Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Top Ten Posts of 2014

I had no idea just how much the number one thing I learned last year would affect this year’s output, or its popularity. Sex in the movies has been one of my biggest topics in 2014, and, except for one exception, all of my most popular posts this year dealt with the subject. I’m both honored and grateful that these ten articles have received greater exposure (no pun intended). We in the church would do well to utilize the “law of love” more often in our movie-watching and filmmaking habits.

Counting our way up, here are this year’s top ten blog posts at Happier Far.

10. It Doesn’t Matter If Actors Willingly Undress for the Camera. It’s true that some actors in Hollywood seem to have no qualms about shooting nude and/or sex scenes. Such willing consent is, to some, undeniable proof of freedom and beauty. I’ve argued against this mindset elsewhere, but here I attempt to prove something foreign to modern sensibilities: such willingness is actually a moot point.

9. Is the Bible’s Use of Sexuality R-rated? It’s an argument as old as time. Well, as old as R-rated movies, anyway. Christians excuse sexually explicit content in the movies they watch because “the Bible is R-rated.” Is such an argument valid, or is it comparing apples to orangutans? This blog post wrestles with the question.

8. The Second Most Important Reason Why Christians Shouldn’t Watch “Game of Thrones”. Professing Christians need to seriously consider God’s warning against the f-word (i.e., fornication) when plopping down on the couch to watch shows like Game of Thrones. This article hints at the most important reason, but its main focus is on a secondary (though still important) issue.

7. Start Supporting Pornography or Stop Supporting “The Wolf of Wall Street”. One of my more research-heavy pieces, this blog post uses some concrete examples—involving Miley Cyrus and Martin Scorsese—to show the double standard many Christians use in evaluating entertainment with pornographic material in them: “We’re living out a twisted version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the townsfolk are no longer pretending their ruler has clothes on—they’re actually convinced nothing is amiss.”

6. Legalism, Sexual Sin, and My Experience with Bill Gothard. It was sickening and disheartening to hear that Bill Gothard, an internationally recognized Christian leader, has been accused of gross sexual misconduct. The evidence does not lean in his favor. So how should people like me, who have benefited from some of his work, respond?

5. How I Almost Broke My Marriage. In a guest post, my wife bared her soul and shared about some of her failings, which struck a chord with other women—married and single. A lot of blog-reading moms shared the article on Facebook, bumping its popularity up higher than either Shannon or I expected.

4. When Christians Support Porn. Believers from even just a couple decades ago would’ve been shocked to hear that modern-day Christ followers would not only excuse but also approve of mainstream consumption of pornography. The release of a pornographic DVD this year received high praise from Christian critics, not the least of which included Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. I added my concerns to those of two WORLD Magazine columnists.

3. What About Actors Who Willingly Undress for the Camera? I posted this article a week before the follow-up piece (see item number 10). In attempting to address this issue, I honed in on three examples from Margot Robbie’s acting experiences in one specific movie. She was more than a willing participant, but if you read her accounts from being on set, you discover a dark undertone to her consent.

2. Hollywood Sex Scenes vs. Porn: So What if They’re (Kind of) Different? When you draw comparisons between mainstream entertainment and the porn industry, a common argument thrown at you is that there are obvious differences. At first glance, that argument seems to hold a lot of weight, in part because it is undeniably true. However, a closer inspection shows that these differences actually—and surprisingly—serve to further condemn Hollywood’s use of sex scenes and nudity.

1. Hollywood’s Secret Rape Culture. Sometimes you write something that you expect to be popular, but it isn’t. Other times, you write something that explodes with popularity, taking you completely by surprise. This post is one such example: thus far, it’s the only piece I’ve written on this blog that has gone viral. Of all the pieces of writing I’ve published this year, I’m glad that this received the most attention. It exposes a serious blight on our entertainment that is largely unnoticed, or outright ignored, by the general public, and Christians are no exception. The vital message of this blog post is something I plan on hammering home again and again in the years to come.

