March 9, 2010

Avatar is Demonic and How Christians Should Approach Movies

The video below is from Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and  is causing quite the stir among different Christian magazines and blogs. ChristianityToday.com posted a review of the film, Mark pointed it out in one of his messages (video below), one of ChristianityToday's writers responded to the video, and others have chimed in.

Here is the video...however, this post is not about whether Avatar is or is not demonic.



I have not seen Avatar so I am unqualified to respond about its demonic nature; though I think this might be an overstatement. I am providing the video because it is the basis of inspiration for this post...what is the role of modern entertainment for the Christian?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

All movies have a message they want to get across. In seminary I took a course titled, God and Person in American Film...It was by far the best and most interesting class I ever took. R. Robert Cueni, a guest lecturer for one of the classes, said, "Television exists for the sole purpose of convincing you that you need more stuff. They are not trying to get you to believe in a particular approach to life. Movies, however, exist to give you a certain perspective on life to get you to accept a new idea or way of looking at things."

That statement forced me to ask myself, "Are movies mindless entertainment?" The answer was no.

I think the biggest danger we face when discussing modern media is believing that entertainment is JUST entertainment. Writers, directors, and producers are preaching a message whether we realize it or not. That doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't watch it, but it certainly means we should be aware of that message and able to think the message through biblically.

Our first step should be to understand the movie's message. What is it saying about life? The human condition? The ultimate purpose of human beings? What is the movie's view of God or the ultimate being?

Then we should ask, "What does the Bible say about these things?" How does God's word respond to the beliefs presented in the movie? This is a critical step that we often jump over, but we shouldn't. God's Word and prayer based in our relationship with Jesus Christ should be the primary foundation for our beliefs.

Finally, we can determine which parts we agree with and which parts we disagree with. But...

Just because I don't agree with the message doesn't mean it isn't valuable. I have to understand the message first, but movies can serve many different purposes in our lives.

They can be a good example of a bad example. We can see in some movies where wrong thinking and action can lead even though the overall message of the movie was meant to demonstrate something the moviemaker saw as a positive.

They can define a worldview for us. While I disagree with the entire premise of the movie Powder, it was a good story and it gave a great narrative definition to some wrong beliefs about the universe, the ultimate purpose of human beings, and God. It defined a particular worldview that was and is popular about the "oneness" of the universe with all living things.

They are modern parables. Movies, even ones that are completely incompatible with a biblical worldview, tell great stories. Like novels, movies tell a story from a particular perspective, and, as ministers and Christians, we can use them to relate to people around us in terms and stories they understand. I think we have to start with understanding the message of the movie so we don't endorse it in its entirety, but we can use it to help us tell our story better. We can find within them great illustrations of classic themes: sacrificial love, bravery, honesty, etc.

Christians need to be careful about what fills their minds. I grew up in a very all-movies-are-evil setting. While my mom took us to movies, the church we attended frowned on them. While I certainly don't agree with that belief, I do agree with the underlying premise that Christians need to be careful about what they fills their minds.

Why? Because what fills our minds ultimately fills our souls. It is the reason behind so many whose lives are defined by the world's views rather than the Bible's. It is the reason why so many "Christians" can tell you all the latest stuff on their favorite movies and television sit-coms but can't tell you the last time they spent regular, quality time in God's Word outside of a church service. Jesus Christ and His Word must be the ultimate center of our lives, that which ultimately defines who we are as people.

Should some movies be "off limits" to Christians? Well, in a manner of speaking. There are some movies that no matter how good the "story" is I can't get past the genre. There is also a mistaken belief that before I can see something as wrong I have to experience it. There are many films and "entertainment" pieces that I don't have to see to know they shouldn't be filling my mind as a follower of Christ. While there are some lines that I think are fairly universal for most Christians...there are others that are more a matter of personal conviction.

Another good article is titled How Not to Exegete Culture.

What do you think?

