The whole question of dramatic productions has once again become a topic of discussion. This is true for several reasons. First, it is, it seems, in every generation a question which needs to be debated anew mostly for the sake of the young people in the Church. Secondly, the advent of television has brought dramatic productions into the home and has made them a common form of entertainment. Thirdly, the number of so-called “Christian. Movies” is growing, and it is even asserted that movies are an effective way to bring the gospel to the unconverted.
It seems sometimes that anyone who raises his voice in protest against the use of dramatic productions is something like a voice in the wilderness in our day. In fact, those who do seem to be such a few that their voice is scarcely heard. The attitude seems to be that anyone who can possibly oppose dramatic productions is so far out in left field that he is not even worth listening to.
It was of some interest then, to read an article in “The Banner of Truth” magazine in which a certain S.M. Hought on condemned severely dramatic productions. His article is of value both for this reason and because it includes a number of quotations from other writings which prove that the condemnation of drama has a long and illustrious history.
We cannot quote the rather lengthy article in full, but give some of the more pertinent paragraphs.
The writer of this article believes that it is high time to expose the folly, the vanity and unlawfulness for the believer in Christ of stage entertainments. . . .
It is undeniable that today the Christian Church at large displays a marked difference in its attitude to theatricals from that adopted by the vast majority of evangelicals from the Reformation onwards, not to mention such corroboratory testimony as may be drawn from the ancient Fathers. It is equally certain that to some extent this change of attitude has resulted from the impact of radio and television upon the Christian home. The fact is that theatricals are no longer to be defined as a diversion to be “enjoyed” in a special building set apart for the acting of plays; they have invaded the home and have become for good or ill a commonplace of domestic leisure. In this way the play has become a part of the life of the adolescent as much as of that of his parents. . . .
It is assumed by many modern evangelicals that the profession of the actor is not in itself open to Christian objection, and that if a play, be it tragedy or comedy, is morally clean, a man or woman may share in a stage performance without a violation of the law of Christ; in other words, in a manner acceptable to God; or again, it can be a work performed in service to Christ. But we can by no means accept this claim. It is to be doubted whether the acting of, say, a love affair (and this is the very stuff of drama) which on paper may be read acceptably, can be performed on the stage without a violation of sound morality. For an actor to make love to an actress on the stage for public entertainment, even if the language employed is chaste and decorous, cannot but have harmful effects on the minds of both players. The sentiments of love may be rendered highly attractive by all the arts of a facile pen and a lively imagination, but for these to be expressed by voice and emphasized by gesture, and by the physical contacts of the players, is bound to have injurious effects on the characters of both. The giving expression to sentiments that are not actually felt, as though they were felt, and that, to gain public applause and (as in the case of professionals) monetary gain, is liable to strike at the very foundations of moral character.
The same evil effects may well be considered in a wider context. It is often claimed that the stage supplies a reflex of human life, and with this goes the plea that an audience is often treated to an analysis of human affairs, and to a dissection of the human heart, that cannot be easily learned elsewhere. But human life is a sad medley of good and evil; hence the stage presents both. It follows therefore that an actor must sometimes represent an evil person who thinks evil thoughts and perpetuates wicked deeds. The more an actor can de-personalize himself and throw himself into the part which he plays, the better actor he will be. Presumably this is a large part of the secret of dramatic success. An actor ceases for the moment to be himself, and becomes the king, the lover, the thief, the betrayer, the adulterer, or suchlike for which he is cast. If he is cast for an evil part he must simulate all that he can imagine belongs to such a character. In the process he is bound to suffer serious moral damage. Night after night he puts off his own character, even as he puts off his own dress, and with the costume appropriate to his part he puts on the character of another. The audience pays to see him do this. The psychological consequences cannot be good. Whatever the effect upon the audience, the cost to the actor is heavy indeed. His “calling” requires him to live in a world of unreality, to project himself into a make-belief manner of life which blunts the sentiment and may even render it nugatory, and which, in sum, is inimical to honest straight-forward thinking and living.
