It's Never 'Just a Movie'

May 25, 2006 |Chris Leland

Every movie that hits the silver screen has a worldview driving it. Realizing this fact is a first step toward practicing media discernment.

When I fly, God puts me next to people who want to talk. The conversation usually stays on small talk until they ask the inevitable question; "So, what do you do for a living?"

I know that my answer is going to elicit one of two responses; either a pronounced look of disapproval and disagreement or (more often) a glazed and confused face. When I say that I teach Christian Worldview Studies for the Focus Leadership Institute, they either bristle at their "luck" of being placed next to a religious fanatic, or they have no earthly idea what I do.

On a flight last year, the latter was the case. A woman in her mid 50s who had been visiting her new grandbaby asked what I did. There it was: the glazed, empty and perplexed look. Then something caught her attention and she shared that she was a Christian, but she said it under her breath, leaning in toward me, like it was some secret password and that at any moment we would be discovered and thrown out of the plane at 30,000 feet.

A fellow believer — hey, this flight wouldn't be too bad. At least I wasn't going to play Paul to an "Athenian" this trip.

She wasn't done though. She wanted to know more about this idea called "worldview." Ah, here comes the flight-long discussion. I briefly talked about how our lives as Christians must be lived with every part of who we are being directed by our Christian perspective. There it was again; that glazed look that shouted "Huh?"

So I tried a new approach. "What's that book you're reading?" She gave me the name of one of the latest best sellers. "Who's the author?" She flipped to the inside of the back book jacket and showed me his handsome picture and the brief description of who he was and his accomplishments. "Do you like his writing?" Yes, very much.

"Why do you like his writing?"

Silence.

It didn't last forever, of course. She finally let me know that his stories were not only entertaining and easy to read, but they spoke to her and her life's circumstance. Now, here comes the clincher: "Do the author and story have a perspective or lesson we are supposed to learn about life?" Oh, yes. We're supposed to love one another and our families must be cared for, even when it was hard.

Good. But then I continued probing: "Where does the author come from on these issues? What's his perspective on life?" More silence. Then she said the words I hear so often. "It's just a book!"

No it's not. When it comes to the things we read or see or use to entertain us, it's never "just a book" — or "just a song" or "just a TV show" or "just a movie." It's always got something to say about how we think and feel, good or bad. And if we keep reading or watching or listening, it's liable to affect how we think and feel, good or bad.

For years, I've taught communication students; now that I teach worldview issues, I see the significance of entertainment more than ever. What has concerned me more and more in recent years is that I am hearing this from otherwise discerning Christians. They're people of faith who struggle over most decisions in their lives as it relates to their Christianity and wanting to make wise choices, but when it comes to the media, they look just like everyone else on the planet.

This isn't an accident. Many of us make our media choices precisely because we want to be like everyone else — or at least like a certain group of people we know.

For example, I have a Christian friend who will whisper to me that he is a "closet" Sex and the City watcher. He's in the "closet" around fellow Christians, that is. When pushed on why he watches it, he admits that it's the main conversation piece on certain days of the week at his office and he doesn't want to be excluded from the conversation.

Even when we're not trying to join the crowd, we may end up becoming like them simply by default. Frequently we use media simply for a diversion. How often do you sit down in front of the tube and say, "You know, I want to find something on that is mindless and I can just veg out to"? We think it's harmless enough. Yet research shows that this is the state of mind that makes us the most vulnerable to ideas we don't usually agree with. Why do you think advertisers have so much impact on our culture? They hit you when you think you're not paying attention and aren't impacted by their message.

As C.S. Lewis sarcastically wrote:

Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you'd be safer to stick to the papers. You'll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal. (Christian Reflections, pp. 168-169)

The Christian community must do a better job of showing people how to ask the questions that make a person media literate. If we are indeed the "royal priesthood" that we are described as, then our job description includes the command of Ezekiel 44:23, "They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean."

We must live not as passive sponges but as mindful agents. As Bill Romanowski (author and Calvin College professor) says, "There's some good stuff out there and lots of bad stuff and, if people are going to live as mature Christians, they're going to have to learn to tell the difference."

Every book has a perspective. Every TV show was written, directed and produced by people with perspectives and worldviews. Every article of every magazine that sits on the shelves of our local bookstore or airport gift shop has a perspective. And yes, every movie that hits the silver screen has a worldview driving it.

Our call is not to abandon the media, but to make ourselves "priests" of the culture and help our brothers and sisters in Christ understand that "it's never just a movie."

Copyright 2002 Chris Leland. All rights reserved.

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