There is an underlying intolerance, but at the point that I let that intolerance damage people's lives, I think it qualifies as hatred. Like I said, it was a spiteful fantasy.
Originally Posted by EmmZ
A couple of anecdotes:
I also wonder why religion might be a cause for someone's writing to be less valuable? Unless, of course, someone is seeking to read a specific area of belief. Are we talking about spirituality being something that becomes devalued if communicated?
• Once upon a time I had cause to fly to New Orleans. I took a Southwest Air flight that went from Seattle to Houston, and Houston to New Orleans. On the first leg, I think it was, my seat mates were a husband and wife. He read Howard Zinn. She read Tim LaHaye. Apparently she finished the apocalyptic story before we landed because, as he put his book away to prepare for landing, he asked her how it was. It was great, she said. And suspenseful. She didn't know how it was going to end. Okay, okay, really? Because it's the freakin' Apocalypse. We know how it ends.
• When I was in high school, a guy named Bob Larson released a novel called Dead Air. Bob Larson was on my radar because he was a Christian activist working to promote censorship of music. The problem with this, beyond the obvious call to censorship, was that he routinely lied, knowing that parents didn't actually have a clue what their kids were listening to. He ranted about Anthrax's "Misery Loves Company", about how the singer screams, "I'll kill you!" Of course, nowhere in that particular book did he discuss Anthrax's penchant for translating stories into song. "I Am the Law" is Judge Dredd. "Skeleton In the Closet" is Stephen King's "The Apt Pupil" from Different Seasons. And on their next album came "Misery Loves Company", which depicts ... Stephen King's Misery. The line, "I'll Kill You" represents Annie Wilkes, played in the film by the inimitable Kathy Bates. None of this does Larson mention. Of course, it's possible he wasn't aware. When writing a book denouncing heavy metal, why in God's name would someone actually read the liner notes for a given album? He also butchered Dio's "All the Fools Sailed Away", transforming a pied piper fable into a Satanic menace threatening to steal away the good, innocent Christian children. In order to do that, he omitted the second parts of multiple couplets. "We are the innnocent," goes the song, "we are the damned. We were caught in the middle of the madness, hunted by the Lion and the Lamb. We bring you fantasy, we bring you sin. We can give you a piece of the universe, or we can disappear never to be seen again." Larson presented the song as, "We are the damned ... hunted by the ... Lamb. We bring you sin ... we can disappear never to be seen again." Essentially, he suggested that the Satanic message was to rape Christian children.
So yes, when he switched to novels, I noticed. I have a standard that says while you can't judge a book by its cover, its first page will often be sufficient. See William Shatner's Tek novels if you want to know how that developed. Like those, Larson's Dead Air is unreadable. But the plot is easy enough to understand. Troubled late-night DJ receives a strange phone call from a young girl in trouble. Girl turns up dead. DJ is haunted by the event. Eventually, he comes to Christ and solves the mystery.
Did you ever see the South Park episode "Faith Plus One"? They lampoon the Christian-pop music industry, including the point that Christian music groups have a built-in audience of millions. Generally speaking, though, that's all they have. The pop-metal band Stryper, for instance, used to get the girls a bit riled up until they found out the guys were Christian. Songs like "Calling On You", which would make great "date" songs, are closed off by the band: they're hymns to Christ. ("Calling On You" is a great example of the kind of songs parodied in the South Park episode; it really sounds like a proper love song, except it's about Jesus.)
For some reason, this idea of a built-in audience doesn't translate well into things like movies. There are plenty of good writers out there who are also at least nominally Christian. They find their best success when they keep their faith out of the work, or bury it so deeply it seems an obscure riddle within the plot. But deeply Christianized scripts don't sell well in Hollywood, or in America. Why else would it take someone like Mel Gibson to do a film like Passion of the Christ? When you stop and think about it, how many Christian blockbusters have there really been? Most people can name at least one, Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. And many of those can also recall Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth. After that? Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a disaster on film, and Jesus Christ Superstar actually upsets a lot of Christians. The Last Temptation of Christ brought bomb threats against cinemas.
