all Christians would purge their homes from these things and stop consuming them? The question is not if Christians can do that. The question is: do they want to?

Tags: , , ,

Wolfgang Vondey
This entry was posted by on Monday, May 31st, 2010 at 5:00 am and is filed under Faith & Culture, Family Life, Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

7 Responses to “Rated Holy – Movies and Games fit for Christians”

  1. You make a factually incorrect statement in your 2nd paragraph. PG-13 movies are the highest grossing films every year. In fact, many studios choose to cut their films to get the PG-13 rating even to the detriment of the plot or story. See this site for information about the film market: http://www.the-numbers.com/market/

    • As far as the numbers are concerned, perhaps. But the line between R-rating and PG-13 ratings are continually blurred. What is shown in PG-13 today would have been unacceptable ten years ago. When I say that R-ratings are a boost for sales, your comment is a case in point. While it seems that movie makers are cutting out the rough stuff to make a movie fit the rating, the whole movie is often fit for R-rating were it not for the absence of those scenes that would carry it over the edge. It is apparent that if we lost the R-rating, everything would simply carry over to the PG-13. That development is already visible.

  2. So is the real answer that Christians should not watch any movies? How does one use a rating as subjective as “R” or “PG-13″ to make a decision about what is “clean” or “unclean?” If PG-13 movies can be just as disgusting as R movies, isn’t that a perfect reason to consider the context of the film before allowing the MPAA to determine what we should and should not watch? Don’t the context and the content matter? For example, you say that “Christians have no business watching R-rated movies or playing M-rated games.” Two simple examples of movies that would be prohibited in this list that come to mind are Shindler’s List and The Passion of Christ. Both are horrifically graphic movies and yet, I would not say they are grotesque or distasteful, certainly not sinful. Horrific in detail? Certainly? Should children watch these films? Probably not. But are they sinful? Not to me.

    Doesn’t such a statement as the one above simply dismiss many powerful and meaningful films without any consideration of the context in which the “R” rating is stamped on a box? There is certainly a big difference between the movies I mentioned above and films like American Pie and The Hangover . . . no?

    • Jason, your comment shows that you have accepted at least partially the display of violence as an acceptable means to communicate a message. Thus “Schindler’s List” is somehow acceptable because of its message. The “Passion of the Christ” is okay because it portrays the gospel. I am surprised by your comment. Do you find the violence done to Christ in Mel Gibson’s movie not distasteful? Would you call it tasteful violence? Or does your “taste” neutralize (excuse) the display of violence in light of the message or the supposed results of the movie?
      Please note that my post does not speak of “clean/unclean” or “sinful.” My point in evoking holiness was the question of edification. Regardless of the context or intentions, violence does not edify.
      Of course, this is difficult to apply. With culural icons like The Lord of the Rings (quite graphic in its display of violence) and other similar movies that have had great success, who can imagine purging our shelves. But does that make violence acceptable? I am afraid it already has.
      I chose violence only as one particular example. Sex, drugs, swearing, lying, adultery, stealing and other culprits are of the same nature and included in my rejection of “R” rated entertainment. In a sense, these other problems are also violent albeit in a different way. You are right that we cannot simply trust the MPAA rating. We need discernment. My post suggests, however, that even as Christians, our judgment is already impaired.

      • Dr. Vondey,

        You may very well be right that I have come to accept certain displays of violence as acceptable in certain instances. In the end, I think it comes down to the individual conscience. When I was younger I used to play very violent video games. I eventually gave them up because they violated my conscience. At the end of the day, the violence portrayed in The Passion of Christ and Shindler’s List was horrific, but its impact on me was also lasting. I would say the impact, however much it hurt, was actually strangely positive. It helped me in a world of fairy tales and images of Christ that are very sanitized to imagine what it might have been like to stand at the foot of the cross, however extreme Gibson’s portrayal of the event might have been. I ask this, does imagining the violence of the cross in ones mind violate the principle stated above? Depending on the vividness of ones imagination, I suppose that even thinking about those events might lead to a similar desensitization. When I had a holocaust survivor come into my class in undergrad and tell me of the slaughter of his mother and father in front of his eyes at Aushwitz, I was moved to tears and ripped apart inside. But I needed to hear. I needed to know what happened. I needed to see it in my minds eye to know what it was like, to know that it should never happen again.

        For me, that is what the “R” rated movies above meant to me. I actually was not desensitized by them as far as I can tell. I no longer watch my DVD of The Passion, because I simply cannot take it. Maybe I have indeed bought into the lies of violence as a vehicle of some noble message, but sometimes I need to remember. Sometimes I need to be reminded that people in this world do suffer, and I should have a passion to do something about that. When it comes down to it, if a movie violates my conscience, I stand up and walk out, which I have done many times before. Or I turn off the television.

  3. Mike Marcano says:

    Dr Vondey,

    Thanks for the blog as it was well-timed due to a conversation I had with a fellow believer regarding movies a few days ago. You bring up some great points, and ultimately it is summed up well in your statement, “What Christians need is to revive the usefulness, holiness, and beauty of movies and games for the sake of the Kingdom of God.”

    I am currently enrolled in a course with Dr. Burgess (Eastern Christianity), and we just finished a discussion on sanctification/theosis. If we, as believers who are in Christ, are pursuing sanctification, it would follow that there are some activities that are unnecessary to partake in as they impede the sanctification process, and specifically I would suggest R-rated movies. Am I saying we should eliminate all R-rated movies (or M-rated games) from the entertainment sector of our lives? Kind of.

    Let me explain. Did I see “Passion of the Christ?” Yes. After many conversations did I watch “The book of Eli?” Yes. Did I feel as if I “grieved the Holy Spirit” as I watched these movies? Yes. Nonetheless, let’s say that there can be a few exceptions to my suggestion of removing R-rated movies by understanding their context. It still would follow that if the world labels a movie with an R rating, we know that the movie will most likely contain one of the following, if not all: explicit sexual scenes, extreme violence and death, foul language, abuses of the Lord’s name, etc. How is possible to watch such a movie with the characteristics I listed and continue to strive towards sanctification? Maybe it is possible, but for me I find it hard to do so.

    In addition, I am not saying that PG-13 movies are a free-for-all, or even PG or G (Sherk comes to mind). We should operate in discernment, and err on the side of caution when going to check out a film of any rating. In the end, I guess I pretty much agree with your blog entry and thank you for posting it.

    • Thank you, Mike. Your emphasis on sanctification is the more theological way of speaking about my use of the term “edification.” In your words, the question is if R-rated movies and M-rated games (that is, what they stand for regardless of the official rating) sanctify. The answer, it seems, is no. Of course, with that attitude, we must wonder if we can continue to read sections of the Old Testament and the Gospels. My response to that question would be that Christ exposes the spiral of violence (see my reference to Girard’s work). The cross is intended as an end and not a perpetuation of violence.