Burriss: Noah reopens debate over films



The release of the latest Bible-based movie, “Noah,” has reignited the debate about the relationships between Christianity, or religion in general, and Hollywood.

But the controversy is not simply about how religion is portrayed. Rather, the issues involve the very foundations of faith itself. And the media are only one aspect of the debates, so the new Russell Crowe movie is really just a continuation of a long-running, and constantly simmering issue.

In the early days of movies, the Bible-based films of Cecil B. DeMille were sometimes banned because they were not accurate according to some municipal officials.

Later films such as “King of Kings,” “The Ten Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” were either praised or condemned, depending on the spiritual predilections of audiences, reviewers and religious leaders.
Then there were films that were not Bible-based stories themselves, but certainly had a religious bent. Horror films such as “The Exorcist” and science fiction films such as “Contact” were analyzed and scrutinized for supposed pro- or anti-religious bias. They were deconstructed for both overt and hidden religious messages and meanings. All the while, the producers and distributors continued to make frequent trips to the bank to deposit all of their profits.

Finally, films that had absolutely no pretension of religion were scrutinized for spiritual content. “2001” and “Star Wars” immediately come to mind.

But over the last few years the debate has escalated, and all religions seem to have gotten involved. The 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ” was banned around the world. In 2004 Mel Gibson found himself both praised and condemned, often by members of the same dominations, for his film “The Passion of Christ.” In one of the more curious episodes, officials in Malaysia allowed only Christians to see the film. Other religious groups were banned.

So since some people seem to confuse Hollywood fact and fiction with religious fact and fiction, let’s paraphrase a movie character, Palmer Joss, the scientifically-minded minister in “Contact,” as an expert: people of religion should not read too much into movies, and people of movies should not read too much into religion.