3 comments:

  1. From the Eric Wright that has seen Avatar, I am conflicted. On one hand, I completely agree with Mark. Avatar is paganism through and through. Absolutely. There is no Christian corollary at all. Absolutely. His comments about the false savior, false god, false everything - dead on. Connection to eastern religions - definitely. The underlying message of that world view is clear to see. Yes, I believe that those world views come from Satan to distract humanity from the truth.

    On the other hand - demonic? Hmmm...I suppose one could call anything that is not of God "demonic", but I think that may be a stretch, and possibly an emotional device for a sermon. Given the truths and agreement from above, my response to some degree is “that is why it is called fiction”. A pagan theme to a movie made by a pagan? What would one expect? I don’t really think James Cameron’s world view is hard to decipher from the many films that he has made. I think “pagan” would be an apt description of the general view that he seems to promote. I certainly did not go into the film thinking that I was going to agree with the tree-hugging, oneness with nature, we are all god drivel that was self evident in even a one minute trailer. From a film making standpoint, it was ground-breaking. From a theme and message standpoint – more of the same fiction coming from a fictitious world, Hollywood. My concern in a Christian leader taking such a strong stance against a film is the unintended consequences fostered by the attention. “The Last Temptation of Christ” would have been a small, art-house movie that barely made enough money to cover its expense if it had not been for the Evangelical leadership denouncing it as apostasy. Yes, I know, Avatar is far from an art-house flop and I agree that, due to its success, it is fair game for examination. But labeling it as demonic distracts from the needed conversation about why it is wrong. It is not wrong because it is demonic (inspired by evil spirits); it is wrong because it is a lie. If you want to call it a “lie from the pit of hell” as a dramatic device for your sermon, I suppose that is ok.

    On to TOE’s (pronounced toe-ie, and stands for The Other Eric) blog comments. Excellent insight (of course, what would one expect from a fellow Eric Wright). Art, in all its forms, is an expression of humanity. At times, it is an expression of humanity’s creation and divine image, and at others an expression of our fallen nature. I would agree that there are some genre of film that would be “off-limits” to a Christian due to their very nature – pornography immediately comes to mind. You are also right that most others become a question of personal discernment. For instance, I know some that call Saving Private Ryan and Platoon “horrible, sinful films” due to the graphic depiction of war and the language. However, I have two sons. If either of them come to me when they are of age and tell me that they are interested in going into the military, I would strongly consider watching one or both of these movies with my son as a harsh visual-aid for the important discussion that must follow. At the end of the day, these are “just films”.

    While I agree with “what fills our minds ultimately fills our souls”, I disagree with the notion of “garbage in, garbage out”, as most of us have been taught. If truth fills our mind, then that truth can and will create discernment that will feed our soul. Yes, our mind MUST be filled with the Word (truth) and that is the danger of “Christians” experiencing art that is contrary to the truth. The battle is to get Christians to develop discernment, not to shield them from “demonic films”.

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  2. Thanks for commenting...great thoughts!

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  3. I received this response from a friend about this post:

    I too have not seen the movie Avatar. I watched the video on your blog from Mark Driscoll, and followed the link for the response from the magazine. At first I thought he was way off condemning the movie; after all, it's just a movie. And I know Christians who have seen it and loved it.

    But I also know there are Christians who incorporate other world views into their theology. And I'm also aware of the tight grip the enemy has on the entertainment industry. And I keep remembering the warnings God continuallly gave to the Israelites; not to have anything to do with people who worshipped false gods. That they were to destroy all evidences of these idols.

    Yeah, Pastor Driscoll's message may not have gone down easy, like a tall cool drink on a hot summer's day, but he took a stand saying that this is not what we believe, this is not Christian theology.

    It's a fine line we walk when choosing entertainment; how much do we really choose? Or do we sit down and watch whatever's on or listen to whatever's on? Do we continue to support movies that clearly promote different lifestyles or worldviews? Do we pray for change? How do we impact a culture when we willingly assimilate into it? I understand the need to impact the culture we live in without alienating those around us, but perhaps God will give me an opportunity to share the reason why I don't watch certain things, and the grace to do it with kindness.

    My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:2-3, NIV).

    Thanks,
    Barb

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