What makes a piece of art or music or cinematography ‘Christian’? Sometimes the ‘Christian’ label is slapped onto all sorts of things, from cookies to car insurance, simply because the thing in question was made or sold by a professing Christian. Does Christian involvement in the production of a thing or performance of an action, make that thing/action Christian? What if the same thing/action was produced by an atheist? Is there such a thing as a Christian cookie? What makes the contents Christian? What makes a film ‘Christian’?
Film is a great divider when it comes to ‘Christian’ labelling. Some view the medium itself as inherently bad. Some point to pornographic or violent content in a film as evidence that the film in question is bad and therefore ‘unChristian.’ Some films are called ‘Christian’ because they are made by Christians, others because they contain clear biblical themes. What sort of content in a film truly qualifies it to be called Christian?
I am squeamish when it comes to violence on TV. I don’t like watching it, I don’t like remembering it, and I feel equally uncomfortable watching sexually intimate scenes in films. Nonetheless, I can’t help reflecting on the fact that all the things moralists (often Christians!) typically profess to hate in film also feature prominently in the Bible: violence and violent death, incest, adultery, suicide, heterosexual rape and the threat of homosexual rape, unresolved angst… In short, pretty much every kind of immoral, compromising and complex human behaviour out there. True, the Bible contains a strong and compelling theme of redemption, but like films which are often described as ‘gritty’ or ‘real’, Scripture speaks to the human condition not by outlining esoteric avenues for escape (not every story in the Bible ends on a spiritual ‘high’) but by going into the details of people’s real lives: rejoicing over births and weddings, describing real fear of real enemies, lamenting suffering and death, celebrating goodness and beauty, delighting in and being frustrated by God, sometimes in response to a God who has revealed himself, sometimes in response to a God who seems absent. There is a great deal of irresolution on the small scale in the Bible, if not the big. Short stories of injustice and despair are offset by a much bigger story, the central story, of love and redemption.
It would make for grim, gritty, ‘adult’ viewing if the biblical story of David was transferred to the silver screen. Does that make it any the less Christian? Maybe it’s not necessary for a film to go by the title “The Life of Christ” or to have a Shawshank Redemption finale in order to qualify as ‘Christian.’ Personally, I wonder not that the story of humanity is so depraved, but that for every historical incident of evil, there is a historical story of equal and greater redemption.