The value of exploring religion in movies

The first thing I noticed when I was being raised in my Evangelical upbringing was how Hollywood always portrayed Christians as superstitious Catholics. This was used by some in my circle to prove the error of Catholicism by pointing out the “World” represented by Hollywood, only viewed Catholics as Christian thus proving Catholicism was born of the world, so to speak.

Recently I began watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. As a faithful Christian I have always struggled with TV shows and movies that glorify the occult. I have a strong ability to separate those things that are entertainment and those that are offensive with the intent to offend. I don’t enjoy politically biased documentaries for this reason. I prefer politically neutral documentaries that present the facts and allow the viewer to make up their own mind. For this reason when I see something like Sabrina I am torn. I enjoyed the original show tremendously and watched it regularly despite warnings from my ecclesiastically focused friends it was allegedly satanic. I dismissed many of their claims and went about watching the show.

This presents a problem for me. The new show is a whole lot more obvious in their devotion to “The Dark Lord” and makes claims that the Christian God is the “False God.” Even though it is a TV show, this does not sit well with me. Yet, I find myself going back and watching the show. Why?

This is where it gets complicated. I am not going to present this from a doctrinal or theological perspective, I will reserve that for the individual to make up their mind. Rather I am going to present what my view is on the role of religion within movies. I have come to accept the Hollywood portrayal of Catholics is as far from reality as their portrayal of Evangelicals. Thus I can conclude there is probably some similar exaggerations taking place in a show which features a clearly pagan religious perspective. For example, there are Wizards in Lord of the Rings. They are not pagan in the classical sense, meaning they don’t believe their power is sourced  by the pantheon of the gods. Rather, they believe their power comes directly from the energies of the universe. From the perspective of entertainment, that is the precepts contained in something like D&D or even Final Fantasy, there are distinctions between science, arcane magic and religious magic. There is tremendous overlap but from the context of the fantasy game set they are clearly distinct from one another.

This is where I stand on movies. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe I accept that the Asgardians are mortal beings in the material plane with access to and knowledge of manipulating the powers of the universe using what humans on Earth refer to as magic and thus they are worshiped as gods. They, the gods of Asgard, do not forbid or forsake the worship as gods they in fact welcome it despite knowing full well the reality is to the contrary. Still, I accept that within the context of the MCU the Asgardians are not gods, merely super heroes no different than the X-Men or Spider-Man. This is easy to accept.

From certain eschatological perspectives this is going to become a problem. I am not going to discuss those at this time. Rather I am going to preface this by saying I can accept that in the context of the MCU Thor is NOT a god, while in real-world Christianity he is akin to a false god, or even a demon depending on the Christian perspective.

This anything that is not Christian is pagan and anything that is pagan is satanic is often used to condemn basically anything a person could choose to do so.

Then why do I not give the same benefit of the doubt to Sabrina? For starters within the context of the show the Christian God is the villain. He is represented as a monster, a liar, and a false prophet. The Dark Lord, as they refer to him mostly, is glorified and in the context of the show, is the true god. This doesn’t sit well with me. But I can dig further.

In the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise the Christian mythology is evoked equally with heathen religion. There are multiple instances of the Christian God being supreme while the heathen gods having power, an example would be the cursed gold from the first film. The movies remain ambiguous on which power is at play. There is a balance but since the films are set in a parallel film universe based on but not set in our physical universe I can accept that.  Basically it comes down to reverence for the Christian God.

There are scores of horror movies that have evil represented by the devil, or some spiritual force that could be a stand in for the Devil. This is acceptable to me because we, as Christians, accept the Devil as evil. The forces of Good are combating the forces of evil thus any allegory to that structure is permissible. I liken it to referencing the Slasher films as morality tales. I don’t have an issue with that.

Why, then, do I draw the line with Sabrina? Or rather, should I?

It comes down to personal preference alone. I use this example. I can enjoy the Omen, the Exorcist and even The Shining as works of literature. No problem. I go a step further and often proclaim my favorite film of all time as the horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street. This is clearly something I cannot shy away from. But even in those instances there is no reference to the origin or source of the powers, be them evil or good. This ambiguity allows me to place the art or literature into it’s own category, in my view a movie universe parallel to our own with similar, but slightly modified laws of physics. This is how I can accept a film with an extra-terrestrial Superman flying around powered by the solar rays that give cancer to ordinary inhabitants of our planet.

At first I was able to compartmentalize Sabrina and place it in the same box. In this universe thus is so. However something didn’t sit well with me. In this universe MY God was not being given the respect and devotion he deserves but rather being proclaimed a false god. I have seen horror movies that take this same approach but they present it as such, the divide between Protestantism and Catholicism, in other words they usually have a form of religion, a symbol of a church, but because it is the “false church” their proponents don’t have the power of God thus they are often portrayed as false. For example Dracula and other Vampire movies. They borrow heavily from European myths mingled with superstition and Christianity. There are often Christian symbols, holy water and the Cross or crucifix depending on the portrayal, being used to defeat the vampires, or forces of evil.

