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.

My experiences with Harry Potter and Pokemon

These two pop-culture phenomenons came out around the same time. I was probably 14 or 15 when they were first starting to get popular. Looking back I can see why I never really became that interested in either of these two properties. They just came out at the wrong time.

Still, I have seen movies and video games come out later in life that I was able to enjoy. For example, I am really loving ARMS and I was really into Splatoon, too.

When Harry Potter first came out I was just disinterested. I already was really into Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, so it’s not like these books weren’t in my wheel house. I just never found them that appealing. Maybe it was because the characters on Buffy and Sabrina were closer to my age and I was growing up. This was around the time I was getting out of Power Rangers and Transformers, plus I was also slowly losing interest in comic books. By the time I was 16 I was so involved with wanting to make music that I almost completely got out of video games entirely. Now I still read books around this time, mostly Star Wars books but also other stuff on rare occasions. I just never could bring myself to get into Harry.

A few years ago I was living with a friend of mine who was one of those child at heart men who remained constantly stuck in his childhood. He loved the Harry Potter books, films, games, everything. He was a few years younger than I was so it made sense it would appeal more to him. During the time I was living with him he had a full Harry Potter marathon. I can’t remember for certain but I think the final film in the series had just came out or was about to get released so he was either catching up or watching a full run, either way all I remember were bits and pieces. I didn’t sit and watch them with him, I was stuck on my computer working on my then latest music project. From what I did see, however, I found somewhat curious at the very least. The thing is, I also was not that strongly into the Lord of the Rings movies either, so it seemed to me Harry Potter was just a kids version of that. Maybe not exactly but that was my impression.

As far as Pokemon goes, I don’t have a good excuse for not getting into it to be honest. I discovered other “children’s” targeted Nintendo franchises following it’s release so maybe the whole concept just never appealed to me. I was mildly interested in Digimon and so I know there was also precedent for me to get into Pokemon, plus I am still a huge Kirby fan so I know I can’t really lean on Pokemon was too “cutesy” for me. To be fair, I have tried to get into Pokemon, I have played several of the games, seen a few random episodes of the cartoon, I even helped my younger sister build a collection of the trading cards, and yes I even tried Pokemon Go, so I am familiar enough with the franchise. I still never developed any liking for it, so even to this day I remain disinterested in Pokemon. I also don’t get into Animal Crossing or Pikmin so maybe there is something to it just being too many characters to keep track of at once?

Looking back on it all, I still have no strong desire to invest any significant amount of my time to watching a movie series about a young kid and his magic friends. I guess the time for me to get into Harry Potter has passed and that’s all there is to it.