- The popular cinema is the language of the youth of today while the religion-and-film genre is becoming an ever-burgeoning academic industry. Yet, both religionists and educationalists frequently eschew this most accessible of pop culture resources for their congregations and classrooms. The critical literature was reviewed and eight justificatory tactics to legitimise celluloid religion were identified and briefly explicated herein. It was concluded that cinematic theology is here to stay and that it is prudent for the profession to embrace this fact-of-life as quickly as practicable. Further research into this exciting 21st century interdisciplinary field was recommended.
This is the age of the moving image, "the Age of Hollywood" (Paglia, 1994, p. 12), and although the cinema is barely a hundred-years-old (Cassin, 1994), as Gore Vidal (1993, pp. 2-3) pointed out, it has become "the lingua franca of the twentieth century. The Tenth Muse...[that] has driven the other nine right off Olympus - or off the peak, anyway." On the other hand, the use of popular films within Christian religious education is only slowly becoming an accepted academic norm (Fields & James, 1999; Scully, 1997), and which this author is vigorously trying to accelerate (Kozlovic 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, 2000d, 2001a, 2001b, 2001c, 2002). In that process, its adherents have frequently battled accusations of film being low art, kitsch art, anti-literacy, brain-deadening, immoral, retrogressive, anti-culture, bubble-gum theology, or just God-flavoured fluff suitable only for diversionary entertainment (if at all). But it is more than this, much more than this. Popular films can also be employed as faith enhancers, knowledge bearers, and revelatory sources in addition to their religious education application. Besides, as Lutheran Marlene Pietsch (2001) pointed out:
- Even if we regard it as pollution, popular entertainment is part of the air we breathe. This is the culture into which we bring the gospel, and we need to understand its myths and preoccupations. Perhaps it is films especially that provide an interesting point of contact between young and old, Christian and non-Christian...If we can use films and books to address these questions [of life and faith], and if they can at the same time delight us with their poetry or visual images, we have a powerful tool (p. 164).
So, it is not too surprising to find that many have fought for this powerful tool against the anti-film forces of resentment and ridicule by resorting to Holy Writ, and other theology and educational rationales to legitimate the enterprise. The critical literature was reviewed and at least eight broad tactics to justify celluloid religion as a pedagogic tool was identified (with some overlap). Namely: (a) an appeal to sacred Scripture and theological extrapolation; (b) an appeal to spiritual growth and transformation; (c) an appeal to visual piety and cinematic sacraments; (d) an appeal to the cinema as an evangelical and Scripture study tool, (e) an appeal to the positive after-effects of the movies; (f) an appeal to the educational value of the movies; (g) an appeal to modernity; and (h) an appeal to the satiation of spiritual hunger. The following is a brief explication of each of these basic propositions.
1.0 An Appeal to Sacred Scriptures and Theological Extrapolation
Edward Fischer (1977, p. 60) justified using popular film as a teaching aid by resorting to the following scriptural injunction: "the one Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "If someone must brag, let him brag about the Lord [1 Cor. 1:31]."  Any film that stands in awe of creation brags about the Lord." Fr. Rene Ludmann (1958) was also aware of his Bible and argued that:
- The film, by its movement and its images, proceeds through intuition and sympathy more than by deduction and analytic proof; in this way it rejoins the progress of the faith of Saint Paul, which is an experience, and the Johannine "knowledge," which is a loving recognition (p. 155).
Whilst William David Spencer (1998) suggested invoking the biblical doctrine about man being created in the image of God according to Genesis 1:26-27:
- Therefore, anyone can reflect some truth about God. Theologians call that the doctrine of common grace. Anyone who contemplates life can observe truths about the nature of life, of God, of God's actions, and of the fight between good and evil that sometimes even some theologians, bound by the limitations theological systems impose, may preclude or obscure (p. 12).
This tactic implies film-watching as a means of circumventing the professional biases of those theologians who inappropriately apply second commandment injunctions against worshipping graven images (Exod. 20:4; Num. 33:52; Deut. 4:16, 5:8; Isa. 42:8). Indeed, film-watching can be seen as a religious duty to scrutinise the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3) and to spread the good news (Mark 16:15). After all:
- Jesus' parting words were to go into all the world (Matthew 28:19). That means not only India and China, but also New York and Los Angeles. God is calling "pop culture missionaries," as well as people committed to praying for those working in arts and entertainment. The only requirement is love for Christ and a willingness to be real and honest with unchurched people (Nasfell, 2000, p. 35).
