Movieguide: Rejecting God Leads to Murder by “Soulless Meat Machines”

In light of something as horrible as the Sandy Hook shooting, it’s not surprising that people want to know the reasons why something like this happened — presumably so they can prevent it from happening again. Shortly after the shooting, Mike Huckabee made some comments about a cause that received no small amount of attention and criticism, including some from CAPC’s very own Alan Noble.

And now, Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder — the folks behind Movieguide, a popular movie review site that has received criticism in the past for reviewing and ranking movies according to various criteria including “Anti-capitalism, anti-wealth, politics of envy”, “Anti-patriotism or anti-Americanism”, and “Evolutionary worldview or elements”  – have chimed in with their thoughts as to what caused Adam Lanza to murder twenty young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary. In a piece titled “Rejection of Faith, Values Leads to Social Mayhem and Murder in Newtown”, they write:

We doubt if we will ever get a definitive answer, especially one that satisfies all people, or even most people. As God Himself says in Genesis 8:21, “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (all of the mass shooters seem to be men).

However, we urge everyone to consider this answer:

By removing God, the Bible, God’s Law, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit from society, including the mass media and the schools, we are raising generations of people with no faith in God or Jesus and, hence, no moral conscience, and no self-control. If so many people have no faith, no moral conscience and no self-control, then it’s no wonder our society is suffering from all these mass murders by evil lone gunmen.

They conclude:

Without God, without faith and values, we are just soulless meat machines who can kill without mercy. Apparently, that’s how too many of our fellow citizens have reacted lately.

Such statements make for good sound bites, but at best, they come across as incredibly condescending to our non-Christian neighbors.

Is it really the case that if someone lacks faith in Jesus, that they have “no moral conscience” and “no self-control”? Is it really so clear and easy to draw a line from our nation’s declining faith in God to mass murders? And if that’s really the case, how does one account for the fact that violent crime has decreased over the last five years, and murders have dropped significantly in the last decade — all while our nation has been apparently becoming increasingly godless?

Not only are such statements demeaning to our non-Christian neighbors, they also smack of self-righteousness. Baehr and Snyder reference Romans 2:29 as proof that “people become good and do the right thing only when their hearts, or their conscience or inner souls, are at least partly sanctified, cleansed, redeemed, and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.” They seem to have forgotten the opening verses of Romans 2, however.

Romans 1 contains a litany of sins and iniquities that provoke God’s righteous wrath, including envy, murder, deceit, and gossip, with perhaps the most egregious sin being the rejection of God despite His revealed aspects in creation itself (Romans 1:18-23). Indeed, Romans 1 rises to a fevered pitch as it continues, pounding home the evil of those who reject God. And then we come to Romans 2, and one of the great twists in Scripture. Here, Paul writes:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man — you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself — that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Paul immediately turns the tables on those who might read Romans 1 and want to pass judgment on those that it describes, for the accusers are just as guilty as the accused. In other words, the scandal of the Bible is that, but for the grace of God, professing Christians are just as capable of vicious, wicked acts as anyone. (Witness the various church-related sex scandals in recent years.) And to sit in judgment of the world from a place of self-righteousness, to place ourselves outside of that sphere of potential wickedness is presumptuous. As Solzhenitsyn wrote:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Should the tragedy at Sandy Hook lead to a call for repentance and humility? Absolutely… but let it begin with the House of the Lord. Should there be discussions about the role that media can play in affecting culture, in shaping our hearts and minds? Absolutely… but let’s not operate under the false pretense that, because we Christians profess faith in Christ, we are incapable of being “soulless meat machines” — or that our non-Christian neighbors, because they’ve rejected Christ, are incapable of being anything but.

About Jason Morehead

Jason Morehead lives in the lovely state of Nebraska with his wife, three children, zero pets, and a large collection of CDs, DVDs, books, and video games. He's a fan of Arcade Fire and Arvo Pärt, Jackie Chan and Andrei Tarkovsky, "Doctor Who" and "Community," and C.S. Lewis and Haruki Murakami. He's also a web development geek, which pays the bills — and buys new music and movies. Twitter: @jasonopus. Web: http://opus.fm.

