We live at a time when Adventists are unashamedly producing their own films and when youth programs regularly feature drama. Now, for example, talk is adrift regarding the second proposed movie in as many years on the great controversy between Christ and Satan called "Heaven." That is ironic. But the irony will be more apparent toward the end of the article.Read More
The line, “If you go into a movie theater, your guardian angel will wait outside” is now frequently viewed as another artifact of Adventism’s embarrassingly legalistic past. A rhetorical question I’ve heard used as a counter-argument to this statement is “Does that mean that if I watch a movie on TV, the angels will leave my house?” Here are some statements from Messages to Young People regarding the theaters of the day:
Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school for morality and virtue, as is so often claimed, it is the very hotbed of immorality. Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals. Every youth who habitually attends such exhibitions will be corrupted in principle. There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life, than theatrical amusements.
The love for these scenes increases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drink strengthens with its use. The only safe course is to shun the theater, the circus, and every other questionable place of amusement.
The true Christian will not desire to enter any place of amusement or engage in any diversion upon which he cannot ask the blessing of God. He will not be found at the theater, the billiard hall, or the bowling saloon. He will not unite with the gay waltzers, or indulge in any other bewitching pleasure that will banish Christ from the mind.
To those who plead for these diversions, we answer, We cannot indulge in them in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The blessing of God would not be invoked upon the hour spent at the theater or in the dance. No Christian would wish to meet death in such a place. No one would wish to be found there when Christ shall come (398).
In response to the first statement, I’ve heard many Adventists repeat the mantra that “theaters are different today.” While this statement is obviously true on some levels (moving pictures and surround sound are new additions to the theater environment), look again at Ellen White’s description of the problem: “Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions, and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals.” This description of theatrical entertainment is still dead-on. Even when it appears that a movie portrays the triumph of good, what is really being portrayed is exactly the opposite. (See "The message from Hollywood.")
If we accept Ellen White’s first statement, then the second one follows. Why would we desire entertainment that serves to strengthen our vicious habits and sinful propensities?
In light of these statements from Ellen White, is the saying “If you go into a movie theater, your guardian angel will wait outside” outdated or too harsh?
It has become clear to me over the years from personal experience and from observing others that God often protects his wayward children. However, the temptations of Christ teach us that to trust in God’s protection while acting outside of His will is presumption. When Satan tempted Christ to jump from the temple, and quoted Psalm 91, saying “He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone,” Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16: “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” If we intentionally place ourselves on Satan’s territory, we cannot claim God’s promises of protection.
If we bring the insidious influence of the television into our homes, we should expect it to drive out the influence of the Holy Spirit and the holy angels. If we wish to remain in the shadow of the Almighty, on the other hand, we should do all in our power to become more receptive to the Holy Spirit, and make our homes places where the Holy Spirit is free to work.
I’ve watched a fair number of movies in my life. Many were devoid of even the most basic artistic value, many were only marginally entertaining, and I could feel my brain turning to a cottage-cheese like mush while watching most of them. In general, I treated them like a necessary distraction from the great piles of homework that never seemed to go away. A while back, however, I got so busy that I didn’t have any time for movies at all, and I gradually stopped watching them altogether. Recently, I made my abstinence more intentional, for reasons I hope will become clear as you read. To backtrack a bit, the first movie I ever watched (and one of the few movies I watched before I got to college) was “The Last Starfighter,” a sci-fi about a boy who masters a video game and is subsequently recruited to join in a great space battle. (It turned out that the video game was a training tool to find gifted fighters.) I was six or seven years old at the time, and afterword, I asked my dad what the movie meant. The part of his explanation that I remember was “They are telling the story of the Great Controversy from Satan’s perspective.”
Over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that this insight explains the plots of many movies, particularly epic movies about a grand conflict between good and evil. “Transformers” is an excellent example: Optimus Prime and his followers are cast down to earth for rebellion after loosing a great battle, and they become heroes and save the earth from the tyrannical Decepticons who want to enslave humanity. They are the “Autobots”—those who govern themselves. The “Avengers” movies that have recently come out contain another good example: Thor is cast down to earth from Asgard (the dwelling place of the Gods) for insubordination, but becomes a great hero on earth when he helps defeat his evil adopted brother who is intent on enslaving humanity.
Satan sees himself as the good guy, and it doesn’t take much spiritual discernment to understand that Hollywood is under his control. When Optimus Prime and Thor are seen as the Lucifer character in the Great Controversy, the other pieces of each allegory fall into place. The most telling aspect of each becomes the depiction of the Christ character. Satan’s hatred is mostly directed at Christ, so the villain in these movies typically depicts Christ. In “Transformers,” Megatron is the most likely candidate—he is killed and resurrected, and ends up walking around in a ragged cape looking like a large metal prophet. In the “Avengers,” Christ is depicted as the evil adopted brother, a would-be usurper of Thor’s right to the throne, and a power-hungry dictator intent on exacting worship from all humanity. Both series climax with the coming of the evil ones to earth (a “second coming” in the case of the Transformers).
“The Matrix” is a much more sophisticated allegory. The most obvious players are the Architect and the Oracle, the creators of the Matrix; Agent Smith, the law-enforcer; and Neo, the savior character. One might be tempted to think of Neo as a Christ character—after all, he is referred to as “Jesus Christ” at the beginning of the movie. At the end, his dead body is tenderly carried off by little machines with his arms outstretched as if he were on a cross. Take a look at his most important qualification, though: he is the ultimate rebel. According to the movie, Neo didn’t rebel because he was bad—his rebellion was inevitable. It was something inherent in him, something that responded to a deep flaw in the reality created by the Architect and the Oracle. In fact, he was the sum of the freewill (referred to as the “anomaly”) of the mass of humanity, a humanity hopelessly resisting an arbitrary law they did not understand.
After a new birth, complete with amniotic fluid (“neo” means “new” or “young,” after all), Neo starts fighting the Matrix in earnest over a checkered floor—a representation of the knowledge of good and evil. He learns to be free by learning to break the laws of the Matrix, and finally assumes a sort of godhood when he basically dies and is resurrected. At this point, he understands the laws of the Matrix perfectly and as such, can bend them as he wills, giving him perfect freedom. Neo is the sixth incarnation of the rebel, and the architect refers to him as “the first and the last.”
When Neo kills Agent Smith (who is also subsequently resurrected), he unintentionally gives him the power to impart his nature to humans and gives Smith power over the law as well (The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord—from Satan’s perspective, Christ breaks the law by granting sinners eternal life). Smith’s character actually portrays Christ in the movie, but Satan hates to admit that Jesus Christ is God, so Smith starts out as a mere program like all other programs. Only after Neo kills him does he become an immensely powerful force in the Matrix. Toward the end, Smith achieves a sort of omnipotence (though the only advantage he has over Neo is his ability to impart his image to others, which he does by force). With his usurpation of the Oracle’s powers, he achieves a sort of omniscience. A “smith” is one who makes things—I suspect that ”Agent Smith” is a reference to the “Word,” the Agent by whom “all things were made.”
The key, then, to understanding movies is knowing that they “call evil good and good evil,” and “turn darkness into light and light into darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). In these movies and in many others, Lucifer is the protagonist and Christ is the antagonist. Through this type of movie, Satan’s message to the world is that Christ is not divine and that He operates through coercion and hunger for power, while Satan—always the good guy—wants only what’s best for the human race. Movies depict God as a tyrant, and teach that by breaking His arbitrary law, we can obtain true freedom.