Don’t Watch. But If You Do …

projector.JPGThe Bible never comes right out and says what to do with movies. Moses didn’t bring back a commandment that said, “Thou shalt not watch any R-rated film (unless thine film be titled Passion of the Christ).” Jesus never explicitly spoke about Hollywood. We know the Bible has as much to say to modern-day believers as it did to those 2,000 years ago, but let’s be honest: Reading the Scriptures isn’t a science. If God’s will was always obvious, we’d probably have a lot fewer denominations.

Over the last couple of weeks, you have reminded me of that truth. When I read the robust dialogue (here and on our Facebook page) inspired by The Hunger Games or the discussion for Adam Holz’s “Titanic and Sexting” post, it’s pretty obvious that Christians—Christians of good faith—can look at movies quite differently.

I love reading what you have to say—even if it’s sometimes critical of what we do here. Take, for instance, what puzzled told us:

“… honestly, I can’t understand why your website would even consider reviewing almost any rated R movies at all. I thought this was by christians for christians.”

Other readers answered puzzled. As kate wrote, “Christians watch R-rated movies (believe it or not), and that’s why PluggedIn reviews them.”

That’s very true. Christians do watch R-rated movies. And that is why we review them. But a wider question lingers: Should Christians watch them? Is it “un-Christian” to watch them?

Blacks and whites on a color spectrum or 1’s and 5’s on a rating scale can’t nail the lid down on this one, so let me share how we wrestle with the issue here in the Plugged In offices, er, I mean, cubicles.

Plugged In has two primary directives: One is to give you, the reader, as much information as we can to help you decide whether a bit of entertainment is suitable for you or your family to consume. We don’t often flat-out tell you whether to go or not, but regular readers know how to read between the lines. And they know that we’re fairly cautionary in our approach. That’s why so many of you come to us in the first place. So let’s take a torture-porn movie like Saw IV as an example. I reviewed that one, so I can speak to it directly. Clearly, from my review, you’d gather enough clues to know I’d just as soon you not go see it. But would going be a sin? That I can’t answer. Would it be unhealthy? You bet. Might it cause you to stumble in your Christian walk? Easily.

The other directive is even trickier. If a reader does see a film we’d consider unhealthy, how can we help him or her think about and process what they’ve seen?

For instance: It’d probably be fair to say that I took a rather dim view, content-wise, of the this weekend’s R-rated Cabin in the Woods. If you called me up and asked, “Is this a good movie for a typical Christian to see?” I’d say no.

But we know that some of our readers—some of our Christian readers—will see Cabin in the Woods. And if they do, they’ll be not just confronted with bare breasts and vats of blood, but with a strangely paradoxical message: Hyper-violent movies (like Cabin in the Woods) are problematic.

It’s a message Plugged In can get behind told in a film that Plugged In cannot.

How can we, in our reviews, or you, in your personal life, engage with that message—and others that can be found in problematic movies—without seeming to embrace the film, without giving in to its other elements? And how can we help those who see it process those unhealthier aspects?

It’s a tough thing to do, but we’re gonna try to do it here.

For the next few Fridays, this blog will look at how to engage with problematic films. We’ll give you tips from our own experience—how we gear up for particularly foul films, how we process their problems, how we drill down to weigh the messages. This doesn’t mean that we think it’s suddenly OK to see all the “bad” movies you want, you know, to practice or something. We’re still as cautionary as ever. But if we’re going to review R-rated fare, it’s only fair for us to talk about how we deal with it.

This post is the first in a series. Feel free to click on these related posts:

Sorting Out the Good, the Bad and the Excellent

How Come They Get to Watch Bad Movies and I Don’t?

Getting to the Very Art of the Matter

It Didn’t Really Bother Me at All

The Series Is Dead: Long Live the Series!

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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