Besides, as Anglican Les Casson (2002, p. 12) promised regarding popular film: "you may find astonishing nuggets of truth-truth that resonates with truth revealed in Scripture and in Christ." More importantly, as parish priest Alexander Sherbrooke (2001, p. 266) reminded the profession: "If we fail to respond to the culture of today in the language of today we will remain an irrelevance," the "Kingdom is found and proclaimed in the contemporary culture. It is there that we have to be" (p. 269). One can only agree with him.
Nor is the religious defence of popular film limited to just mainstream Christianity. There are important theological precedents to be found in the sacred texts of other Christian traditions that are just as applicable to the world of film. For example, important pro-film precedents can be detected within Mormonism. 
1.1 A Mormon View of Celluloid Religion: Four Principles
Susan Clayton Rather (1997) explicated four principles favourable to popular film embodied within the Bible, the Book of Mormon (BM) and their accompanying sacred text, the Doctrines and Covenants (D&C). The first principle of this tetrarchy revolved around proclaiming the word:
- The first LDS [Latter-day Saints] theological concept to be considered is the mandate to proclaim the gospel and promote moral behaviour among both believers and non-believers. Like the biblical apostles of Christ who were sent forth to preach the gospel [Mark 3:14], the Latter-day Saints recognize missionary work as a fundamental commandment to them from God, to "open your mouths in proclaiming my gospel...unto the world...[D&C 71:1-2] (Rather, 1997, p. 14).
Consequently, film can be used to proclaim gospel truth and promote moral behaviour in a mass communication format. The second principle revolved around the concept of truth:
- "And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come." [D&C 93:24]...any filmmaker whose work expresses truth (things as they really are)--whether it is John Grierson, Elia Kazan, Fred Wiseman, Fred Schepisi, Blair Treu, Brian Capener, Woody Allen, or any other--has responded to one of the most deeply-held mandates in LDS theology (Rather, 1997, pp. 17, 18).
The third principle revolved around the concept of epistemology as espoused by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." In addition, Mormon theology requires verification via spiritual experience, namely the confirmation of the truth via the Holy Ghost (aka Holy Spirit) as evidenced in Moroni 10:4-5 (BM): "he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." And as also stated in Jacob 4:13 (BM): "the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be."
Consequently, any film which passed these self-reflective religious tests and is found to be endorsed by the Holy Ghost is deemed to be of God and therefore acceptable to all devout followers. "Presumably, the genius of a filmmaker is never enough to wholly create the phenomenal event of spiritual enlightenment for the spectator" (Rather, 1997, p. 22), and so a truly godly act of creation (filmic or otherwise) intrinsically entails divinity being automatically involved.
The LDS Church, as God's supposed instrument upon Earth, can legitimately use film as a form of revelation-cum-missionising sermon. This is made all the more acceptable if endorsed by the Church leadership, particularly by its incumbent living prophet. Given that the LDS had established: (a) the Department of Motion Picture Production at Brigham Young University in 1953, (b) the Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio in 1959 under president David O. McKay (see Jacobs, 1967), and (c) it had endorsed its eventual transfer to the College of Fine Arts at Brigham Young University in 1991, the film arts is presumably a sanctioned LDS religious activity. As Susan Clayton Rather (1997) put it:
- Hitchcock, Chaplin, Ford, Welles, Eisenstein, Rossellini, and Bresson are among the directors included on [Andrew] Sarris' list of auteurs. In films produced by the LDS Church, the auteur voice is an institutional, collaborative voice which strives to communicate revelations received by those acknowledged as prophets (p. 23).
The fourth principle revolved around freedom of choice, particularly the freedom of conscience as exemplified in Joshua 24:15: "choose you this day whom ye will serve." The equivalent Book of Mormon Scripture being 2 Nephi 10:23: "remember that ye are free to act for yourselves--to chose," and its equivalent statement in the Doctrines and Covenants 37:4: "let every man choose for himself" plus Doctrines and Covenants 58:28: "the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves."
Overall, LDS filmmaking and film-watching is a fundamental religious right that has to find a balance between being: (a) scripturally justified; (b) approved by the Holy Ghost; (c) engaged in as an act of freedom of choice and conscience; and (d) utilised for whatever wholesome institutional missionising purposes it may be needed. No doubt, further pro-film principles can be discovered by analogy, extrapolation and interpolation within LDS theology and the sacred texts of the rest of the world's religions, if actively looked searched.
