Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Second Most Important Reason Why Christians Shouldn’t Watch “Game of Thrones”

Have you heard of the word “sexposition”? The term was initially coined to describe the superfluous use of raunchy material in the HBO show Game of Thrones. While it’s universally acknowledged that the series has copious amounts of explicit sexuality, plenty of people are watching it. (Maybe I should say “because” instead of “while.”) Christians make up a percentage of the audience as well.

E. Stephen Burnett recently posted a refreshingly forthright article on the matter: But “Game of Thrones” Still Has Porn In It. He points our gaze to the proverbial elephant in the room:

Filmmakers and actors can simulate violence, simulate language, simulate other sinful behaviors. But to show nakedness and sex you can only actually 1) be naked and 2) feign to have sex. And let’s spare only a few details here: Unless the actor is himself/herself a goodness-of-the-body-denying, emotionless Gnostic Platonic ideal-person rather than a live human being, he/she will have physical and emotional responses to that “acting.” To do it “right,” you can’t simply do acting proper. There’s an F-word for that: fornication.

I’m not quite sure if I agree about simulating the use of language (if you use a cuss word, you’re using a cussword—pure and simple). Nevertheless, the overall point is true. Most sexual acts on screen—even in the professional atmosphere of a Hollywood production (as opposed to a porn set)—are not special effects. Most of them can’t be. You can fake a gunshot wound to the head, but you can’t really fake sexual acts.

In the comments section of Burnett’s article, Austin Gunderson adds another strong point:

If a book contains a ton of action scenes, we call it an action thriller, without regard to the quality of the writing. If a film contains a plethora of humor, we call it a comedy, regardless of how lowbrow the gags. And if a TV show contains endless amounts of nudity and explicit sex, it’s perfectly accurate to refer to it as porn, regardless of its production value, the knit of its costumes, the nuance of its actors, or the intricacy of its plotting.

Porn is porn is porn is porn is porn. You can make an argument that there’s nothing wrong with porn, but you can’t tell me that a pornographic show isn’t pornographic just ’cause it also contains some pretty amazing artistry.

Award-winning art that shamelessly wallows in perversion shouldn’t get a free pass just because it is “artsy” or award winning. On the contrary, it should be held to a higher standard than erotic and pornographic pieces. And yet I see plenty of people not only not holding GoT to a higher standard, but actually making excuses for its relentless titillation. This should not be.

A recent sex scene in the show caused many to question whether the series has taken sexual imagery too far. In light of circumstances like these, defending the series on Christian grounds is like defending porn to Jesus Himself. It just won’t work.

As Christians, we shouldn’t be subjecting ourselves to material that so entertainingly combats our morals. Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and shows like Game of Thrones are so dangerous because their depravity is, at least to a certain degree, incognito. They mix porn elements with genuine artistry—and maybe even throw in some semblance of morals—and before we know what’s going on, we’re amusing ourselves to spiritual ruin.

But that’s not even the worst of it. You may have noticed that I titled this blog post “The Second Most Important Reason Why Christians Shouldn’t Watch Game of Thrones.” Yes, our own spiritual health is at stake, but we as a viewing audience have another factor to consider—the well-being of the actors and actresses. Through our patronage, we encourage them to commit immorality. But that’s a topic for another blog post. Actually, that’s a topic for several blog posts, which I plan to post sometime in the near future.

In the meantime, I encourage you to read Burnett’s article, and then maybe jump into the discussion yourself—either on the blog or on Facebook (where I’m currently involved in some dialogue myself). Whatever the case, Burnett provides a breeze of clean air in a climate where too many are comfortable with inhaling smog.

UPDATE: The original title of this article used the word “You” instead of “Christians.” Based on some feedback I received, I made the change in order to more effectively communicate who my intended audience was.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

When Your Husband and Your Desires Don’t Match

Hi, I’m Shannon, Cap’s wife.

Usually I’m behind the scenes at Happier Far. I edit most posts for grammar and tell Cap he needs catchier titles (I do what I can).

I would like to say, though, that I couldn’t be prouder of Cap for the direction he’s taken with his blog. Not only for the literary reference of the title (Paradise Lost for the win!), but also for the stand he’s taken against sexuality in movies. I think it’s a message that many Christians need to hear—and that too few Christians are willing to speak.