  • http://www.theretuned.com Matthew Linder

    All I hear in the passages you quoted from Movieguide is law and not grace. In the same Romans 2 passage it also states that non-Christians also love the law and have it written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). This is why our non-Christian neighbors can be morally upright in many areas of their life and even more moral than Christians at times but the burden of the law is heavy. Reading further on into Romans, Paul’s whole point is that while the Jews had God’s Law and the Gentiles had it written on their hearts that it did not save them. It is the gospel of grace which fulfills the requirements of the law for us not ourselves. Tim Keller often states that moralism is our fall back religion as Christians and I think this comes out much more in tragedies like this.

    I will end my comment with a quote from Theodore Beze: “Ignorance of the distinction between the Law and Gospel is one of the principle sources of all the abuses which corrupt and still corrupt Christianity.”

  • Cooper Williams

    As G.K. Chesterton once said, “What’s wrong with the world? I am.”

  • http://brandywinebooks.net Phil W

    Thanks, Jason and Matthew. That quote from Beze is very strong.

  • http://www.movieguide.org Tom Snyder

    It seems to me that calling for more faith and values in our cultural environment isn’t legalistic but actually promotes the right balance between Law and Gospel while preaching the Gospel of Grace. Paul himself writes in Galatians 5:6 that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

    Don’t we all want to “train up a child in the way he should go,” and teach children to be more kind, less violent, and more loving in general? Don’t we want to educate them in how to use the mass media in a way that honors the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

    Also, why do you seem to presume that the increasing rejection of God, faith, and biblical values in our society, especially by young Non-Christians (according to pollsters like Gallup and Pew), have nothing to do with society’s capacity for cruelty, debauchery, and callousness? Shouldn’t we preach the Gospel to Non-Christians? Shouldn’t we teach them about sin and evil so that they will repent and turn back to God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit?

    Finally, though violent crime in many cases has decreased in recent years, it’s still higher than it used to be, and some of the violent crimes are more egregious, the massacre in Newton being one of the worst of examples. Also, although the murder rate has decreased since 1960, the overall violent crime rate per 100,000 people has increased from 160.9 incidents to 386.3 incidents in 2011, according to this website – http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm. Also, the number of aggravated assaults has increased from 86.1 in 1960 to 241.1. In fact, we would allege that the recent decrease may be at least partly due to the efforts of people like those at Movieguide and its supporters to alert the general population, and especially people of faith, about the negative impacts of media sex and violence, as well as direct them to entertainment choices that may be more redemptive, more uplifting, more family friendly, and less callous.

  • http://www.speculativefaith.com E. Stephen Burnett

    I appreciate Tom‘s very engaging and thoughtful response.

    Don’t we all want to “train up a child in the way he should go,” and teach children to be more kind, less violent, and more loving in general?

    I think we do (though contrary to perception, that verse makes no such total promise).

    My issue with MovieGuide, when I do have issues, is that it almost exclusively focuses on secondary, “on-behalf” discernment. Its articles give far less emphasis to how we enjoy and discern stories for ourselves. We must look to other resources for that.

    Don’t we want to educate them in how to use the mass media in a way that honors the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

    Often MovieGuide reviews imply, if not outright state, that the best way to honor Christ and the Gospel is by fearing Negative Stuff. That comes across as a defensive approach, not an approach that confidently proclaims “this is my Father’s world,” and then sallies forth into it (protecting children when appropriate) with confidence and truth-based faith.

    Also, you guys completely muffed Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. I have no idea why the MovieGuide reviewer felt that film was so redemptive! (See also: your Runaway Bride recommendation, which had Upper Female Quasi-Nudity.)

    Ah well, no one’s perfect. And isn’t that the whole point of this exchange?

  • http://opus.fm/ Jason Morehead

    Tom, thanks for joining in, and for providing those additional stats. However, allow me to push back slightly at your interpretation of them.

    Yes, aggravated assaults have increased from 86.1 to 241.1 assaults per 100,000 individuals between 1960 and 2011. But if you look at the stats between 1992 and 2011, there has been a steady decrease in the number of assaults, from 441.8 to 241.1, even as the population has increased by approximately 56 million. The rate hasn’t been that low since 1976-77. Indeed, according to the FBI, “[a] 10-year comparison of data from 2002 and 2011 showed that the rate of aggravated assaults in 2011 dropped 22.1 percent.”