2.0 An Appeal to Spiritual Growth and Transformation
For those persons worried about films' power to cause viewers to imitate negative ways, it is reassuring to note that movies do not automatically violate free will, spiritual discernment or moral courage. This triumvirate of abilities needs to be prudently exercised whatever area of life one engages in. It would be short-sighted and counter-productive to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water just because of personal inadequacies. Not only can movies allow a loving recognition, but they can also generate consciousness transformation as implied in the "renewing of your mind" imperative of Romans 12:2. As Marsha Sinetar (1993) argued in Reel Power: Spiritual Growth Through Film:
- ...movies can transform our ordinary viewing, provide us with fodder for creative solutions, offer us new stories and inspiring models, and bring us into those elevated states of mind necessary for the growth we crave. These are all spiritual benefits. These revive us, bring us life (p. 5).
As she later argued:
- Movies elevate our sights, enlarge imagination. Film, like poetry, is one of our heart's most subtle agents. It reminds us of what we know, helps us stretch and change, provides us with a sensory catalyst for creative, cutting-edge reflection... ordinary movies can enrich us with answers for creative problem-solving (p. 7).
Steve Rabey (1995) also used biblical examples to justify the in-principle utilisation of popular culture. As he argued:
- Jesus' dealings with the woman at the well [John 4:1-43], for example, show that he didn't condemn the woman for her immorality, but rather saw her sexual behavior as the symptoms of a deeper spiritual hunger. Likewise, exhibit grace toward producers of popular culture and the kids in your group who like it (pp. 95, 97).
This stance is also one possible application of Romans 12:3: "to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly," and thus avoid worldly hubris through cultural humility. In effect, this means that the truth, whether cinematically embodied or not, should be pursued wherever it is found and leads you, and so one's personal decisions in these areas must be respected. As Lloyd Billingsley (1989) argued in The Seductive Image: A Christian Critique of the World of Film:
- ...I believe there is no religious case against the movies, only against the abuse and misuse of them. If someone wishes to stay away, that is their decision, and their reasons for doing so must be respected, even if one does not agree with them. Those who stay away testify by their behaviour that films matter a great deal indeed. But those who abstain are not to judge their sisters and brothers who think differently. Neither are they to imagine that their asceticism endows them with a superior spirituality. Indeed, the Bible describes the one with the sensitive conscience in areas of nonessentials as the "weak" brother [Rom. 14:1] (p. 23).
If popular films are to be used in the religious education classroom or by congregations during video exegesis, and some persons may be concerned about this, then to set a positive tone for the activity, one only has to invoke Colossians 3:17. Namely: "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." This can help sanctify the activity. To further justify films' pedagogical usage, one need only be reminded of Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Nor is Jesus going to go away during your film-watching because according to Matthew 28:20: "lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." This principle of divine accompaniment is also in accordance with the Christian doctrine of immanence. That is, God is everywhere present in the fullness of His being, which includes the cinema, the classroom and the pulpit. As Jesus once said: "with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). Interestingly, within the Jewish community, "Rabi Schneerson felt that, if it [movies] existed in this world, then HaShem, the Lord, meant it to be used for holiness" (Miles, 1996, p. 88). Presumably, God does not make pointless creations. This is also a valid argument that can be used to justify the existence of the movies and the pursuit of cinematic theology.
3.0 An Appeal to Visual Piety and Cinematic Sacraments
For those concerned about the correct attitude to take during film screenings, one need only consider God's general instruction in this area. Namely: "Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here" (Ezek. 40:4 NIV). For those concerned about suspect emotions generated by film-watching, then one need only consult Jesus' advice in Matthew 18:3: "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." That is, with all the thrills, excitement, horror and laughter that children can easily express, and which the popular cinema is more than capable of delivering.
For those worried about generalised exposure to films, one need only be reminded of Hebrews 13:2 which applies equally well to the cinema, namely: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Or as Adrienne Jackson (2002, p. 3) less spectacularly reported regarding her regular evangelism-and-movies night: "Grace showed up in some unexpected people and places in the films were saw," not to mention the possibility of real psycho-spiritual encounters facilitated by film-watching (Kozlovic, 2000b). Indeed, for Doug Adams (1996), linking religion with film in his primary school class was considered a holy act. As he claimed:
- Through E.T., the children see the integration of their stories and the biblical story. This method values their world and their abilities. Every time they see E.T. or many other videos, they remember Jesus. Watching movies (like breaking bread and drinking from the cup) becomes sacramental: "As often as you do these things, do them in remembrance of me" [Luke 22:19] (p. 16).
This visual piety praxis can also aid mental retention when film is used as a mnemonic aid, and it can become an act of cultural recognisance when values, ideas and emotions are shared, discussed and examined together because of it.
