Monday, August 09, 2004

The Gospel According to Spider-Man

There are some enjoyable reflections on the cinema and Christianity in the current issue of Time Magazine:

The Gospel According To Spider-Man
Christians have discovered a powerful new teaching tool, and it's playing at a cineplex near you

I admit that this strays a little from the NT theme of this blog, but it's only a little, and I wanted an excuse to use that marvellous headline. A couple of excerpts:
For decades, America has embraced a baffling contradiction. The majority of its people are churchgoing Christians, many of them evangelical. Yet its mainstream pop culture, especially film, is secular at best, often raw and irreligious. In many movies, piety is for wimps, and the clergy are depicted as oafs and predators. It's hard to see those two vibrant strains of society ever coexisting, learning from each other.

Yet the two are not only meeting; they're also sitting down and breaking bread together. The unearthly success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ helped movie execs recognize that fervent Christians, who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on religious books and music, are worth courting. Publicists hired by studios feed sermon ideas based on new movies to ministers. Meanwhile, Christians are increasingly borrowing from movies to drive home theological lessons. Clergy of all denominations have commandeered pulpits, publishing houses and especially websites to spread the gospel of cinevangelism.

The cinevangelists would say that the churches' appropriation of pop culture is nothing new. "Jesus also used stories," Johnston says. "In his day, parables were the equivalent of movies." Marc Newman, who runs, traces pop proselytizing back to the Apostle Paul. "In Acts there's a Scripture describing how he came to the Areopagus, the marketplace in Athens where people exchanged ideas. Paul speaks to the men of Athens and refers to their poets and their prophets. He used the things they knew as a way to reach out with the Gospel."
And you could also say that Paul (at least in Acts) was at his least successful in Athens! This paragraph is also worth mentioning:
Rarely, a Christian message is implicated in a Hollywood film. Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which an ordinary guy sees the light and travels far to make contact with extraterrestrials, was conceived by its original screenwriter, Paul Schrader, as Saul's transforming journey to become the Apostle Paul. The Matrix (the first one, not the sequels) was manna to hermeneuticians. In a recent Museum of Modern Art film series called "The Hidden God: Film and Faith," Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray comedy about a man who relives the same day over and over, was cited as a profound statement of faith, either Buddhist (rebirth), Jewish (acceptance) or Christian (redemption).
I didn't know that about Close Encounters and Paul Schrader, who also wrote the screenplay, with Scorsese, for The Last Temptation of Christ.

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