Have you seen Stranger than Fiction?

ElizabethAnne and others,

Some art is nothing but mud and filth.

But in much art, there are gems buried in the mud.

The question is, are you willing to dig through the mud to find the gems?

Many Christians aren’t. They stay away from any hint of sin. And that’s valid. We are told in the Bible to avoid even the appearance of sin.

But I think that Christians need to re-examine this approach to art.

We live in a sinful world. If we avoid “the appearance of sin,” we will avoid all other people. In fact, we will avoid ourselves.

I don’t think most Christians advocate avoiding others. We have Jesus as our Example. He ate and drank with sinners.

However, many of us are afraid, and rightfully so, to get involved with murderers, practicing homosexuals, fornicators, thieves, gangsters, rapists, etc.

ART gives us the opportunity to get involved, for a short time, with these people without endangering ourselves too much.

True, we are not facing a “real” sinner. The sinner exists only in the imagination: on the stage, in a book, in a movie or tv show, in a song, or in a painting.

But I believe that this “imaginary” involvment with the sinner can help us in many ways to serve our Lord and others better.

Art shows us how such a person thinks. Often we are given an explanation how a person ends up committing this sin. This can be alarming to us, as we may recognize the same thought and behavior patterns in ourselves. This will cause us to run to our Lord and ask Him again to “deliver us from evil.”

Also as we participate, through art, in the “involvement” with the sinner, we may develop empathy and compassion for his/her situation. We do not condone the sin, but we realize that these people are also loved by Christ and can be redeemed by Him. We may even ask ourselves, “Is God calling ME to get involved in real life with such a person as this?”

The imaginary involvement helps us to “practice” being involved with real-life sinners. After experiencing the “art,” we are better prepared to face such a person. We have more knowledge of him and his sin, and we can develop a real relationship with them.

The trick is to enter into the “imaginary relationship” with sinners through art without damaging your own soul.

It must be possible. Jesus commanded us to “go into the world and preach the Gospel.” If being around sinners endangered our soul to a point where the Holy Spirit can’t rescue us, then Jesus would never have commanded us to expose ourselves to the world.

I believe that a good way to approach art is to dig for the jewels. Find the redemption story in the art. If it’s not there, then I would question whether the art was anything more than just mud. (continued in next post)

(continued from last post)

Let’s look at a different example, one that many of us are more familiar with than “Stranger Than Fiction.” In “The Wizard of Oz,” we are exposed to witches and wizards, magic and spells and potions, a hateful old woman willing to destroy an innocent little dog, and a teenager who looks uncomfortably like a full-grown woman and who in real life, was a drug-addict who killed herself.

There are Christians who can’t see past any of this. They denounce the Wizard of Oz.

So what are the gems in this “mud” of sorcery and hidden sexuality?

Love of home and family. Loyalty to friends. Courage in the face of certain death. Love of God’s creatures. Acceptance of who you are and the gifts you have been given. Striving to better oneself. Industry and creativity.

IMO, these “gems” make the “evil” in the movie worth sitting through.

It sounds like there are a lot of “gems” in “Stranger Than Fiction.”

For some Christians, their conscience won’t allow them to see the gems. They see only the evil. And that’s OK. We must each follow our conscience. I think that when young children are around, we have to perhaps forego art that might be acceptable when everyone has a fully formed conscience. E.g., I never watched X-Files while my children were young; when they were grown up, I watched it.

But other Christians are able to watch a movie like “Stranger Than Fiction” and glean out the good grain, the “gems.” Again, they must follow their conscience.

I don’t believe there is any such thing as “sin-free” art. As lois_lane has stated, it often comes across as unrealistic and fantastical. Have you ever read any of the Christian “romance novels?” They’re awful. Even the married people don’t have sex in many of these novels. Most people in the U.S. today are far beyond “The Bobbsey Twins.” Even a show like “The Waltons” featured evil people and sinful situations.

