Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why I will not watch "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"

Recently, while playing video games online, a friend of mine asked if I had seen (or intended to see) the new Will Ferrell move about a NASCAR driver who…has some problems. My response was abrupt (as we were just about to start the game), and I stated that I would not see this movie. Why? The answer is simple. I am not going to go to this movie when I can see clear blasphemy in the preview. The movie (as the preview sells it) is about a NASCAR driver named Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) and his various adventures in the NASCAR world. One of the overarching themes is that the main character is kind of a doofus which is no surprise when considering Will Ferrell is known for his humorous roles. There seems to be a conflict when a rival driver named Jean Girard challenges Ricky Bobby for NASCAR supremacy, but there is no indication of this in the previews on TV (at least that I have seen).1

So far, this doesn’t seem like a bad movie. I like funny movies (sometimes the dryer or “dumber” the humor makes it better). I have found Will Ferrell funny when I’ve seen him in other venues. So what did I find blasphemous in the preview? There is a scene where Ferrell apparently thinks that he is on fire (though he is not) and he is running across the race track in nothing but his helmet and underpants. This paints a pretty funny scene of a hallucinating man running half naked on a race track that is (probably) currently in use. The problem comes when the camera cuts to a close-up of his face where he is yelling for aid. “Help me Jesus! Help me Oprah Winfrey! Help me Tom Cruise!”

I can understand the idea behind the humor in this scene. Oprah Winfrey is (whether she knows, admits, or understands) a New Age guru of self esteem who has publicly maligned the exclusiveness of Christ,2 and Tom Cruise is peculiar person especially when it comes to Scientology. Cruise and John Travolta are the most visible and notable members of the religion known as Scientology. As to the specific reason why these two people were picked instead of a myriad of other people or religious figures, I do not know. But the reason or the rationale is not my concern; it is the outcome that most concerns me.

My friend asked me how this scene was blasphemous. He had actually seen the movie twice and didn’t think anything was that bad. So, I explained my revulsion in this way:

Blasphemy is not just cursing and using the name of our LORD as the primary curse word (I’m not going to give any examples, because you know what I mean), but it is taking the name of the Lord in vain (Exodus 20:7). You can do this in so many ways in word and deed. It seems to me that the “name of the LORD” refers not just to the Names that God attributes to Himself (Yahweh, Adonai, Jesus, etc.) although it includes this, definitely, but the “name of the LORD” in a more broad sense refers to the character and nature of God Himself. And one of the chief characteristics of God is that He is like no other. And placing the name of the sinless Son of God in the same breath with modern day prophets of pagan and demonic religious ideas is an utter offense.

If someone were making the case for the exclusivity of Christ and the marvelousness of the sinless Lamb of God and commenting that crying out to Christ is effective and will be answered, but calling out to Oprah Winfrey or Tom Cruise or the gods that they represent is utterly wasted breath and the sin of idolatry, then it may be an acceptable use of the name of our LORD. But not in a flippant, slapstick, arrogant, and disrespectful moment just to get a laugh from an audience whose guard has been disarmed because of their laughter.

Is this a critical, maybe too critical, look at one line from one scene in a 30 – 60 second preview of a movie? Perhaps. But, doesn’t our God. who lowered Himself to be made like one of us and who so willingly endured the torment of hell on behalf of those who would turn from their sin and believe in Him, deserve more care in the use of His name and the maligning of His character and nature than my own reputation or the reputation of my wife and children? If someone were trying to get a laugh and used the names of two harlots and then used the name of my wife in the same breath, wouldn’t I have just cause to be offended on her behalf? Shouldn’t I defend her honor by speaking out? How much would I show her my affection, love, and devotion if I went to see the movie and said, “Sure that may not have been the best way to talk about my wife, but it sure was funny. Don’t you think, honey?” Or try it with your children (or nieces or nephews), and laugh at someone making fun of them publicly and see the hurt and you will see the sting of betrayal in their eyes. No. No man who is worth a wife and children, friends or family, would sit by and laugh at such an offensive abuse of the person who he loves. If we wouldn’t dare offend our family by acting in such a callous way, listen again to the words of Christ and let them work on your heart, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37)

