Friday, July 17, 2009

Why FIREPROOF is Immoral

An old family friend recently wrote me regarding my previous rant about the movie "Fireproof", wanting me to know that some of her friends had watched it and had told her that it had some good points in it that had helped their marriages. She suggested that maybe I ought to just take it for what it is intended to be - an accessible sermon with a few good points.

I can't do that, though. Once you put a piece of "Art" out into the public sphere you enter the highly contentious world of art criticism, about which everyone has opinions, some of them quite firm and granite-like. "Taking it for what it is" would essentially be to quash my own side of the public debate.

So why is it such an issue for me? I really don't have a problem with the existence of poor art, after all. I won't invade your kitchen and tear up that atrocious paint-by-number your grandmother butchered. I think there is a very important and valuable place for art by the masses. It's just that I think there ought to be a different standard for art that is for the masses, and it pains me to see how nominal Christians tend to elevate crappy art thrown into this sphere to the place of higher quality art, raving about how amazing it is when anything more than a cursory glance shows its obvious flaws.

The end result is that anybody not in "The Club" is turned off to all Christian art, writing and film - even the good stuff - and the name of Christ gets impugned. Art is my thing, and my ability to strive to be heard as a legitimate artistic voice, capable of doing something positive, is seriously limited by the elevation of bad art.

As Madeleine L'Engle says, "Bad art is bad theology".

I am absolutely for people's marriages being helped - marriage is hard, obviously, and anything that keeps families healthy is a good thing - but a movie like"Fireproof" only works if you agree, ahead of time, that things like quality and excellence and truth do not matter, as long as your point is made. I absolutely don't buy that - and tend to think that it is the sort of underlying attitude that says it's OK to bomb hospitals and children if you get rid of a dictator in the process.

Whenever you put principles and making a point ahead of the truth, you do violence to the world and betray the name of Christ.

To give one very simple example, let's just look at the characterization of the protagonist, Caleb Holt, who starts the movie as a non-Christian fire fighter. The people who made this movie have a view of humanity in which they see anyone not in The Christian Club as somehow less than human. They see no need, therefore, to portray Caleb as anything other than a two-dimensional cutout on a flannelgraph. Caleb is not real. In a a screaming match with his wife, for example, he calls her all sorts of names, but never any really angry ones.

He has been sanitized flat into a person who won't swear even when he's really, really mad - something unrealistic and inhuman even for someone in The Club. Granted, this may have more to do with their need to put on the blinders and sanitize the world, but lying about what people are really like is not just wrong, it's hateful, and it's not something you will ever find in the Bible.

A better example, perhaps, would be the ridiculous portrayal of Caleb Holt's pornography problem. He looks at porn openly in front of his wife, despite her obvious anger about it, and seems to feel no guilt, shame, or desire to hide his actions. As anyone who's ever dealt with this problem in any way knows, this is an inhuman depiction. The only conclusion I can reach is that the filmmakers believe that people who aren't in The Christian Club are somehow sub-human, which is nothing less than an act of hate and bigotry, because it posits the inferiority of another people group. To suggest that those who aren't like us aren't really human in the way we are - like, for example, that they don't feel guilt or shame - is absolute horse manure.

We are, all of us, in the same boat. All of us. And when we pretend that those not in our club are fundamentally inferior, we are left in the position of maintaining the illusion of our own superiority - a vocation in which we will inevitably fail.

Bad acting and bad filmmaking are not just bad, they are wrong, because they increase the level of deception in the world and make it harder for people in The Christian Club to acknowledge not only the common humanity in everybody else, but also the humanity in themselves. They perpetuate a world of make-believe which inevitably leads to public and private failure.

As a big Jesus fan, I find it embarrassing and increasingly painful to watch The Name get dragged through the "Christian" night dirt.

"Fireproof" may be fabulous as an accessible sermon to show to your church (which I obviously doubt), but it is absolutely terrible as a movie with which to flood the market in the name of Christ. Even if it does have some good points (which, I think, it may), it would be far less hateful and more worthwhile to list them in a one-page document attached to an email. This would keep down the level of immorality in the world and save me a valuable hour and a half, which I could then spend burning and censoring all the bad "Christian" "Art" I could find.

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