Should Hollywood cater to “Christians’?

And what in God’s name does that mean? With “Left Behind,’ the right pushes the public into its definitions

by Don M. Burrows

The media are all aflutter over the religious conservatives’ latest crusade: Hollywood, they say, should release more “Christian” films.

I put the word in quotes precisely to deny assumption number one among the folks using it. To them, it seems, the question of whether something is a Christian film is a relatively easy one. “Passion of the Christ” is Christian; “Last Temptation” is not. “Left Behind” is Christian; “Prophesy” is not.

In other words, for a film to be “Christian” and win the coveted praise currently heaped on Mel Gibson for his sadomasochistic epic ” which New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan rightly deemed “violent, religious pornography” ” one must subscribe to a strict set of religiopolitical ideas and work them into celluloid.

Conservative columnist Brent Bozell devoted an entire column Nov. 4 to Hollywood’s supposed aversion to religious films. The big turnout for “Passion,” he writes, “was supposed to change Hollywood’s resistance, even hostility, to religion, but there isn’t a whole lot of change in sight.” Similarly, in a recent New York Times story, the filmmakers of the new “Left Behind” film say Sony did not do enough to market its new DVD.

But what does it mean to offer religious programming or films with a Christian message?

There are plenty of films you’d think the religious crowd would crow about. Take “Groundhog Day,” for example, one of the most underrated films ever. Here we have an egocentric turned into a selfless servant by the end of the film. Is that Christian?

Perhaps the best recent example of Christian film is Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle,” in which he portrays a pastor-turned-fugitive who finds time to bring charity and hope to a poor small town while on the lam. His journey from prideful murderer to redemption would presumably fit the “Christian” billing perfectly.

Or are these two films not religious enough because they focus on charity and self-sacrifice ” instead of gays and abortion?

If “Left Behind” is an example of “Christian” cinema, it’s aimed at a very narrow denominational base.

For the apocalyptically uninitiated, “Left Behind” is an award-winning novel series by fundamentalist Tim LaHaye. The latest film and the third installment in the sequence follows the seven-year tribulation LaHaye thinks will occur after the rapture (to those of us “left behind”). It’s largely based on a 19th-century theory most denominations have soundly rejected. So how can it be said to be marketed toward Christians? Easy. Amid this thriller is a very overt, right-wing geopolitical view: The United Nations is controlled by the Antichrist and threatens American freedom.

What we really have here is yet another example of the right doing what it has become far too good at doing ” hijacking language in an attempt to define the culture-war debates. By ignoring all other films, no matter how inspirational they might be, and claiming Hollywood has no spiritual side because it doesn’t make enough right-wing religious movies, folks like Bozell are expecting us to concede to their definitions of “Christian” and “religious.” It’s the same trick they successfully pulled last year with the notion of “moral values.” Rather than question what these terms mean, they expect us to climb aboard the “Left Behind” bandwagon or be labeled an irreligious hedonist.

Personally, I’d rather keep “Left Behind” in the DVD bargain bin where it’s likely to end up in a few months. The rest of us can go watch “Bruce Almighty” again.

” Don Burrows welcomes comments at [email protected]