4.0 An Appeal to the Cinema as an Evangelical and Scripture Study Tool
Ignoring the continuing ascendancy of cinema, or trying to deliberately separate it from the rest of one's life is impractical. It is also an outmoded attitude reminiscent of Tertullian's second-century rejection of the dramatic form as inherently evil. Not only can film be used in a generic way to rejoin the progress of faith, or to brag about the Lord's creation as an example of virtuous entertainment, but it can also provide basic information to those ignorant of the faith. The use of the cinema as an extra-ecclesiastical institution is in sympathy with Romans 10:14: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" Cinema being a pseudo-extension of the pulpit, a modern means of evangelisation, and a potential device for homiletically based awakenings.
For example, Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ was his "attempt to use the screen as a pulpit" (Occhiogrosso, 1987, p. 101). Likewise, J. Arthur Rank in Britain "wasn't setting out to counter Hollywood, but wished to use film in a relatively modest way, as a vehicle for religious education in Sunday schools and Methodist halls" (Macnab, 1993, p. 13). Indeed, a seminal founder of Hollywood, Cecil B. DeMille (1881-1959) was a patriotically inspired cinematic lay preacher who became "the eminent director of biblical epics" (Ceplair & Englund, 1983, p. 369) with his indelible biblical classics The Ten Commandments, The King of Kings, Samson and Delilah and his Technicolor pseudo-remake The Ten Commandments. Indeed, any good religiously-based film has the power to draw the churches and their congregations to them, as demonstrated by Chariots of Fire when "Churches all over Britain and America were suddenly recommending their members - often for the first time - to go to the cinema" (MacDonald, 1991, p. 102).
Evangelists who use the cinema as a preaching tool try to link the past with the present using films' narratological conventions (e.g., realism, seamlessness, mimesis, closure) so as to reinforce the veracity of the Bible and their own credal orthodoxy. Their argument goes something like this:
- If the modern viewer can watch the Bible on TV, can be assured that the biblical figures are as real and vibrant as soap-opera dynasties, then the passion for biblical narrative remains alive. The desire for one's own religious tradition becomes a viable part of everyday life. If the wily secular humanists want to devalue the truths of the Bible, the vulnerability of the ancient world to the microscope of skepticism can be bolstered. When one "reads" the cinematic Bible, it's not to reach the end of the story, but to keep the story going (Bach, 1996, pp. 7-8).
Not only is the sacred story kept going, but popular films can also help religious scholarship in return through video exegesis. As biblicist David Jasper (1999) claimed:
- In the Hollywood tradition of Old Testament epics...the cinema has occasionally contributed in a significant way to the history of biblical interpretations, perhaps unwittingly and most notably in the figure of Cecil B. De Mille in films like Samson and Delilah (1949) and The Ten Commandments (1956)...[DeMille] re-reads the text of the Book of Judges midraschically as a love story which shifts the coherent and dehumanizing biblical perspective of Israel's salvation history and replaces it with a countercoherence of a Delilah following her heart and remaining true to Samson... (p. 51).
Indeed, Jasper (1999) claimed that DeMille had provided a valuable service to biblical exegesis which is still valuable to us today:
- ...De Mille's film [Samson and Delilah] does what art and literature has always in fact done, read the Bible and unpicked its historical and theological consistencies which have defined how religious orthodoxy has read it, and offered a countercoherence in terms of other priorities (in this case filmic melodrama) which may expose the dangerous assumptions that often underlie our reading of Scripture and the Bible... (pp. 51-52).
From an educational perspective, movie-showing also fulfils the central task of Christian education, namely, of proclaiming the faith, albeit, via a 21st century biblia pauperum modality. This is especially valuable in a modern world where: "Biblical knowledge among the general populace has evaporated to the point that many people would not be able to distinguish between Jeremiah and a geranium" (Long, 1994, p. 2)! If movies can stem this tide of ignorance, then so much the better.
5.0 An Appeal to the Positive After-Effects of the Movies
This tactic demonstrates that movie-watching can be a medium of moral instruction that has profound positive after-effect upon audiences. This principle was graphically illustrated by A/Prof. Herbert Blumer's groundbreaking sociological survey (circa 1930s) into American film-watching habits. For example, a Negro, 17-year-old female high school junior stated:
- The "Ten Commandments" was another great picture. The man [Dan McTavish (Rod La Rocque)] in the play broke all the commandments and to make things worse killed his mother [Mrs. Martha McTavish (Edythe Chapman)] although he didn't know it. It made me want to try to keep the commandments as best I could and to think about the next world. I think the movies are wonderful for if you would only try to do the things some of them try to teach, I think you would never go wrong (Bulmer, 1933, p. 178).