But I must say that at the outset, I wasn’t too happy when Cap started thinking we might need to stop seeing films that objectify women. I mean, I wanted to see Star Trek Into Darkness! I wanted to see Catching Fire! I teach high school; I need to stay relevant! All my students were seeing them! All my friends were seeing them! But because actresses stripped down in both films, Cap wouldn’t pay to support turning them into sexual objects. Which meant I was alone in the dark, shying from spoilers like a spooked pony and eagerly asking my students, “Was it awesome?”

Cap is not afraid to be different from other people. And sometimes that’s uncomfortable for me.

Like the time he studied the Sabbath and decided that we needed to take a weekly day off work. None of my friends were doing that. None of the ladies I respected so much from our church were doing that. Certainly none of my fellow grad students were doing that! It meant we had to miss out on some events that non-Sabbath-keepers had planned for Sunday afternoons. It meant I was certainly bound to be 1/7 dumber than all my fellow grad students.

Heck, I even chafed when he decided to buy a Lutheran Study Bible. Why couldn’t he just want the ESV Study Bible like all the other godly people at church?

The ironic trap I keep falling into is this: though I fell in love with Cap for the ways he was different from other men, when we got married I wanted him to be just like all the other girls’ husbands.

It’s always rooted in comparison. I don’t necessarily want more than my friends at church have, but I do want at least what they have. I don’t want to miss out on movies they see, or the Sunday activities they do, or Santa Claus, or Halloween, or whatever else Cap might decide isn’t best for our family.

The reason I write about this is that I think most young wives (and who knows, maybe some older ones too) struggle with this to some degree. “I want a house because everyone else has one.” “We’re not having babies as fast as my friends are having babies.” “I want TOMs because I feel like a dork in my old Rocket Dogs.” “I want a bigger house because everyone else has one.” And if your husband doesn’t make enough money for a house yet, or says you need to wait on children, or decides that twenty pairs of shoes is enough and you don’t need TOMs, then that’s BAD of him.

When you were dating, you would have said, “As long as I have you, any of those things is fine!” And now that you’re married, you think, in the deepest darkest recesses of your grasping little mind, “He’s holding me back from what I want.”

I don’t know. Maybe I’m the only one who has that deepest darkest recess in my mind. Maybe all of you are thinking, “Yikes, Cap married a winner, didn’t he?” But as a young wife myself, I hear a lot of young-wife-talk around church, and I think a lot of us struggle with this.

Here’s the thing, though. Some of the ways I’ve been most blessed are the differences I initially protested. I would never trade my Sabbath rest now: Sunday is my favorite day of the week. I have seen so much growth in holiness, strength in Cap’s battle with lust, and enjoyment of our marriage now that we’re more careful with our movies. And yes, I’ve even benefited from the notes in his clunky Lutheran Study Bible. I don’t feel like I’m missing out anymore. I feel like others are missing out.

I teach at our home school co-op, and my job puts me in contact with a bunch of awesome kids. I love them all, but there’s one pattern I’ve noticed in many of the kids who most impress me with their spiritual maturity: they have all had something “normal” withheld from them. Maybe their parents said “no” to Harry Potter. Maybe their parents didn’t give them Easter baskets. It’s something different for each family, and I won’t list them all here.

My point is not that Harry Potter or Easter baskets are wrong—hey, I like both. My point is that their parents weren’t slaves to what was normal, to what everyone else had, when they were raising their kids. Their kids learned from the get-go that “everyone else has one” is not a good enough reason to get something. Would that I could now learn that as a wife!

Well, here’s a verse that I find encouraging. I’m no super-theologian like Cap, so this might be out of context, but the Spirit has applied this passage to this area of my life recently:

For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. (1 Peter 3:5)

Okay, so maybe Rachel Held Evans would roll her eyes at me for quoting the above. But look at what I’ve highlighted: it’s adorning to submit to your own husband (i.e., not to someone else’s husband’s standard). That means that if you’re reading this post, my goal is not to convince you that Cap’s standard is best. It is best for me. And the tenets your husband leads by are best for you (as long as they’re rooted in serious biblical principles).

They’re best for you! I never would have chosen some of the paths Cap has led me down. That means I would have missed out on the blessings I’m getting by following him. I think I know what’s best for me, but I don’t. God does, and He’s giving me what I need—sometimes against my protests—through my husband.

The verse also says that these women are hoping in God. He’s what I want to hope in—not relevance, not normalcy, not middle class comfort, but God Himself, bigger and more beautiful than any of those fleeting, transparent pleasures could ever hope to be.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hollywood Sex Scenes vs. Porn: So What if They’re (Kind of) Different?