Honorable mentions

A few articles that didn’t quite make the cut, but which are equally important to me, deal with similar issues as the articles above:

How to Tell if You’re Treating Actors Like Whores. Yes, it’s possible to watch movies with sex scenes and/or nudity while effectively guarding your eyes and keeping your heart pure. It’s possible to do all that and still treat actors like pawns for your own pleasure. (In fact, it’s almost impossible not to.) This article offers a succinct quiz to help you check how much—or little—genuine Christian charity you show to the actors in the movies and/or shows you choose to watch.

“Sex Scenes in Movies Don’t Bother Me”. It’s an argument I’ve heard way too many times. People who say this are either telling the truth or lying. The thing is, both excuses are inexcusable (with few exceptions). Here’s why.

The Real Problem with Nude Celebrity Photos. After several celebrity nude photos were stolen and leaked on the internet, I mused about the problem beneath the problem—the heart issue that lies under the surface issue. This post became strangely prophetic, seeing as how it hypothesized a scenario that came true a couple months later when Keira Knightley willingly posted a nude photo of herself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When the Lord Struck My Husband: An Advent Testimony

Hi, it’s Shannon again, Cap’s wife. Before you get too excited, the title does not refer to God striking Cap. This Christmas we both tried our hand at a little creative writing, though we took the challenge different ways. Last week, Cap wrote in dramatic monologue about Abraham’s experience with one of the first Christmas prophecies; I, on the other hand, wrote Elizabeth’s story like I imagined she would share it if she were giving her testimony in front of a modern church. For me, it provided a fresh breath of air into a story that can become so familiar. Hope you enjoy, and Merry Christmas!


My husband and I both come from the high priestly line of Aaron, and we had lived our entire lives, before and after marriage, fearing the LORD and keeping His commandments.

Though I knew the LORD was gracious, I often struggled with our circumstances. Israel was God’s chosen people, but our sin had brought about our conquest, Exile, and eventually silence from the prophets. Centuries of new conquerors controlled our land, one after the other, with no new word from the LORD. It was easy for me to believe that our sin had somehow separated us from God for good.

There were also personal circumstances that tempted us to grief. We had no children. Though we prayed and prayed, the LORD seemed as silent and distant to our personal requests as He was to our nation’s troubles. Eventually I passed child-bearing age, and we were left clinging to the LORD despite our disappointments.

But we soon found that God had not been distant from us, after all, and He was about to break His silence.

One day, after his routine duty in the temple, Zechariah came home extremely excited—and also completely unable to speak. He tried to tell me what happened, but I couldn’t understand his signing. I found from the other temple priests that he had been burning incense before the LORD and had taken longer than expected. To me, this was an added trial in the midst of other cares, and we had to learn new ways to communicate.

A few weeks later I started feeling ill, and I thought that my health was starting to fail just as Zechariah’s speech had. However, I had helped other women in pregnancy and childbirth all my life, and my symptoms were strangely like being pregnant. When I made this comment to Zechariah, he nodded knowingly. The weeks went on and it became more obvious: somehow, despite being past menopause, I was miraculously pregnant!

As we learned to communicate better throughout the coming months, I learned that my husband had had some kind of vision foretelling my pregnancy when he was in the temple that day. He gave me to understand that God had a special purpose for our baby and that we were to name him John. After hearing this, I felt like our father Abraham’s wife Sarah: once barren, now blessed with a son of promise from the LORD!

I can tell you that I understand why God usually has a cut-off age for pregnancy: carrying a child at my age was difficult. But every little kick I felt from John was another answer to prayer, another reminder that God was not deaf to our struggles and that He was working. I just didn’t know exactly how yet.

When I was about six months pregnant, my cousin Mary, who had just gotten engaged, came to visit me. As soon as I saw her, John didn’t just kick inside me—he leapt. At the same time I felt the powerful presence of the LORD telling me, beyond a doubt, that the prophesied Messiah was in her womb. It was just as Isaiah had foretold: that a virgin would give birth. Here I had been waiting for any word at all from the LORD, and it was given to me not only to see my personal desires answered but also to see the long-awaited prophecies fulfilled! The mother of my Messiah was sitting in my house!