A white, 16-year-old female high school junior reported:
- Pictures such as "Ben Hur" and "The King of Kings" awaken the higher emotions in me. They just thrill me. When I see such pictures I can't help wondering why everyone can't be good. I think those pictures are wonderful and there should be more of them (Bulmer, 1933, pp. 178-179).
A Negro, 19-year-old female college sophomore reported:
- "The Ten Commandments" was a very impressive picture and I spent much time worrying for fear that I might break some of the commandments in my future life and bring a world of suffering upon myself. In order to prevent such a disaster I tried my best not to misbehave (Bulmer, 1933, p. 179).
Nor is films' effects limited to the past or just young adolescents for as Prof. Ingrid Shafer (1991, p. 54) reported while watching Places in the Heart: "I was so profoundly touched by the communion service that I had to stop grading. It seemed that for a few moments I was utterly drawn into this community of the living and the dead, and that I too was somehow included in God's all-embracing love that was gently pulling at me from the television set. Pure sacrament." Of course, it would be wrong and grossly naive to suggest that mere exposure to religious films per se is sufficient for a positive effect, presumably via some form of religious osmosis. Nonetheless, that does not diminish these positive results or the many others reported incidents throughout the history of film (Kozlovic, 2000b).
6.0 An Appeal to the Educational Value of the Movies
Given all the positive outcomes, it is not too surprising to find religion scholars like Prof. Charles Ketcham (1968) predicting:
- It is my opinion that much of our teaching will be revolutionized by the use of film. Its effectiveness, its total involvement, its multi-sense impact, and the viewers retentivity, mark film as one of the most powerful of the arts and as one of the most skillful of the educational midwives (p. 364).
One would have to agree with him. On a mundane level, as part of this cinematic midwifery function, films can be fruitfully utilised to demonstrate biblical/religious points unappreciated beforehand. For example, Dr. James D'Arc (1989, p. 5) reported how Brigham Young, starring Dean Jagger as the Mormon leader, was used at Brigham Young University "to quiz students on historical inaccuracies" albeit, while many members of the Church looked "at the film with amusement." In Everybody Steals from God: Communication as Worship, Edward Fischer (1977) reported that:
- ...I screened for the Trappists Overture/Nyitany and Cosmic Zoom. By coincidence, when the monks gathered for prayer at 3:15 the next morning they chanted Psalm 18, the one about the heavens proclaiming the Glory of God. During the next lecture I said that I hoped Psalms 18 now meant more to them after having seen those films. The nods of assent throughout the chapter hall indicated that for some monks the films brought that psalm up to date, made it more real for today, and helped them realize how science can be revelation in our time (pp. 61-62).
Similarly, Prof. Raymond Schroth (1995, p. 110) received a flash of personal insight aided by remembering the organ donation-cum postmodernist resurrection scene from Jesus of Montreal. As he reported: "Three years ago, when one of my friends died and donated her organs, and I prayed about her, preparing my homily, this scene came to mind, and I think I felt the meaning of Christ's resurrection and our own in a way I had not seen it before." If movies can give one new insights and spiritual perspectives not gained elsewhere, then it is to be applauded, encouraged and actively proclaimed, especially if one adopts the principle espoused by Jesus in Matthew 10:27. Namely, "What I tell you in the darkness, that speak ye in light," which now has a whole new meaning for the children of the media.
7.0 An Appeal to Modernity
Should the above tactical appeals be resisted, then Edward Fischer (1977) suggested an appeal to modernity and argued:
- Another reason for using films to explore the soul is that spiritual concerns of the past don't change, but the way of expressing them does. Messages of the past repeated in the manner of the past will bore most people. Scholars prefer the exotic, the esoteric, the dim and hidden path, but the mass audience can only be reached in the current mode. The translations of old truths must always be made at some altitude... (p. 70).
After all, as Prof. Bernard Brandon Scott (1994a, p. x) reminded his readers: "The problem of biblical translations is particularly difficult because we have become too accustomed to the tyranny of a single translation. All translations are mistranslations." And so, now is a good time to open up to a new translation of the Bible in 21st century terms, the cinematic mode. Besides, as Prof. Cheryl Exum (1996, p. 12) argued: "Readers will appropriate texts as they see fit, especially biblical texts, and thus Bible stories enter into popular culture all the time with new meanings attached to them." Just as importantly, as Al Menconi Ministries (San Marcos, California) pointed out, today is ruled by:
- ...the audio-visual generation. It's just different...you can wince at the onslaught of video, the relative unpopularity of reading among teenagers. But if you don't use the electronic media with today's kids, you might as well have stepped back into the nineteenth century (Anonymous, 1991, p. 50).
