Religion, Media, and Movies: A Passion for Theatrics
Introduction: A Road Map
For decades, media sources have long been a dictator of how people perceive the world around them. People, events, opinions, and beliefs have played center stage in media outlets such as movies, TV shows, news broadcasts, radio, and various literary platforms. Religion, its history, and its people are frequently portrayed in the media through the means listed above. Some of the most famous and infamous interpretations of religion have stemmed from the media. Such media interpretations lead to questions surrounding the importance and consequences of such presentations and how they impact greater religious discussions.
In this paper I will start by identifying prominent Christian authors and some of the religious debates they address in their writings. I will follow by addressing the lack of discussion surrounding how media, specifically movies, affect religious debate and why such a discussion is important. I will examine Mel Gibson’s controversial 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ and analyze its interpretation of the Gospel and other religious texts in relationship to the movie portrayal of the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life. I will conclude by surmising why The Passion of the Christ is a model case in media interpretation of religion and why such interpretations can be problematic in how they relate to greater religious discussion.
State of the Debate
In examining the current state of Christian debates it is important to examine two of the most heated topics being discussed by some of the most prominent authors of our time. The first of these two debates relates to biblical interpretation and how biblical interpretations affect a person’s religious identity. The second debate disuses whether one’s religious identity or religious actions should play into other, more secular, arenas of their life. Authors Kristin Swenson and Timothy Beal both write about biblical interpretation and it’s place in society. Both Swenson and Beal agree in their respective works Bible Babel and The Rise and Fall of the Bible, that taking the bible literally in the modern world is quite foolish. Beal asserts that consumerism is “stretching” the word of the bible and the ideas presented taking the bible to it’s “breaking points” (Beal 21). However, Beal likes this. He feels it is necessary in order to approach the bible in new and relevant ways. Kristin Swenson feels similarly, however she approaches the subject of biblical interpretation and its place in today’s culture by providing her readers with a background of the bible in an attempt “to help readers understand and evaluate for themselves biblical references; and to appreciate how people can get so riled up about it” (Swenson XVII).
The second debate discusses religious identity, religious action, and their purposes outside of religious society. Prominent Christian writer William Schaeffer writes about his views of whether or not one’s Christian identity should permeate into the secular aspects of their life in his book A Christian Manifesto. Schaeffer cannot understand why devote Christians would ever attempt to separate their religious life from their secular societal life. He asserts, “Christianity is not just a series of truths but Truth—Truth about all of reality. And the holding of that Truth intellectually—and then in some poor way
living upon that Truth, the Truth of what is—brings forth not only certain personal results, but also governmental and legal results” (Shaeffer 20). Conversely, Bill Moyers, a veteran journalist, strongly believes that there should be a clear separation of church and state. In his book Moyers on Democracy Moyers asserts his concern regarding the vigor with which people attach their religious views to their political views. He uses the religious
“Right” as an example stating “the religious Right has become the base of one of America’s...
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