Fair Treatment of Religion in Media

If you read what I write, then you know that I am religious. It is not a belief in an institution, per se, or a dogmatic exercise in principles that keep me from having any fun. It is not the “effect of a frenzied mind,” nor tradition based upon upbringing. While upbringing helped in a few of my decisions in regards to religion (as in knowing that there was such a thing in the first place) I am a religious person beyond age 25 because I choose it. My religious convictions are pretty open, and I have gained and lost friends over following my faith. Not my decision about whether they were my friend or not in those cases.

Respect, honor, charity, and trying to keep a clear conscience are things that I hope that most people share in common whether or not they hold any religion sacred, or simply try to live a decent life. Over the last few months, I continually notice that Hollywood movies treat religion badly. This is nothing new to most people, but I have interest in ratings systems and who chooses what goes into the media that comes to the fore-front of culture. Video is a huge teaching tool. Its explosion into mainstream creation, akin to MySpace, iTunes, and YouTube reshaping the music sphere within the last decade opens up interpretation and its abilities to teach to a new level.

Highlighting impressions of how others react to religion makes me think of the Gregory Peck movie,

Title Poster of Gentleman's Agreement, 1947 film starring Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire

Gentleman's Agreement poster

Gentleman’s Agreement, which is about how there was a certain unspoken rule where treating one group of people badly was “acceptable.” The movie began changes in talking about treatment of various groups and nearly blacklisted everyone involved in its production during the 1950’s.

What people think that they know about a religion versus living it daily are often as separate as possible. In polite conversation, people usually do not talk about it because opinions run deeply and it’s as if no one is right and nothing is wrong. It’s a fast way to make people uncomfortable in a group setting. I like to keep my mind open, but not so open that my brains fall out the other end. I wish that talking about religions without putting them down was more how people spoke about groups in normal parlance versus simply in academic circles. I think of Gandhi’s ways of looking at life. Growing up, there was the idea of being an example of goodness to others around me. Not to look down on anyone, but instead being the best person that I knew how and to treat others well. Seems pretty standard Christian doctrine to me.

An NPR broadcast recently talked about how Americans have lost hope with every institution in society. That includes religious institutions. The analysis that I took away from the broadcast was that while Americans are disparate about their own lives, they would rather hurt others. Helping (creating) takes effort and investment of time (most precious intangible commodity) while destruction (hurting) is easy and the natural manner of the ethos of the world. I know of no one who is looking for something else to insert into their schedule because they have so much extra time that they do not know what to do with it. Everyone that I know is at capacity and usually complain about not enough time for x or y, etc.

The people who are the most confident give less credence to societal pressures and honors and give the most credence to who a human is as a person and where their efforts lie. In “The Last Lecture” the Cornell teacher talks about removing anything that a young man says from the equation and seeing how he acts as his mark of character. My actions aren’t perfect, but there is wisdom in this. I have friends in my different programs and at least a few teachers who are good people and treat others in kind.

What brought my attention to the bashing of religion in media were examples from movies that I otherwise liked for their humor or comedic intent and do not have ratings above PG-13. These are movies that are technically appropriate for most ages and seem pretty harmless from the outset. The phrases or inclinations were small and simple, but when added together in my mind made me pause, concerned over what such videos are actually teaching people. Every video or medium teaches something.

The example from movies here mentioned are parts of pieces that may not find offense normally but when added together make an imprint. In Ella Enchanted, the pivotal phrase, “I will not be obedient,” as taken in the context of the movie expressed finally choosing free will and breaking a spell. I thoroughly agree and believe in people having agency and in exercising it for good purposes.

However, the phrase, “I will not be obedient” also implies that obedience is condescension of sorts. Perhaps it is the absence or removal of free will whereas this author suggests that it is more about exercising free will than any rebellious campaigns or charges. Depends upon who or what one is being obedient to and the motivations and intentions of that entity.

Law-abiding Americans follow paths of responsibility frequently without considering that what they are doing is choosing obedience. Whether or not for religious purposes, the word obedience makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s not a case of “doing any thing that you want to do anymore” but thinking about consequences and believing in responsibility and a removal of at least portions of otherwise selfish behavior.

For my life, obedience to God keeps me freer than otherwise. No, I’m not perfect. My ideals are high even if execution of the ideals is not completely consistent. That said, blind obedience is a misnomer. Unless a person has a full understanding of what they are doing or are getting into (availing themselves of the fine print, etc.), then it is not obedience.

I grew up with a healthy ability to ask questions and to look for answers to said questions and not to believe everything that I see and hear. Also not to judge what I see and hear or feel and toss it based upon one sense group alone and act as if there is only one way to understand imperfect or perfect knowledge. Obedience for me is an act of free will and exercising that will in a positive manner with knowledge attached.

From there, in “Easy A” the religious girl had a monotonic personality. She was snobby, selfish, demanding, hypocritical, and a person with whom no good and kind person would want association. Two-faced and otherwise a horrible example of a believer of anything to do with Christianity. Her caricature was quite compelling as the de facto antagonist. The heroine was nice although she continually kept rumors circulating. Her last rebellious act against the gossip and backbiting that occurred from the so-called religious girl, nearly anything would work at that point outside of something pornographic. Religious girl was the antagonist, but good she was not.

Anti-heroes are often the people most rooted for, and I normally prefer them to people who act self-righteous. Being laid back and open-minded are normally good qualities. The film makers assumed correctly that a portrayal of someone religious being horrible to someone who was not was acceptable for the viewing audience. This was a hit comedy. If this view was not something acceptable for parody, it would not have its creation in this genre, but be part of a drama.

There are other forms of media that directly attack religious groups and pass it off for comedy. It is not a case of defense to call this out, but thinly veiled minstrel shows are debasing and incite disrespect. Crass, rude, and nothing to do with how the people of that group see themselves but everything about making a group of people look ridiculous in a climate where being anti-religion is the powerful standard.

It’s not a case of taking something too hard, or of not having a sense of humor. Far from it, having a sense of humor should uplift and there is good sense attached to positive humor, while there is something else that debases. I would give a lot for people to choose positive and uplifting entertainment. Not prudish or self-righteous or always serious, etc. but of good report or praiseworthy and something that increases respect. It is possible. There is other humor out there that helps and inspires goodness but it is up to the public to choose it.


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