CAP Alert Reviews IV

Recently, while I was looking over my list of especially ridiculous items culled from the CAP Alert site, I noticed an interesting trend. Namely, many elements of movies which the CAP reviewer condemns can also be found in the Bible. Consider the following examples:

The 13th Warrior: “‘Your fate is fixed’”

Romans 9:21: “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (In the middle of a long argument for predestination.)

Elektra: “‘You did what you had to do’ to excuse lying”

Rahab the harlot is rewarded for lying in Joshua 2:4 to protect the Israelite messengers.

King Arthur: “order to kill every man, woman, child in path”

Deuteronomy 7:2: “And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.”

Pearl Harbor: “life-death decision-making”

Many examples throughout the Bible, most notably Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Saved!: “belittlement of the Jewish people”

Titus 1:10-11: “For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.”

Shakespeare in Love: “talk of selling daughter for sex”

Exodus 21:7-8: “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed.”

Shakespeare in Love: “sadness due to death of an associate”

According to the Bible, Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35).

War of the Worlds: “blaming disaster on God”

A frequent theme in the Book of Job.

X2: “sacrificial suicide to save others”

John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Also, I noted another example in my first post on CAP, where he slammed a movie for teaching the ethic “An eye for an eye” – which comes from the Book of Exodus.

I confess, I have no idea what the CAP reviewer was thinking with these comments. Granted, in some cases (like The Matrix: “prophesying”, “resurrection from the dead”), it’s because he believes that God has a monopoly on those particular sorts of magic and no one else is allowed to do them. Yet it’s undeniable that many of the movies he’s criticized simply present behaviors which can also be found in the Bible, often in rules presented as direct from the hand of God, or in the lives of people who are praised as being just and righteous. Why does he condemn these biblical principles when they appear in popular culture? Is it possible that so fervent a Christian is ignorant of the content of the Bible, so that he doesn’t see the parallels?

All this leads up to an obvious point: Given the CAP reviewer’s strong rejection of violence, hatred and sexuality, and since he’s claimed in the past that it’s not an excuse if the movie this material is in teaches a positive message, how would his own faith fare if he consistently applied his own standards to it? Wouldn’t these same principles force him to conclude that the Bible is a dangerous and corrupt book that should not be taught to children?

Evidently, this criticism comes up a lot, since the CAP site has a page devoted to it: Why Don’t You CAP the Bible? His main argument is that the Bible does not graphically depict or encourage these acts the way that popular culture does:

What about descriptions of sinful behaviors in any sort of graphic detail? The Bible speaks in understatement, e.g., “He took her” or “sliced off his ear.” Quite a bit of difference in perspective indeed.

…As another example for comparison regarding the degree of influence of subject matter in the Bible versus in movies, reading “was killed by” is a l-o-t different than watching and hearing someone thrust a 14″ knife into a man’s body, repeatedly, slowly at first, seeing the steel of the blade disappear, appearing more stained with each withdrawal as blood spews, splatters and pools, the body twitching with each new thrust until it twitches no more then pumping eight rounds of .45 bullets into the body with steely coldness to make viciously and brutally certain the victim is dead.

This is a clever argument, but unfortunately for CAP, it’s flat-out wrong. Reading about violent acts in scripture, even when described in the terse quality of the Bible, does make people more aggressive in exactly the way he fears that movies and media do.

This was demonstrated earlier this year by a study on religious violence by Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan. After reading a violent passage from the Old Testament, study participants were given the chance to blast other students with loud noise. Both religious and secular students (although the religious more so) were more aggressive in this game after exposure to the violent scripture.

This is a clear example of the priming effect in action, and shows that the Bible has no magical exemption from this basic principle of psychology. It seems, then, that if the CAP reviewer really wants to shelter children from exposure to violence and hate, he should begin not at the movies, but with the bloody, divisive scriptures that are, with the best of intentions, so often inculcated in the young.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Jeff T.

    As a young child, the scripture that I had the most problem with was the one about 10th plague of Egypt. I felt that having a UFC CAGE MATCH featuring the Angel of Death vs infant Egyptians was a little unfair. Then again, I guess my mind was already warped from the incessant bs eminating from the pulpit.

  • Alex Weaver

    If anything, I’ve always felt more unsettled and repulsed by graphic depictions of violence like the one he describes, rather than the triumphant, summary exhortations of the slaughter the bible contains. I don’t understand people who think that watering down the horrible effects of violence in depictions of it will cause viewers to view it less approvingly rather than more so. O.o

  • http://www.zx81.org.uk/ Stephen Darlington

    My favourite aspect is, as in the “Why don’t you CAP the Bible,” how they bend the truth to get their point across. It wouldn’t matter so much if they didn’t claim to be objective.

    The best example is where a man being brutally executed is dismissed as only being a film while a Disney film, which has roughly the same score on the WISDOM scale, has “…behavioral, moral and value implantation dangers.” The movies were The Passion of the Christ and The Incredibles.

