CHURCHIANITY PART V – show business (1)

Published November 11, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: Given my circumstances, I’m probably too stressed to be writing a Churchianity post right now and may end up sounding angry and bitter … ‘course, when have I let that stop me? Just because one is bitter doesn’t mean one’s points aren’t valid. I know full well how some of these posts sound — perhaps after I’ve gotten enough out of my system, I will do a Churchianity post on BITTERNESS. How does one walk this line? When Jesus was exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he didn’t exactly exude sunshine and rainbows. Let’s see how this goes. If you’re new here, you may want to read Parts I – IV before continuing.

There’s no business like show business like no business I know. Everything about it is appealing, everything that traffic will allow. Nowhere could you get that happy feeling, when you are stealing that extra bow! There’s no people like show people, they smile when they are low. Even with a turkey that you know will fold, you may be stranded out in the cold. Still you wouldn’t change it for a sack of gold, let’s go on with the show!

At least that’s how I’ve always felt about it. I did a fair amount of stage work years ago, learned early on that TV was a great escape from a too-often hellish reality, and ever since seeing Rocky and Close Encounters as a kid, have had a passion for cinema. Big surprise there, huh?

And yet, growing up in church, it was common practice to demonize anything outside The Bubble, especially when it came to show business. No matter the medium — movies, television or music — most everyone I knew in church was bent on making sure that films (especially those rated “R” — gasp!), TV shows (they didn’t call it The Boob Tube for nothing) and records (flat, round, vinyl discs which played music while we cleaned our dope on the cover) were exposed for the Satanic tools they were. Hollywood Babylon, don’tcha know?

There is so much to discuss, I think I’ll break this down.

When I was a teenager growing up in church, the pastor brought in a team of “experts” to talk to our youth group about the demonic influences that were prevalent in popular music. (Now, as a writer who deals directly with spiritual warfare, let me state here that I DO BELIEVE in angels and demons, and that they each carry out the orders of their respective and not-so-respective Commanders In Chief. I would simply argue that their places of work are way outside the box of Bubble-thinking. Angels regularly work in dark areas, and demons love to infiltrate churches.) Some of the musical artists that they told us were influenced by Satan were no-brainers. Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult and, of course, Led Zeppelin (among many others).

This was during the back-masking craze and, while I do believe some of those reversed recordings were demonically influenced (those live Zeppelin recordings were downright eerie), many of them were simply for comedic effect or marketing. (I may do a separate post on this later.)

What upset me most was the utter demonization of artists like John Denver — whose tree-hugging, New Age, touchy-feely, Rocky Mountain High, pot-smoking ways made him an easy-if-unexpected target of this Onward Christian Soldier lynch mob. If an artist dared mention anything about believing in one’s self (as opposed to God), or enjoying worldly pleasures (as opposed to Heavenly) or anything remotely sexual (like that slutty Olivia Newton-John who dared to want to get Physical), they were fair targets for this Bible-wielding firing squad.

The most perfect example I can give here is the utter condemnation of Pat Benatar in 1980, for writing and releasing a song called Hell Is For Children. She was (at least in my church) tarred, feathered and burned at the proverbial stake for daring to suggest such in that title. Of course, no one ever bothered to get beyond the irony of the provocative title and actually listen to the lyrics:

They cry in the dark so you can’t see their tears,
They hide in the light so you can’t see their fears,
Forgive and forget, all the while, love and pain,
Become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child.

(CHORUS) Because Hell, Hell is for children,
And you know that their little lives can become such a mess.
Hell, Hell is for children.
And you shouldn’t have to pay for your love,
With your bones and your flesh.

It’s all so confusing, this brutal abusing,
They blacken your eyes and then ‘pologize.

Be Daddy’s good girl and don’t tell Mommy a thing,
Be a good little boy and you’ll get a new toy,
Tell Grandma you fell off the swing.