Three months later, my John was born. It was so exciting to see my neighbors and relatives reacting to the obvious miracle God had worked in our lives. The news of the LORD’s blessing on us was an encouragement to our faithful friends who had also been hoping for Him to speak once more to Israel.

When the time came for John to be circumcised and officially named, those same friends and neighbors were confused when I told them his name was John. No one in our ancestry had that name. They asked Zechariah if my wish was accurate, and Zechariah wrote to them, “His name is John.” Immediately my husband’s silence broke, and he began weeping for joy and loudly praising the LORD.

We see now that, like Zechariah’s silence, the Lord’s silence for all those years was a purposeful part of His plan to surprise and amaze us anew with his grace. We see now that the bitterness of my physical barrenness, and of Israel’s spiritual barrenness, can be healed in an instant by the LORD’s power.

Part of my husband’s prayer when he began to speak is now my eternal song: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation . . . to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant. . . . to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

John’s name means “God is gracious.” Indeed, He is!

photo credit: Macorig Paolo via photopin cc

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When Abraham Celebrated Christmas

When we hear the well-worn tale of the Christ child, we can be tempted to greet it with a yawn. We know what Christmas is about, thank you very much.

Well, Abraham didn’t. Here’s how I image he might have responded to the “good tidings of great joy” that he heard.

Any historical inaccuracies are the fault of the Wikipedia articles I read. (Just kidding. They’re my fault—although I did consult Wikipedia.)


After a long and harsh argument with my wife, I sought refuge in the solace of the desert night. Leaving our tent, I walked until home was a small fleck on the horizon behind me. As my anger subsided, my strides became slower and shorter. Finally I stopped. The moonlight cast harsh shadows on the ground, imitating the harsh way in which the moon had dealt with me in the past several years.

You see, I grew up worshipping our moon god, whose name was Nanna. My hometown served as the location of the chief sanctuary dedicated to Nanna. The moon god played a central role in my upbringing; it was his name that I learned to worship on into adulthood. And when Sarai and I failed to conceive a child shortly after our marriage, it was Nanna whom we sought to appease with service and supplication. And yet, with all our efforts, Nanna remained aloof.

Sarai and I had often visited the priestess in the sanctuary, hoping that our god would bless us with fertility. But each trip proved futile. Each prayer seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, our neighbors and family members experienced Nanna’s blessing time after time after time. The good news of another pregnancy only heightened our awareness of our infertility.

It may be hard for you to understand, but our culture directly linked our worth to the size of our family. The larger one’s family was, the more he was esteemed. Having no children was a shameful failure. Imagine attending a friend’s wedding in your worst clothes, and being seated in a position where everyone could see you. Now imagine doing that for years on end.

Try as we might to fit in and act normal, there was nothing normal about us. Many of our nights ended in arguments, with Sarai and me shifting blame back and forth like two children playing catch. I would often end up storming out of the tent and going for long walks. Just like tonight.

In the stillness of this night, I looked up at the moon, silent and oblivious to my suffering. And the moon wasn’t alone. A countless arrangement of stars danced and flickered like the moon’s happy children, mocking me with the painful truth that my wife and I couldn’t even conceive one child.

And just as that thought passed through my mind, the Giver of Life spoke to me. The words seemed to bypass my ears and germinate inside me, setting my heart aflame. Immediately, I somehow knew this voice was not from any of the gods I had served all my life. This was the voice of Yahweh: He who brought everything into existence.

In an instant, I became acutely aware that what I had been serving all my life was an enemy to this personal and righteous Presence. With terrorizing clarity, I saw that all my worship and all my work had been aimed in the wrong direction. It seemed fitting that the Semitic name for our moon god was Sin, because that is exactly what my life had been built on: the service of sin. In all of my time begging for the favor of the gods, I had been acting as an enemy to the one Deity who could actually hear and answer me.

As often happens when one encounters Yahweh, I found my priorities undergoing a dramatic shift. Our barren family, which just minutes before had been my life’s greatest misery, faded into the background. A problem of superior depth and eternal consequences had presented itself. How could I, a bondservant of sin, find rescue from the piercing presence of the true and living God?