    Similar trends have occurred in overall violent crime, forcible rape, and murder. For example, the FBI states that “the 2011 estimated violent crime total was 15.4 percent below the 2007 level and 15.5 percent below the 2002 level.”

    Now, if I’m reading the numbers correctly — and I’ll confess I might not be (statistics was never my strongest subject in school) — absolute numbers might be higher now than they were fifty years ago, but crimes are trending downward, and not insignificantly. Which, I’m sure you would agree, is a positive sign.

    Of course, it might not seem that way, given how heavily bombarded we are by the news media about the pending apocalypses in our society. Turn on the news, and it does seem like society is going to hell in a handbasket. But the numbers do tell a slightly different story. Of course, much work remains to be done when it comes to promoting and spreading justice and peace in our culture.

    Now, regarding some of your other comments…

    Also, why do you seem to presume that the increasing rejection of God, faith, and biblical values in our society, especially by young Non-Christians (according to pollsters like Gallup and Pew), have nothing to do with society’s capacity for cruelty, debauchery, and callousness?

    I don’t think I presumed any such thing in my piece. I would never say that such things have nothing to do with “society’s capacity for cruelty, debauchery, and callousness?” But all too often, it seems like those are the only possible causes that Christians mention. Those are the only ones we consider, when there may very well be other causes that are just as potent, such as socio-economic factors like poverty, unemployment, poor education, and racism. (Now, of course, you could respond that those socio-economic factors are also the result of rejecting biblical values…)

    Or, in the case of Adam Lanza, mental illness — which is something that, honestly, I have a hard time linking to any potential increase in our nation’s “rejection of God, faith, and biblical values”.

    Shouldn’t we preach the Gospel to Non-Christians? Shouldn’t we teach them about sin and evil so that they will repent and turn back to God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit?

    Of course we should. And there’s nothing (I hope) in my piece that goes against that. However, I don’t believe that any attempts to present the Gospel to our unbelieving neighbors is served by calling them “soulless meat machines” or claiming that they have no moral conscience or self-control simply because they don’t believe in God or Jesus.

    At best, such language is inaccurate, for we all know non-Christians who live very moral lives as good neighbors and citizens. (And we all know self-professed Christians who have committed grave sins.) At worst, it’s derogatory, and I can’t see why any non-Christian should pay attention to us and our claims if and when we use it.

    And for the record, Christians should definitely “train up a child in the way he should go”. We have an obligation to teach our children Biblical principles, absolutely. But let’s avoid teaching them to be self-righteous, or to view their non-Christian friends, classmates, etc. as some sort of second-class citizen.

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  • http://www.signal-7.com Andrew Parker

    Jason I can’t figure out what you are hoping to gain by coddling non-believers.

    A non-believer does not need to be told, “well yknow you can really be sort of good if you just have a good morality” (as your post seems to suggest) … a non-believer needs to be told this: Repent & Believe. Likewise a believer needs to be told this: Repent & Believe.

    Let the movieguide post piss some non-believers off …. perhaps it will cause a conversation!

    What I am failing to see is what eternal good is done when a non-believer is told, “well yknow you can kind of be good without God anyway” ?

  • Jamison

    Andrew,
    I don’t agree with your assessment that Jason was “coddling” non-believers. His message was pointed towards believers and I think the question of whether or not calling anyone ‘soulless meat machines’ in the name of Christ does any eternal good, is a valid question that believers should ask, especially if it isn’t true. Christians should always be ready to review and repent how they spread the Good News of Christ, considering it is by God’s Grace alone if our messages aren’t riddled with sin.

    You may say that Movieguide’s post will cause conversation among non-believers but is that enough? We aren’t only called to be spreaders of conversation but spreaders of the Good News and makers of disciples. Not all conversation about Christ and Christianity does this, and we should never delude ourselves in thinking that the conversations we spread cannot be improved. You may say that any message of ‘repent and believe’ is enough, but I’m not convinced that isn’t just an oversimplification of the Gospel of Christ.

