God-Shaped Hole

As they did in the beginning, Passover and Holy Week coincide this year, and yet not one major film being released for the season has anything whatsoever to do with religion. Nowhere is popular entertainment more bizarrely alienated from the lives of ordinary people than in the matter of God. Why should this be?

If they make them, we will come.

Let me answer with a personal story. When my Young Adult thriller novel, The Long Way Home, was submitted to my British publishers, they tried to delete many of the references to the hero’s religious faith. My British editor feared that Waterstone’s—the UK’s biggest bookstore chain—would be reluctant to carry a book with an overtly Christian hero.

Now, I’m careful not to preach in these novels. I merely allow my narrator, Charlie West, to act and think as he would in life. For instance, in the book’s opening, Charlie takes 200 dollars off an assassin who tried to kill him. “Yes, I know the Ten Commandments,” Charlie tells us, “and yes, I know you’re not supposed to steal. But this didn’t feel like stealing.” The Brits wanted to cut the reference to the Ten Commandments.

I refused to allow these changes. I felt they were bigoted and absurd. As a result, my British editor says, Waterstone’s did indeed order far fewer copies of this book than they had ordered of its prequel, despite that earlier book’s success.

Pop culture’s negative portrayal of religion, especially Christianity, is not some accidental oversight. It’s purposeful, the result of hostile intent. Things aren’t quite as bad in the US yet as in Britain, but here too, those in charge of creating our entertainments are clearly at odds with the beliefs of their audience. More than three quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christians while people of other religions make up about another five percent. Even among those with no religion, only a very small number say they are atheists. God plays a role in most American lives.

Yet very few heroes in popular culture have any relationship to God whatsoever. Popular heroes rarely go to church or make spiritual references or even send up a quick prayer in times of trouble. Even in stories where religion would naturally play a major role in the hero’s life—say, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line—God is edited down to a few seconds of screen time. When religion does take a central place in a story, it’s usually as a sign of hypocrisy, bigotry, fanaticism or fraud.

Not only is this wholly unrealistic, it’s bad business too. Stories about faith make money. If any other sort of picture had had the profit-to-cost ratio of Passion of the Christ or Fireproof, Hollywood would have jumped on the bandwagon. But there is no imitative spate of religious films. Far from it. A major release like the Blind Side is almost shockingly radical in its rare portrayal of the positive way Christianity works in most people’s lives.

Shakespeare said the purpose of art is “to hold the mirror up to nature.” But the purpose of most American art is to depict the world as a small coterie of elites believe it should be in the hopes we will be indoctrinated into going along. Religion stands opposed to that elitist worldview because it elevates the wisdom of faith and simple decency over intellectual narcissism and moral preening. Or to put it another way, faith is committed to reality. Thus God will return to our culture when artists find the independent spirit and courage to show life as it is.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • Kevin Rush

    Beautifully stated, Andrew. As a writer of religiously-based fiction, I commend your outspokenness on this vital subject.

  • Pingback: ANDREW KLAVAN: Why is God missing from pop culture? « Snow Report Blog

  • hollywoodron

    God: The belief that no man can take away your rights.

    Even on the History Channel, biopics about our founding fathers, George Washington, not a single mention of his religion. Just a lot of slavery, possible cowardice mistakes, & his dentures. I was floored, any kid watching that… will hate & be ashamed of his country…

  • Gordon

    I read your piece just to take a break from re-writing my “noirish thriller set in the world of college football” screenplay. Not exactly the Blind Side.

    It’s the first time I’ve touched it since my conversion. Now that I know my characters are made in the God’s image, my standard clever noir-nihilistic ending turns out to be a lie. So everything changes. Darkness becomes the ruined grandeur of God’s child. And I keep thinking today, how far can I go? Do I dare mention conscience (except as cultural artifact of Jews and Catholics), much less God? Then I read “just show life as it is.” Indeed. Perfect. Thank you.