* CONTENT ADVISORY: This topic requires a certain level of frankness that may be inappropriate for some readers. While I have taken great pains to avoid titillation, reader discretion is still advised. *

Last week, we looked at the four main ways in which motion picture sex scenes and pornography are different. Now I want to show how these factors actually prove to condemn Hollywood’s methods rather than excuse them.

Argument #1: There is often a difference in production values. Motion pictures are a form of art, whereas porn is unabashed titillation.

Hollywood’s mash-up of blatant sexuality (nudity and sex scenes) and aesthetics only serves to make its displays of sex more alluring to the viewer. As supposed works of art, Hollywood films are concerned with giving their audiences pleasure through beauty. That’s what aesthetics are all about.

What is ultimately more alluring: a sex scene with bad lighting, poor audio quality, and shoddy production work, or a sex scene with good composition, stellar audio, and overall high production values (drawing you into the scene even further)? Through its use of aesthetics, Hollywood makes illicit sex more attractive to a wider audience. It makes sin look more beautiful and desirable than porn ever could.

Argument #2: There is often a difference in intent behind the production of porn and motion pictures. Movies are aesthetic and emotional; porn is strictly erotic.

The intent of Hollywood filmmakers matters little when they’re using inherently faulty methods. The wrong thing (using sexually tantalizing footage) for the right reason (communicating a moral message) is still the wrong thing. In practically every other area of life, Christians agree that the end doesn’t justify the means. As I’ve pointed out earlier, an immoral method cannot be used to produce a moral message. It’s the cinematic equivalent of “Do as I say, not as I do.” In other words, it’s hypocritical.

Besides, we need to take Hollywood’s declaration of innocent intent with a boulder of salt. Filmmakers might say they’re not intending to be tantalizing, but they aren’t stupid. They know sex sells and they often insert sexual material to procure an audience.

Let me give just one example. In a particular movie (which I won’t name), there is a scene in which the actress has to crawl through a pipe. As she does so, the audience can easily see beyond her sagging neckline. In the DVD commentary during this scene, the director says, “To teenage boys everywhere: you’re welcome” (or something along those lines). Yes, filmmakers know what they are doing when they use sexual imagery in their movies.

Argument #3: There is often—or, practically always—a difference in explicitness. Where Hollywood sometimes uses slight of hand, porn leaves nothing to the imagination.

Porn may indeed be more explicit than much of Hollywood fare, but what does that prove? Is it excusable for motion pictures to portray sex scenes and nudity simply because other mediums are more depraved? The comparison itself is damning.

We should be comparing our movie watching habits to the standards of Scripture, not to the standards of the lowest common denominator. And yet the excuse I hear often is, “Well, the scene wasn’t nearly as bad as such and such.” When did “such and such”—not the Bible—become the default standard for Christian morality?

I’m reminded of a quote by John White in his book Eros Defiled:

I know that experts used to distinguish light from heavy petting, and heavy petting from intercourse, but is there any moral difference between two naked people in bed petting to orgasm and another two having intercourse? Is the one act a fraction of an ounce less sinful than the other?
     Is it perhaps more righteous to pet with clothes on? If so, which is worse, to pet with clothes off or to have intercourse with clothes on?
     You may accuse me of being crude. Far from it. If we pursue the argument far enough, we will see that an approach to the morality of premarital [or extramarital] sex that is based on the details of behavior (kissing, dressing or undressing, touching, holding, looking) and parts of the body (fingers, hair, arms, breasts, lips, genitals) can satisfy only a Pharisee.

If porn is inexcusable in its explicitness (as all—or at least most—Christians would attest), it’s hard to argue that Hollywood is a marked improvement, much less a champion of chastity. It would be like arguing that 200° Fahrenheit is colder than 300° Fahrenheit. While technically true, it’s inconsequential when considering human safety.

Argument #4: There is often a difference in the sex acts themselves. Films show people acting (i.e., pretending), whereas porn shows actual intercourse.

Frankly, it’s laughable for Christians to argue that there’s a difference in the eyes of God between two actors publicly faking intercourse and two actors publicly engaged in intercourse. Even compared to the blatant obscenity of porn, is it really morally superior for two actors to gyrate in faux sexual climax—just so long as the man’s privates stay outside of his co-star?

