A ‘Critiqued’ Essay

24 Aug

Don’t know if you have noticed, but over there in the blogroll is a link to Ransom Fellowship, which is Denis and Margie Haack out in Minnesota.

They produce two thoughtful magazines which come about four times a year now.  Margies’ is Notes From Toad Hall, which tends to be biographical and spiritual–in a good way.   Denis is in charge of  Critique, which is about art and theology and discernment and thinking.  I really like both.

They are coming to visit Ithaca in September!  See the Chesterton House link.

Now maybe it is because it is usually guys who write the articles in Critique and I am female, or maybe it is because many of them are obviously urban/suburban people and I am from a farm and country background–and still am , or maybe we have real theological differences, which might be part of it, or maybe I am just plain contrary, which is most probable,  but a few times a year there will be articles which just tweak my sensibilities like someone twisting my ear, hard.  And then I write a response.  And once in a while I actually mail it off.

Critique #5 (2008), the PDF link of which is on the highlighted page, had an article titled “Why The Gospel is Not a Romantic Comedy“, which in my not humble opinion should have been titled “Why Watching Artistic Murder Movies Can Be Gospel” and about which I had some strong feelings .  So strong I wrote an essay.  And mailed it.  And now that essay, edited,  is in the new Critique, along with two critiques of my thoughts in the Dialogue section.

But it seems the new Critique #3 (2009) is not yet actually posted on the web.  It came in my mailbox today.  So posting the responses to my response will be postponed.  Denis thinks I am too loose with my words and not kind enough.  And it seems to me Mr. Watkins did not get my point.  And I guess I still do not agree with his.

Here is my unedited essay, though, if you are interested after you read the article.  It was written in February of this year.


Brian Watkins in “Why the Gospel is NOT a Romantic Comedy” (Critique 5, 2008) tries to make the case that “Hollywood’s many violent or grotesque films” are “fictional stories…intended to be reflections on the state of the human condition, which centers on our heart-wrenching separation from God..”.  Well, some, maybe.  He does not like films that are neat and clean because life is not neat and clean.  OK so far.

He writes that “filtering out stories… is a form of watering down the Gospel, polarizing to the secular world, and is far more dangerous than the art we are so quick to shy away from.”   Brian goes on at length about censoring vision, how hope is only hope if it is not fulfilled, how showing redemption misses the point of violent films and is actually harmful to our witness.  My, my.  To love my neighbor as myself, I should watch him be murdered.

I suggest it is a false equation to make equal in value the stories in God’s printed word, all of which contain hope and point to redemption even if violent, to Babylon’s  larger than life depictions of violence and death on film, many of which are gratuitous and pointless.  Let us start with what is most obvious to me: reading about violence is not the same as seeing it.  Scripture is not “the original horror film.”  Man is made in God’s image, and onscreen violence to people is tantamount to “being there”.  Watching a movie murder is not the same, nor does it have the same effect, as reading about Cain and Abel.  One’s eyes are windows to one’s soul, and there is a reason to guard them, even if one is a Christian artist.  We become what we worship.

If it were not so sad it would be amusing.  Mr. Watkins undoubtedly belongs to one of the first generations in history to argue the necessity to the Gospel and to Art of watching violent films in order to access reality.  My take is that Brian needs to get off his seat, get his head into the light of day and take a look at Reality.  Ever heard of Africa?  Find some soldiers just home from the war, or missionaries home from a closed country.  Check out Voice of the Martyrs. Visit a slaughterhouse—the closest you will get to Old Testament temple sacrifices.  Have you read no history? Can it really be your life is so insipid? Come visit me and I will teach you to kill and butcher the meat you eat.  Talk to my elderly neighbor:  abused as a child, she ran a farm and raised a family with drunken abusive husbands and without running water.  Come meet the widow with violent, mentally ill children.  Let me see how committed you are to blood and guts reality.  Those dealing with actual brokenness look and long for redemption.  We have known enough first-hand ugliness, violence and evil and do not care to watch it enlarged and honored.

The last point is artistic.  Contrast is very important in art.  Brian argues against film stories with redemptive endings.  Where is the contrast in unremitting violence and evil? That way lies despair.  Rob Roy, The Mission, The Constant Gardener , and Slumdog Millionaire are some of the most powerful movies I recall that show unrepentant evil and violence.  They also embody redemption on several levels.  I am for God’s violent redemption.  Hope deferred makes the heart sick.  But all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.  The image, the fullness, the firstborn of the invisible God has made peace by the blood of his cross.   And that is true romance.


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