Does the watching of edgy secular movies and TV shows confuse and dilute our faith, or challenge and strengthen it? Probably both, depending on the person and the circumstance. And I’d rather risk the former than miss out on the latter.
That’s one of the reasons I’ll be picking up my Blu-Ray copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 fairly soon after it’s released April 15, and watching it with my kids as soon, and as often, as possible thereafter.
While some Christians avoid all things Hogwartsy, my family embraces this franchise wholeheartedly. I’ve often wondered why this particular strain of fantasy literature/film is so repellent to some, considering that many Christians embrace the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Narnia series – each of which contains an assortment of magic and other supernatural powers being put to use by both heroes and villains.
Initially, the anti-Potter backlash was related to the ‘soft-sell’ of witchcraft, I’m told. Some doomsdayers feared that bedtime stories about children routinely and benignly mixing potions and reciting incantations would lead to an epidemic of new Wiccans in our world. But that stampede to the Occult doesn’t seem to have occurred, yet some still look down their noses at Dumbledore and co.
Around a year ago, I asked an anti-Potter friend why the sentiment persists – why is it OK for Gandalf to be a wizard, but not Harry? His answer makes some sense: children who read Lord of the Rings aren’t expected to relate to Gandalf – he’s a mysterious, remote and often unpleasant character, while Harry is a lovable everyboy. Luke and Anakin Skywalker are meant for children to identify with, but their powers are largely acrobatic and athletic, not magical in the conventional sense. (And last we checked, there weren’t any Force cults for kids to join and devote their lives to.)
‘There has to be a line dividing what you’ll let your children watch and what you won’t,’ my friend said. ‘If a story where the hero is a 12-year-old warlock isn’t on the other side of that line, what is?’ Well said, buddy. But I still think the children of folks who agree with my friend are missing out.
Firstly, Harry Potter is fiction, and I think we can count on our kids to recognize it as such. It takes place in a wondrous, incredibly imaginative alternate universe that I wouldn’t want them to miss, and it’s written so well as to be accessible and enjoyable whether you’re eight or eighty. As escapist fiction goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.
In addition, I think Harry Potter is very compatible with Christian values. The line between good and evil is very clear in the Potterverse. Human life is arguably more sacred to the wand-wielders in this series than it is to us in the real world. The commodity that Lily Potter uses to stop evil Voldemort the first time is love. And (spoiler alert) Harry defeats him in the end, not by going toe-to-toe with him, fighting fire with fire and out magicking him, but by sacrificing himself and then coming back to life. Hmm, I think I’ve heard that story arc somewhere before…
If Gandalf’s journey can be used to teach our kids about the crucifixion and resurrection, why can’t Harry’s do the same?
The advent of digital cable has led to the launch of several faith-based TV channels, but for my money, HBO, AMC and Showtime are the homes of the best Christian TV programming around.
Now, I don’t subscribe to any of those stations, but Karen and I watch a lot of their shows on DVD and Blu-Ray. And shows like Six Feet Under, Dexter and Nip/Tuck do a lot more for my Christian values than Little House on the Prairie and Happy Days – series featured on some of those play-it-safe ‘Christian’ channels – ever could.
Your muscles don’t grow stronger if you never use them to do any heavy lifting, and it’s my opinion that the same is true for our spirits. The American cable adult dramas I mentioned above expose us to perspectives and ideas that wouldn’t dawn on Karen and me otherwise, insulated in our little bubble of suburbia and Christendom in north Calgary as we are.
We don’t let our kids watch them, of course – Katie and Ian’s boobtube fare consists mostly of the Suite Life and Phineas and Ferb – but the American cable dramas are windows into worlds that, for better or worse, each occupy a corner of God’s creation (perverted, corrupted and distorted by fallen humanity though they may be). And we could all benefit from knowing more about our world – we may not learn informational fact from this kind of fiction, but we learn emotional truth, which is arguably even more valuable.
Therefore, if you haven’t watched any of these shows, I highly recommend them.
– Six Feet Under is, in my opinion, the best drama in the history of television. It’s about a southern California family in the funeral home business. Most memorably, Michael C. Hall played a gay mortician who served as a deacon in his Episcopal (the U.S. word for Anglican) church, before he and his husband adopted a couple of children. If that’s not enough to get your self-righteous judgementalism juices flowing, the show also touched on pornography, drug abuse, sexual addiction, infidelity, selfishness in the face of mental illness, incest and, occasionally, murder. But throughout all of this depravity, the characters are absolutely relatable and sympathetic. They’re also extremely well-written and well-performed. If you watch the entire seven-season run of the series over the course of two months like we did, you find yourself quite deeply emotionally invested in the tortured characters, and find the boundaries of your soul expanded, your empathy muscles strengthened and your definitions of good and bad challenged.
– Dexter, also starring Michael C. Hall, is also about intensely flawed human characters. Its premise is a bit loopy – it’s about a serial killer whose victims are all serial killers – but once you suspend your disbelief on that contrived notion, the show forces you to question your definitions of good and evil in a rather uncomfortable way. And the fact that the title character also lives a very normal life where he’s a good man, good husband and good father clouds the issue even further. His friends and co-workers are also all very interesting and compelling, and each is encumbered with significant baggage. And of all the TV shows set in hot, humid Miami over the years, this is the only one I can think of where people actually sweat.
– Considering the subject matter of Dexter and Six Feet Under, it’s surprising that the most challenging HBO series for me is Nip/Tuck (one of those shows about Miami where no one perspires). Karen and I are only a few episodes into the first season, but the fact it’s about the cosmetic surgery industry is a real turn-off for me. The fact that people choose to spend their money on boob jobs and tummy tucks while others in the world don’t even have clean drinking water absolutely sickens me. Predictably, one of the main characters on Nip/Tuck is an amoral womanizer who’s not above sleeping with patients in lieu of payment. But surprisingly, his partner – the ‘decent’ family man with a penchant for pro-bono work – is just as unlikable. Both of these scalpel scoundrels, and all of their supporting characters are terribly flawed in their own ways, but intensely relatable.
OK, OK, I think I’ve written the phrase ‘flawed but relatable’ enough now that you probably get my point. Other extremely well-made cable series whose characters fit this description include Mad Men and The Sopranos.
What all of these shows have in common is that they’re studies in various corners of the dark side of the human condition. The people they depict are all fictional, of course, but most of them are plausible human beings – and God knows their real-world equivalents intimately, and loves them just as much as he loves me.
I think we’re all called to go and do likewise.
Peace be with you.