Monday, August 22, 2011

Christians and Art: Content vs. Quality

In the last several months, I have found myself in several arguments with fellow Christians over art. Sometimes I have argued the more conservative side, and sometimes I have argued against the more conservative side. Recently, I have identified at what is often at battle with Christians and the arts: content and quality.

This shouldn’t be surprising, because for a good time now Christian arts have become specifically known for low-quality. If Christians want something higher-quality (movies, books, music, you name it) they generally have to gravitate towards the secular market, and gravitate towards content that is (generally) less God-glorifying.

This is what causes, I believe, the great controversies in truly Christian communities. I need only mention Harry Potter for you to get what I mean, but considering I’m “on the fence” as far as that goes, I’ll turn to examples I do understand.

My most heated arguments have been over the television show Doctor Who. Obviously, I’m a huge fan, though I admit its flaws as well, mainly: evolution and taking the Lord’s name in vain. There are other things, but most can be summed up in “evolution.” The show’s universe is one where God has no place.

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? For me, it is mostly redeemed by the excellent writing, superb characters, and good morals (although, officially, there is absolutely no ground for them).

A less obvious example is "Tangled." Recently, my friend Hannah posted a review on this apparently harmless movie. I didn’t agree with everything she said, but she brought up two good points: the issue of “rebellion is good” and “the end justifies the means.” There has not been much hue and cry in the Christian community over Tangled, but it too has its issues even with its superb quality (as she also admitted).

For more middle ground, Lord of the Rings. I would guess that the conservative Christian community is split about half-and-half on this one. Some things it’s a superb story that is God-glorifying (me!), others are worried about the magic of Gandalf and the ring of power.

The list could go on and on. Over and over again, it’s the tug-of-war of content vs. quality. For some, content is more important. For others, quality. For people like me, I end up swaying for quality sometimes and content other times (Doctor Who is probably my most secular fandom).

Of course, as a Christian artist, my goal is to marry content and quality in everything I do. But as Christians, artist or not, how do we cope with this content-quality battle?

As I have disagreed with, argued with, and debated my fellow Christians for the past few months, I have finally come to a conclusion: it comes down to each person and God.

As I watch Doctor Who even amidst moral issues for the good in it, I avoid the “Trock” (Doctor Who/Time Lord rock) band “Chameleon Circuit” because it has lyrics that take God’s name in vain. For me, good, catchy music with content like that is a BAD idea--because it will get stuck in my head. I don’t want it running through my head for hours on end, and I know it will if I listen to it. It doesn’t seem to bother some Christian friends of mine.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul discusses (as my Bible labels it) “Be[ing] Sensitive to Conscience.” As it is 13 verses long and doesn’t really deserve be excerpted, I suggest you read it yourself. The gist, however, is about the idea of eating food offered to idols, and two views on it: 1) it’s okay and 2) it’s not okay. Paul says it’s okay: it’s not a sin. But he then urges the Corinthians not to eat food offered to an idol in the presence of Believers that view it as wrong. It says “their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (verse 7).

Watching and reading or not watching and reading certain movies and books can be a slightly different matter, but in some ways it’s very similar. Some things, overall, won’t really matter. At the same time, some people will be pro and some will be anti. And that’s okay. I don’t think it necessarily means a conscience is “weak,” but that each person is different. For myself, it’s not good to listen to music with lyrics I disapprove of. For Hannah, it’s not good to watch a movie that promotes rebellion against authority.

Does the “anti” or the “pro” make either one of us any more of a Christian than someone who listens to that music and watches that movie? I don’t think so. We’re both trying to glorify God in our choices against certain things.

All in all, it comes down to you and God. If you think you shouldn’t be watching that show, then stop. If you think you shouldn’t read that book, then don’t. But also don’t decide that someone else is less of a Christian because of their quality choices or less of a person because of their content choices.

If they’re a true Christians, they’re trying their best.

So do the same.

First two images from Wikipedia. Lord of the Rings image from Amazon.


Sandy said...

And this is why I automatically gravitate towards secular fiction when in the bookstore/used bookstore/library. It's sad, but true.

Oh, and I agree about the messages in Tangled... I guess that's really why I didn't love it as much as everyone else did, because all I could think about while watching it were the themes. There re some times when being a writer makes it really hard to enjoy stuff :P

ZNZ said...

This is a fascinating and well-written post!

I'm going to be honest right away and say that I don't read Christian fiction. (Lewis doesn't count.) In my (admittedly limited) experience, it tends to be formulaic, didactic, and poorly-written. And of course there seems to be very little fantasy, which is what I almost always read.

