Does Hollywood Hate Religion?

By Lewis Willis

This is an article about an article. Michael Medved, co-host of the weekly PBS television program, “Sneak Previews Goes Video,” is the author of the article I am reviewing. I would like to print the article in its entirety, but it is a copyrighted article and that is not permissible. He delivered an address at Hillsdale (Michigan) College on March 5, 1989. It was printed in the college paper and re-printed by Reader’s Digest (July 1990). The significance of his article, I think, is that it was written by a movie critic, and not by a preacher. What he said needs to be circulated in the religious community.

I happily confess to you that many of the movies that he refers to I know nothing about. I finally broke down and went to see the movie, Dick Tracy, a few weeks ago. It was the first movie I had gone to in a mighty long time. Thus, I don’t know much about what is happening in ‘the movie making business. From what I have seen and read, however, it appears that not much that is good can be said about many of them.

Medved said of Martin Scorses’s The Last Temptation of Christ, that it was an experience “about as uplifting as two hours and forty minutes in a dentist’s chair.” He calls the movie industry’s endorsement of that movie “perhaps the most grotesque illustration of the pervasive hostility to religion and religious values in Hollywood. ” He pointed out that for many years Hollywood depicted preachers and the religious community with “popular and sympathetic portrayals. ” However, he says that Hollywood has swung to the other extreme in the last 10 – 15 years. If Hollywood today refers to a preacher, he says, “You can be fairly sure that he will be crazy or corrupt – or both.” He cites as illustrations the movies Monsignor, Agnes of God, Salvation!, Pass the Ammo, and Riders of the Storm. Medved says that in these movies “some of the best actors in the business . . . play well-intentioned idealists overwhelmed by the cynicism and hypocrisy of the church hierarchy.” He said these movies I I savagely satirized greedy and greasy evangelists lusting after sex and money.”

Medved says that, “Industry insiders insist that movie makers are merely responding to the beliefs and prejudices of the film-going public.” He observes, however, that all of these movies with their anti-religious sentiments, without exception, “were big disappointments at the box office.” The producers who launched these projects to slam religion “lost millions of dollars.” By contrast, Medved wrote, films which presented religion favorably, like Chariots of Fire, Tender Mercies and A Cry in the Dark, had strong audience appeal and made millions for their producers.

He asks, “Why hasn’t Hollywood gotten the message? Why do savvy producers continue to authorize scores of projects that portray religious leaders as crazed, conspiratorial charlatans . . . ?” He explains that it is hard to escape the conclusion that, “for many of the most powerful people in the entertainment business, hostility to traditional religion goes so deep and burns so intensely that they insist on expressing that hostility, even at the risk of commercial disaster . . . If writers and directors take a swipe at religion in one of their films, no matter how clumsy or contrived that attack may be, they can feel as if they’ve made some sort of important and courageous statement . . . By sneering at zealots and deriding conventional religious beliefs, a film maker can win the respect of his peers, even if his work is rejected by the larger public.”

Mr. Medved referred to a 1982 survey of the key figures in the movie business. Only four percent regularly attend any religious worship. He said, “Most movie makers assume a patronizing attitude toward religiously committed people because they know so few of them personally. ” Thus, the only way these people know about religion is to observe religion in its most public form – through tele-evangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. We certainly know how they portray religion! If these are the only religious people that film makers know, I suppose we should be thankful they portray religion as favorably as they do.

Finally, Medved says that movie attendance by Americans has declined in the last forty years. In 1950 almost 58 million Americans went to a movie each week. Today, only 22 million do. He says, “Americans are giving up on contemporary movies because they see their own deepest values so rarely reflected – or even respected – on screen. Hollywood, the mighty engine of popular culture, is hopelessly out of touch.”

As I said earlier, the significance of this article is that it sounds like it was written by a gospel preacher. I personally find hope in a situation when the people of the world assume the same posture about a matter as God’s people assume. We have known for a long time that movies were blasphemous to God and corruptive of our young people. Now even movie critics not only observe this, but they are beginning to speak in opposition to the trend. When people of influence in the film making business start saying, “Stop this nonsense,” perhaps the film makers will listen.

In the meantime, let God’s people continue to be on the alert where movies are concerned. Do not support them or encourage their antireligious efforts in any way. Of course, the best support you can give them is to buy a ticket. If the movie is bad, stay at home! If more of us would do so, fewer of these films would be made. Parents, you sustain a special obligation to steer your children away from films which portray religion unfavorably or which pander filth.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 1, p. 9
January 3, 1991