Monday, June 20, 2011

Christian Discernment at the Movies

Some thoughts on discernment in movie watching

The Great Christian Movie Confusion

Is it wrong for Christians to watch movies?
Movies are a narrative art form as much as literature, sculptures and paintings. It is the cultural milieu in which we live in. As Christians, we believe that we should enjoy God’s creation, even though it is not a perfect one. Culture is part of this creation and culture has much to teach us about ourselves and about God (often in a negative way).

Is it wrong for Christians to watch movies with witches, spells, magic and spirits?
Those who answer yes often think of the Harry Potter movies and the Golden Compass. However they will be willing to watch the Lord of the Ring trilogy and the Narnia series even though these movies have witches, spells, magic and spirits. Often they will be hard-pressed to explain why some movies are acceptable while others are not in the same genre.

Discernment in Watching Movies

To exercise discernment in watching movies, we need to ask ourselves three questions:
(1)   What is/are the message(s) of this movie?
(2)   What elements are used to convey the message?
(3)   Are there message(s) embedded in the elements?

Take for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter movies.

The message of these movies are similar – friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil

The elements of these movies are similar – wizards, magic, spells, spirits

However, in the Harry Potter movies, the elements (wizards, magic, spells, spirit) also carries a message – that not all who practice witchcraft are bad, only those who practice the Dark Arts. Biblical teaching tells us that God forbids witchcraft (Deut. 18:10). Another way to understand elements in a movie is a car. If the hero jump into a car and drive from point A to point B, then it is just an element. If the hero jumped into an Austin Martin, then the element also sends a message. James Bond (007) drives an Austin Martin.

Message, Elements and Message-embedded-in-Elements

There were no movies in the Bible. People told stories that were perceived mental movies. The parables told by Jesus are examples of these mental movies. An example is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

  LK 10:30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

    LK 10:36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

    LK 10:37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
    Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Parable as movie
Message embedded in elements
Parable of the Good Samaritan
Love and help others
Drama, robbery, priest, Levite, merchant, Samaritan, violence, innkeeper
(people are not influenced to be Samaritans)


Message embedded in elements
Lord of the Rings trilogy
friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil
Adventure, wizards, magic, spells, spirits, violence
Harry Porter movies
friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil
Adventure, wizards, magic, spells, spirits, violence
Yes- some practitioners of witchcraft is good; there is a school for witchcraft
Narnia movies
friendship, loyalty, love, good over evil
Adventure, wizards, magic, spells, spirits, violence

Deut. 18: 9-14
DT 18:9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.

    DT 18:14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.

*      No human sacrifice
*      No practicing divination (any attempt to get guidance or foretell the future from any supernatural source other than God). This includes astrology and horoscopes.
*      No sorcery (using magic powers)
*      No interpreting omens
*      No engaging in witchcraft
*      No casting spells
*      No consulting or being a medium or spiritist (those who contact spirits and allow the spirits to communicate through them)
*      No trying to consult the dead

Paganism/ Neopaganism

A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home
Protector of people and planet
Science fiction, Virtual world, special effects, violence
Yes-paganism, worship of Gaia
Capt. John Smith leads a rag-tag band of English sailors & soldiers to the New World to plunder its riches for England (or, more precisely, for Governor Ratcliffe, who comes along for the ride). Between Ratcliffe, who believes the "savages" are hiding the gold he expected to be plentiful, and Powhatan, who believes these pale newcomers will destroy their land, Smith and Pocahontas have a difficult time preventing all-out war, and saving their love for each other
Protection of land and people against exploitation
Cartoon, adventure, special effects
Yes-paganism, worship of Gaia
Star Wars
Action has consequences, power corrupts
Science fiction, special effects, galactic drama, violence
Yes, paganism. The Force
Matrix trilogy
Machine-man interface, next step in evolution
Science fiction, special effects, violence
Yes, paganism. Next stage in evolution, man-machine state of consciousness

Paganism (neo-paganism) celebrates the Earth, living creatures, nature, and so on. Most modern-day pagans believe in more than one god, while others are atheistic.

Paganism – What are some pagan systems and religions?
*      American pagans practice a variety of forms of traditions, but the most popular are Celtic, Greco-Roman, Native American, ancient Egyptian, and Norse.
*      Kabbalah: During the Middle Ages, this Jewish mystical and magical system developed.
*      Shamanism: This tradition is practiced by the Native American cultures. Drumming is the technique used, and in traditional societies, the shaman travels to the spirit realm to gain information regarding the community’s needs like healing or spiritual growth.
*      Egyptian: This is very popular today, and involves complex spiritual and magical systems centering on death and rebirth. It developed in ancient Egypt when priestesses and priests became known for their level of knowledge and skill in magical arts.
*      Druidism: The original Druids were priestesses and part of the judicial class of the ancient Celts.
*      Discordianism: This began as a Buddhist practice with the main idea being “existence is orderly chaos.” Meditative procedures, confusion and enlightenment, chaos and order, pain and pleasure are revealed as inseparable parts of a total vision of reality[1].