Or as the Lebanese mystical poet Kahil Gibran (1972, p. 20) more eloquently put it regarding children in general:
- You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
Church hierarchies and RE curriculum designers can learn much from this sentiment.
8.0 An Appeal to the Satiation of Spiritual Hunger
From a spiritual hunger perspective, religious films may be gaining in popularity simply because in our increasingly anti-religious world, these celluloid simulacrum may be the first real encounter the current generation has had with their birth faith or religious heritage in general. As New Testament scholar William Telford (1997) argued:
- Given its popularity, the Christ film is arguably the most significant medium through which popular culture this century has absorbed its knowledge of the Gospel story and formed its impression of Christianity's founder. It was Cecil B. DeMille's claim that "probably more people have been told the story of Jesus of Nazareth through The King of Kings than through any other single work, except the Bible itself" (p. 112).
Indeed, as Allene Stuart Phy (1985) argued:
- A child growing up in North America does not usually absorb the images and lore of his religion from the paintings of the old masters, from the stained glass windows of majestic cathedrals, or even from the Bible itself. Cecil B. De Mille and the popular novelists may be more influential in determining the way Bible personalities and events are perceived (p. 41).
No wonder Douglas Brode (1995, p. 68) claimed that: "Watching a religious film, then, is the nearest contact these kids will come to the Bible; indeed, televised DeMille is essentially the Bible for the TV generation." A similar pedagogic point was made by Clive Marsh (1997) regarding British filmic piety:
- ...[Franco] Zeffirelli's 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth is one of the greatest influences on many contemporary British people's views of Jesus (and thus on their Christologies, even if that is not the name people often use for what they make of Jesus Christ). Jesus of Montreal...has also been widely influential. [Denys] Arcand made sure that he did his homework on Jesus research in making the film, even though the plot only deals with Jesus at second hand. Again, the 'secularity' of the film -- Arcand is no Christian, and he presents it as a satire on modern consumer society -- means that its primary audience is outside the Church. But Arcand's subject-matter is fascinating. Though he was irritated at the way some Christian groups took his film up, he can't escape the fact that he has stumbled incidentally upon 'the power of the Gospel' and almost unwittingly presented a persuasive version of some of its key emphases (p. 6).
Indeed, Tom Driver (1988) suggested that the easy accessibility of popular film was one of the reasons people rushed to see The Last Temptation of Christ. As he complained:
- Why do the audiences who have been flocking to it in the wake of its phenomenal publicity not fall asleep (as I nearly did) during the 160 minutes of its running time? Instead, they seem engaged by a picture I found sluggish, in many ways stupefying. The audience in which I sat was mostly young adult. Could it be that these yuppish folk were hearing Jesus' story for the first time? Are they refreshed by the tale, no matter how badly told, of someone willing to die for the sake of others? Are they starved for just any rendering of Jesus with which they can identify? If so, the pulpits of America have their work cut out for them, both to encourage this moral interest and to prevent its being exploited by reactionary religion and politics (p. 338).
This means that both the profession and congregations needs to learn the language of the cinema. As Anglican Les Casson (2002, p. 5) pointed out: "as viewers, we're only partially literate. We don't often know how to talk about film on its own terms." So, now is the time to start learning, for religious education purposes, spiritual enlightenment and beyond.
Popular films are going to be with us for a very long time to come, whether believers like it or not. Indeed, as Jeffery Smith (2001) argued:
- Believers may not accept the theology in motion pictures and religious institutions may not always appreciate the alternative sources of communication, but the history and culture of Hollywood indicate that the collision of creeds and popular culture is unavoidable (p. 224).
Therefore, it seems prudent for the profession to embrace this fact-of-life rather than keep avoiding or, devaluing it or deriding it. One needs to proactively address the heart cries of our modern youth for a relevant theology that does not repel them, especially considering Prof. Ninian Smart's lament that: "It is tragic that so often we bore young people, especially in the name of religion" (Tilby, 1979, p. 14). In fact, "the Bible no longer occupies that central place in our culture today" (Bill Moyer quoted in Bos, 1999, p. 3). This sociological point was humorously enacted in Dogma when "the Metatron" angel (Alan Rickman) dramatically manifested before Bethany Sloane (Linda Fiorentino) and severely frightened her. When she did not recognise his sacred name or his divine nature he annoyingly complained: "Don't tell me the name doesn't ring a bell...You people. If there isn't a movie about it, it's not worth knowing is it!" And yet this comical claim is fast becoming a social norm that the profession would do well to seriously address if it wishes to remain relevant today.