You may be offended by the comparison, and indeed you should be. But where does that sense of moral outrage go when you pay to watch a film in which two (or more) actors pretend to experience copulation?

Is pretending to have sex with your neighbor’s wife for the camera (which is socially acceptable) any better than just fantasizing about having sex with your neighbor’s wife (which is Scripturally condemnable)? Do we really want to make those kinds of distinctions? To paraphrase John White, that smells suspiciously antinomian and Pharisaic all at the same time.

Sure, there are differences between the porn and motion picture industries. But at least the porn industry is transparent about its motives and methods. Hollywood’s social acceptability—even among professing Christians—rests largely on superficial notions of moral superiority.

It’s like a man who can jump three feet condemning another man for jumping only two feet and ten inches. When the goal is Pluto, the point is moot. The righteousness of Hollywood’s use of sex and nudity is nothing more than reality-denying self-righteousness. Aligning ourselves with that standard is aligning ourselves on the side of Pharisaic nitpicking.

And we haven’t even yet talked about how porn and motion pictures are similar!

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Hollywood and Porn: What are the REAL Differences?

I cam across a startling statement in a recent Christian magazine piece. It was a random, minor comment buried deep in the article, but it still struck me with its apparent blitheness:

Everyone can tell the difference between a Hollywood love scene and hardcore porn…

My first thought was, “Really? Everyone can tell the difference? Is it that obvious?”

Now, it may be that the author was coming at the topic from a secular, culturally based perspective. Considering the title of the article (“Why are PG-13 Films More Violent than their R-Rated Counterparts?”), it’s likely that was the case. Nevertheless, the statement revealed what I believe to be a false dichotomy.

If you’ve been hanging out here lately, you know I question why the church has opposed sexually stimulating material in pornography while often embracing the use of sexually stimulating material in major motion pictures. I see this approach as a dangerous compromise in Christian ethics.

I don’t want to be needlessly controversial with this topic, though. That is why we’re going to more closely compare Hollywood’s use of sexuality with the porn industry’s use of sexuality. While there are similarities (which I have, on a surface level, already pointed out), there are also some differences as well. It won’t help my cause to ignore those differences.

In fact, examining the differences will actually strengthen my argument. If you don’t believe me, I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for taking the time to examine this issue from an alternate perspective. I’m humbled that you would give me your time and attention.

So, what are the obvious differences between Hollywood and porn? I can think of at least four. (There are doubtless additional subtle differences, but these four are the most pronounced.)

First, there is often a difference in production values. The porn industry doesn’t spend a great deal of time on script writing, story, character development, cinematography, music, and other aspects of film production. Titillation is the name of the game, and because it doesn’t take great art to titillate, why bother with great art? Motion pictures, on the other hand, are considered a genuine art form. They involve the telling of a comprehensive story. Mainstream films can, and often do, utilize sexual material, but as a component of a larger whole.

Second, there is often a difference in intent behind the production of porn and motion pictures. Those in the porn industry don’t have their sights set on Oscar awards or artistic accolades. No, their goal is sexual stimulation. The intent of porn is to feed the monster of lust. In contrast, the intent behind most movies is to tell some sort of story, to engage audience members with the power of narrative. Stories move us unlike practically anything else. Whereas porn’s goals are strictly erotic, motion pictures have aesthetic and emotional designs as well.

Third, there is often—or, practically always—a difference in explicitness. With hardcore porn especially, nothing is left to the imagination; you see everything that goes on. Hollywood can also be quite explicit, but it uses a fair amount of sleight of hand; certain body parts and/or camera angles must be avoided in order to make it appear that the characters are consummating their relationship without actually doing so.

Fourth, and closely related to the above point, there is often a difference (of sorts) in the sex acts themselves. Porn involves actual intercourse; the participants are really having sex. With Hollywood, everything is real up until the point of intercourse. Sexual penetration doesn’t actually take place, though. (On rare occasions, it’s rumored that Hollywood actors may actually go all the way in order to give a greater sense of authenticity.)

The question now becomes, Do these differences exonerate Hollywood? Is there enough of a contrast between motion pictures and porn to make one commendable and the other condemnable? The answer should be obvious. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, the differences between Hollywood and porn further incriminate Hollywood’s use of sexuality. How so?

