Author Mark Roques warns us to be on our guard when watching television and movies
Hollywood films are great to enjoy over a carton of popcorn. Enjoy, but be discerning. They often promote a popular and pervasive form of secular faith. Don’t be mugged by the Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Let me explain.
At the beginning of the 2001 movie Legally Blonde Elle Woods is a dizzy and rather shallow young woman. She talks extensively about make-overs, hair styling, manicures and little else. She tells her friends that anyone who believes that “orange is the new pink is seriously disturbed”. However, when jilted by her fiancée, she wakes up one morning and decides to “believe in herself” as a future heroine of the first rank.
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By the end of the film, Elle has triumphed over all the odds. Not only is she a towering, intellectual giant who quotes Aristotle with consummate ease, she has also morphed into a wonderful and caring person that everyone admires.
She is the ultimate chameleon. She has gone from zero to hero in the course of the film. To cap it all she preaches a moving, inspiring secular homily to remind us of the plot.
“You must always have faith in people. And most importantly you must always have faith in yourself.”
Her ‘gospel’ seems to be this: “We’re all essentially good and all we have to do is dig deep and reach into our inner reservoirs of goodness and gorgeousness and a lovely happy ending is guaranteed. ‘Trust in your instincts’. ‘Trust in your feelings’. ‘Follow your heart’ would be the appropriate mantras for this vibrant Hollywood faith.”
Why do I speak of faith here?
Hollywood films are often urging us to trust in a mythical, higher self that is pure, sinless and noble and in so doing we are being told to forget God and bask in our own innate virtue. This is the secular faith that the French boffin Jean-Jacques Rousseau proclaimed so successfully in 18th Century France. Rousseau completely denied biblical teaching about original sin. Humans are innately good. Sin is an illusion (I am aware that Rousseau is more collectivist than the individualism of Hollywood).
Oprah Winfrey, the American talk show host, actress, producer and billionaire put it like this: “Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself.” Wisdom on this view has nothing to do with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7, Revelation 14:7). In this narrative you are your own saviour and you are the hero.
Mariah Carey’s song ‘Hero’ also preaches this human-centred secular faith: “Look inside you and be strong. And you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.”
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So who is the hero? Is it your perfect, ‘higher self’ or God? Hollywood clearly prefers this secular form of individual self-salvation to biblical teaching.
The New Testament challenges the blandishments and polished deceptions of Hollywood mythology. We are wonderfully made in God’s image. We are also fallen, fragile, foolish and in great need of our faithful saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In conclusion we should be discerning as we enjoy Hollywood films. They can be very entertaining but they can also indoctrinate us into false and unbiblical ways of thinking and living.
This article was originally published on the Thinking Faith Network website.
Mark Roques taught Philosophy and Religious Education at Prior Park College, Bath, for many years. As Director of RealityBites he has developed a rich range of resources for youth workers and teachers. He has spoken at conferences in the UK, Holland, South Korea, Spain, Australia and New Zealand. Mark is a lively storyteller and the author of four books, including The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking about Christian Faith. His work is focused on storytelling and how this can help us to communicate the Christian faith. He has written many articles for the Baptist Times, RE Today, Youthscape, Direction magazine and the Christian Teachers Journal.