What is required from the religious community is a positive engagement with the cinema rather than automatic, unthinking retrogression into condemnatory diatribes against the supposed evil influence of film. As David John Graham (1997) from the Glasgow Bible College put it:
- But in case readers are concerned that film will only shake their religious views by challenging them, and not reaffirm them, it must also be said that movies can make a very positive contribution to theology. But they do that, surely, only if they say something new. For unless theology can say things in new ways, and unless it can say new things, it will cease to be interesting, and - perhaps worst of all - cease to be relevant (p. 42).
Indeed, celluloid religion is necessary today. Why? Because: "Theology has to work with some new materials, as well as old ones, in order to complete its task" (Marsh & Ortiz, 1997, p. 252), and what more fascinating new material is there than the world of contemporary cinema and its video, TV, DVD, cable and Internet correlates? Further research into this exciting interdisciplinary field is highly recommended, certainly needed, and long overdue.
[1.] All biblical quotations are sourced from the Authorized King James Version, unless indicated otherwise.
[2.] For the sake of brevity, the word "Mormon" or the initials "LDS" will be used instead of their official title: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Adams, D. (1996). Seeing advent to ascension through E.T. Church Educator, 21(11), 15-16.
Anonymous. (1991). Youthworker roundtable: Teaching an entertained generation. Youthworker, 8(2), 48-56.
Bach, A. (1996). "Throw them to the lions, sire": Transforming biblical narratives into Hollywood spectaculars. Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism, 74, 1-13.
Billingsley, K. L. (1989). The seductive image: A Christian critique of the world of film. Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
Bos, R. (1999). The theology of Star Wars. <http://next-wave.org/may99/starwars.htm>, pp. 1-8.
Brode, D. (1995). The films of Steven Spielberg. New York, NY: Citadel Press.
Bulmer, H. (1933). Movies and conduct. New York: Macmillan.
Cassin, R. (1994). Let there be light: A theological celebration of 100 years of cinema. Compass: A Review of Topical Theology, 28(4), 11-16.
Casson, L. (2002). Head, heart, and Hollywood: Engaging film and visual media. NET Result, 23(2), 5, 12.
Ceplair, L., & Englund, S. (1983). The inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the film community 1930-1960. Berkeley: University of California Press.
D'Arc, J. V. (1989). Darryl F. Zanuck's Brigham Young: A film in context. Brigham Young University Studies, 29(1), 5-33.
Driver, T. F. (1988). Report: Jesus: God, man, and movie. The 'Last Temptation of Christ' affair. Christianity and Crisis, 48(14), 338-341.
Exum, J. C. (1996). Plotted, shot, and painted: Cultural representations of biblical women. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
Fields, D., & James, E. (1999). Videos that teach: Teachable movie moments from 75 modern film classics. El Cajon, CA: Youth Specialties Books.
Fischer, E. (1977). Everybody steals from God: Communication as worship. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
Gibran, K. (1972). The prophet. London: Heinemann.
Graham, D. J. (1997). The uses of film in theology. In C. Marsh & G. Ortiz (Eds.), Explorations in theology and film: Movies and meaning (pp. 35-43). Oxford: Blackwell.
Jacobs, D. K. (1967). The history of motion pictures produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. MA dissertation, Brigham Young University.
Jackson, A. (2002). Observing Lent...at the movies. NET Result, 23(2), 3-4.
Jasper, D. (1999). Literary readings of the Bible: Trends in modern criticism. In D. Jasper, S. Prickett & A. Hass (Eds.), The Bible and literature: A reader (pp. 44-64). Oxford: Blackwell.
Ketcham, C. B. (1968). Experiment in film. Religious Education, 63(5), 359-364.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2000a). The Bible is alive and well and living in popular films: A survey of some Western cinematic transfigurations of Holy Writ. Australian Religion Studies Review, 13(1), 56-71.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2000b). Cinematic epiphanies: Popular films as sites for reel devotion and psycho-spiritual encounters. Religious Education Journal of Australia, 16(1), 20-25.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2000c). Popular films and religious education: Prospects and prejudices. Journal of Religious Education, 48(3), 31-38.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2000). Using religious films for religious education: A brief apologetica and select bibliography. Compass: A Review of Topical Theological, 34(4), 32-37.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2001a). 'What good can come from Nazareth?' The via negativa pedagogic advantages of using popular biblical films in religious education. Journal of Religious Education, 49(2), 41-48.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2001b). The transmogrified Bible: A survey of some popular Western cinematic transfigurations of biblical characters. Religious Education Journal of Australia, 17(1), 7-13.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2001c). Nourishing faith through film: Using popular biblical epics as a religious education resource. Journal of Christian Education, 44(2), 45-53.