BTW, I disagree that Christians must not get involved with the arts as professionals. On the contrary, it is CHRISTIANS who are holding back the floodgates of evil in the world of art. In all the arts, Christians sprinkle their “salt.” Often the finished product is still inedible, but in many cases, Christians are able to influence a producer, a writer, an artist, a director, to “tone it down,” or to include a redemptive storyline or picture or song.

Christians NEED to enter artistic fields and work not only to redeem art, but to produce art that is of high quality and glorifying to Christ.

I want to add one more thing.

What’s acceptable for adults is NOT always acceptable for children.

I think that many of us see children as miniature adults. I’ve known very intelligent, professional people who allow their children to watch the CSI shows–oh, my God! Those poor little ones, watching people get murdered and raped.

We need to be careful not to expose our children to certain pieces of art until they are ready.

Music is a good example. Rock music in and of itself is not evil (although many of the word are evil in secular rock.) But it is NOT good for little ones to be exposed constantly to music where melody is not prominant. Rock music is for older children.

I believe that ego often leads parents to expose their children to art that they are not mature enough to appreciate. This is, in my opinion, a form of “child abuse,” a failure to accept the little one for who he/she really is. He/she is NOT a miniature version of you.

OTOH, some art is surprisingly appealing to some children, and will not hurt them. We shouldn’t assume that children can only enjoy “Raffi” and “Barney” and finger paint. When my older daughter (the theater professional) was five, she sat through the PBS broadcast of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. All 21 hours of it. She loved it. She could read the subtitles, and she found the story of the Norse gods fascinating.

Balance. We must know our children and accept who they are, not try to pretend that they are someone that they’re not.

ON THE OTHER HAND, as adults, we cannot stay away from sin by immersing ourselves in “children’s art” only.

I love The Bobbsey Twins, the Little House books, the “Dandelion” stories. I am a big kid at heart, and I love children’s literature, songs, and artwork. I write kids’ novels, and I have produced children’s plays.

But I am a grownup, not a child. If the only television show I ever watch is “Andy Griffith,” I will have a flawed understanding of the real world outside of my doors. I have not been called to a cloistered nun. When I last checked my Bible, it says that I am to be salt and light to a dark and dying world.

If I fill my mind with innocent children’s art, I will be unprepared to deal with the hard realities of sin and death and loss. The Bible says, “When I became a man, I put away childish things.”

I’m NOT saying we have to dive into a pool of filthy to properly understand the world. I’m saying we can’t hide from it by pretending to be innocent little children when we are not.

There is a balance. We should be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”

Well spoken, Cat.

I’n not a mother, and I’m rarely around very young children now (I work them at Nutcracker every year…and that’s about it) so sometimes I forget about that angle of things.

BTW, I disagree that Christians must not get involved with the arts as professionals. On the contrary, it is CHRISTIANS who are holding back the floodgates of evil in the world of art. In all the arts, Christians sprinkle their “salt.” Often the finished product is still inedible, but in many cases, Christians are able to influence a producer, a writer, an artist, a director, to “tone it down,” or to include a redemptive storyline or picture or song.

Christians NEED to enter artistic fields and work not only to redeem art, but to produce art that is of high quality and glorifying to Christ.

Yes!

Another thing we always have to consider is the audience we are trying to reach – mainstream movies especially are trying to reach a primarily secular audience. Unlike specifically “Christian” labeled media (e.g., veggie tales or something similar) the mainstream media wants to reach a non-Christian audience – so a non-Christian (who sees pre-marital sex as okay) will see the themes of love, self-sacrifice, etc. that have been spoken about earlier. A Christian might not (as Cat said) because they only see the bad pre-marital sex.

But that’s okay, in this instance – because the fillmmakers weren’t trying to reach that audience.

When I did E Rex, the audience we were trying to reach was a very liberal, “theatre type” audience – those people would be able to see past the gay man with a horrible STD to understand what the play was about. The conservative Christian – maybe not so much. But that’s okay – it wasn’t the audience we were trying to reach. Of course I think there are plays and movies that will have universal appeal (Shakespeare is a good example), but if art doesn’t strike at anybody’s soul in any way (whether good or bad) – we won’t be able to dialogue about it and no change will ever come about!

