Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cinema: the new church?

Two statements:
  1. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert ... don't fact-check Fox News, or try to rebut it directly, or fight on its own terms. They change the story ... by presenting the facts in a way that makes them register in a way they hadn't before.
    Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media
    by James Fallows, The Atlantic April 2011

  2. More theology is discussed at Starbucks on a Saturday night than at most churches on Sunday morning.
    Ralph Winter (or maybe Chap Clark)
    pre-Windrider Festival film event 2011-03-14
It's not quite fair to say that people don't care about truth any more, but the way we take truth in, the way we decide what's true -- those have changed. Here's another snippet from the same article:
“There is actually a lot of energy released by opposing ‘settled facts,’” I was told by Jay Rosen, of the journalism school at NYU. “The more ‘settled’ it is, the more furious the energy. When someone points out an error in what Sarah Palin has said, that becomes another example of the liberal media, and it becomes another tool for organizing.”
Fallows, op. cit.
In other words, people don't decide what to accept or not based upon facts and logic. Instead, it's about something else entirely, which is where we have a lot to learn from the world of film.

We evangelicals have a hard time with this concept. (Which one? Yes.) First, we are (at least where I'm coming from) all about facts and logic to understand issues of importance. What happened about 33 AD after they crucified this man called "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"? The body was never found by highly motivated, powerful people. They were well-connected and focused enough to get him killed, and producing his corpse would have wiped out that troublesome sect—which instead has lasted nearly 2000 years.

Jesus's empty tomb stands as a serious challenge to to the likes of Dawkins and Pinker, men who say in their hearts, "There is no God." But facts and logic on their own are impotent to change the heart of man.

Yes, it has ever been thus. Those highly motivated powerful people from the 1st century were also unswayed by facts; Semmelweis had facts to prove hand-washing saves lives, but died unemployed and destitute. And so on.

But it does seem worse in our current century than it was, say, in the middle of the previous one.

We evangelicals (some more than others) think of weekly gatherings as being about The Content in The Sermon—surrounded by some music and stuff on either side. We don't give enough thought to the entire experience, which echoes something I heard before about sensory experience. People like me need to think of the entire experience of coming to a meeting -- the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the story all these tell -- rather than focusing only on the propositions contained in the sermon.

Second, the idea of listening to those outside the church, to learn how to communicate truth... well, I can't say we're always as open-minded as we should be. I think we humans -- not just the church by the way -- tend to think too much in terms of "us vs them" in echoes of what Judy Harris calls "group socialization theory." We are very concerned about getting facts straight about our faith, but we're not always so sure about their theology for example. Or on the other side, we put a lot of energy into welcoming the alien and stranger as Jesus and Peter and other Biblical writers, but we're not so sure how a newcomer would feel at their church.

Either of those preceding statements may be at least partly true, but what's worse (besides the smug attitude) is that we add, in our hearts, ...therefore, they can't teach us anything about ________.

Which comes under the heading of "biting off your nose to spite your face" or something like this. We all need to be about following Jesus, and that means taking off our blinders and prejudices, setting aside our pride, and looking for anything we can learn about how to communicate, serve, love, worship.

... that we may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in our knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might in order that we may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light -- that in all things he may have the glory.

Right. So what do we learn from film? The film world, as Ralph Winter told us the other night, are very interested in the structure, the style. Whatever the substance is or isn't, if the style and structure are good, you've got a hit.

So what do you think of Avatar? Is it too much about tree-worshiping, or is it about hope and redemption, resolving one's inner conflicts, rebirth? How about the first Star Wars film from the 1970s? Was that one about a false impersonal deity (The Force) and occult religions? Or was it about self-discovery, self-sacrifice (e.g., Obi-Wan sacrificing himself so Luke could get away)? These are great stories, brilliantly told.

So are The Little Gorilla and Kavi by the way. If you can see these -- or better yet, see them with friends -- they can provoke more discussion of theology than one typically gets on Sunday morning.

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