By Russell Moore, Crosswalk.com
The following is a transcribed Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety.
The question of whether or not a Christian can go to a rated R movie is really not a meaningful question, because the whole idea of an R-rating is really something invented by the Motion Picture Association of America and Jack Valenti and others who were trying to keep a step ahead of the federal government back in the 1960s in marking out what is a movie that is appropriate for those who are adults in their understanding, and children and so forth. It is very arbitrary. So, I would not say a Christian ought never to go to an R-Rated movie because I think what that would say is that a Christian should go to a movie that is rated PG or G. That doesn’t tell you how dangerous a movie is.
Often there are G-rated movies that are very dangerous. You have all kinds of subtle insinuations or an appealing to covetousness and a materialistic view of the world that can be just as dangerous as something rated-R, or more so. So, I think the question is not “is it rated-R” but rather “what is the movie portraying?”
There are certain things that no Christian should watch. No Christian should watch pornography. And by pornography I am not referring to what at any moment is the hardest edge that is available. That is constantly shifting too. No one needs to watch something that is going to appeal and incite lust. I don’t care how mature a Christian is, watching unclothed people of the opposite sex is not the right thing to do. Watching explicit depictions of sexuality not the right thing to do. That is going to fuel lust in any human being.
On the other hand, there are films that may depict things that are very dark, or very rough, and are rated-R that I think are appropriate. A depiction of the Holocaust might be an appropriate thing for a Christian to see. To see the horror of that atrocity that wouldn’t be appropriate for children but it would be appropriate for adults. It might be rated-R but it is not a glorification of these things, it is not appealing or inciting lust.
So, the danger would be any movie that is doing a number of things: Inciting you to sin through sexual temptation or a movie that is inciting bloodlust. Sometimes people will say is it okay to see movies that are violent. And there are some Christians who think the entire point is counting naked ladies and cuss words. I’ll have Christians say, “oh, it’s just violence.” But violence is just as dangerous as depictions of sexuality depending on how the violence is depicted. If you have violence the way the Scripture presents violence, in which you have cause and effect and consequences for sin, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But when you have violence that glorifies nihilism and bloodlust and appeals to a sense of vengeance that does something, it numbs you and strips away at you. So, you have to ask and evaluate what that is.
Finally, you have to ask what is this movie doing to shape my moral imagination. Which again is more than just what is explicitly going on there. Because film is able to manipulate someone in very subtle kinds of ways. There were Christians who watched the movie Titanic, for instance, who would find themselves moving along with the story and rejoicing when this unmarried man and this unmarried woman have sex on the boat. These are people who would never say to you they believe in premarital sex, but they are into the story and suddenly now this seems to be the right thing to do. There are many subtle ways that movies can do that and can change the way you think about any number of things: racial stereotypes, sexual behaviors, violence, materialism, covetousness. You have to be aware of what is there.
So, when it comes to movies, I think a Christian ought to first check out what is going to be in this film. There are many websites that can tell you and show you the kinds of things you will encounter in a film. There are some things that will cause me to immediately say I cannot see this movie and no Christian should see this movie. But there are other circumstances where I would have to say other Christians might be able to see this movie but I cannot see this movie because it appeals to a particular weak point that I might have. For instance, it doesn’t tempt me or do anything to me to see a depiction of someone drinking alcohol in a movie, or even being drunk in a movie. That doesn’t tempt me toward drunkenness, but I have friends who because of this particular point of vulnerability if they were to go to a movie in which that kind of thing is presented it would make them very vulnerable, they cannot watch it.
I think that visual pictures and images of the Lord Jesus are perfectly fine and appropriate because of the incarnation. Some Christians disagree with me, I think that’s okay. But I would not go and see the Passion of the Christ film that was out several years ago. Not because I think it is wrong for all Christians but because I know how visually oriented my mind is, and I knew that if this film was well-done (as everyone said it was) that I would be seeing that actor in my mind every time I thought of the Lord Jesus. That is my weakness, not everybody’s weakness it is just mine, so I am not going to impose it on everybody else, but I’m not going to see that film. I think you have to ask that.
And then to say what are the subtle areas where this movie might change me. Now, as long as it is not something that is by definition sin as long as you know where those places are they really do not have power over you. So, if you go to see Avatar and you understand the propaganda that is behind Avatar, then you are able to just point it out. Here is the world view, there. This is what is happening here, and move on. But if you don’t know that and it takes you in that is where you are vulnerable.
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