The Holy Hallmark Industry

This is the continuation of a series on Christian media, so if you want to start at the beginning you can start here. Otherwise you can just read this on its own. 

The Christian film industry is sub-par. The quality of their movies is comparable with Hallmark Channel Originals at best. Sure, every now and then you get a feature that is decent; it might have a humanizing story that brings a tear to your eye, or possibly a good period piece that brings history into a new light. But that’s at best, and there’s a discount bin at Walmart that holds a permanent reservation for Christian films, right next to bad horror flicks and Hallmark Christmas specials.

If Christians think so highly of themselves and their accomplishments, then why don’t they strive for better Films? I’m not looking for a Box-office success here, because it’s not about the money, but the shear quality of the content being produced.

Every Christian film creates the crux of its film to be the Crucifixion, despite whether or not it even belongs in the narrative. The football player needs to go out there and get back on the field to lead his team to victory, so the coach tells him that Jesus manned-up and died on the cross for everyone’s sins, so that’s why being a Christian is important, and also you need to go win the game. It’s a struggle-bus to wedge the story of Christ’s sacrifice into a narrative where it frankly doesn’t belong.

It doesn’t take a genius to make a sacrificial character, or to fit the themes of Christ into a movie. The Christ figure doesn’t even need to be called Jesus; it doesn’t even have to be a man; and they don’t even have to literally die. While I admittedly do hold a low view of the general populations intelligence, I’m not blind enough to see that people can get the message of a story through figurative speech and metaphorical language. The beauty of these veiled narratives are that they draw people in to investigate more, not just throw the story of Christ’s death in their face and tell them to figure out how that relates to whatever the movie was about.

I was playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, and in it there is a great many ways religion in handled. There are religious fanatics, nominally religious people, scientifically atheistic, and optimistically agnostic. However, I never found myself forming my opinion on what they believed, but how they treated people. One such person is the Chief Science officer aboard your ship: a proud creationist; a likable character; and not an idiot. This is a cherry-picked example, but it goes to show that it’s not difficult to have a religious character who isn’t depicted as either a holier-than-thou preacher, or a simple-minded jerk. So why do Christians have to portray the non-Christians in their films as the bad guys? Not only is it insulting to everyone who doesn’t believe in Christianity, but it’s also horribly inaccurate. If I believe that I should help the poor because it is out of a social sense of survival for my species, then why does the Christian who believes that they are commanded to help the poor considered to be on the opposing side.

I worked at a Church where the youth group existed because all the other youth groups had pressured these kids to leave for one reason or another. Most of them were not Christians, and they were told to leave by people who were. Why? Because a trench has been dug, and a battle-line formed. The goal: stop the evil of the outside world from getting in. Any material from a Atheist Scientist is based on false biases against Christianity and is erroneous. Any moral lesson in a movie made by a company that lets gay people work with them can’t be considered a moral lesson at all. The only way to get on this side of the battle line is to give up everything, and hate the outside as much as we do. So Christian film becomes nothing more than propaganda decrying the Secular world as the vile, ignorant, immoral, army that is constantly looking to take down Christians and their way of life. All of this despite the fact that Jesus’ way of life was based on mingling with both the sacred and secular worlds. It wasn’t the ever-oppressive Romans to whom Jesus cast judgement, it was the practicing Religious body of that time that sought to keep itself clean from the evils of the world.

So, Christian media depicts Jesus poorly; it depicts outsiders poorly; and what else are we missing? Oh, that’s right: It depicts God poorly.

God is nothing more than a sacred object in Christian Film (I plan on writing about what a sacred object is very soon, but for the time being you could read Peter Rollins’ The Divine Magician). God is there as a plot device and not a character. They talk about Him during the entire movie, and then at the climactic moment, God swoops down, deus ex machina, and provides the magic answer. For those who don’t know deus ex machina is a latin phrases for “God from the machine”, and incidentally can also be translated as “really poor script writing” by anyone who took a basic college writing class. The point is that not only is God used as a cheap writing tool to bring a convenient conclusion to the end of the story, but is also shown to be nothing more that a prosperity gospel fundraising machine.

Whether its actual wealth or some form of bringing happiness back to the main character of the movie, God is shoehorned in to provide whatever they need. Let’s not forget that this is the same God who let His son die on a cross. I’m not trying to diminish your view of Bubblegum-machine Holy Father, but Jesus does say that if you want to be a Christian, you should expect that things aren’t going to be good. The happy moments that usually bring a conclusion to a Christian film are when everything is wrapped up nice and neat, but the best moments for the real-life followers of Jesus were when they were beheaded or crucified upside-down, and because of this atrocity, somehow life goes on and the sun still rises. A better example of a good Christian narrative would be that the Christian protagonist prays that God heals his wife, she dies, and then the Hindu next door neighbor comforts him as his world collapses, roll credits.

So how do we keep making these flop movies if they aren’t good? Because Christians keep buying them. And sadly, money speaks louder than words.

P.S.- Continue reading on Christian media.

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