I made the mistake of sinning against my conscience in this way with another comedy, and I will not do it again. A few years ago, a close person in my life, and a brother in the Lord, told me about this movie that he went to see that was very funny. I was immediately interested because I thoroughly enjoy funny things. Well, the movie in question was Bruce Almighty. Basically, it is a story where God (played by Morgan Freeman) endows Bruce Nolan (Jim Carey) with all divine powers for a certain time. In the movie, Nolan uses his new power for selfish reasons and ends up finding that it is hard to be God. The problem that I had initially was with the concept of a human being given the powers of deity. I found it an offensive concept that, I felt, mocked the singularity and the holiness of God.

Well, this brother in the Lord and I talked and my concerns were disarmed by the humor and by his affirmation that the movie wasn’t that bad. So, I saw it. I watched it the first time and I was concerned with some of the contents, but it was very funny. I was more concerned with the universalism and other moral ambiguities (like God not having a problem with Nolan living with his girlfriend and once he is given the powers of God, Nolan then uses them to fornicate with her) that were so prevalent. But, it was just too funny and so I watched a few more times, and each time I was less and less offended by those same things. Well, fast forward to about 3 months ago when my wife and I, anxious to relax and watch a movie together, pick Bruce Almighty off the shelf. As any parent will attest, it is not often that one or both parties make it through an entire movie at the end of a long day, so we stopped in the middle somewhere and were going to head off to bed. Between that time and the next evening I wrestled with the issue of the blasphemous nature of this movie once again. I concluded that I could not in good conscience finish the movie nor watch it again because it is so utterly offensive to God. I will not make this mistake again with “Talladega Nights” and I encourage all Christians to examine what we put into our minds not on the basis of “it’s not that bad,” compared to other movies, but on the basis of how bad or good it is compared to God and His righteousness.

Can we then watch any movie? I honestly don’t know. But if we stop the idea that I am entitled or deserve to watch movies or TV, then we may just have a better mindset to choose what we do or do not watch.

As an aside:

I find it interesting and sad that people are so casual about defaming Christ in public. Can you imagine the fallout if instead of using Christ’s name that they would have used Muhammad or Allah. Or what if the name of God was used that was explicitly tied to Judaism instead of Christianity? Did you see what happened to Mel Gibson when he spouted anti-Semitic remarks to a police officer? He was lambasted, and rightly so, in the media. You cannot mock Allah or Muhammad. You cannot mock Jews or even imply that Jews (the Sanhedrin) are responsible for the death of Christ as we saw from the pre-release fallout for “The Passion of The Christ”. But, you can mock Jesus Christ. It is a sad day in America that Christians will have less zeal to defend the name of the True God than the followers of false religions.

1 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0415306/plotsummary

2 This was seen in a video clip from Oprah’s TV show. http://www.wfial.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=resources.oprah


Stu said...

This is a good discussion on what is wholesome to us. My wife and I have not seen a movie for a very long time, at home or theater. The last one we saw was Chronicles of Narnia. I have really enjoyed movies, and at times I wish I still had time to watch a movie.

Traditionally, some within the conservative Christians of the 1950's and 1960's argued against movies on a variety of levels. These arguments were passed down through the 1970's and 1980's in similar forms. With the advent of cable and VCRs and now DVDs, the movie issue has somewhat disappeared from serious discussion. Why? the privacy of one's home is off limits.

During the 50's and 60's the emphasis seems to have been on external issues: movie theaters, dancing, drinking, rock music and playing cards. For in that era we witnessed the advent of marketing that came with extra income and time among the youth in particular. Therefore, their pubic behavior became an issue worth addressing. This generation of protectors passed down external values without the internalization of those values.

Fred Mortiz wrote a book [Be Ye Holy, The Call to Christian Separation] in the 90's to address the broader issue: holiness. Believers in all ages have been called to holy and pure living because their God is Holy and Pure [Lev. 20:7; 1 Peter 1:15-16]. I understood and appreciated Dr. Mortiz's book, but it failed to make a connect with me and many of my peers. We could not argue against it, but we could not put into our own words what would be better.

