Christians Don’t Go To The Movies

(Provacative title, no?) 

untitled.jpgWhen I was about five and half years old Return of the Jedi was released to theaters.  I was just about the worlds biggest Star Wars nut at the time–having already seen the original at least three dozen times and spending almost every waking and non-schooled second playing Star Wars in some capacity–and wanted nothing more than to see the conclusion to the intergalactic saga on the big screen.  However, there was a problem.  We, as in my family, didn’t go to the movies.

My dad was the pastor of a non-denominational Bible church in a small town during most of the 1980’s and going to the show was still viewed by many, at least in our church community, as something a Christian didn’t do.  Especially the pastor.  This wasn’t necessarily a conviction that my parents shared (they had actually seen the first Star Wars in the theater), but as the pastor and his family you learn to forgo things that you might view as OK in order to prevent confusion and unnecessary grief for others.  In a way its refreshing in a time of insisted-upon rights to set aside something that is personally enjoyable for the potential benefit of others.  But not to me as a five year old Star Wars fiend.  (For the record, it wasn’t as if the townsfolk would have caused an uprising and ran us out of town had we gone to the movies.  I harbor no ill will toward my parents or those of the congregation for my delayed Jedi viewing.)  So, I had to wait for the VHS home video for my Return of the Jedi fix, subsisting on second-hand accounts from friends until that day finally came.

Growing up, the only time we ever went to the movies was when we were visiting relatives in Minnesota.  Far, far away from the possibility of being “caught” by a church attendee in that den of iniquity known as the multiplex.  As I reached the pre- and early teen years the reins laxed a bit.  We had moved to a much larger town and most in that community didn’t see movie-going as an inherently evil past time.  I was permitted on a few occasions to go with friends to the theater, but only if given parental approval for the film to be viewed beforehand.  My parents however continued to abstain.  That is until Jurassic Park.

My dad enjoys movies.  He’s a very discerning viewer, as we all should be, but he loves big spectacles, especially when viewed as intended on the big screen.  When Steven Spielbergs’s pre-historic pageant came out, he had to see it in all its wide-screened, THXed glory.  So he and I and his friend who was visiting from out of town (also a pastor) all went to see it, vowing not to tell a soul outside our immediate families and forcing them to take a blood oath to keep the secret.

Its not like that so much anymore.  Times and attitudes change.  But what was it about the moving picture show that made it such a taboo activity for so many Christians for so long?  What made it the proverbial pool hall of the middle 20th century?  A lot of it could have to do with its origins.  The first movie theaters, or nickelodeons, were usually found in the seedier, poorer parts of town.  Not exactly the types of places you’d want little Johnny spending his free time.  So it had acquired a bit of that pool hall stigma.  And Hollywood was never a beacon of moral purity, even in its infancy.  Even in the early days of the Hayes code up through the later 1960’s when what was actually on the screen was reasonably tame by today’s standards, the lives of the stars weren’t necessarily so.  Action star of the 1930’s Errol Flynn’s escapades are renowned in their luridness.  While there wasn’t the round-the-clock tabloid journalism we have today, news still got around, at least to those in the cities.  Also, like pretty much any new and fantastic artistic form, film was met with the concern of parents everywhere for fear of the influence it would wield over the children.

All these reasons seem legitimate enough and were almost exclusively well intended.  But what about in 1983 when I wanted to see Return of the Jedi?  There wasn’t much to fear, was there?  The theater was in suburbia, the content unlikely to influence me to join a galactic rebellion, and as far as I knew Harrison Ford was Han Solo.  The issue was, what had started out as legitimate concern, had slowly, over time, morphed into legalism.  You don’t go to the movies because movies are bad…unless they’re viewed in the comfort of your own home.  Oh, so its the building itself that is vile?  Hmmmm, that doesn’t make much sense does it?  Well, I don’t want to support the industry…but I do watch TV.  See the logic problem there?

In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul talks about our freedom from the Law in Christ.  We aren’t bound by a list of do’s and dont’s.  You could follow every rule ever written, but if you don’t have Christ its all for naught.  We don’t curry more of God’s favor just by doing or not doing something, whether that’s going to the movies or anything else.  However, that doesn’t give me, the Christian, carte blanche to do or watch whatever I want.  Paul goes on in that same chapter to say that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our sinful nature.  So, what it boils down to, for me at least, is not where you’re watching, but what you’re watching.  But that’s a post for another blog-a-thon…or maybe tomorrow.

For more Film + Faith blog-a-thon posts go to Strange Culture.

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17 thoughts on “Christians Don’t Go To The Movies

  1. Rebecca

    Great post Andy. I agree that you need to use wise judgement when going to the movies. Especially now with so many movies just being filthy. On the other hand you have some amazing movies like Chronicles of Narnia. So one would have to argue that not all movies are evil, just most are! ;)

  2. Jennylu

    “So, what it boils down to, for me at least, is not where you’re watching, but what you’re watching.”

    Absolutely!

  3. good thoughts. one set of my grandparents were very against the movie theater, and yet, TV movies & renting was acceptable…so i understand your angle here.

    the jurassic park part of your story is definitly my favorite.

    i’m sorry you had to miss return of the jedi.

  4. Rebecca – It can be tough to find something that is both good and good for you, as it were.

    J Crew – Thanks.