  • Bugs

    The reason is simple: To the producers of pop culture (and many of its consumers), God and religion are no fun. Putting Christians or Christianity in a movie would be like casting your nagging parents, your nagging teacher (not to mention the goody-two-shoes teacher’s pet that she *didn’t* nag), your nagging boss, your nagging conscience – everyone who keeps you from doing whatever you want to do. Movies and television are supposed to help you ESCAPE from all these authority figures, to let you forget about them for a while.

    Of course, putting religious Jews and Muslims and Buddhist and Hindus in movies and TV shows is ok. They’re all exotic, foreign religions that never had us by our collective Western balls – spiritually speaking. We can partake of their arcane wisdom voluntarily, without our parents or society or the Church Lady nagging us about it. They never had any authority over us, so they’re safe. Approaching Christianity, however, feels like an actual loss of hard-earned personal freedom.

    That’s my phony-baloney theory, anyway…

  • keta

    You’re correct. I’m hoping for a RC-themed child-rape/slasher film to appear forthwith!

    All tatsefully shot, of course.

  • Aaron

    God wouldn’t be caught dead in Hollywood.

  • Anthony

    Brilliant little piece. Well stated and sound.

  • http://moviebob.blogspot.com/ Bob Chipman

    In 2006, New Line made (quite excellent) “The Nativity Story” SPECIFICALLY to be released and marketed to Christian audiences over the Christmas season. But because it didn’t come pre-sanctified by the christian/conservative punditry class like “Passion” or even “Blind Side” (both pathetic excuses for filmmaking, incidentally) had, it was not a success.

    Hostility cuts both ways, and modern secular civilization didn’t “start” this fight.

  • Kevin Stowell

    He was never invite and, because of His libertarian bent, does not go where He’s not wanted, unlike Illiberal/Regressives/Secular-statists. You da’ man, Andrew.

  • http://Whatever Jonny

    Religion is for those who are ignorant regarding the last five hundred years of scientific discovery. Religion was invented to answer questions and put the inquirers to these question at ease, now that such questions have been answered, what need do we have for religion besides that of tradition. The ‘elite’ or educated understand that religio0n is obsolete because they learned in school, the answers to the questions that religion attempts to answer. absurdly answer.

  • jsm

    Jonny, I was tempted to press forth with an apologetic response to your comment; something including obligatory references to Newton, Paschal, Huygens and Heisenberg, etc. I was also tempted to ask if you learned in school the ultimate cause of the “big bang”. But, I finally decided to simply point out that, in your zeal to bash religious folks as ignorant, you completely bypassed the real point of the article, ” God plays a role in most American lives. Yet very few heroes in popular culture have any relationship to God whatsoever.” It doesn’t really matter what you think of religion. The point is that pop culture media doesn’t reflect the realities of the culture. With respect to religion, art decidedly does not imitate life.

  • Mo

    @ Andrew – excellent article. I have always thought that if an alien were to come to earth and learn about human beings only through pop culture, they would have no way of knowing that God even exists. Or at least, that many people believe He exists. Unless it’s in a negative way, there’s rarely (if ever) mention of God in our music, TV and movies.

    @ Kevin Stowell – Point taken – well done!

  • SeeingDouble

    Wow, Jonny, you’re as profound as a college freshman a semester in.

    Hollywood doesn’t follow the money. They follow their biases and hope money follows them.

  • K

    Religion is for those who are ignorant regarding the last five hundred years of scientific discovery.

    As a professional physicist, who is not ignorant of the last five hundred years of scientific discovery, I assure you your statement is wrong. It shows a complete misunderstanding, or more likely ignorance, of what scientific method is and how it works. This is why until relatively recently people who practiced the scientific method more often than not proudly referred to themselves as “agnostics”. This is, in fact, the correct position for anyone who wants to adopt scientific method as their only window on the world.

    What you are expressing is the opinion of philosophers who acknowledge that scientific method structurally can never find ultimate truth, but decided to just pretend that it can because, well things are just more tidy that way. This is a religious assumption.