  • http://www.movieguide.org Tom Snyder

    Well, in the first place, our article nowhere says that Non-Christians are the only ones who succumb to the negative effects of gratuitous, graphic, or callous violence in the mass media. Both Christians and Non-Christians can be affected, especially when the mass culture, or large portions of it, becomes more and more hostile not just to Jesus or God, but also to the Bible, biblical morality, church, the Holy Spirit, and religion. Also, we are all affected when the “news” media neglects to cover some issues because those issues (like the increasing rates of unwed pregnancies in our society ever since the Supreme Court decided pornography shouldn’t be outlawed but prayer in public schools should be, or like the decrease in gun crimes in areas where people are allowed to carry concealed weapons) don’t fit their secular, leftist, non-religious bias. You can ignore the fact of the increase in violent crime since 1962 and since the new MPAA ratings in the late 1960s, but this fact cannot be ignored. And, if there’s been a decrease in violent crime in recent years, perhaps you might want to ask what Movieguide’s promotion of family movies and movies with Christian, morally uplifting content, along with the increased incarceration of violent criminals, might have to do with those decreases.

    Finally, legalism isn’t the only heresy that should worry us. Antinomianism, or lawlessness, is another bad heresy. And, Paul warned about that one too in the Book of Romans. In fact, it often seems to me that antinomianism has become a greater problem in today’s churches than legalism. As Paul says in Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

    The new atheism that seems to run rampant in parts of our society seems to teach, if stretched to its logical conclusion, that we are just soulless meat machines. It also seems to replace Jesus and His church with government. That’s why our article quoted George Washington’s Farewell Address about the vital importance of religion and morality. In referring to these issues, were weren’t calling other people soulless meat machines, we were speaking about one of the evil spirits of our age, which seems to have led to the kind of darkness and violence we still see in too many of today’s movies.

  • http://www.speculativefaith.com E. Stephen Burnett

    If there’s been a decrease in violent crime in recent years, perhaps you might want to ask what Movieguide’s promotion of family movies and movies with Christian, morally uplifting content, along with the increased incarceration of violent criminals, might have to do with those decreases.

    Tom my brother, when you frame it this way, it sounds like no matter what happens, an organization like MovieGuide cannot lose. :-)

    Finally, legalism isn’t the only heresy that should worry us.

    Neither legalism nor antinomianism are “heresies.” A heresy, by all definitions throughout church history, refers to a belief that overthrows orthodox Christian faith or at least severely questions the faith of the heresy’s believer. You might go to Hell for a heresy. But if you’re confused about certain boundaries, such as whether to wear jeans (as a woman) or whether to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8-10), you’re not going to Hell.

    So “heresy” is a misnomer; this is a discussion about how to work out our same faith.

    In fact, it often seems to me that antinomianism has become a greater problem in today’s churches than legalism.

    That depends on where you look. Paul customized his approach based on a specific local church’s needs. He did not write to the Galatians to encourage them to worry about antinomianism; he wrote to them aghast that they were falling into legalism. The same was true in reverse for the Corinthians: he was aghast that they were using their faith as license to sin. In either case he emphasized not either “excess” as a reaction, but proactive desire to glorify God through Gospel-grounded and -motivated obedience.

    Shouldn’t a parachurch organization not focus primarily on an error, assuming (potentially wrongfully!) that this error is the worst error of our time? Are not our perceptions of the “worst errors” limited by our own biases and backgrounds? Shouldn’t an organization, which reaches out to all Christians and not a particular church , instead focus on proactive glorification of God according to His epic Gospel that results in genuine obedience?

    I would encourage all at MovieGuide to read Ted Turnau’s new book Popologetics, a solid and Gospel-based work mindful of all errors. Turnau compliments MovieGuide and other Christian-review sites for their work in not ignoring popular culture, but trying to engage pop culture “Christianly.” At the same time, he hones and clarifies how Christians should Biblically engage in cultural dialogue and respond to violence in media. What matters is not whether a particular movie has Violent Content, he insists, but how that violence is shown.

    Is the violence shown as cartoonish (e.g. “Looney Tunes”), or the job of professional soldiers, or the sad result of a fallen world, or the inevitable result of fighting against evil (such as in most superhero films)? If so, then it is unnecessary to warn against such “violence.”

