School of Athens
Pornography has a reputation for creating unrealistic expectations and having horrendous acting. A man comes over to fix the cable and a scantily-clad model answers the door and, well, you can imagine where it goes from there…he fixes the cable. (Sorry, I’ll try not to be so fatuous). Essentially, it creates some false reality where sexual fantasies can be lived out; porn creates a type of “strawman” concerning sex itself, putting in unrealistic expectations and scenarios. At its base, porn isn’t so much about sex as it is about false self-affirmation, about putting one’s self in a mental state of imagining the impossible and ridiculous. Overall, even the “secular” media realizes that porn is a bad thing that desensitizes people to actual sex. Or to put it in hipster terms, porn is a chemical additive to the natural and organic act of sex, thus ruining the act.
Of course, porn doesn’t have to be sexual. There is a popular term called “disaster porn,” wherein the media blasts images from a disaster into people’s heads 24/7 until the public is immune to that disaster (or to disaster itself). Often times, the real news of the event is lost in the narrative that the media wants to shape. There is violence porn where television shows engage in too much violence, which then desensitizes the audience to violence in general. There’s even a new Superhero porn, where the plots of every single superhero movie out since 2003 are exactly the same, but hey, explosions, so why not? Christian culture, or more appropriately American Christian culture, is not immune to a type of porn; Christian porn, or the Christian cultural attempt to fit in.
Christian porn is whenever Christian culture attempts to ape the world in music, products, television, style, or movies, but does so in a mediocre, “Not the cool kid but really want to be” way. Instead of Hootie and the Blowfish, in the 90s Christian porn produced Third Day. Instead of hip hop, Christian porn produced DC Talk. Somewhere around the early 2000s, MercyMe evolved the whole copying aspect of Christian music and said, “Hey, why not just create an entire genre?” Thus, since 2000 Christian porn has evolved its own genre of music, where lyrics and chords sound almost the same across “artists” and bands. Not to be outdone, Christian porn also gave us apocalyptic fiction via the Left Behind series, gave us Christian television in various, beautifully bad forms, and of course who can forget the Christian movies?
The latest product from Christian porn is God’s Not Dead, a movie that opened up to
church groups movie theaters everywhere this past week. As someone who lives in the Bible Belt, I can say confidently that churches went full-force at this movie. The local movie theater didn’t have a single parking spot available on Sunday. Restaurants emptied earlier than normal on Sunday and weren’t busy that night as the theaters took all the business.
For those not in the know, you can watch the cringe-worthy trailer with the Newsboys (them?). Or, you can see that Rotten Tomatoes has it around 40%. To put that in perspective, Sharknado is around 82% and Noah is around 76% (but hey, at least it’s not Catwoman bad). The film deals with the typical Christian view of a philosophy professor; a man angry at God who doesn’t believe in God because of some personal tragedy and decides to indoctrinate all the students into believing that way. To further this trope, we’re led to believe that anyone not a freshman at this university no longer believes in God. I mean, the professor makes his students sign a pledge saying they don’t believe in God (academic freedom?), the professor gets angry when one, just one student, states a belief in God. Within the trailer we’re taken from some mysterious/probably unnecessary skeptic in Dean Cain (Superman is trying to eliminate the competition) while Hercules mocks God possibly for perceived daddy issues over abandonment (not realizing that Zeus and the Judeo-Christian God are different).
Of course, there are other subplots within the movie. A muslim girl converts to Christianity and is kicked out of her house by her father (just short of an honor killing I’m assuming), a vegan journalist discovers veganism causes cancer (or something like that), and somehow people end up at a Christian concert with the Newsboys (them?).
And the whole thing is really Christian porn. It presents an incredibly unrealistic scenario with bad acting where the plot doesn’t matter, but allows Christians to fulfill their fantasies and see those fantasies played out in “real life.” We always hear about the big, bad, dangerous atheist professors who are just waiting to destroy the faith of college students. Of course, most students lose their faith in college not because of what they learn in the classroom, but because of what they learn in the dorm room; their faith isn’t lost by reading Friedrich Nietzsche or David Hume, it’s lost when the Christian cultural bubble collapses and they’re exposed to a world unlike anything they’ve ever seen. If anything else, a more accurate description would be a hostile atheist student – whose sole education in the subject consists of a few YouTube videos and Reddit – yelling at a Christian or theistic philosophy professor. In fact, Quentin Smith laments the rise of theism within the field of philosophy a la Alvin Plantinga. Not to mention that Oxford University Press, Harvard Press, Philo, and other academic press agencies and journals regularly publish peer-reviewed pro-theistic/pro-Christian books/articles.