The matter is well stated by a writer of the mid-19th Century: “Never, even by accident, has the theatre chanced to become the school of morals. In no circumstances have good men felt that it could safely be relied upon. This uniform result must have a cause; and is this not to be found in the very principle itself that underlies theatrical representation? It is pageant, show, illusion. It deals in unreal scenes. The success of its artists is in simulating; in appearing what they are not. The aim of the player is to personate another. Like the false glare of the scenery around him, he must be false himself to real character and feelings. His very name indeed (from the Greek ‘hypocrites’—’one under a mask’) has passed over into the synonym of sham. We owe our term of hypocrite to this name. And can this habitual simulation be other than unfavorable in its influence? Must not its inevitable tendency be to the deterioration of character? Can that profession whose life-business it is to deal with the unreal, to put off one’s own identity, to assume another’s position, and personate another’s character, be other than averse to that genuine sincerity and earnestness of purpose which are the granite base of all true performance or endeavor? . . . .
Additional writers are then quoted. We shall include only a statement or two from each.
William Law . . . asserts that “theatre going is a sin against the whole nature and spirit of our religion. It is a contradiction to all Christian holiness and to all the methods of arriving at it. If you live in the use of this diversion you have no grounds to hope that you have the spirit and heart of a Christian. . . .
John Angell . . . : “I do not for a moment hesitate to pronounce the theatre to be one of the broadest avenues which lead to destruction; fascinating no doubt it is, but on that account the more delusive and the more dangerous . . . Vice in every form lives and moves and has its being there. . . .”
J.R. Green, the famed historian: . . .”The hatred of the Puritans to the stage was not a mere longing to avenge the taunts and insults which the stage had leveled at Puritanism; it was in the main the honest hatred of God-fearing men against the foulest depravity presented in a poetic and attractive form.”
The author then addresses himself to a common argument in support of drama.
The fact is that theatrical performances, in order to be paying propositions, must pander to the baser passions in unregenerate men and women. They must be a reflex of the world, the world that lies in the Wicked One. This, say some, is their merit; they are a mirror of life, and as life includes the foul and the sordid so too must the play. We grant that the playwright sets out to mirror life. So too does Holy Scripture. No book so revealing as to human nature! No book which better portrays human sin! But if the theatre and the Book do one and the same thing, wherein lies the vast difference between them? And why may not one be the handmaid of the other? For a variety of reasons; but principally for this—that, whereas the Book shows sin in its true colors, sin in its devilish origin, sin in its course, sin in its wages, sin in its awful and eternal consequences; on the other hand the theatre displays sin that men may be amused, entertained, and alas, all too often seduced. The Book smites the conscience and leads a man to say, “Woe is me, for I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the Ring, the Lord of hosts”; it causes him to cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But the theatre tends in another direction altogether. As it sets out to entertain, so also it blurs a man’s sight of that which is truly spiritual and divinely holy; as it aims to amuse, it dulls a man’s ability to examine himself in the pure light of revealed truth. . . .
The author concludes his article with some quotations from C.H. Spurgeon, with a condemnation of Passion Plays and with the following words:
In sum, then; with the Bible as our guide and with wise voices from the past concurring in our findings, we cannot but conclude that the believer is called to renounce the theatre as one of the vanities of this world, as an institution dangerous to player and spectator alike, and as a form of entertainment commonly given over to that which is inimical to true godliness.
If the author’s arguments are valid, and we believe that they are, then what he has said holds true for every form of dramatic production whether it is offered live on the stage, whether it is shown on the screen of the theater, or whether it is piped into the home via television. It holds true for all forms of drama whether movie productions or so-called “situation comedies.” And if performing in them is sin before God, watching such performances is equally sm. And if they are sin, they can only bear the wages of sin in the hearts and lives of those who participate.