What I believe was missing was a worldview development that stems or flows from the theological position. Dr. Mortiz called us to separation, so he attempted to draw a conclusion from the clear teaching of our God's Holiness. I believe one cannot fully deal with the application of theology until one has dealt with and understood the worldview that should flow from that theology.

Scripture provides the best answer in this area. I am reminded of Psalms 1 and Psalm 101. I just read 101 today. Verse 3 says, "I will set no wicked thing before my eye." The Scriptures deal with worldview issues. Systematic theologies deals with categories. We need to press our theologican and teachers to develop worldviews.

Therefore, I will attempt to have the attitude and actions of the psalmist who choose to set among the godly and avoid the wicked. Most of entertainment today falls into the category of the wicked.

je said...

I grew up in a home where movie theaters were simply beyond the pale (per Stu's comments). I was aghast to find out that my father once went to the local theater (after I left home) to see The Patriot. (He is a self-proclaimed patriot.)

I have also pondered the fact that the Scriptures contain very little teaching on the issue of entertainment. Partly due to the fact that survival as an individual and a family took so much effort in the pre-industrial economy, but largely, I dare say, because the religious ceremonial pilgrimages and feasts served entertainment purposes as well as worship. I fear that nearly all believers get sucked into the vortex of the modern culture's obsession with entertainment, and dearly pay for it in blunted spiritual appetites, at best, or shipwrecked faith in many cases.

One imponderable in our circles is the sensitive conscience about sex and immodesty in "permissible" movies, but the wholesale embrace of violence. If indeed people are made in God's image, even villians retain that. It seems indefensible to watch trumped up heros annihilate supposed villians or beat them bloody, when both are wicked sinners, and both bear the image of their Creator. This factor was alleviated for me with Lord of the Rings, because the violence was against inhuman beasts!

The way the Lord's name is invoked as a curse in movies is simply revolting to me. Smut is one thing, but to fling His holy name into the sewer is a blasphemy that turns my blood cold.

Off my soap box and on to something else.

je said...

"To go against my conscience is neither right nor safe," said Martin Luther.

EJ said...

I love that quote from Martin Luther!

I grew up scoffing at some of the separation or Puritanism when it came to watching movies. Part of it might have been that that I saw the hypocrisy in it: the very family that didn't have TV in their home would do nothing but watch movies almost the entire time when we would get together.

But I am getting more convinced of the deadly nature of the "entertainment" that we so readily consume. I heard something once about the emergent movement that basically said that if you (as an emergent leader) can make people laugh, you can get past any "issues" that they have with the gospel, and they'll believe. Well, this may work on some level and produce "results" but I am convinced that no one is truly transformed without the gospel breaking down the barriers in minds and hearts, not going around them. The same thing is true about entertainment. Sitcoms have some of the most vile and offensive morals and ethics and other things that they promote, but we suck it all in because it is funny. And if it is funny, then it isn't that serious.... But the problem is, after laughing at fornication for too long, it is hard to see it as a sin (because it's normal and funny).

St_Michael_the_Archangel said...

I honestly think this is just yet another good example of the extremism of Fundamentalism gone amock. Why can't you just enjoy a movie without reading all into it... when you are in need of something... don't you pray to God to help you? WHy do you have to take one line, rip it apart and make something out of it thats maybe not the originial intent. That just goes to show once again, how fundamentalists ripped the bible apart and without the proper authority translated it to their liking...

EJ said...

If you've seem the movie you can answer this for me: Was the line "help me Jesus" supposed to be understood as a reverent use of our LORD's name? Was it a genuine plea for help to God who alone can save? I doubt it because in the same breath, Ferrell sought help from Oprah and Tom Cruise. So in that sense, I did not rip apart the movie or this clip from its immediate context, nor do I rip apart the bible.

This is not Fundamentalism gone astray; it is an attempt to apply the Word of God in all situations.

Michael, I would think that you, as a Catholic, would agree with me that we need to esteem Christ's name in all situations. And that a casual mocking of His precious name is not something that we should ever take lightly.

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