Newsbites: the Christian collusion edition

Just a few recent items on some of the more dubious collusions between Christians and Hollywood.

1. Lincoln Cathedral will get a fair chunk of money for allowing the movie version of The Da Vinci Code to be filmed on its premises, report the Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper. But one church authority says they were motivated not by money but by the opportunity to proclaim the gospel, albeit through association with a basically anti-Christian story that he himself admits is theologically and historically out to lunch.

Dr Alec Knight, Dean of Lincoln, told the Newspaper that, in his opinion, his decision to allow the filming passes the What Would Jesus Do? test: “We recognise there is a risk, but our salvation was wrought by a man who took risks. The Church is not often given such an opportunity on a plate to engage with people outside of the Christian faith over the facts of the Gospel. We must grasp this.” But somehow I don’t think being complicit in the lies that people told about him was one of the “risks” that Jesus took.

In the Times, Knight appeals to Paul instead: “We will see how it goes. But the world doesn’t often give the Christian Church an opportunity on a plate to engage in speaking about the gospel and salvation of humankind, and, as a Church, we should do so, like St Paul in Athens.” Well, um, sure, but this discussion will basically be taking place at movie theatres and in movie discussion groups and not on the sets where the movie happens to be made; indeed, this discussion is already taking place among those who have read the book. Speaking the Church’s message to Athens is fine and dandy, but allowing Athens to speak its Athenian agenda to the Church, and on Church property no less, is something else.

2. Speaking of the ways in which Ron Howard movies use the Church, The Revealer has an interesting tidbit now on efforts to promote Cinderella Man within Christian circles.

FWIW, my wife and I saw the film not too long ago and we both liked it, but overall I find it as disposably entertaining as most of Howard’s films; indeed, much of it has already faded from my memory. It’s a classically inspiring sort of flick, a true Hollywood movie full of uplifting sentiments and a hero who is full of pride and backbone, masterfully played as usual by Russell Crowe; and I would not be at all displeased if Paul Giamatti were finally recognized by the Academy for his work here as Crowe’s manager. But given how many distortions there were to the true story behind Howard and Crowe’s previous collaboration, 2001’s A Beautiful Mind, I’m just waiting for someone to write an article pointing out what nasty people these characters all really were before Howard gave them their cinematic makeovers.

One thing that does kinda got on my nerves, actually, is the way pretty much all of the boxers Crowe meets in the ring are basically unsympathetic characters, to one degree or another. Everybody wants Crowe to win, because he’s a cross between Seabiscuit (he symbolizes hope during the Great Depression) and The Rookie (he’s an athlete who gets a second chance, and he’s even better at his sport this time ’round). But the thing is, in his line of work, “winning” means beating people up — people who need the money just as badly as he does — so the film has to make sure that we really, really won’t mind that he beats these people up.

Like I say, it’s a fine date movie. But there’s no particular reason to pitch it to the church crowd — unless this is just an extension of the mentality that led “Dr.” Ted Baehr to proclaim that How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) was popular because Howard was a closeted Christian who pumped the film full of “redemptive elements and Christian symbolism” — and never mind that it was actually a gross distortion of the original Dr Seuss story that managed to undermine some of its more redemptive qualities (see these commentaries by Eric Metaxas, Ty Burr and John Robson).

FWIW, while we’re discussing Ron Howard films, I might as well mention that only two of my reviews of his films are currently online, said reviews being those for EdTV (1999) and The Missing (2003), which gets into religiously dodgy territory itself.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).

  • Matt Page

    Not sure I agree on Lincoln Cathedral FWIW (which is just down the road, well about an hour).

    I mean they probably figured that it would get made anyway, and if no church bickled then they could always make a good set, so they might as well take the money. But they couldn’t say that in The Times of course.

    And the film will give opportunities for Christians to explain what they believe, even if they have to start on the backfot, although beinh provoked into it – having to leae the cosy ghetto – is not exactly a bad thing. True those people who don’t know Christinas won’t get that opportuity but y’know…

    And again, I’ve not read the book, so I’m guessing here, butI susoect this is the kind of film that, over here at least, no-one will really take seriously. I mean its a film isn’t it, by Americans. I doubt it will be very damaging. We’re just too cycnical, particularly about Americans telling us about religion.



  • Ryan Yates

    …the mentality that led “Dr.” Ted Baehr to proclaim…

    So you dissagree with Dr. Baehr, does that mean you question his doctorate?

  • Peter T Chattaway

    . . . does that mean you question his doctorate?

    I am not as well-versed in the ways of academia as some, but at least one person who is — he worked as a “paralegal in an academic environment” for six years — says Baehr’s degree “is regarded as basically the equivalent of a master’s degree, not a Ph.D. or similar. I had never heard a J.D. referred to as ‘doctor’ who was not a professor, and many academics spurn that usage. It is a very peculiar usage.” More details here.

    FWIW, Wikipedia confirms that “convention has discouraged the use of that title among practicing lawyers in the U.S.,” and it is not clear to me whether Baehr is even one of those at the moment.

    Wikipedia goes on to state: “The graduate law degree of Doctor of Juridical Science (J.S.D.) confers the academic and social title of ‘Doctor,’ but this degree is rarely earned by practicing lawyers in the U.S. Practicing U.S. lawyers who hold doctorates in other fields (i.e., M.D./J.D., Ph.D./J.D., etc.) are more likely to use the title of ‘Doctor'”.

    So, no, I do not question Baehr’s doctorate based on any of his opinions. I do not even question his doctorate, such as it is. I do, however, question the way he goes about calling himself “Dr.” — apparently to boost his status among his readers — when apparently people in his position are not supposed to.