The Bible, at 35mm

By Karsten Burgstahler

Hollywood’s not afraid of God.

It’s afraid of Christians.

In an interview with Fox News March 20, headlined “Kevin Sorbo: Why is Hollywood so afraid of God?” the star of Christian success story “God’s Not Dead” said he often wonders why Hollywood harbors a “fear factor” for God, noting he feels he has been cast out because he didn’t vote for President Barack Obama.


And he’s right, to an extent. But the argument is a lot simpler than Hollywood wants to lead a war on God — Hollywood just wants to make money, and religious subjects often carry baggage when produced. The Christians who yell the loudest tend to place labels on a piece of work before they see the finished product, even if there are good lessons to be pulled from the material. Religious groups quite often fortify and miss the chance to let media work in their favor.

Studios hate controversy (unless they have Harvey Weinstein at the helm). The same can be said for why it’s taken so long for depictions of gay couples on screen to be treated as normal. Fear of controversy doesn’t know party lines, nor does it know how the audience will interpret any given material. The last 15 years saw Christians denounce J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels as satanic, even though the final book blatantly retells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and casts an evil wizard in the devil’s role.

This month, noted atheist Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of “Noah” is the target. The film does take liberties with the Bible story, mainly insinuating that Noah was a deeply conflicted man who believed God told him to kill his family, only the animals were clean and Noah was simply allowed to live a little longer to save them.

Paramount had a public spat with Aronofsky, who wanted final cut privileges on the movie. At the suggestion of the National Religious Broadcasters, trailers for the film were altered to include a snippet of text at the end informing audiences the film was a fictionalized depiction of Noah’s life.

This is why Hollywood is afraid of Christians, and why Christian movies get stuck with dinky distribution deals and has to rely on word of mouth. It’s why they have poor budgets and bad screenplays. But every time a new religious film comes out, box office pundits are amazed at the small Christian film, drumming up so much support. There’s an untapped market Paramount clearly wanted before they realized the wrath they would incur for taking a dramatic license to a story that already requires faith to accept as truth.

I loved ‘Noah” as both a Christian and a film enthusiast. It’s beautiful graphically because Aronofsky has a mind for quiet wonders, but it also wrestles with scripture and the nature of God in a way films like “Fireproof” and “God’s Not Dead” don’t because they preach to the choir. Those movies can pump up Christians to go spread the word, but don’t really challenge them to think deeply about scripture.

That challenge is exactly the reason Christian groups need to rethink their strategy when it comes to Hollywood-ized tales of the Bible. Two more have yet to hit theaters— “Heaven is for Real” and Ridley Scott’s Christian Bale “Exodus” epic— so religion will be one of the big topics in filmmaking this year.


With these opportunities to have biblical stories in the limelight, it’s time the church stop looking at movies like “Noah” as the devil in sheep’s clothing and relying on the same old media outlets to reassure them their choice to not step out is a victory. What religion doesn’t need is Glenn Beck telling the world he knew how “Noah” was an environmentalist picture all along. Once again it’s preaching to the choir, refusing to debate important ideas. Religions allow a small portion of the population to speak for them.

With “Noah,” it’s perfectly acceptable for the church to point out the liberties the movie takes with the story — for instance, God doesn’t clearly tell Noah he is saving Noah’s family, or that only one of Noah’s sons had a wife on the boat. But the way Aronofsky uses these changes to construct Adam and Eve parallels to the Noah story is worth a debate in the church.

One of the most common arguments against God’s existence is why would a benevolent being allow good things to happen to bad people. “Noah” explores this angry, strict God, something even the Bible confirms when telling the story of the gospel, that Jesus died so we didn’t have to bear the burden of sin any more. But the movie also shows God’s trust in a righteous man to make powerful decisions through free will. These are all topics worth discussing and by no means are sacrilegious. They are at the very heart of religion.

The church is at a crossroads with the media now. Many stories focused on religion are concerned with those who hold literal by-the-Bible arguments and refuse to talk about them; perhaps out of fear they will sound unintelligent. Writing off a biblical film, allowing the church a chance to reach out to the public and discuss the complexities of the Bible doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s time for the church to embrace culture and use it to its advantage instead of hiding behind rhetoric.

Otherwise it’s going to be washed away in the media flood.

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE or at 536-3311 ext. 254.