Does that make any sense? I’m not saying that’s bad – in fact, its actually a good thing. If filmmakers and other artists can reach a hurting audience in need of a savior, and show them that those things really do exist in the world (as I feel Stranger than Fiction does) then they have done a good job.

We Christians have already found that Savior – and so we’re not the ones those filmmakers and artists always need to reach. So if they put something in their movie that might offend Christians (e.g., a swear word), but that gives an already good film in terms of its themes some credibility and believability in the real world – it’s only going to help those non-Christians actually see the themes present (as opposed to, “well that was totally fake”).

Now, I’m not saying that we can just throw up our hands and say “woo hoo, I’ve found Jesus so I don’t need to do anything.” Obviously not – rather, we must constantly work to redeem creation (again…my Calvinist teaching coming into play!) and to offer it with love and sacrifice back to God. In my life, I work to do this through my involvement in the arts world. And a lot of times, that means getting my hands dirty and digging in and exploring an aspect of creation that might not be so pretty (my alma mater, a CRC school, just put on a production of “Dead Man Walking.” Talk about hard material to deal with for two months!)

In someone else’s life, they work to redeem creation by raising their children and doing whatever they have to do in order to raise the best kids they can. If that means staying away from certain movies, plays, and music for several years, good for them for not jeopardizing their children’s futures.

And sometimes, even in my field, there are certain things I can’t handle! I hate blood and gore in movies – I can’t watch war or horror movies because I get nightmares. It’s too “real” too me. I can watch things like LOTR and Harry Potter because I know they’re fantasy worlds (but…I’m an adult now. When I was 10, I bet I wouldn’t be able to have watched those. Has anyone seen “The Neverending Story”? Even now, I still have to leave the room before Atreyu kills the wolf-manifestation of the Nothing).

So…you see, even as a Christian in the arts there is still a line that I have to stop at!

Much of this becomes individual choices that ultimately, only we, the individual, can make for ourselves (as Cat spoke about – a well-formed conscience will only let you go so far!)

BUT – these are the kinds of conversations we need to be having! This means that the artists are doing their job – promoting dialogue and working to help us understand each other!

“The Wizard of Oz” does not promote the “hateful old woman,” the destruction of a dog, drug use or even magic spells. The wicked witch is wicked, not good.

There is a huge difference between that and promoting evil as good.

No post that I saw ever said that Christians must not get involved with the arts. Of course Christians can glorify God through art! But I believe there are certainly ethical considerations for working on projects that promote sin.

I never said that I could not see the good in “Stranger Than Fiction.” I said that the message was tarnished by the promotion of the idea that we’re not really living unless we go out and sleep with someone.

I don’t know the play you are talking about, but I have seen other productions and movies that involve homosexuals. In those productions, the homosexual generally struggles against STDs or social problems with “coming out.” Generally there are mean, evil, bigoted people who treat the homosexual horribly. There is never, ever a character who is kind about believing that homosexual acts are wrong. The audience leaves with picture of the evil bigots who misunderstand the struggling homosexual. It cements the idea in their heads that all those who oppose homosexual acts are nutcases.

I didn’t understand what could possibly be wrong with being homosexual for most of my life. I thought, “Hey, some of my friends are gay, and they seem happy. All the gay characters on television are happy unless someone is mean to them about being gay. In fact, the religious people who hate homosexuals are really the ones doing the wrong thing.”

Now I’m the religious nutcase because of wonderful Catholics who were able to explain the Church teaching on homosexuality to me. It took a long time to understand because I had received so many different messages in my life. And I live in Massachusetts, of all places, and even my senator has called me a “bigot” for opposing same-sex marriage.

I just think we should never further promote this a sinful lifestyle and lead others, like I was lead, to believe that homosexual acts are to be celebrated.

If “Stranger than Fiction” provides a false savior, I would not see that as a postive thing to offer any audience.

ElizabethAnne, what movies/plays do you think are acceptable? Thank you.

Excellent Cat,
I agree

I think that “Stranger than Fiction” is a dangerous film, and that it betokens a serious degradation of understanding of both human life and of the role of God in reality.

