So today I learn that in a recent sermon Pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hills Church called Avatar “satanic”. Well, actually, he called it “the most demonic, satanic film I’ve seen.”
I don’t know what Pastor Driscoll’s point was in his sermon, and I’m not bringing this up to discuss whether or not he was wise to voice his opinion in such a strident way. Rather, I want to return to the discussion about safe fiction.
First, one more news item related to the “safe fiction” topic. It seems Barnes & Noble has added reviews from Common Sense Media Web site, and this has upset some writers: “The way the book reviews seemed to suddenly appear on BN.com and the fact that they seemed to emphasize negative subjects like sex, violence, drinking, and drugs over subject matter, raised a red flag for some readers” (excerpt from “Common Sense Raises Issues at B&N” by Judith Rosen — Publishers Weekly, 2/23/2010).
I think these two articles illustrate in real-life settings the problem with seeking after “safe fiction.” For one thing stories are layered. On the surface are the behaviors we can readily see such as sex and violence and bad language—things the Common Sense reviews would flag.
Below that, however, lie attitudes characters might espouse. As one commenter noted over at Novel Journey in a discussion about Avatar, a movie like Twilight shows all kinds of unhealthy attitudes toward love. Yet it’s gotten a pass from many Christian parents because the characters don’t have sex.
But there’s another layer—that of the worldview espoused through the story. As Brian Godawa says in his book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment (IVP Books), we need to look behind the art to the worldview.
Given all the ways in which a movie or book can go astray, can we ever really confidently say a story is “safe”? Here’s a part of Godawa’s conclusion:
The fact is, there is nothing perfect in this life. We live in a fallen world. Everything and everyone is tainted by sin, even those with whom we agree. Even Christian media are not exempt from imperfection. No Christian sermon, book or movie is completely unstained by our fallen-ness.
In other words, there really is no such thing as “safe fiction.” And by declaring a work of art “safe,” we are basically telling the audience they can turn off their discernment radar. No need to think about this book or movie or TV show because Someone Important has pre-approved it as safe.
From where I sit, picking up any book or viewing any movie with my brain in neutral because what I’m about to consume is “safe” puts me at the greatest risk of undo influence.
An author maybe withheld all the cuss words in a story, and there’s no sex or violence, but is there greed? Snobbery? Bullying? If so, then those books aren’t safe. Teens who long to fit in can get all the wrong messages about what it takes to be a part of the In Crowd from such a “safe” piece of fiction.
We Christians need to be thinking about the stories we consume. We need to compare the values and worldviews with those of the Bible. And we need to teach the next generation to go and do likewise.