Rev. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
Movie attendance was, once, forbidden to church members. But after the advent of television, cable, and now, V.C.R.’s, there appears to be no restriction upon this activity anymore. In fact, even the most conservative of church papers frequently will carry movie reviews. Still, a concern about the kind of movies which entertain especially the young is being heard. In the Calvinist Contact, December 11, 1987, an article by Henry Knoop, teacher at Durham Christian High School in Bowmanville, Ontario, appears in the “Media Scan” rubric. He writes “Of roller coasters and horror movies”:
. . . My (almost) middle-aged sensibility now tells me that roller coasters are but a cheap thrill, perhaps fun to ride on occasion, but nothing I would go out of my way or pay a lot of money for. Why this discourse on roller coasters?
For a while now I have listened to teenagers as they highlighted again and again the gruesome details of a horror movie they had seen, usually on video. I am appalled, First of all, by what they consider to be “harmless” entertainment. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is tame stuff compared to some other movies often viewed. “Jason of Halloween Fame is alive and well, not only in movie theatres where he and his deranged colleagues rake in thousands of dollars exploiting a teenage market thrilled with his exploits, but also in grade schools and high schools around the country.
“It’s just a big laugh!” is the common response I get to my query on why teenagers like to watch horror movies. “You don’t take it seriously!”
“But I take it seriously, ” I respond. “How can you enjoy watching someone get mutilated on screen? Aren’t you celebrating crime and violence?”
Oh, that. That’s so phony. Everyone knows no one really gets killed or maimed. Watching a horror movie is like taking a roller coaster ride. It’s the thrill of getting scared!”
The thrill of getting scared. I had to think about that one for a while. Was I getting so old that I couldn’t remember my desire for “thrills?” Were kids today different than when I grew up? Was this something unnatural? Was this something unhealthy?
Kids today are, of course, no different than when I was young, and there is nothing unnatural or unhealthy about adolescents wanting to “test their limits,” to determine just how much they can take. In that regard, I think every teenager should be riding roller coasters.
Yet having said that, the avenue in which kids are testing their limits, in the Form of popular horror movies today, is undoubtedly unhealthy and a cause For concern. Most of the current offerings in this genre are little more than exploitation Films trivializing serious psychological disorders and social problems of our society. Their graphic depiction of violence and brutality glorifies an abnormal response to life’s frustrations. In addition, many horror films do more than a little dabbling in the dangerous world of the occult. . . . . . .
The result, however, is anything but healthy. Through constant exposure to horror, an audience becomes desensitized to it. Instead of increasing our concern and emotion for the victims of these crimes, we become deadened to the plight of others and thank God that nothing happened to us. Or we laugh, as teenagers do, perhaps to cover up our real emotions; but probably more often because we don’t know, and aren’t taught, how to deal with what we are seeing. Horror movies are but another manifestation of an individualistic, me-centered society.
What about “catharsis,” the view that horror movies provide an outlet for our pent-up emotions, thus “purging” the audience of any violent tendencies? “Better on the screen than on the street” is the rationale. Won’t audience members just express their innate “violence” in other Forms if you remove this one?
But where, in this view, is the Christian struggle with sin and battling the “old nature,” as scripture talks of it? Is it not just another indication of our self-centeredness, our giving in to our sinful nature?. . .
Many of the expressions of great concern are very much to the point. One wonders, however, whether the writer (and many others with him), recognizes that the battle against all these evils was essentially lost when the churches accepted the movie and drama as “film art.” The “Pandora’s Box” was opened. Should any be surprised at the results? Was not the battle lost even earlier—when churches adopted a certain “common grace” according to which the unregenerate wicked were presumed to be able to do some good also in the realm of “film arts” and the “dance”? But now there is “film art.” And “art” must be realistic. There must be some measure, usually, of violence. There is often cursing, using God’s Name in vain. In order, to portray even the “good” there must be presented as realistically as possible the “evil.” Several questions must be answered. Where is to be drawn the line between “art” and that which has no “redeeming value”? What one calls “art,” another calls “pornographic.” But there is also the real problem that could be called a “development” in sin. Having gained permission to attend the movies (at the theatre or at home on TV), one soon becomes bored with the tameness of the presentations. There is increasing desire for something more, something with greater excitement and thrill. It is almost as though one would say, “It’s all right to eat a little poison, but you must understand the limits.” Or, perhaps more to the point, it’s like trying drugs: one will restrict himself to occasional usage—but soon finds himself addicted to it. He requires more and more to satisfy that craving within him.
One can agree with the above writer that the growing attraction to horror, to violent, occult movies, also by those within the church, is a cause of great concern. Yet one might ask whether, having opened the floodgates in approving limited movie attendance, there ought to be shock at the fact that youth in the church are reveling in the filth which is flowing forth.
One can see, too, the effect of “common grace” when, in the third point, a “good” is recognized among the reprobate which is presumed to be the “fruit of the Spirit.” Having found some of this “good” in the “film arts,” the church has been “introduced” to the worldliness of the wicked. But where does the work of the Spirit end, and the work of the devil begin? Can not the young point correctly to their elders and claim that they watch but a milder form of the same corruptions which thrill the young?
It is true too that those who have been introduced to a limited amount of violence, cursing, adultery, and blasphemy, soon see no wrong in watching more of the same. Soon one seeks greater excitement: more violence, sexual deviations, cursing.
And: what of ourselves? What is being watched on TV, cable TV, and V.C.R.’s in our own homes? How many believe they have the Christian “liberty” to attend the movies? Disturbing reports are sometimes repeated. One would hope and pray these are untrue. We who deny the theory of common grace, we who are preaching and teaching against the worldliness of the movie and dance, must practice what we “preach.” Christian “liberty” does not allow for this corruption. Where there is sin in this regard, there is the call to repentance. He who loves the Lord is to hate all evil. How can one have fellowship with light while rejoicing in darkness? Those who want the world and the church can find many churches willing to accommodate to this. May we rather as churches be examples of godly profession and a holy walk.