Now we reach the part of the Mass where the Priest delivers his sermon. And the role of the Sermon is to interpret the teachings of Christ and the stories of the Bible for modern congregations so that can continue to act in a Christian way.
Every night I deliver a different sermon based on what is in the news that day – anything to do with Catholicism in Scotland, or religion and politics. Other topics have included what would Catholics vote in the Independence Referendum, and David Cameron’s recent speech where he compared himself to Jesus, claiming he is following Jesus’ moral code. And last night’s topic, which looked at the idea of Christian charity and modern day foodbanks.
So it’s almost Easter. And because Easter is synonymous with epic films like the Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, tonight I’d like to talk about Christian films. It’s been in the news today that the new Hollywood blockbuster Noah has opened at the top of the holiday box office. And following that, the news is full of articles looking at the Christian movie boom. Other recent Christian films like God’s Not Dead and Son of God have also been successful and there are more to come – Exodus: God and Kings, and a film about Mother Teresa. Reports show that 2014 is likely to be the Christian film boom year.
So what is it about these stories that can be adapted so easily into blockbuster films? Well in the case of Noah it’s maybe the same ingredients for any other Hollywood blockbuster – catastrophe averted by an everyman, struggles of power, natural disasters, feel good endings, a spiritual element…and any of these elements could be the description of any other Hollywood epic film like Titanic. So maybe the Bible is great for Hollywood, but is Hollywood great for the Bible?
Sometimes it’s maybe not cool to admit to watching a Christian themed film, and with something like The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, and I suspect with Noah, audiences might say yeah I know it’s Christian, but – as if they have to apologise because anything Christian is so not cool, or justify it by saying it’s got like excellent CGI or something.
With Noah and with Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ, there comes a fair amount of disagreement from Christian organisations – upset at the devaluing of the story for entertainment purposes, and the diluting, and changing of the story . Hollywood has hit back saying that it adapts Biblical stories like it would adapt any other book like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, but I suppose the trouble comes when you treat these stories and stories form a book just like any other.
One problem is that the stories in themselves are generally too short to be totally faithful to, and so directors and screenwriters have to use a bit of artistic license to flesh the story out. But mostly any deviation from the original always seems to provoke a “war on Christians” or a ”war on the Bible.”
If we take the story of Noah and expect film makers to be faithful to the original story viewers would have to watch him preach for 120 years then sit through 40 days of rain scenes followed by months of just kind of floating along. Today there was a story that the cast of Noah wasn’t racially diverse enough, to which the writer responded – “the story is a myth so it doesn’t matter what they look like. And then “I didn’t want it to look like a Benetton advert or the crew of the Starship Enterprise.” Which isn’t a very Christian thing to say really.
So maybe it’s okay that Hollywood is making Bible stories mainstream, maybe that’s the only way for audiences to be introduced these stories, but is it even important that they are introduced the Bible stories? I suppose it comes down to how much value you place on it. I saw an article today that said that these films are cultural bridges to the Gospel. And like any artistic representation of religion, maybe it’s better to try and to miss the mark a little rather than fail to attempt at all. After all, we are told that the words of the Gospel can travel better over a bridge than over a chasm.
But having said all of that, I’ve read the reviews for the film and I’ve watched Mel Gibson in the Passion of the Christ and it reminds me of this passage from Psalms:
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of this evil.