We’ll explore my answer in next week’s post. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

One Thing Everyone Is Forgetting About Noah

The story of Noah has been controversial since the beginning, long before director Darren Aronofsky decided to turn it into a movie. Of course, Aronofsky has created quite a bit of controversy himself, what with the amount of artistic license he allowed himself. His film has been received by the Christian community with a mixture of disgust, ambivalence, and praise.

Who is right? Not having seen the film myself, I can’t quite say. What I can comment on, though, is what the filmmakers—and its most ardent critics—are overlooking in the Noah story: the actual reason for the flood in the first place.

I’m not talking about the generic, “big picture” reason (i.e., that man’s wickedness was great and every intent of his heart was only evil continually). I’m talking about a particular incident, or rather a series of incidents, that spiraled out of control, leading to God’s denouncement of mankind. Remember what that was?

When humans began to multiply on the face of the earth, “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose” (Gen. 6:2). Because this incident itself is shrouded in controversy, we often miss the point of the narrative. We’re drawn in by the mysterious identity of these “sons of God” and “daughters of men.” Is this a description of angels mating with humans, producing a supernatural breed of half-human, half-angel giants?

Frankly, that is doubtful. Everything Scripture tells us about angels points to their inability to procreate. What seems more likely, say numerous Bible commentators, is that the “sons of God” were the descendents of Seth, while the phrase “daughters of men” describes the lineage of Cain.

In his commentary on Genesis 6, John Gill fleshes this idea out, citing some ancient writings:

[I]mmediately after the death of Adam the family of Seth was separated from the family of Cain; Seth took his sons and their wives to a high mountain (Hermon), on the top of which Adam was buried, and Cain and all his sons lived in the valley beneath, where Abel was slain; and they on the mountain obtained a name for holiness and purity, and…went by the common name of the sons of God.

Going on the (reasonable) assumption that Genesis 6 is talking about real human beings here, what does that tell us about the initial sin that sparked God’s wrath? It tells us that these men sought marriage on the basis of physical appearance. They let lust rule their hearts while pursuing romance.

Let that sink in for just a moment. Isn’t it striking that the destruction of the world (as it was then known) came about at least initially because men lustfully and idolatrously valued physical beauty over everything else? I mean, that’s an incredibly “normal,” and practically universal, sin—even today. As Alan Noble, managing editor at Christ and Pop Culture, recently wrote,

[M]en don’t know how to live with beauty without owning it. Either it’s ours, or it shouldn’t exist. So, when we see a beautiful woman, it frustrates us.

That’s because lust, in the end, isn’t primarily concerned with what is beautiful; it is concerned with what is off limits. God does not want us to be kept from enjoying all beauty—just some forms of it that would be unhelpful (at best) or destructive (at worst). Some beauty exists merely as a test, to see if we will value the supreme beauty of God and His holiness over superficial and temporal beauty.

These sons of God failed the test. They valued beautiful works of God more than God himself. Through their lusts, they worshipped the creature rather than the Creator. That was—and is—serious rebellion.

What can this realization teach us about ourselves? First, that the sins we’ve grown familiar with are grievous in our Creator’s eyes. We can excuse sexual lust (“I’m just looking”) or trivialize it (“Everybody struggles with it, after all”). But the sins we treat with a shrug, or maybe even a smirk, are sins over which God is greatly grieved. We would do well to cry out for hearts that see and feel and prize and praise the same things God does.

Second, this story can teach us that we are dealing with a merciful God. Yes, I know people love to characterize the Old Testament God as an overly angry, ill-tempered tyrant. But even in the story of the Flood, that is not the case.

God proclaims in Genesis 6:2, “My Spirit shall not strive [or abide] with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The belief that this is a reference to man’s lifespan is misguided, seeing as how humans continued to have long lives after these events. Noah, for example, lived 950 years.

No, the 120 years was much more likely the length of time God gave the earth to repent. Talk about a generous ultimatum! This was no ninety-day cease-and-desist. Though mankind’s wickedness was great, God’s mercy was also great.

Furthermore, Noah is said to have been “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet. 2:5), no doubt acting as a beacon of truth for the inhabitants of the earth during those 120 years. Through these actions, the Creator showed just how longsuffering He is toward His creatures, “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

The story of the Flood teaches us not only that our sins are gravely abhorrent to a holy God, but also that this same God delights in showing mercy to those who demonstrate genuine repentance and humble contrition. He has not left us without hope. In Christ, our true shelter from the storm, we can learn not only to take our sins seriously, but also to take the Lord’s salvation seriously—and joyfully.

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