    Now I don’t have any arguments with their religion, but have to disagree when they start advertising it as something that it isn’t as you do here.

  • FreeThinker

    I don’t need “GOD” in my movies thank you (Or shoved down our throats).

  • Laughing

    Free Thinker, it’s interesting that you say that. All Hollywood seems interested in doing any more is shoving anti-American, sex-obsessed, self-worshiping propaganda down our throats. Perhaps it would be better to worry about what IS getting shoved down your throat, rather than pouting over the very rare religious theme in a movie. Not to step on your toes, or anything.

  • Shane

    Oustanding article, Andrew. I can only wish there were more out there like this one. Is it possible to take, say, five of the “most popular” shows on tv today and find any positive references to Christianity? Just a thought, but we would probably have to do a LOT of digging…

  • victoria algra

    Even when Hollywood bypasses God,He is still on the throne and probably not concerned.I don’t think His feelings are hurt.
    The vast galaxy we live in is spinning at 490,000 miles an hour.But even at this speed our galaxy still needs 200 million years to make one rotation.And BTW there are over a billion other galaxies just like ours in the universe.And we try to figure Him out!To say it all just “evolved” or “happend” requires more ” FAITH” than to believe God is behind the creation of it all.He’s creative, He created it.Our minds might not grasp these concepts.Indefine periods of time for creation and an orderly fashion.But its His LOVE for us as humans that he chose it.We need him.He loves us. Hollywood probably can’t grasp that fact.We have worth and dignity and we have value.Imagine that! There is so much material..it must boggle the best writers minds… Someone needs to get on it…Meanwhile,God is the best script writer ever… Check it out…Passover,Holy week,Easter… LOVE and Redemption… a world of majistic power and purpose?? Who could write this stuff!! Only the DEVINE!!!

  • Chris

    Here’s an analogy: You don’t usually see people in movies stop during their day to eat food or to go to the bathroom. But everyone alive does those things.

    Similarly, I think that Wyatt Earp might have stopped in to a local chapel or said a prayer before strapping on his gun. But the normality of that activity never made it into “My Darling Clementine”.

    So I appreciate that you notice that a good thing people usually do is not portrayed in movies. I’m not so sure it is the result of a conspiracy. I think the movie script writers may just see it as banal or not worthy of commentary. And they have cinematic history to back them up on that account.

    (It was portrayed in the D-Day scene in “Saving Private Ryan”. Maybe that is one of the things that made the scene more realistic?)

  • T

    Religion isn’t the problem. Christ is the problem.

  • http://www.jimeo.blogspot.com Jim OSullivan

    Point of Order:
    I thought a “prequel” was a work that is issued after another, although it concerns events that took place previous to those in the original. For example, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was prequel to Raider of the Lost Ark . TD came out after RotLA, but told a story that took place earlier in Indiana Jones’ life. Of course, I’ve never written a work of fiction, let alone two ( no expense account jokes, please) so I claim no expertise. Have I been wrong all these years?

  • pst314

    “You don’t usually see people in movies stop during their day to eat food…”

    What strange movies you’ve been seeing. Meals and eating are ubiquitous.

  • pst314

    “a good thing people usually do is not portrayed in movies.”

    Religious activity used to be appear frequently in movies, whether it be prayer, worship in church, or the faith-based activities of priests, ministers and nuns. What’s changed is Hollywood’s attitude to religion (especially Christianity.)

  • Pingback: A really good post by Andrew Klavan. « The Last Post for Freedom

  • Hopscotch

    I work for a Waterstones bookshop in the UK. We have a huge selection of books for people who believe angels are real and talk to them through their dreams. We also have compendiums of explicit erotica. We occasionally carry David Icke’s stuff. I honestly don’t think the company discriminates over any content whatsoever. I’d be surprised to learn that our buying department even reads books before ordering, it seems mainly done through press buzz, demand and previous sales.

    So ignore your British editor and express yourself in whatever way seems most comfortable and enjoyable for you, because in the current economic climate the only thing that is going to increase orders at Waterstones is if you find a way to put a female vampire on the book cover.