As I examine this I pull it back and let this be the deciding factor for me, not based on an intellectual argument or even a theological argument. I base it on what I am comfortable with personally.

As I watch Sabrina I hear them exhaling Satan and demonizing My Lord, I feel a twinge of disgust. It doesn’t sit well with me. I am not going to make the claim it *IS* Satanic and thus forbid or implore anyone to not watch it. Rather I am going to state why *I* have decided it is too much for me and invite others to either defend it, with in reason and not using personal attacks or logical fallacy, or I would ask that in this case my views be respected and I not be expected to defend my point other than it makes me uncomfortable to watch so I am recusing myself from it, for the time being.

This is not to say I will apply this analysis to other works of literature or artistic expression. After all, you have to draw the line somewhere of what is acceptable and what is not. For me, I can accept a movie about a pedophile being condemned to hell and sentenced to invade the dreams of the relatives of those who judged him using illegitimate means. The basis is on the fact that neither Mans law (Justice) nor God (Church law) judged him accordingly, thus despite him being evil in life, his death was unjust opening the door for the spiritual forces in the context of that franchise to provide a middle ground. He remains in hell tormented for all eternity, but he is permitted to get revenge upon those who were also unjust in slaying him. It’s acceptable to my perspective because it fits the real of what is to be expected. God demands, in the real of Christianity, to adhere to mans laws as placed in jurisdiction over us. The exception is when those laws prevent a person from expressing their obedience to God’s commands. Thus, it is my perspective, based on purely my own understanding, that disobeying God’s law does not justify disobeying mans law. In other words, the parents who murder Fred Krueger are as guilty of the sin of murder as the man they killed. Rather, if the courts, appointed by man respected by God, permitted him to trial and he was sentenced to death, he would not be justified in returning to this world, either in physical or metaphysical form, he would be firmly condemned to Hell.

This is how I can accept A Nightmare on Elm Street without a twinge of strong guilt but, currently, cannot do the same for The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Maybe upon further examination I will change my mind. At this point, and in the future, I will not ever condemn another for their choices. Watch the show if you find it acceptable, while I am going to currently refrain from such until further notice.

I didn’t want this to be entirely focused exclusively on Sabrina. After all there was a certain amount of nostalgia at play tugging me into the desire to see it. I also rather enjoyed the few episodes I did watch of it.

Personal post-Matters of Faith

Sometimes finding the right church family takes a leap of faith. I recently began working towards the goal of getting closer to God. My intent is to strengthen my faith and become a better person. I am largely motivated by shedding my old self and starting anew. Part of it stems from the new year, as it is often the case. For me, however, this year it runs deeper.

I have begun facing a cataclysmic shift in my fundamental views on Christianity. I am beginning to ask questions I previously took for granted.

There has always been one underlying rift in all of Christianity, the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and those churches that exist outside of Roman Catholicism.

At the core of this rift is the authority of the church. The question is where does Church authority lie, in the laymen, the piety or the hierarchy? Depending on how one answers that question is the core of whether or not that person can even begin to consider the process of entering the Catholic faith, if they started their journey outside it’s doors.

Beginning in the 1500’s there was a Protestant Reformation. Originally the intent of the priest who began the reformation was to address issues that was perceived as errors within the church. Specifically Martin Luther had concerns he wished to resolve. Originally his intention, as I understand it, was not to leave the church but to reform it, or cleanse it from the errors he perceived. At the crux of his argument lied within the central authority of Rome. The papacy, or the Supremacy of the Bishop of Rome was called into question. Those who rejected the Papacy split into their own denominations. The common narrative is there had been one, central Christian church united world wide before the Reformation. Except this is also not entirely accurate.

Five hundred years before the Reformation was another Schism, this one known as the Great Schism by those who study church history. The rift then was also over Papal authority. The Catholics claim papal authority is traced back to Saint Peter, an Apostle the Church claims was given profound powers directly by Jesus himself, the Son of God according to Christian beliefs.

This was further complicated as there is a 400 year period between the life of the apostles and the official canonization of the Holy Scriptures collected into the modern interpretation of what Christians of many faiths refer to simply as The Bible. As such there is a question of authority all churches today do have to wrestle with. The catholic claim of apostolic succession is well documented but it has some areas that is often used against the church. The early Church Fathers did believe in Apostolic Succession, this is the laying on of hands and ordination. Churches today express ordaining of ministers in different ways but the concept of passing the faith on from the Apostles to their followers is not in dispute. The dispute comes from the extent of the authority of the Church that was established in Rome and the central figure who sits as the Bishop of Rome.