    It is only necessary to warn against sadistic or other violence, such as glorification of revenge, that is shown in attractive lights, and I am grateful MovieGuide and other groups do this.

    However, if by warning against this violence we even insinuate that is “imputing” evil to people, rather than endorsing and pulling it out of their own sinful hearts, we are at risk of edging closer to a genuine heresy (yes, the kind that could compromising saving faith): that old nastiness called Pelagianism. By it or any other names this notion holds that man is basically good, or at least neutral, and it is other things — his world, people’s movies, Gun Violence, or anything else except his own nature — that make people make evil choices.

    Christians often accept this belief, be it about Harry Potter or other media franchises (even genuinely disgusting ones). In much the same way liberals and atheists holler “the guns made him do it!” Christians come across as saying “violent media made him do it!”

    Wrong. At worst, violent media endorsed the sinful desires that were already there. So to target primarily those “problems” is mere distraction. The problem is sin, not movies. And the cure starts with the diagnosis of the Law, leading to desperation, and then repentance in the only Name above all other names that can save people: Christ Jesus.

  • http://www.signal-7.com Andrew Parker

    @Jamison: If you think “repent & believe” is an oversimplification of the gospel, your beef is not with me but rather with Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15).

    In my opinion any attempt to help a non-believer justify their own morality or feel good about their own morality is woefully misguided!

  • Richard Clark

    @Andrew – you keep skewing Jason’s objective in this piece. Deal with what the article says, not what you wish it says so you could easily argue against it.

  • http://opus.fm/ Jason Morehead

    Andrew: I fail to see how simply asking Christians to talk a little less disparagingly and presumptuously about non-Christians is the same as advocating the “coddling” of non-Christians.

    A non-believer does not need to be told, “well yknow you can really be sort of good if you just have a good morality” (as your post seems to suggest) … a non-believer needs to be told this: Repent & Believe. Likewise a believer needs to be told this: Repent & Believe.

    There are many ways to tell people to “repent and believe”. On one end of the spectrum, you can stand in a public space, holding up signs with inflammatory messages, and hurl Bible verses about hell and damnation at people passing by. Or, you can actually engage with them, live life with them, and show them what a sacrificial, Gospel-shaped life, one marked by the Fruits of the Spirit, looks like. The former may seem bolder and more dramatic, but I suspect the latter (or something like it) is more effective in the long run.

    Let the movieguide post piss some non-believers off …. perhaps it will cause a conversation!

    Pissing off non-Christians might start a conversation, but what kind of conversation? Certainly, there will be times when Christians come into conflict with non-Christians because of what we believe, i.e., the Gospel. When we speak biblical truths, some will be offended by them, no matter how humble or gracious our speech may be. But what profit can there be in going out of our way to disparage those who don’t share our beliefs with name-calling, etc.?

    What I am failing to see is what eternal good is done when a non-believer is told, “well yknow you can kind of be good without God anyway” ?

    Where did you get the idea that this is what I’m advocating? Perhaps you’re referring to this comment of mine: “However, I don’t believe that any attempts to present the Gospel to our unbelieving neighbors is served by calling them ‘soulless meat machines’ or claiming that they have no moral conscience or self-control simply because they don’t believe in God or Jesus.”

    We all know non-Christians who do live moral lives despite not believing in Christ. They’re loyal friends, loving parents, diligent co-workers, and solid citizens. Those are good things, and as Christians, why wouldn’t we recognize, even celebrate that reality? If anything, such behavior is a sign of God’s common grace, and that all people, even those who reject Him, still bear His image and model His moral characteristics. In other words, they are not merely “soulless meat machines”.

    What should we do whenever we see a non-Christian performing some good, moral deed? Should we go up to them and say, “Excuse me, Mr. Non-Christian, but that thing you just did might seem like a good, moral act, but because you don’t believe in Christ, it’s really not.” Of course not, that would be ridiculous.

    Now, that being said, even as we laud non-Christians, we also need to remind them (humbly, of course) that good, moral deeds are not enough. They don’t merit salvation. They don’t earn God’s forgiveness. They don’t wipe out sins. Only faith in Christ’s death and resurrection does all of that. And that, of course, will be offensive to some. But that is what the Bible teaches, and we need to state it clearly.


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