What do Pagans believe in?
 Pagans respect nature as divine. Although Paganism covers a wide spectrum of ideas, these elements sum up the beliefs of the majority.

The recognition of the divine in nature is at the heart of Pagan belief. Pagans are deeply aware of the natural world and see the power of the divine in the ongoing cycle of life and death. Most Pagans are eco-friendly, seeking to live in a way that minimises harm to the natural environment.

Concepts of the divine
Pagans worship the divine in many different forms, through feminine as well as masculine imagery and also as without gender. The most important and widely recognised of these are the God and Goddess (or pantheons of God and Goddesses) whose annual cycle of procreation, giving birth and dying defines the Pagan year. Paganism strongly emphasises equality of the sexes. Women play a prominent role in the modern Pagan movement, and Goddess worship features in most Pagan ceremonies.

Pagan theology
Paganism is not based on doctrine or liturgy. Many pagans believe 'if it harms none, do what you will'. Following this code, Pagan theology is based primarily on experience, with the aim of Pagan ritual being to make contact with the divine in the world that surrounds them.[2]

Deut. 5: 6-8
    DT 5:6 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

  DT 5:7 "You shall have no other gods before me.

  DT 5:8 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.


Season of the Witch
Power of the book of Solomon over demons (not the words of Solomon in the Bible)
Adventure, crusade, demons, monastery, plague, power of words
Yes- words of Solomon, not God’s.
John Constantine as a cynic with the ability to perceive and communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true form. He seeks salvation from eternal damnation in Hell for a suicide attempt in his youth. Constantine exorcises demons back to Hell in a bid to earn favor with Heaven but has become weary over time. With death looming, he helps a troubled police detective learn the truth about her sister's death while simultaneously unraveling a much larger and darker plot.

Salvation, redemption

Horror, demons, angels, violence, hell
Yes- wrong theology of suicide, cannot earn flavour with God
The Exorcist
When a teenager is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
Horror, exorcism, demon possession
Yes – too much emphasis on the demonic


Saving Private Ryan
Following the Normandy Landings, a group of US soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
Sacrifice, duty, loyalty, friendship
War, violence, body parts
Sacrifice, duty, loyalty, friendship
War, violence, body parts
Yes, graphic violence. Violence is honor
Resident Evil series
One person against large corporation
Horror, violence
Yes, glorification of violence

Christian themed movies

Chariot of Fire
Human effort versus divine empowerment
Biography, Racing, Olympics games
Amazing Grace
One man’s crusade
Biography, slavery, London, politics
Learning to love
Biography, Oxford,


Consequences of favouritism in parenting (father)
Drama, Norse mythology, gods, violence
True Grit
Actions has consequences
Drama, cowboy, bad language, violence,
Learning to love
Biography, Oxford,

Useful movie review links

Ted Baehr is Founder and Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®:  The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment and Chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission® ministry, as well as a noted critic, educator, lecturer, and media pundit. His life’s purpose is to be used of God to redeem the values of the media while educating audiences on how to use discernment in selecting their entertainment.

Movies reviews at Crosswalk

Anime movies

Christian Anime Sites

Christian Anime Alliance
Possibly the most readily identified Christian anime site on the Internet, CAA has many Christian-focused reviews of anime and manga.  It also has a very active forum.
Another well-known site, features a number of fanmade manga.  It also has a very active forum of believers.

Anime Angels
This site has been around for a number of years and contains art, reviews and articles published through the site’s magazine.  Users communicate primarily through an activity feed.

Let’s Love Japan
This amazing site’s goal is to reach out to the Japanese by creating a mobile website with animated stories and other tools.  Among their current projects is an anime about Jesus. 


To exercise discernment in watching movies, we need to ask ourselves three questions:
(1)   What is/are the message(s) of this movie?
(2)   What elements are used to convey the message?
(3)   Are there message(s) embedded in these elements?



Blogger Paul said...

Helpful post.

BTW, I am way behind on my movies (as usual). But I do agree with your assessment on those I have seen.

For example, I thought Saving Private Ryan had a lot of death and violence (some pretty graphic) but I also think that the violence was integral to the story. And I thought the themes were realistic and relevant as it illustrated a lot of thought provoking stuff.

9:27 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Hi Paul,

I agree with you about the graphic violence in Saving Private Ryan. That is what makes saving that soldier such a heroic quest and the sacrifices made so meaningful. It is wonderful story telling though the media.

The other one I am excited about is Thor. Well, I am biased but there is so much material in it about fatherhood. Wish I can preach a sermon on it one day. Check out my review here

11:25 AM  
Blogger Paul Long said...

Embarrassing I know for a comic book geek like me ... but haven't seen THOR yet :-)

5:23 AM  

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