Here is the note that I made after seeing the movie:

“Stranger than Fiction” is a frightening movie. Even more frightening are the reviews that I have read which compliment it as charming or even “moderately profound.” Most distressing of all, perhaps, is the “Catholic” review that says, because there is only one scene of fornication in the Movie, and that not too graphic, there is nothing really wrong with the movie. These reviews seem to have joined Mr. Frick, the main character of “Stranger than Fiction,” in the disconnected desolation which the movie depicts as “reality.”

This is a movie where a man moves mechanically through life for 12 years. When he is told to “live his life” the highest aspirations offered to the viewer are a scene in a Monty Python movie where a glutton explodes because he cannot resist an after-dinner mint – this is an improvement for Mr. Frick, because he has not laughed in so long. The name of the Monty Python film is, of course, “The Meaning of Life.”

But of course laughter is not enough to satisfy the human spirit; one needs some higher meaning – enter the “porna” (Greek for “harlot” and the root of “pornography”) and the aforementioned fornication.

Hence, the “world” of this movie depicts, as is common in Hollywood, a human condition where superficial sex is an acceptable, or even the highest, aspiration of the human spirit.

But no, the movie was “moderately profound,” so not sex but ART must be the highest spiritual meaning in life. So, through the gimmick of having his life “narrated” by a living author, Mr. Frick comes to know the exact details of his death. Yet, rather than avoid this, he is advised by the Literary Professor, who has been giving him advice, that he must die, because the ending of the book is so good and the book will not be a “masterpiece” without his death at the end.

Hence, Mr. Frick has to “nobly” decide to die for literature. Not because there is any real meaning to life, but because the literary form of the novel in which he is a character will be served by his death. – No it is not the life of the little boy that makes his death noble, since he could have stopped the boy 20 feet earlier and saved him without anyone dying. It was the novel, not the little boy who was being served.

When he reads the draft of the novel himself, Mr. Frick decides to go though with it – after all, the book is so “good.” The movie paints Frick as noble because he is willing to give up his boring job, which he does not like but cannot seem to consider leaving, and his fornications with a victim of one of his IRS audits, in favor of creating a “masterpiece of English literature.”

As he is preparing for his death, Mr. Frick adds one gruesome twist to the deadening message of the movie. As he is taking his leave of his porna, he advises her that, if she writes off all of the charity that she gives to homeless people in the form of baked goods from her bakery business, she will not be sent to jail. Hence, one of the “noble” acts of the “nobly dying man” is to directly contradict the Savior and advise his “love” interest that taking a reward on earth for charity is the way to go.

In case all of this vacuous meaninglessness of life is not fully absorbed by the viewers of this film, there is a handy “narration” at the end; God can be thanked for sugar cookies, but it is fornication, doing favors like sending co-workers on infantile vacations, and reading an occasional “good” novel which will “save one’s life;” these are the things which make life worth living.

Those who think this movie is “Christian” in import seem to endorse a sever degradation of the Gospel. The hollow and relativistic whimper of a life which this movie suggests as “reality” should be rejected as a blasphemy. It is more of an argument for suicide than a suggestion of the abundant and eternal life offered by the Savior through the Faith.

This movie is an extended propaganda for idolatry and should be avoided, or viewed for the purpose of discerning the diabolical seduction which this view of art and “meaning” represents in the spiritual battle.

Sometimes it seems that people have fallen so far into relativist fantasy, that reality is not accessible to them and the connection between truth and art has been entirely severed.

Spiritus Sapientiae nobiscum.

John Hiner

On review, I find that the name of the main character was “Harold Crick.” I am sorry for the error and any inconvenience which it may have caused. (My editing option has expired, so please correct this oversight if you refer to my comments above.)

Pax Christi vobiscum.

John Hiner

I thought this movie was great too! And I was excited that Mr. Crick was an income tax auditor because I used to be one too up here in Canada. I pretty much did the exact same types of audits ( small businesses ). Thank goodness I have moved on since!

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