Kozlovic, A. K. (2002). Sacred servants in the popular cinema: Research notes towards a taxonomic survey of the mundane holy. Journal of Mundane Behavior, 3(2), 1-11. [http://mundanebehavior.org/issues/v3n2/kozlovic.htm].
Long, T. G. (1994). The preacher and the beast: From apocalyptic text to sermon. In R. L. Eslinger (Ed.), Intersections: Post-critical studies in preaching (pp. 1-22). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Ludmann, R. (1958). The cinema as a means of evangelization. Cross Currents, 8, 153-171.
MacDonald, A. (1991). Films in close-up: Getting the most from film and video. Leicester: Frameworks.
Macnab, G. (1993). J. Arthur Rank and the British film industry. London: Routledge.
Marsh, C. (1997). Jesus as media celebrity: Jesus research and the contemporary church. Modern Believing, 38(4), 2-8.
Marsh, C., & Ortiz, G. (1997). Theology beyond the modern and the postmodern: A future agenda for theology and film. In C. Marsh & G. Ortiz (Eds.), Explorations in theology and film: Movies and meaning (pp. 245-255). Oxford: Blackwell.
Miles, M. R. (1996). Seeing and believing: Religion and values in the movies. Boston: Beacon Press.
Nasfell, A. (2000). Learning from the master story teller: Engaging the pop culture. Good News: A Magazine for United Methodist Renewal, 33, 4, 35.
Occhiogrosso, P. (1987). Once a Catholic: Prominent Catholics and ex-Catholics discuss the influence of the church on their lives and work. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Paglia, C. (1994). Vamps & tramps: New essays. New York: Vintage Books.
Phy, A. S. (1985). Retelling the greatest story ever told: Jesus in popular fiction. In A. S. Phy (Ed.), The Bible and popular culture in America (pp. 41-83). Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
Pietsch, M. (2001). Culture vulture: Popular media -- friend or foe? The Lutheran, 35(6), 23-24.
Rabey, S. (1995). Media & culture: How the cast of "BH, 90210" can help lead your youth group. Youthworker, 12(1), 94-95, 97.
Rather, S. C. (1997). Film, propaganda, and the Christian way of knowing truth: A look at LDS documentary filmmaking. MA dissertation, Brigham Young University.
Shafer, I. (1991). The Catholic imagination in popular film & television. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 19(2), 50-57.
Schroth, R. A. (1995). The body of Christ: Three films. In D. Burke (Ed.), CCICA annual 1995: The Church and popular culture (pp. 102-114). Philadelphia: Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs, La Salle University.
Scott, B. B. (1994). Hollywood dreams and biblical stories. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Scully, M. (1997). The message of film 5: Jesus in modern media. Milwaukee, WI: Hi-Time Publishing.
Sherbrooke, A. (2001). The parish in contemporary culture. Priests & People, 15(7), 265-269.
Sinetar, M. (1993). Reel power: Spiritual growth through film. Liguori, MO: Triumph Books.
Smith J. A. (2001). Hollywood theology: The commodification of religion in twentieth-century films. Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, 11(2), 191-231.
Spencer, W. D. (1998). Glimpsing God in art's mirror: Introduction. In W. D. Spencer & A. B. Spencer (Eds.), God through the looking glass: Glimpses from the arts (pp. 11-15). Grand Rapids, MI: BridgePoint Books.
Telford, W. R. (1997). Jesus Christ movie star: The depiction of Jesus in the cinema. In C. Marsh & G. Ortiz (Eds.), Explorations in theology and film: Movies and meaning (pp. 115-139). Oxford: Blackwell.
Tilby, A. (1979). Teaching God. Glasgow: Collins.
Vidal, G. (1993). Screening history. London: Abacus.
Ben Hur (1926, dir. Fred Niblo)
Brigham Young (aka Brigham Young - Frontiersman) (1940, dir. Henry Hathaway)
Chariots of Fire (1981, dir. Hugh Hudson)
Dogma (1998, dir. Kevin Smith)
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, dir. Steven Spielberg)
Jesus of Nazareth (1977, dir. Franco Zeffirelli)
Jesus of Montreal (1989, dir. Denys Arcand)
The King of Kings (1927, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988, dir. Martin Scorsese)
Places in the Heart (1984, dir. Robert Benton)
Samson and Delilah (1949, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
The Ten Commandments (1923, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
The Ten Commandments (1956, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)