As if in answer to my confession of woe, Yahweh spoke the most amazing and comforting words my soul had ever heard. He pronounced a blessing over me, promising to bring a savior for the entire world so that sinners like myself could be rescued and restored. That night, Yahweh preached the gospel to me and the news staggered me with inexpressible wonder.

On that blessed night, I received a special calling rather than the condemnation I deserved to hear. And in Yahweh’s abundant mercy, that calling involved something my wife and I had long ached for: the birth of a child. Our own child. Sarai and I were promised a son. This world’s Creator chose to meet my greatest need—something I hadn’t even been aware of—by giving me my heart’s desire. What kindness! What grace!

Your New Testament Scriptures quote our Savior as saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” I tell you, I had never felt such joy in all my life as I did that night. I’m sure I scared half my cattle to death while running and leaping back to my tent, shouting with delight, desperate to share the amazing news with my wife. Yahweh had promised us not only a son, but also a Savior.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

When Pornography Invades “Normal” Entertainment

In this blog series, I’ve been assuming the detrimental nature of porn. The similarities between the sex acts in mainstream entertainment and the sex acts in porn are dangerous only if porn itself is dangerous. So, in order to reach the largest possible audience I can, I want to end this series by briefly putting aside religious considerations and looking at how science-based research alone can help us see porn as a serious “public health issue.” According to Fight the New Drug, porn’s damaging effects can be felt in three spheres.

First, porn use damages our minds. Porn use is addictive. Just like alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and the like, sexually charged media triggers a release of dopamine into the brain. Over time, this chemical response trains our brain to seek more and more enjoyment from whatever caused it. That being the case, porn physically changes our brain. It actually rewires—and damages—our brain so that we need more and more stimuli in order to receive the same amount of pleasure from viewing it.

Second, porn use damages romance. It trains us to view everyone around us as merely sexual objects, hindering our ability to develop healthy relationships. Because porn glorifies sexual infidelity, aggression, and abuse, we end up hurting our spouses, who desire relationships built on faithfulness, sensitivity, and love. Ironically enough, porn also leads to less sex: “Even being exposed to porn just once can make people feel less in love with their significant other,” thus leading to a decreased sexual desire for (and pursuit of) them. To put it another way, porn kills love, since it promotes unrealistic expectations for lovemaking.

Third, porn use damages our society. It creates distrusts between spouses, and emotional distance between parents and children. Speaking of children, porn use among teens and adolescents severely warps their views on sex—sometimes permanently. And even when exposed to nonviolent porn (which is much less common than one might expect), viewers become more verbally and/or physically aggressive, as well as more tolerant of certain forms of societal violence—including rape. To quote therapist John Woods, pornography addiction “is no longer just a private problem. It is a public health problem.”

This problem doesn’t stop with what we typically call pornography. As Dr. Norman Doidge says in his book The Brain That Changes Itself, “[S]oftcore is now what hardcore was a few decades ago …. [It shows] up on mainstream media all day long, in the pornification of everything, including television, rock videos, soap operas, advertisements, and so on.”

Think about it for a minute: what was once considered hard core porn was demoted to soft core porn, and what was once soft core porn is now socially acceptable. Everything is affected—not just R and NC-17 movies. We readily accept the pornification of our entertainment, not because we’re morally superior to past generations but because we’ve grown morally numb. We’re like the frog in the proverbial pot of water: because the temperature is rising so slowly, we are blissfully unaware of the danger we’re in.

And that’s why I’ve written this blog series. As we have seen, there are at least seven similarities between bona fide porn and mainstream sex scenes:
    1.  They both involve sexual acts
    2. They both involve sexual arousal for actors (mostly/especially men)
    3. They both are obscene
    4. They both encourage voyeurism
    5. They both promote unrealistic views of sex
    6. They both encourage sexual lust
    7. They both dehumanize and objectify actors (mostly/especially women)
We shouldn’t dismiss these similarities any more than a shipwrecked seaman should dismiss his only box of supplies floating out to sea. Sure, there are differences between porn and Hollywood sex scenes, but isn’t that something of a moot point? If anything, it only proves to further condemn our acceptance of an overtly sexualized entertainment culture.

