It’s been a month now since I’ve posted here. I feel like I should apologize, but the truth is, I’m not terribly sorry for it. I only tend to write when I feel like I have something profound to say, and I haven’t felt that way much lately.
The short story I mentioned a month ago (and said I’d have ready in a couple days) is still in progress. I’m hoping to get further into it later today.
But that’s not the reason I’m writing now. I’m writing because, finally, I feel like I have something to say.
It stems from a post on one of my regular political blog reads PowerLine. The post was very short and simple, about the new action movie out in theaters this weekend, “The Kingdom.”
The post notes the Saudi Kingdom’s ties to terrorism, and the movie’s dubious assertion that the Saudis are our “partners” in combating terrorism. PowerLine’s conclusion, “skip the film.”
This is, to me, symptomatic of many conservatives’ approach to Hollywood, and more broadly, to life in general.
In attempting to differentiate from the relativism so prominent in liberal circles, conservatives, as the arbiters and protectors of absolute truth, often seem to want to protect that truth by eliminating access to anything else.
Take, for example, the movies “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Da Vinci Code” or “Brokeback Mountain,” just to name a couple examples.
Each of these movies contains themes that are anathema to the average conservative, so the conservative solution is to boycott the films, encourage others to do likewise, while simultaneously excoriating them, along with those who created them and those who go to see them.
I’ve seen all three, and for the life of me I can’t figure out what there is in any of them that fills conservatives with such fear that they refuse to engage the ideas in the films directly. The first is a pure propaganda film that anybody who regularly reads a newspaper should be able to refute. The second is a quasi-historical action film based on a thriller novel. The third is, quite simply, a tragic love story just as epic (and just as psychologically screwed up) as “Romeo and Juliet.”
Yet conservatives are afraid to engage with these cultural statements, preferring to shun them instead.
This approach is costly, on two counts. First it discredits legitimate criticism of these movies by revealing that, often, their harshest critics haven’t even seen the movies they deride. Second, it allows those who refuse to see movies because of political objection to miss out.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing this post. Last night, Heidi and I watched the movie “Knocked Up.” I was expecting a dumb, brainless comedy, but that’s not what it was. It certainly had its stupid moments, but on the whole it was, really, almost a cross between a romantic comedy and a coming of age drama. The main character is a thirty-something bachelor who lives in a house with five other guys (and sometimes with their various girlfriends of the moment, smokes pot, and wants to start a porno website. He ends up getting a girl pregnant, and the story goes on from there.
Sounds like your typical dumb comedy, right? But along the way it has a lot of great messages about really getting to know the ones you love, taking responsibility for your actions, and . . . well . . . learning how to be a grown-up. In a day when we have an awful lot of thirty-something “kids” running around our world, that’s an important message.
It reminded both of us of a similar movie (made by the same director, Judd Apatow) “The 40-year old Virgin.” It’s a story of a guy with a pretty normal life, except for the fact that he’s 40 and has never had sex. Upon finding this out, his co-workers attempt to twist a variety of situations in order to change that fact.
Again, sounds like pretty standard comedy fare, right? Hardly. The fact is that this movie has a lot to say about love, sex, relationships, marriage, and the purposes for each.
Nevertheless, you won’t find most conservative movie reviews recommending these two. In truth, they have a lot against them – both are pretty crude, and I’d hardly recommend them for anybody, but the simple fact is that just dismissing them out of hand misses something.
But isn’t that the way we are about a lot of things? (I say we, not because I self-identify as a “conservative,” any longer, but because this is not just a conservative problem, it’s a human problem).
I mean, if you think about it, how many times have you conservative readers dismissed something because “It was in the New York Times,” or you liberals because you “saw it on Fox News”?
How many times have we used the words “consider the source” to dismiss an idea, rather than engaging with it?
What are we so afraid of?
This, quite frankly, is one of the biggest things that drove me from organized church. I couldn’t stand the fact that each question I raised was one more thing nobody around me would deal with. When I asked why my church didn’t allow women in leadership, why they insisted on church attendance at least twice a week, why they believed in the universal effectiveness of accountability relationships, and why they believed that tithing had a place in worship, but special music didn’t, I had Bible verses spouted at me. When I questioned whether those verses said what was claimed of them, I was “prayed for,” “counseled,” and eventually, marginalized.
I have no doubt that each person I spoke with at that church was very sincere in what they believed. But I just wish that they would have engaged more with my questions, for I was no less sincere. Those I spoke with were happy to engage with questions of theology and eschatology. We had many frank discussions, for example, about the “five points” of Calvinism, and about the differences between dispensationalism and covenant theology.
But when it went deeper than that, the doors were shut.
Perhaps that’s the answer. Perhaps we just can’t quite engage with something scary enough to undermine our entire worldview. The question “does the Bible require that we attend, or at least attempt to attend, church each Sunday?” is just such a question. It’s scary.
But what are we afraid of? Why do churches like the one I used to attend marginalize radical thinkers like John Eldredge or Brian McLaren?
Is it truth we’re defending when we marginalize someone just because we are uncomfortable with what they say?
Can’t the truth stand on its own? If something is really true, why do we need to shield it from those we perceive to be attacking it?
And if it’s not true, why should we believe it anyway?
Is it truth we’re defending? Or is it our comfort zone?
5 Responses to Profundity sometimes crops up in the strangest places . . .
You must have read Peggy Noonan this week, eh?
FWIW I agree with you both 🙂
Actually, believe it or not, I wrote all that before I saw her column – which I just read this morning. I must be doing something right, if I happen to come up with the same ideas at the same time as a writer as good as she is . . .
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Copernicus, I think it was Rohr who said something to the effect that judgmental people are not protecting truth, they are desiring control.
Dogmatism is a security blanket.
Hell, sometimes I miss it!
I do agree with you that we have a strong tendency toward intellectual cowardice within our politcal and religious conversation. However, while you eventually come around to your conclusion that supression of dissent is a human problem, I was dismayed to notice you only cited knee jerk reactions by conservatives to illustrate your point, while not addressing Hollywood’s approach to conservatism, ie. the vitriol reserved for Mel Gibson and his Passion.
Have you seen “Evan Almighty”?