  • Pingback: The Pop Culture War on God « Counterculture Con HQ

  • http://www.lcweekly.com Margaret Evans

    Andrew, great post. I’m so glad you stuck to your guns and let Charlie act like Charlie. What annoys me most is this carefully enforced separation between “art” and “Christian art.” What I’m looking for from Hollywood – and the publishing world, etc. – is not more “Christian art,” a la “The Nativity” or “Passion of the Christ,” but more mainstream art (and entertainment) that takes religion into account, honestly reflecting the fact that it’s a part of most people’s lives. For some of us, it’s the foundation of everything we do… the guiding force of our lives. For others, it’s just something “nice” we do on occasion. But for most of us, it’s at least there, in some form. But you’d never know it from watching a mainstream Hollywood film, reading most bestsellers, or listening to popular music. Bad for business, yes. And it’s also artistically dishonest.

  • http://www.lcweekly.com Margaret Evans

    And for those who find religion “boring”… or “a drag”…. you have have a very limited understanding of the topic. Start reading. I recommend C.S. Lewis for starters. The Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity. But that’s just my personal taste. There’s something out there for everybody! Religion/Spirituality is an infinitely fascinating topic once you start digging. And it might just change your life forever.

  • http://readingteen.blogspot.com/ Andye @ Reading Teen

    This is a fantastic post! As a reader and a mother I have been looking for books that have more Christian overtones without being “preachy” like some Christian lit can be. This has been extremely difficult. It seems like, especially in YA, books either have very disturbing behavior, or they’re labeled and sold as Christian. This doesn’t seem consistent with the US as a whole. I don’t know why characters can’t have Christian beliefs without the book being considered Christian lit.

  • Steve Dishman

    Well said,Mr. Klavan. I liked the Blind Side a lot and I really think films need to show the positive infleunce God has in a lot of our lives. I know he has with me and I praise him as much as possible.

  • Home School Mom

    Great article. Shared it with my daughter. Thanks for not shying away from the truth. Btw, my kids and I loved The Last Thing I Remember and The Long Way Home. Keep ‘em coming!

  • glow

    Hollywood’s bias is very limiting; the same old recycled storylines bore the heck out of me. Were it not for the endless stream of fresh viewers they’d be out of business. So little of quality coming from that quarter…
    …the one thing that eludes me is the motive or impetus. Probably just the arrogance of the literati–still, such complete solidarity is rarely incidental, and they’ve been at it since what? Forever?
    Go figure, mortals trying to marginalize God. Now I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

  • Howard Grayson

    Thorough and thoughtfully presented, this.

    Funny how often “religion” is used to replace “Faith” in your mailbag. I don’t think the creator, God, and all he’s wrought, intended to be fully “known” by followers or “the faithful.” Furthermore, he seems to have pretty carefully assured himself that we’ll never know what he has in mind for us until we get there.

    Conjecture all you want about the details but until you’re up against the end, the best you can hope for is a pleasant surprise you weren’t sure would be there! To deny the structure and simple existence of all this “stuff,” planets, galaxies, space, time-without end, stc., around us is ludicrous. To say that it all just happened, is to open up so many more questions it’s almost ridiculous! To claim that all this that we “know” of, just kind of accidentally fell into place, is absurd on it’s own merits.

  • Steve

    “Shakespeare said the purpose of art is “to hold the mirror up to nature.” But the purpose of most American art is to depict the world as a small coterie of elites believe it should be in the hopes we will be indoctrinated into going along. ”

    Now that there’s a pull quote. Spot-on, Andrew.

  • Christian Louboutin

    I caught the tail carry out of your new show last day and was laughing out loudly in the event you have been demonstrating to viewers the right way to obvious their tongues. There is really Christian Louboutin an carry out produced by some clever man or girls to accomplish the job. My mom and father have utilized it because i experienced been a wee babe, I am now 40, plus they obtained it in India. It is produced from metal as well as you scrape it within back again of your tongue toward tip.