Another anecdote: A Wrinkle In Time, one of the most famous juvenile fantasies on the market, has long drawn Christian ire. In the late '90s, it was among the most-protested books in American libraries. The complaints against the book included anti-Christianism, witchcraft, lesbianism, and Communism. Which is really rather funny, when you stop to think about it. Anti-Christianism? It's a freakin' fantasy. Apparently by not being overtly Christian, the book was anti-Christian. Witchcraft? Jesus, it's three old hags in a nod to Shakespeare. Lesbianism? Holy shit, these ladies are corporeal forms of the spirits of stars. They have no idea what to do with their physical bodies. And they average something like billions of years old. Who the fuck is imagining these old hags munching carpet? Who the hell would want to? The two billion year-old pussy? What, does it age like wine? ("A fine vintage ... and such a striking bouquet.") Communism? Why? Because the villain's name is "IT"? Oh, gosh, she's indicting Information Technologies, isn't she? Well, except that you pronounce the name as a word, not an abbreviation. The book is starkly anti-Communist, denouncing benevolent dictators and forced material and superficial equality as dystopic. The people complaining have no clue how to read a story. All elements are subservient to (A) their faith, and (B) their thirst for conflict.
Good films involving overtly Christian themes? There are some out there, but they're not viable. Mimi Rogers and David Duchovny actually do have a history together that predates The X-Files. It's a movie called The Rapture, which addresses apocalyptic extremism, and didn't sell particularly well. It's a great film, though.
So you have a couple of choices with religious ideas in films. Either go "whole hog" and pander to the built-in audience, but they'll be the only ones seeing it. Or make a thoughtful, thematic examination of an idea in motion, and expect only a small return on the investment. Either way, it's the twenty-first century (or the 1990s, given the inception of the spiteful fantasy). Both routes lead to limited appeal, and that means limited returns. Not everyone in the built-in audience is going to see the film if you go that route, and very few people in the general audience are going buy tickets because it's a preachy propaganda film with a predictable plot: Archetypal character meets archetypal conflict; protagonist puts faith in Jesus, and the conflict is resolved. Appealing to a more general audience is possible, but it's a limited appeal. The Rapture opened in 36 theaters averaging $4,766 per screen; it maxed out at 46 theaters and grossed under $1.28 million in the United States. But it's an awesome film.
Literature and film are not devoid of good writers with Christian backgrounds. Ray Bradbury has some incredible scenes and stories about Christ and Christianity. There's "The Fire Balloons", from The Martian Chronicles; "The Man", in The Illustrated Man; "Christus Apollo" is a gorgeous poem included in I Sing the Body Electric!; and The Crazy is assigned to fix a broken script about the ascension of Jesus in Graveyard for Lunatics, which results in one of the finest ascension scenes ever conceived (and one of the funniest Unitarian jokes on record).
The late Madeleine L'Engle was an Episcopalian, and active in her church as part of the lay clergy. Her great trilogy (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet) deals with good and evil in broad terms, relies on the joy of God's creation, and invokes what were, in 1962 (release of Wrinkle) common themes of Christian America: family unity and service to community. In an interview in 2000, L'Engle made two important points:
Bob Abernethy: .... L'Engle is an Episcopal laywoman who prays and reads the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer every morning and evening. For many years, she did her writing at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where she is still librarian and writer-in-residence. So, does all that Christian practice make her a Christian writer?
Madeleine L'Engle: No. I am a writer. That's it. No adjectives. The first thing is writing. Christianity is secondary.
• • •
Abernethy: Madeleine is working now on a book about aging and an article about hate. She has written more than 50 books, of which the most famous is A WRINKLE IN TIME, published in 1961, after more than 30 rejections. The heroine is a teenager named Meg who expresses L'Engle's own deepest belief.
L'Engle: Meg finally realizes ... love is stronger than hate. Hate may seem to win for a while, but love is stronger than hate.
Her faith bleeds through. She has faith in it.
If she chose to wallow in her faith, A Wrinkle in Time would not be what it is. If Ray Bradbury wallowed in faith, his stories would not be what they are.
The deeper one gets into the religion, the less their value as a writer. Artistically, themes become limited. Commercially, potential returns diminish.
Abernethy, Bob. "Profile: Madeleine L'Engle". Religion & Ethics #412. WNET, Newark. November 17, 2000. PBS.org. Accessed June 6, 2009. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionande...2/profile.html