    Jennylu – Here, here!

    RC – One set of my grandparents were also very anti-theater, though they didn’t watch too many movies made post 1960 anyway. On TV or anywhere else.

    I forgot to put in the best part of that story. As we are crossing the street to the theater, under cover of darkness, we ran into someone from church…of course. Coincidence?

  5. Of course the irony that is often missed by some anti-film evangelicals is that the Bible itself is full of stories about lust, murder, betrayel & rampant violence – basically reflecting the human experience, as do many popular films. There is a fine line between being discerning and hiding your head in the sand.

  6. As I completely and totally respect your oppinions… I so truly believe that we should be teaching our kids the difference between good and evil. All the Star Wars films were such a great example of this!!!

    We were living in Texas and my son was in a southern baptist kindergarten… Harry Potter had just come out and we were reading it. He is exceptionally bright, and I wanted to read it. When I informed his teacher we were reading this book – she actually GASPED out loud and prayed for us.

    Well he is 13 and he has turned into an amazing, loving, respectful, faithful child. And I wish all the kids in this country could be taught that movies and books can not be evil!!!

    cheers

  7. laredo

    Very good article and very well written, I applaud you.

    I’m a full-gospel Christian and I love going to the movies more than anyone I know. The whole experience never lost the mystique that it held when I was seven and went to the movies for the first time. And there’s nothing to describe the feeling of excitement when the lights go off and the projector lights up after having waited in line for seven hours for the midnight show of a movie you’ve been dying to see since the day it was greenlit three years ago.

    Like you said, it’s about what you watch, not where you watch it. Fortunately I have no interest in the sorts of films that typically have significant amounts of objectionable content (i.e. Borat, The Hangover, etc.). I’m into the science fiction, superheroes and period films, genres which luckily don’t tend to be overflowing with sex and profanity and gratuitous gore.

    I avoid gory rated-R movies but very, very rarely I’ll make an exception. In the case of Inglourious Basterds for example, which even though I knew was full of gratuitous bloody violence and bad language I still decided to watch because I knew that the reasons I was watching it for were not sinful (the reason being that I’m a hopeless sucker for anything involving Nazi Germany and was watching it for that, not for the violence and language).

  8. thomasanswered

    “The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. When a man hath confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Neither is there a greater evidence of a false and rotten heart in the world than to drive such a trade. To use the blood of Christ, which is given to cleanse us, 1 John 1:7, Titus 2:14; the exaltation of Christ, which is to give us repentance, Acts 5:31; the doctrine of grace, which teaches us to deny all ungodliness, Titus 2:11, 12, to countenance sin, is a rebellion that in the issue will break the bones, Psalm 31:10.”

    John Owen
    from Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers

  9. Trish

    THANK YOU! lol….I’m a little late to this article but my entire family is very anti-movies and I’ve only ever gone on my own. It never sat well with me to watch the same movies at home that were in the theater months before—was it the building? The first time I went I thought something was going to happen to me–LOL…nothing!! Then I did some research, like yourself. The movies in my home country were the places where drugs were sold, prostitutes frequented and young people could have sex unseen. Okay, I understand the precautions my grandparents and maybe my parents took. BUT the movie theater is not like that anymore–if going to the Chronicles of Narnia at the local AMC is a sin, then its an equal sin to watch it in my house.

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  12. On this topic, there are those who say they don’t go to the movies because they don’t want to support “the industry”. While that may sound like a great reason, the logic falls flat when a person rents a movie or purchases one later. Some point to the actual cinema “multiplex” establishments…those showing things like Narnia and in the very next section are basically showing soft-porn. However, the companies who put out the movies themselves also put out the filth-filled movies, so that doesn’t really prove consistent either…unless one abstains from movies in both the theater as well as at home.

    I don’t go to the movies. Why? I think a responsible parent or Christian leader of the home should preview whatever is set before the eyes of the family. How can a person discern whether something is appropriate or not ahead of time? IF (and we all know the movies a true believer can watch are few and far between) there happens to be one that I might find “eligible for viewing”, I’d much rather watch it in my own home where it would be cheaper and quite frankly less tempting to watch all the way through because I paid already.

    Previewing also carries great risk to the “previewer”. There is no doubt a temptation to “preview” lots of movies a person shouldn’t be watching and justify watching it by “checking it out”…and to be 100% honest, I’ve convinced myself of that at times. I’m not saying everyone would fall into that, but I suspect 90+% of honest people would. That’s why it’s nice that there are also products/services like “ClearPlay” to ensure what is being viewed is properly filtered. I would still choose wisely on what to watch even when using these filters.

    ANYONE I know who is a true Christian who has become a “Theater attending Christian” just about always falls into the trap of excusing the very things we would never expose ourselves to otherwise…case in point is the poster above who states she makes some exceptions in regard to rated R movies…like Inglorious Basterds. Just go to http://www.kids-in-mind.com/i/inglouriousbasterds.htm to view what’s in it. Is that Christian discernment? Once compromise starts to snowball, it grows and grows-and not just with movie going, but any other compromise one gives in to.

    Bottom line is, It won’t matter much soon anyway. This poster believes the movie theater is eventually going the way of the drive-in anyway. Pretty soon, there will be no movie house to go to.

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