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ANALYSIS: Should moviegoers be concerned over profane use of God’s name?

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HOLLYWOOD (BP)–“Cast Away,” “Pay It Forward,” “The Big Kahuna,” “13 Days,” “Return To Me,” “Charlie’s Angels” — each of these films presents either a positive message, an uplifting theme or just downright entertaining fare. Unfortunately, each also contains the profane use of God’s name.

Should this now-common practice of including profanity in nearly every film make moviegoing off-limits to Christians? And should Christians continue to remain silent about the abuse of the third of the Ten Commandments?

First, let’s define profanity. Over the years, all crude, vulgar or obscene language has been lumped under the heading of profanity. But obscenity is not the true definition of profanity. According to Webster’s dictionary, obscenity is defined as “objectionable or repugnant to acceptable standards of decency or morality; indecent; pornographic, offensive in language or action.” Profanity is described as “irreverent toward God or holy things.”

All right, profanity is irreverence toward God, big deal. Among the grand scheme of things, profanity falls short as one of the great no-nos. Right? Wrong!

Showing a reverence toward the Almighty, which includes not taking his name in vain, is right at the top of the list of Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20. This command comes before others addressing coveting, adultery and, yes, killing. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:4 NIV).

While society as a whole points an accusatory finger at the exploitation of violence and sexuality, these are only symptoms of what ails our entertainment mediums. Consider for a moment: If you go to a surgeon and detail the symptoms you are suffering, the doctor doesn’t just treat the symptoms. If he does, the malady will manifest itself again. The symptoms tell him what the problem is and guides him in the treatment.

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Likewise, if the Bible truly is the Word of God, is it too simplistic to suggest that the core problem with today’s standards is a disregard for God’s commands? And although we have been turning a deaf ear to the media’s usage of blasphemy for quite some time, should we continue to do so?

In reviewing films for the Dove Foundation, a nonprofit organization that spotlights wholesome family entertainment, I have had to disapprove of a film time after time due to its irreverent use of God’s name when, otherwise, it either had artistic merit or even an uplifting message.

One film, for example, is “13 Days,” about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. A real nail-biter, these actual events come frighteningly to life with David Self’s enthralling script and the perceptive performances of the film’s cast. Unfortunately, each character profanes God’s name in this PG-13-rated movie. Although men under pressure are bound to utter words they normally would not, when filmmakers use God’s name followed by a curse 14 times and Jesus’ name is used as a mere expletive 15 times, it not only reveals a limited artistic ability to express frustration, but it also portrays the characters as men who do not honor or fear God.

“Pay It Forward” is also an engaging film. Much like “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it supports the theory that one life or selfless deed can alter the lives of others forever. Unfortunately, I was unable to recommend this well-made film for family viewing due to its eight profanities.

In Tom Hanks’ “Cast Away,” it is made abundantly clear that he is a good man, but one who does not acknowledge the Creator. Indeed, the only mention of God is in the form of the film’s one profanity, coming from the lead during an intense moment of depression. Even after burying a victim of a plane crash and creating a headstone in remembrance of the man, the Hanks character doesn’t pray over him. The film has a strong message about the sanctity of life, but that one profanity makes a statement about the character. His only reference to the Almighty is in the form of a curse.

The Dove Foundation, along with several other Christian organizations dealing with the entertainment industry, has drawn the line when it comes to the misuse of God’s name. For although Christians are not saved by the Old Testament law, but by the mercy of God and the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, they recognize what Christ says in Matthew 19:17, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

To say God would change commandments nowadays is to suggest he made a mistake. According to the Word, our Creator is infallible: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments” (Revelations 16:7 NIV). I found 32 examples throughout the Bible where we are instructed to reverence God. Man may try to “update” the Holy Book, but there’s no evidence to believe God would.

It’s way beyond time that people stop hiding their heads in the sand, hoping the problem will solve itself. Whether you attend movies or not, the media affects your life. Christ commands us to follow a certain standard not out of piety, but as a reflection of what we believe.

For those of us who enjoy moviegoing, what should we do? The answers are simple in theory, yet difficult in practice:

1) Be careful what you support. “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (Psalms 101 NIV). Can that verse be applied to the movies you are attending? There’s no magic elixir. It takes commitment.

2) Be informed. By first knowing the film’s content and message, you can decide if the new releases are suitable for your family. There is no longer any excuse for entering a theater blind to a film’s content. Several Christian film reviewers offer this information on a weekly basis, including yours truly.

3) Communicate with the media. Every letter film studio and TV execs receive concerning programming is equivalent to hearing from a thousand viewers. (Studio addresses will be included at the end of this article.) Many in the film industry simply do not know that hearing God’s name followed by a curse or having Jesus’ name used as a mere expletive is offensive to believers. While other groups in our society have made it clear that they desire respect for their lifestyles and beliefs, the Christian community as a whole has become complacent when it comes to the media’s bandying of God’s name.

If you decide to let Tinseltown know of your vexation, keep your letter short and sweet. Simply let them know what you like, what you don’t and why. Keep it to a couple of paragraphs. And do it with respect and in God’s love. Don’t preach. You do your job and let the Holy Spirit do his.

4) Communicate with your local TV affiliate. If you are upset with profanity on television (which is happening more and more frequently), call the offending local channel (the number is in your phone book). Without anger, say, “I’m watching your movie (or program) and they are using profanity. I’m a Christian and it’s very offensive to me and my family. Would you please tell your station manager? Thank you.” I guarantee, if a hundred people in your community would do the same, you’d see a change. Which means it’s not only important that you make that call, but that you get others to do the same.

5) Communicate with your kids. Set guidelines, and base those principles on your understating of God’s teaching. Setting the criteria when they are very young — and living it — gives your offspring much better odds of resisting the world’s doctrine. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).

Is it a sin to attend movies that contain profanity? During my years as a Christian reviewer of movies, I have made a practice of not delivering ultimatums as to whether someone should or should not see a movie. I have adhered to this philosophy for one important reason: What my faith enables me to do or prevents me from doing may differ greatly from someone else. God made us creatures of free will; therefore, be guided by the Word of God and your personal faith in making this decision.

As followers of Christ, we are to be a light unto the world. But it’s not until we desire to rise above the world’s standard that we will embrace God’s. Keep in mind that the Word is clear that we are to be a peculiar people. “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:7,8 NIV).

A new morality is clearly existent in our society, with the casual presentation of something anti-moral abundant in most films and TV programs. As society slips further and further away from the fundamentals of right and wrong, we who follow biblical teachings will seem even more peculiar. I hope we all remember that the Bible doesn’t apply to parts of our lives, but to the sum total — including how we entertain ourselves. If we are diligent in governing what we support at the box office, it is honoring to God, nurturing to loved ones and a guidepost to those who scrutinize our walk.
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Boatwright is the editor and film reviewer for The Movie Reporter, a monthly film guide from a Christian perspective, which also includes video alternatives. For further information call (805) 495-0914 or visit his Internet site, www.moviereporter.com.
MOVIE STUDIOS:

— Columbia: 10202 W. Washington, Culver City, CA 90232-3195

— Walt Disney Company: 500 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521

— Universal: 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608

— Paramount Pictures: 5555 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038

— Twentieth Century-Fox: 10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035

— Warner Brothers: 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91522

— Miramax: 8439 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069

— New Line Cinema: 116 N. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048

— Touchstone Pictures: 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521

— MGM: 2500 Broadway St., Santa Monica, CA 90404-3061