(repeat CHORUS)

Obviously, this is a song about child abuse. In an interview with Portfolio Weekly, Benatar explained: “I was living in New York when we wrote it and the New York Times did a series of articles about child abuse in America. I came from a really small town on Long Island and I had no idea that this existed, not in the little gingerbread place I came from. I was stunned. It affected me so much. I was moved by the articles. Whenever that would happen I would write. I said to Neil [Giraldo, her husband and guitarist], ‘I want you to do something to the music that it sounds like pain. I want the intense pain that’s happening to these children in the notes,’ and so he did and it turned out just great. It became an anthem. I always wonder if other people have lofty intentions. I didn’t. [However] we started a foundation for abused children.” Benatar continues to donate the song’s royalties to child abuse causes.

Point made? Let’s move on:

I love ’em. Yet the condemnation of this medium by “Christians” is one that cements my alienation from others of like faith. Do I need fellowship with other believers? Of course, I do. But this one issue is damn-near a deal breaker (‘course, so is heinous and unnecessary language like that).

Whenever Jesus wanted to make a point, how did he do it? He told stories. Movies are simply a medium for doing the same. And yet, I have been chastised, judged a heathen, and ousted from family and church for daring to express a passion for something so worldly and immoral.

A quick look at many Christian-themed websites which offer film reviews is likely to feature ad nauseum lists of every “offensive” thing:

Three d**ms, two b***hes, one f**k, br**st flashed, positive portrayal of a homosexual, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and general godless shenanigans.

No wonder this world has such a low opinion of Christians — especially when they see us keep a self-righteous tally of trifling things like Cold War accountants. Who put Stalin back in charge?

Really subversive movies like Forrest Gump, As Good As It Gets, and Titanic are raked over the evangelical coals. I know “Christians” who refuse to watch those films for reasons that make their “faith” seem utterly “fascist.” The kind of “Christians” who refuse to watch a Nathan Lane movie (funniest actor working today, IMHO) because he’s gay. Or see a Tom Cruise film because he’s a Scientologist. (Don’t agree with his religion? Don’t judge and condemn him — PRAY FOR HIM!) Who refuse to watch shows like Friends or Smallville (two of my favorites) because … who knows? Who will, if watching movies with teens in the room, sit with a finger quivering over the fast-forward button, waiting to zip through anything remotely titillating. (Again, I have much more to say here, too — but I think I will save it for a Churchianity post on Sexuality, and the not-so-subtle message such actions scream to kids: SEX IS DIRTY! That little bit of evangelical propaganda, carried to extremes, is a gift that just keeps on giving.)

My point is, Christians who spend so much time fretting over the content of music and movies accomplish only one thing, and it is NOT furthering the Kingdom of God. All such “majoring in the minors” does is make Christians look prudish and unintelligent, make God seem like an unapproachable, fun-killing despot, and alienate the walking wounded of this world from hearing history’s most important Message. If Christianity’s most fundamental rule, Love One Another, was followed as stringently as some of these evangelicals attack popular culture, this would be a very different world — those most in need of God’s unconditional love, grace and acceptance would find it.

I am already running long with this post and haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what I would like to say. Maybe another Churchianity post could be called Show Business (2). Would that be too confusing?

What are your thoughts? Given the title of the category where I file these posts, Christianity VS Churchianity, am I spending too much time on the latter rather than the former? The negative rather than the positive? I can only do what my heart (and God) compel me to do, and right now I feel I must address these more unsavory aspects of the church simply because I don’t hear anyone else doing it. At least not anyone who is also still trying to hang onto their faith. As someone who loves God but is obsessed with pop culture (and boy, are there pros and cons to that mixture), I am doing the best I can.

Do you have similar stories? Tell me about them. All comments are welcome.

ONE FINAL NOTE: To be fair, the film critics at Christianity Today offer thoughtful and intelligent comments on all manner of cinematic fare, including those films waaaaay outside The Bubble, R-rated and otherwise. Two recently released Christian films (House and Billy-The Early Years) were even given middling reviews and harshly criticized for keeping films of faith in the slough of mediocrity.

Trying to be balanced, folks — I know all Christians don’t practice Churchianity. I just wish they had a church near me. Belong to one? Let me know.

Continue to Churchianity Part VI — Self Medication.