Friday, December 3, 2010

Why are we afraid of ratings?

It seems like a strange question to ask about Christians. We seem to be the biggest supporters of ratings. We do things that are rated “G” and we shun anything above a “PG-13.” “R” does not stand for restricted and only for mature audiences, it means rejected as too sexual, too violent, too disturbing, or too raw. Pick your adjective, it really does not matter. Ratings make our lives as parents easier, we do not have to monitor what our children watch if we shove “G” rated movie into the player. We do not have to deliberate if a movie is appropriate or not if someone has already made that decision for us.

I do not want to get lost in a debate on whether we have grown lazy in allowing others to make our parenting decisions. I do not want to get caught up in whose responsibility it is to regulate the content of our cultures creative endeavors. What I want to know is, why are we afraid of ratings?

This question strikes at the heart of Christian creativity. We have placed such a high value on being family friendly that we will do anything to keep those family friendly ratings. We have trained our population to avoid those things that might not be kid friendly, and Christian artists operate with the knowledge that to be successful commercially we must retain our “G” rating.

At first this may seem to be a good, even beneficial effect of the rating system, but the problem arises when we fail to recognize the purpose of art. The problem becomes exacerbated when we fail to recognize our own hypocrisy of the rating system.

I would ask each of you ask yourself, is it good that your child read the Bible?

We give them pretty pastel works, with cute pictures and fun little facts in the margins. We have all sorts of clever marketing campaigns, and from this evidence I would conclude that we as whole believe that children having and reading their Bibles is a good thing.

I recently looked through a children’s Bible I had given my daughter, and I noticed something peculiar. On almost every other page there are verses written in a different color, memory verses, or a small commentary on a passage. However, there was nothing in the four pages it took to hold Judges 19-21, or in the Levitical law pertaining to sex. Song of Solomon received some light comments about relationship and glossed over the sexual nature of the book. Large chunks of Ezekiel were completely without anything to draw attention to his warning.

Here’s the thing, if we were to put a rating on the Bible it would have to be “R”. If you don’t believe me go back and read that passage in Judges, examine the words of the prophets, or the laws that deal with sex. You see, God doesn’t flinch when it comes to our sexuality or our tendencies towards violence. He is pretty bold about blood and other bodily fluids. And yet, none of us deny that the Bible is good. We just have to stop insisting that it is “G” or “PG.”
So what does this have to do with books, movies, or music?

The Bible is beautiful because God did not flinch when he looked at us. He saw all the things we do wrong, and he said that he could redeem us any way. He said that no matter how much destruction we caused in arrogance, he could restore those who repented, but he knew that first we had to see our sin as the damning event it is. We had to recognize our depravity, our filth, and our pain. It is never a pretty thing to see.

When we as Christian artist struggle to put form or words to a spiritual reality we should be operating under the mandate for excellence. We should not be diluting the message in order meet the Christian industries demands for nice. God isn’t nice. The Bible isn’t nice. God is real and so is his word.

We love to quote Paul, Whatever things are true, whatever things are good, whatever things are lovely , think on these things. But we are failing to hear what we are saying. True, not nice. People struggling with addiction is true. Divided families equally true today. Lonely people, bad people, good people in bad situations all truths of our culture. As for good, Jesus says only God is good and he has a heart for those who are trapped in sin, for those who have been hurt by violence. Lovely, full of love worthy of love, in need of love, I cannot think of any one more in need of love than those who are portrayed in today’s media.

They are fictional characters you may argue, perhaps, but they came from the mind and experiences of real people.

And Christian artists must be free to express the truths of our culture, just as the prophets offered up the wounds of the people before God to plead for his mercy upon their culture. That is why a Christian must be able to write the song about addiction, paint a person broken, or write the book about a failed sexual relationship. They are the truths our time, and in fact the truth of many Christians. We need the freedom to be real with God, and with each other through our medium.

I can’t help but think it was a good thing that there was no rating board when the prophets spoke or when the Bible was written. Can you imagine the scandal when millions of good Christians purchased an R rated book?


Emily said...

I follow another blog called Experimental Theology, and this morning the author had shared this song. I thought it fit rather nicely with this topic.

And for those of you who are interested in theological musings and discussions, here is a link to the blog

Emily said...

Okay, so I prove my ineptness with technology and can't get the links to work. But I am sure you all know how to cut and paste. ; )

Common Household Mom said...

I just proved my technical ineptness, by typing in a long, comment, only to discover that my daughter was logged in, instead of me!

Here goes again. I found you by following your link from the comments at the Exper. Theol. blog. (You were very technical apt at establishing that link- it worked perfectly.) I am not sure I am qualified to be here, since I am neither an artist, musician, or poet. I do feel qualified, though, to agree with you that the Bible gets an R rating. Last year I led a Bible study on the book of Genesis. Just that book alone gets a solid R rating. Most of us haven't read that stuff as adults, since the stories of Genesis were drummed into us as children. So it was surprising to realize how white-washed we make those stories for our children. But I think it is necessary to tone it down for the kids. Just as God does not reveal everything to us adults all at once, neither should we parents reveal things to our children before they are ready to hear them.

Emily said...

Welcome to the Pagus,, Common Household Mom.

I completely agree we have to be sensitive to our children's needs. There were large chunks I "glossed over" with my girls when they were younger. My problem isn't that we are age appropriate with the kiddos. I just have problem with adults who never bother to go back as an adult to see it from that perspective. I applaud you for being one of the few who are brave enough to re-read it and put aside some of our childhood ideas.

I think that if we can recognize how raw the Bible is we can make room for the messy reality of our lives. It might even mean that Christian can deal with hard issues as bluntly and effectively as God does in scripture. Until we can be real I doubt that we can deal with real problems of our culture.