At the heart of it the split comes over does a believer accept the Church on earth as established by Jesus as the central authority whose role is to keep the Word preserved and to protect the flock, or is the Bible alone the sole authority one must live by and church authority is merely relegated to communal worship matters?

This question has beleaguered the Christian faithful since the last Apostle passed on to the next world.

All other matters of Doctrine, be it Predestination, Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Pre-Tribulational Rapturism, Fundamentalism, Catholicism, Marianism, Iconography, and the list goes on and on, they can be debated until the Second Coming of Christ.

What all churches within the Christian faith do have in common is a few key points. They are mostly contained in what the Church historians call the Nicene Creed. This creed is an explanation of the faith. It lists the key points all the churches that existed at the time agreed upon and is the doctrinal basis for the faith. It is not the source of the faith as some might try to say, it is merely a confirmation of what Christians ought to agree as universally true.

There are no single points in the Nicene Creed I, raised a Baptist and Baptized as such, disagree with. There are matters of worldly doctrine, things that in my view have no bearing on ones salvation, that are contested by the thousands of denominations.

While the Catholic Church can claim their roots to in fact go all the way back to the Apostles as Paul frequently visited the Church in Rome, they are not the only Christian denomination which can claim apostolic succession. While I have come to accept that as essential to the faith, the apostles did anoint their successors, I do not yet feel convinced there is sufficient evidence to claim only those anointed by the and into the Roman Catholic Church can make that claim.

This is not a treatise on anti-Catholicism nor is it a declaration of intent to convert, rather what I am wrestling with is discovering the truth. Can a Christian come to salvation without the aid of the Roman church, and likewise can a Christian lose their salvation by participating in the practices of said church?

At the end of the day my calling to the Catholic Church remains overwhelming, I have always been plagued by the schism and the Reformation as signs of disunity in the Church, I am merely an individual person who doesn’t have the authority to speak definitively on such matters. Yet I am hesitant as there are a number of issues I have to reconcile. Either I accept the churches authority and let them settle the matters or I let that be a sticking point keeping me from entering the Catholic Church.

What I can say is, I have attended a Catholic service and it wasn’t what I expected. Being raised Baptist I was expecting to walk into a pagan ritual that looked nothing like Christianity. Instead I saw something entirely different.

I have since read books on the history. I have researched the topic from the perspective of the Catholic church, those outside it and from a purely neutral humanist or educational perspective, meaning I have explored it from all three possible angles.

I have come to the following conclusion.

1, if the church is not necessary for salvation and 2, if it cannot hinder one’s salvation then 3, there must be no objection to the services of the church other than orthodoxy and doctrinal issues. Doctrine and Orthodoxy are not issues that would, or should, keep any Christian from fellowship with any body of believers. I in fact now believe we shouldn’t lump together with only like-minded individuals but rather should congregate with others with different views so we can all share ideas. Personally, my intention has been to explore a separate entity entirely, namely the branch of the Anglican church in the United States known as the Episcopal Church. My reason for the struggle has been settling the issue of the liturgy and the doctrine. Once I came to the conclusion that man’s salvation is based solely on their faith and intent alone, I removed my doubts about attending a church I felt comfortable in.

At this moment in time I am leaving the door open to Catholicism. I have reached out to the local church to welcome me in. They have yet to respond to my request. I have since met with a pastor of the Episcopal Church and have, at the time being, found a peace knowing I am comfortable leaving behind the Baptist tradition as I seek something new. I am not denouncing my faith, I never identified as Baptist I merely attended their churches, almost exclusively for one reason or another.

I am at a point where I do wish to be in one of the three branches closer in nature to the original church, as I understand it to be. Since the Apostles were all Jews it stands to reason the churches that express their faiths similar to the Jewish faith, modified as it were to show the fullness of the Christ, it means to me reasonable to consider those, at least on matters of liturgy and Orthodoxy, closer to the original church.

Thus my new study is to reconcile my questions regarding the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church or the Anglican (Episcopal) church. If at such a time as I can settle this issue maybe I will find the peace I sat out to find. I was initially turned off by the liturgy as quite different to the church services I was used to. Recently I have found myself not attending any church at all and that is a lonely place for any Christian to be.

My entire life has been spent worshiping the Lord in one of the mostly uniquely American denominations there is. As I have realized much of my objection to the “un-American” churches stems from that core belief in American Exceptionalism, American Freedom and American Values, I have to set that aside and declare I am a Christian first, an American second. That is a point of view contrary to some “Patriots” who conflate patriotism with unquestionable devotion. I do not. I believe one can love their country and question it’s actions at the same time. Likewise I believe the Church, the Universal Church of Believers that makes up the Body of Christ on this Earth, is made up of imperfect beings in a world tainted with Sins of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve.

That being the case my current view is I have to accept the good with the bad. There are points of contention with any church. I have found none, including the Baptist and even the Catholics, are not perfect. Yet if you really pay attention, none of them claim to be. Neither do I.