The movie God’s Not Dead simply serves to confirm biases and present a watered-down, emotional, and useless faith.
Hercules’ Kevin Sorbos character asks about a God that would allow a 12 year old to have cancer, and we’re met with a song by the Newsboys (them?). We’re then confronted with the idea that the ONLY reason this professor could show such hostility to God is that he has personal issues. Of course, the idea of a 12 year old dying of cancer ought to cause us to question God; that’s not a lack of faith, that’s called being a decent human being. The Bible is full of its main characters questioning God in the face of evil, there’s even an entire book dedicated to such a thing (Job). Even Christ, God incarnate, while on the cross shouted out Eli, eli, lama sabachthani (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”). The point being, the movie allows for a very real question, but this provides a fluff answer.
Christianity has a very rich heritage of providing rational and solid responses to critical questions. The first philosophical defense of Christianity is found in the book of St. John, when the Apostle uses philosophical language to describe Christ, showing that Christ is an answer to the questions of Greek philosophy. In Christianity’s recorded history, however, St. Paul serves as the first philosophical defender. While the account of Mars Hill in Acts is a summary, St. Luke (being a genius), refers to Paul’s refutation of two competing philosophies (Epicureans and Stoics) and showing how Christianity served as a solution to their problems. Anyone versed in Greek philosophy who reads Acts 17 sees that Paul is refuting their claims while finding common ground; but most importantly he is giving substance and rational replies to their critiques.
Even outside of Biblical tradition there are great Christian thinkers who defended the faith while also raising questions. Justin Martyr gave a strong philosophical defense of Christianity with arguments so solid that they are used today. St. John of Damascus gave a summary of the faith, providing a defense for the existence of God (this after he wrote a work on logic and philosophy). After experiencing the Russian revolution, S.L. Frank wrote The Meaning of Life where he openly questions if life has any purpose and goes on seeking a purpose. Of course the other famous Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, gave the best argument against the existence of God via evil in The Brothers Karamazov, and he did this while being a devout Christian. Some of the greatest music, greatest ideas, greatest art masterpieces, greatest scientific discoveries, and so on for the past 2,000 years in Western history have been accomplished by Christians. How did we go from the Sistine Chapel to Thomas Kinkade?
The problem is that many Christians feel they have to be countercultural in their artistic endeavors while equally being overly spiritual. There can’t be a subtle message, there can’t be any mystery, rather it has to be an in-your-face, moment by moment display of the Christian message. Gone are the days where Lord of the Rings is appreciated as a great epic and in are the days where Jesus is seen as Gandalf and Kirk Cameron should star as Aragorn. Gone are the days where a Christian can have great dialogue over the question, “If God is dead, then what?” and in are the days where when faced with the question of if God is dead, we answer with Hercules, Superman, and the Newsboys (them?).
Christians need to wise up and realize that they are deserving of better. Instead of supporting low-budget, low-quality productions, they ought to support good stories that are well-done. No one is saying the Christian message cannot be overt in a work of art done by a Christian. The Christian message is incredibly overt in Dostoevsky’s Brothers, but it’s also a beautiful work of art. Dante’s Inferno is blatantly Christian in its message, as is Milton’s Paradise Lost, but you can’t get through an English major without having to read both of them due to their artistic beauty. While subtlety is preferred in today’s market, it’s okay for Christian art to be overt in a Christian message, but it must be done well. Movies like God’s Not Dead are not only a disservice to living Christians, but also to those who helped develop the Western-style of art that is so abused and neglected by today’s Christian “artists.”
We live in a world where Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, and others are considered innovative directors because of explosions and light glare on a lens. Our culture’s idea of music is Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus. Art, true art, is more and more being confined to museums, the rich, and The New Yorker. As our culture degenerates more and more, as it succumbs to the entropic hole left by the collapse of postmodernism, it is in desperate need of an artistic voice in the wilderness. Before, during, and after Rome’s collapse, Christians stood tall as the saviors of civilization. Christian monks preserved the works of the pagan Greeks even though the pagan Vikings sought to destroy anything not of value to them. Christian iconography allowed for art to continue, even outside the church. The Renaissance was a Christian affair. Christians didn’t just have a voice in the formation of Western art; Christians formed Western art. It’s high time that Christians moved back to such a position, producing quality and supporting quality. After all, we’re made in the image of God, who is the Creator. This means that we ought to be creative. If God isn’t dead then neither should we let our creativity die, we should give up our taste for Christian porn. Christians don’t need to become countercultural and watered-down in their artistic endeavors; they need to lead the culture and become the pinnacle of artistic standards.