I've never seen Doctor Who (though I should probably get on that; it appears I'm the only person on the Internet who's not a fan).

The Tangled review made me dissolve into a little puddle of frustrated incoherence, the gist of which was "WHAT NO IT CAN'T BE EVIL IT'S A FAIRY TALE MADE OF EVERYTHING THAT IS ADORABLE AND SWEET AND AWESOME AND IT MADE ME LAUGH AND FEEL WARM FUZZIES!" I'm afraid I can't agree with you at all about that movie. Of course Rapunzel was right to rebel against Mother Gothel! She was an evil witch and a terrifically abusive mother to boot. It doesn't promote rebellion against all authority; just against authorities that are evil and abusing you while using you to keep themselves young. And I really don't see where there was any suggestion at all that the end justifies the means.

Lord of the Rings I love, of course. I don't think that there are problems with the magic of the ring and Gandalf, the reasoning being: The Ring is obviously evil. And Gandalf isn't human. He is, in essence, an angel. Well, a Maia, but it comes down to about the same thing. I don't see how anyone could object to the idea of an angel having more-than-mortal powers.

I agree with your conclusion that it really is something for everyone to decide between themselves and God. And people definitely shouldn't try to decide for other people. I do disagree with some of what you said, but I respect your decisions and I'm certainly not going to try to get anyone to read anything that they believe is wrong for them to read, even if I think they're wrong. Gah incoherence.

Nairam said...

@Sandy: Yeah...I really liked the first 3 times or so, but now I'm a bit more cooled towards it, though I'll still watch it for its good points.

@ZNZ: I love Lewis. I don't read much "Christian fiction" beyond him (and, since you say he "doesn't count", maybe none at all...:P) because even when I do pick them up they're not that great to read. I do, however, like Mr. Schwabauer's Runt the Brave and Runt the Hunted books--which is quite a feat, considering I don't usually like fantasy either!

Yes, you should see Doctor Who. :P

I don't think Tangled has MAJOR issues...I'm more likely to agree with you than Hannah at this point, though I can see some of her points (the response I wrote to the review never came up on there: I refuted some of them and "tamed" others). The rebellion issue IS much lessened by the fact that Gothel is evil (I think it's still a slight issue since Rapunzel doesn't KNOW she's evil...but, meh. It's not enough to stop me watching.) and the "ends justifies the means" is slight, I think. Overall a pretty harmless movie, I think.

I agree on LotR. I don't understand most objections to it, and I don't think I have as much knowledge as you do. (I still need to try the Silmarillion again...). It has such SPECTACULAR themes of goodness, loyalty, sacrifice, and on and on that I don't think it fair to go: "ahhhh magic!"

Haha, yes, that's the issue. ;) I've only recently come to this conclusion. I'm a bit of "THEY MUST BE CONVINCED!" type, so I need to work on restraining myself too. Discussing I think is okay. But sometimes, when neither person is going to change their mind (*cough*DoctorWho*cough*) it because a bit destructive...anyway.

Thanks for commenting!

ZNZ said...

I guess Lewis can count. :) I say he doesn't... I guess I don't think of his stuff as specifically Christian fiction, though I'm not quite sure how to explain why. Maybe - if you call him a Christian fiction writer, then it needs to be parsed as "Christian [fiction writer]" rather than "[Christian fiction] writer," so that "Christian" is modifying writer rather than fiction, because the writer is the one that's a Christian and any Christianity in the writing stems naturally from the writer's beliefs rather than lots of conscious effort. Does that make sense?

Do read the Silmarillion. It's even more utterly brill than LotR.

Nairam said...

That makes perfect sense. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said (paraphrasing): "we don't need more Christian books. We need more Christians writing books." So it would seem he understood that distinction too. ;)

Well...I don't really read LotR for the world building. Not a fantasy person. I do love the story, though. And characters. When I tried it it seemed more about world than even LotR...but I was thirteen or something, so.

ZNZ said...

That quote is it exactly. I love it when authors say things beautifully that you've always thought but were never able to explain coherently. <3

The Silm is a lot about the world, yeah, but it does also have great characters and stories. I don't think I can really judge if you'd like it or not, though; I adore it but I'm very much a fantasy person.

Hannah said...

Oh, I got linked to. Cool!
Really good post!

And it's not that there was rebellion in Tangled that was an issue with me. It's how it was handled. ;)

- Hannah

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