    I have more in my “CRAP Alert” scale.

  • Polly

    Elektra: “‘You did what you had to do’ to excuse lying”
    Rahab the harlot is rewarded for lying in Joshua 2:4 to protect the Israelite messengers.

    Don’t forget the Egyptian midwives lying to pharoah or King David lying to the Phillistine king while attacking surrounding villages behind his back.

    Shakespeare in Love: “talk of selling daughter for sex”

    The Biblical thing to do would be to offer her up as a sacrfice. Or, if there’s a mob outside you’re door just offer them your two VIRGIN daughters, maybe, that’ll appease them.

    X2: “sacrificial suicide to save others”

    Uh, isn’t that an unselfish and GOOD thing for someone to do? No bible reference needed. These guys are scraping the barrel.

    Imagery:
    Woman drives a pike through a fleeing chieftain’s temple (in the head).
    10,000 Edomites thrown off a cliff
    Babies getting dashed against rocks
    Babies getting eaten by people

    Compared to other ancient stories, I’m sure the Bible is rather tame. But, the fact that it presents a lot of violence as being sanctioned and even commanded by god far more than outweighs the sketchiness of the details.

    Alex Weaver said:

    If anything, I’ve always felt more unsettled and repulsed by graphic depictions of violence like the one he describes, rather than the triumphant, summary exhortations of the slaughter the bible contains.

    This is exactly why so many Xians can stomach idiotic stories like the conquest of Canaan or Noah’s ark – they never try to picture millions of drowning children and their parents. If they could see this crap it might make them less tolerant of the violence within it.

  • Damien

    I agree with Alex et al. here, that you don’t get to say something is “understated” just because it’s words. But I’ll also point out that visual images are often more emotionally potent than printed words, even if intellectually they have the same impact.

    As a snarky aside, did anybody else notice:

    …reading “was killed by” is a l-o-t different than watching and hearing someone thrust a 14″ knife into a man’s body, repeatedly, slowly at first, seeing the steel of the blade disappear, appearing more stained with each withdrawal as blood spews, splatters and pools, the body twitching with each new thrust until it twitches no more then pumping eight rounds of .45 bullets into the body with steely coldness to make viciously and brutally certain the victim is dead.

    I’m reminded of that joke about the two monks that ends with the punchline, “Why ask me how it felt to touch a woman? You’re still carrying her!”

  • http://leeofthestone.wordpress.com Lee

    Isn’t “sacrificial suicide to save others” practically the entire point of Jesus’ death? Seems like an idea right in line with Christian teachings to me.

    Why does he condemn these biblical principles when they appear in popular culture? Is it possible that so fervent a Christian is ignorant of the content of the Bible, so that he doesn’t see the parallels?

    I don’t think it’s that at all. These people KNOW that biblical principles can be found outside of the Bible. That’s why they’re so threatened. If people can read about these concepts without the divine word of god to guide them then what do they need the Bible for? They don’t. And that’s exactly why they must condemn these when they appear outside of a religious context. It doesn’t matter if someone else is saying the same thing. It only counts when it comes from god.

  • Crotch

    Lee beat me to it. The bit condemning “sacrificial suicide” had me laughing. Guess the folks behind CAP aren’t too big on Jesus…

  • http://games.groups.yahoo.com/groups/troff2k Troff

    reading “was killed by” is a l-o-t different than watching and hearing someone thrust a 14″ knife

    … so, reading J.K. Rowling’s books is okay, it’s just seeing the movies that’s a no-no then, is it?

    (Disclaimer: I don’t like her books or their derivatives. It just seemed like an obvious comment to make.)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    I added another item I should have noticed earlier: the CAP review of Shakespeare in Love lists “sadness at the death of an associate”. Evidently the CAP reviewer doesn’t remember Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus.

  • Alex Weaver

    There is something seriously wrong with a person who thinks that’s even remarkable, let alone a problem for children to see…

  • http://panicon4july.blogspot.com/ Will E.

    These folks are just creepy fucks. Why even bother watching movies, or, indeed, looking/reading any art whatsoever? The parochialism of these people, their utter lack of taste or discernment in artistic expression, is gut-wrenching. What would they say about literature? Say, I don’t know, Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment (ax murder, horse abuse, confrontations with authority) or To Kill a Mockingbird (children in danger, calling father by first name, children in costume)? Just close your ears, your eyes, and shut the fuck up.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Ah, but a mere blanket warning against popular culture wouldn’t do as much to reinforce the message that all non-Christians are out to get us! You’ve gotta feed that fundamentalist paranoia if you want the donations to keep flowing in. Beat it into people’s heads at every opportunity, if at all possible.

  • Pedantic Speaker

    Regarding the passage, “even when described in the terse quality of the Bible”, I actually wonder whether it could be truer to write, “especially when”. I remember a documentary about the Gulf War that suggested that, at least in the opinion of the military, Westerners would be more supportive of the war if the violence was portrayed in a terse and clinical manner.


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