In closing, let me appeal once again to a narrower demographic: those who profess membership in the body of Christ. Are we sure that our embrace of sexually explicit entertainment is not a sign of compromise or idolatry? Why are we so prone to defend our movie watching habits with the excuse that what ultimately matters is a film’s message—that the end actually does justify the means? Do we really want to pretend that the pornification of our amusements is morally neutral? Why are our entertainment choices nearly indistinguishable from those who don’t identify as believers in Christ?

To put it more positively, we have a promising alternative to the seven porn-like characteristics of cheap sex offered by the world:
  1. God has provided us a context (i.e., marriage) in which sexual acts are not only allowed but also encouraged. When sought through His provision, sex is far from dirty; rather, it is glorious and beautiful.
  2. Through holy matrimony, the arousal and fulfillment of sexual desires is a sweet gift of grace. Marriage allows us to enjoy great pleasure unaccompanied by the sorrows that follow in lust’s footsteps.
  3. The privacy of the marriage bed provides protection from the contamination of satisfaction found in the obscene.
  4. The personal, first-hand enjoyment of sex far outweighs the fleeting second-hand pleasures found in voyeurism.
  5. The saving and sanctifying power of the gospel allows us to view sex realistically: it is both great and tarnished by sin. Like any other pursuit of pleasure, it is sometimes euphoric and sometimes…normal. We can view sex as a gift from God and avoid the fallacy of treating it like a god; it will never answer our souls’ longing for meaning or purpose.
  6. The beauty of God’s holiness lures us away from the mud pies we once enjoyed in the slums, drawing us into the banquet hall of unending grace. At God’s right hand are great pleasures—not the faulty or fleeting kind, but the kind that go on forever.
  7. God’s grace enables us to view others, not as tools for our own enjoyment, but as men and women made in the image of God. The gospel frees us to love others sacrificially and to experience how it is better to give than to receive—yes, even in the marriage bed.
I implore you to consider that the modern church’s tolerance—and outright support—of sexually explicit entertainment may not be a sign of a healthy engagement with the world. It might actually be a sign that we are captivated by inferior artistic and hedonistic pleasures. It might be a sign that the world is doing a better job at being leaven and darkness than we are at being salt and light.

Previous entry: Dehumanizing Actors for Our Entertainment

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Dehumanizing Actors for Our Entertainment

It’s been called “the most infamous sex scene ever.” The film in which it is found was banned in several countries. The scene is said to have “scandalised [sic] the…movie-goers who actually got to see it.” But no one was as scandalized as Maria Schneider, the young actress who starred in the scene (and the movie). For decency’s sake I won’t give any specifics, but I will quote from an interview with Schneider (linked to above) so we can better understand the trauma she went through. (Note: the article contains a risqué picture.)

“That scene wasn’t in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon [Brando] who came up with the idea,” she says.

“They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry.

“I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that.

“Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.

“I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by [Director] Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologise [sic]. Thankfully, there was just one take.”

Specific scenarios like this—filming impromptu sex scenes—are unlikely to take place today. But that’s a small comfort to many modern-day thespians. The prevalence of nudity and sex scenes in mainstream film and television scripts places a huge amount of pressure on actors. As I’ve detailed before, this pressure often leads people to violate their consciences in order to get ahead in the entertainment industry.

Do these experiences match those of porn actors? As part of my answer, let me quote from the book The Hardcore Truth: An Ex-Porn Producer Reveals 10 Myths About Pornography. The book is in the format of an interview, in which Matt Fradd asks Donny Pauling about his experience producing porn for nine years.

Donny: People ask me now, “Are you attracted to porn?” and I say, “What’s attractive about a girl curled up in a corner in a ball, sucking her thumb in a fetal position because her mind is so blown by what she just went through?”

Matt: This is the stuff you would see while on set?

Donny: Absolutely, you see things like this. You see girls break down crying. I would have a camera focused on a girl, and there would be tears coming out of her eyes.

Matt: What would happen in that situation? I suppose you would have to re-apply the makeup?

Donny: Yeah, we would just have to stop for a while and let her collect herself. And it depended on my attitude that day. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for this. “Come on, knock this off. We have work to do here.” People believe the myth that [porn is] glamorous and it’s just not. You don’t hear about all the things that happen in the lives of these girls and how they break down—and even the guys in the business. They hide it a little bit better, but it’s definitely not a glamorous thing.

So we see that actors who sexually act out for the camera—whether it’s in the world of porn or the world of mainstream cinema—can experience similar feelings of humiliation, shock, and grief. Phrases like “I felt a little raped” and “[girls] curled up in a corner in a ball” are damning descriptions. They reveal an intense form of psychological and sexual abuse, as well as a calloused disinterest on the part of filmmakers.

Let’s try an experiment. Below, I’m going to quote from several industry insiders about their experiences. See if you can guess which examples are related to pornography and which are related to major motion pictures.

1.     “I want to be known for my acting, not for my breasts.”

2.     “I know how many of the women in these scenes (and probably men too, you just don’t hear from them) have talked about throwing up in the bathroom between scenes, crying, stressing out constantly, etc. . . . I know no other culture more willing to use people and throw them away.”

3.     The industry has a way of making you bitter – it teaches you not to trust people and it ages you.”

4.     One article states that, for most actors in this business, filming sex scenes is “a necessary evil.”

5.     “If I never had to do it again that would be the best thing. You’re worried about what the other person is feeling, you’re worried about what the crew are thinking, whether they’re really uncomfortable, whether you’re uncomfortable. You’re just thinking, ‘God let this be over.’ [These scenes are] generally just mortifying or humiliating.”

6.     “It’s very traumatic, it really is. It never gets easier.”

7.     “I was absolutely terrified and had no idea what was going on. I cried afterwards because I was thinking, ‘This isn’t acting, what am I doing?’”

8.     “You can’t really get over the embarrassment. I know [some] people…do things like drinking shots before filming, but I handle them by not really watching them afterwards.”

What is your guess? Which examples are from the world of porn and which are from film/television? Here’s the breakdown:

The last five come from an article I’ve linked to previously*:

  • The “necessary evil” quote (Number 4) is a general statement of the writer
  • Number 5 is from actress Claire Foy
  • Number 6 is from actress Natalie Dormer
  • Number 7 is from actress Ruta Gedmintas
  • Number 8 is from actress Cléménce Poesy

Of the above eight examples, only one of them is about the porn industry; all the rest deal with mainstream entertainment.

Now, some could argue that not every actor expresses shock or shame when faced with a sex scene. For what it’s worth, they’re right. Scarlett Johansson, for example, is quoted as saying, “Shooting those sorts of scenes always ends up being more funny than anything else.” But we need to be careful here. If you want to employ the excuse that “not everyone feels this way,” let me ask you two questions.

First, what exactly is your point? If you’re trying to prove me wrong, you’re arguing against something I’ve not even said. It’s never been my intention to pretend that these experiences are universal—only that they are prevalent. Movie patrons need to know what kinds of behind-the-scenes actions their money is supporting.

Second, when you argue that “not everyone feels this way,” what does that say about you? Do you mean that treating actors like pieces of meat isn’t a real problem unless it’s done 100% of the time? That dehumanizing actors is acceptable in Hollywood so long as it’s practiced in moderation? That actors should just accept sexual objectification as a normal hardship of stardom? I don’t see how such a stance can be anything but a form of moral negligence. It’s irresponsible—at best.

God created humans in His own image. Objectifying and dehumanizing them is bad enough, but doing so for our entertainment is sick and sinful. It shows a disregard for the second greatest commandment of all time: to love our neighbor as ourselves. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to a higher standard. For the glory of God and the good of humankind, let us show greater, Christ-like love to those whose consciences are being sacrificed on the altar of our amusement.

Previous entry: A Breeding Ground for Lust

* http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/my-mums-going-to-see-this-actors-and-actresses-reveal-secrets-of-the-sex-scenes-7658255.html (Because this article has what some would consider indecent visual content, I’m not providing a hyperlink to it.)