Are You There, God? It’s Me, Hollywood

morgan freeman as GodDear Reader,

As you may already know, in Hollywood there exists a strange stance on God. Never an industry to shy away from extremism, many non-religious films that mention God show one of two depictions: either there is a God that is sociable and able to communicate with the characters or a God that exists merely in the fabrics of tradition, but whose presence is never felt beyond the statues that hang in the deadening church. With these two opposing views, naturally, comes opposing views on fate. On one hand, those who go with a more social God get an adjusted future. God can, like a business deal, be negotiated with, which also means a negotiation of one’s fate. If you are really lucky, like in cases of Bruce Almighty (2003), God will decide that he is wearing himself too thin (he is on a tight schedule, after all), will sign up for a vacation, and will leave all power to you. Conveniently, though you will have access to the problems of all, yours will be front and center.
The second kind of God is the foreign type, the kind that hides in forgotten churches, who is bound in convention, but who is still relevant for some (and exactly who that type of person is, we will get to later). Similar to the first God, this God can also be negotiated with, though on a different level. Instead of directly speaking to God, you can do so through prayer. If you are Catholic in Hollywood, then you are extra lucky, because you can do whatever you wish so long as you follow proper church procedure. As the character Calogero Anello in A Bronx Tale (1993) says, “It was great to be Catholic and go to confession. You could start over every week.” In this category, it is very common to see the Catholic gangster praying to God after yet another assassination made (but he really is sorry about it, and to be sure he’ll say the Rosemary eight times instead of seven).

Of course, in Hollywood feature films, it is quite dangerous to actually believe in a God who gives you more than a stamp of approval and a ticket into heaven. If you are actually religious, if you actually believe in the Bible and all of the stories that go along with it, if you obey more than saying the Rosemary, then you will most always be cast in either the conservative, dull character who does not allow for fun in life or, as is coming more common, the role as the crazy religious person who is far too gone in fantasy to see any truth at all. You will never get the chance to be a lead character, as that would involve getting an audience to spend more time with you and possibly relate to your views, so you will be the comedic relief whenever such scenes are required.

Those hoping for more screen time may be happy to know that they can find it, but it does come with a price. Instead of being the crazy (perhaps still lovable) relative or friend of a friend, you can be the evil villain who uses God to further your secret plans of world domination under your religion’s power.

If you haven’t caught on yet, yes, these are stereotypes. But why is it that only a certain kind get focused on in mainstream Hollywood films? I cannot accept it as coincidence, nor can I even accept it as lazy writing. There is a reason why filmmakers tend to come back to these types of characters and it seems to be due to the fact that this is what audiences identify with. In other words, Hollywood does not write the stereotypes; they simply supply it to the people who have created them. Of course, because it serves such stereotypes, these films help to keep these beliefs alive, but these beliefs were already alive before the film. How? I admit that those of faith are more vulnerable to this type of criticism. After all, any retaliation would be seen as being hypocritical (by some). And I am sure that there are those who have had bad experiences with religion or church and have used this to fuel the rage. Has religion caused the wars and the genocide and the extreme disorder that people claim it has? Somewhat. Of course there have been wars on religion for centuries, but the root of those wars comes not from the subject people are fighting on, but the citizens involved in the fights and their lack of tolerance for others.

Still, there seems to be close to an obsession with targeting religious characters in fiction (and heavily biased non-fiction as well). Maybe you can help me understand why, because I do not know. Why is it that people of faith have gone from viewed as joyless creatures who do not stray from the rules to judgmental, hypocritical, and inherently evil people? Is it because the walls have been coming down and people are more willing to share their problems (no matter how you spin it, all who are imperfect humans are judgmental and hypocritical at times)? Is it supposed to show that “even religious” people have problems, too? Or are these stereotypes created and maintained because this is how society wishes to view people of faith?

Sincerely,

Jumbled Writer

*Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk.

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15 Responses to Are You There, God? It’s Me, Hollywood

  1. A very interesting article. Yes, I do believe too many people are interested in judging others and therefore not have to look at themselves too carefully. There are way too many stereotypes, most false. If one Catholic (had to choose that) believes they can just confess and go to heaven then others might believe that’s what we all are I guess. There is also this extreme belief that the rules of one are right and everyone else is wrong. I do believe we as humans will not ever know. Instead of judging others maybe it’s time to consider whether your own beliefs are right. The bible speaks of a forgiving God – but only you can know whether or not you are just paying lip-service. But I feel He knows. Thanks for the ‘pondering’ on a volatile topic.

  2. From my perspective, Hollywood sometimes reminds me of yellow journalism. They follow trends and create works to sell to the audience. While there might be some personal beliefs behind it, I’m inclined to think they’re trying to sell the most tickets possible. They must have picked up this impression from pop culture or other current events.

    • Selling tickets is a huge way that Hollywood operates, it seems. As long as that money comes in, a lot of other factors (like good writing, acting, directing) can be put to the side. Thanks for visiting!
      –JW

  3. refreshing article, very neat view-piont! Bruce almighty always comes to mind on the hollywood “personification” of God, and tonue-in-cheek, Morgan Freeman is thought of as a “god”, along with some others of course, in the mainstream acting field.

    I agree full-heartedly: and my take on why- Hollywood has an agenda on programming beliefs into our society, and the Christian is being targeted as a stupid, delusional idiot of weakness. This would validate nearly all of Christ’s teachings in the New Testament, and holds a lot of veracity amidst the teachings that are mainstream today- look at all of the devil’s hand-signals, the upside down pentacle on everything- Rockstar cans to teenage-girls’ clothes!- it is a spiritual war in the flesh!

    GREAT ARTICLE! Thank you for sharing:)

  4. “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Rev. 3:17
    That and of course: “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:24
    The most damning opinion would be that Hollywood is wealthy and immoral (if you listen to gossip news) so has a vested interest in denying God. Or that it is the western world that has become rich and lukewarm and they’re merely doing business by giving the public what they want. Either way there are very few biblically accurate portrayals of God or Christians. It’s either the Buddy Jesus (from Dogma) all forgiving type who conveniently forgets the “Go and sin no more” John 8:11 part or you have Christians who are the very opposite of what the New Testament says they should be (Titus 2:7-8 for example). Not just people who try and fail to be good, but people who are the very personification of all that Hollywood sees is wrong with the world.
    Or it could simply be ignorance and opinions about religion that come solely from pop culture with an attitude of “Nobody is gonna tell me what to do” and “That guy told me to think for myself”.
    Okey, I should stop rambling now. =)

    • Yes, it seems that a lot of portrayals are so one-sided that it’s hard to make them feel believable. I see your comment has been well-researched. Thank you for stopping by.
      –JW

  5. Hi, although I don’t see myself in any way of the God as you say who –
    ” will sign up for a vacation, and will leave all power to you. Conveniently, though you will have access to the problems of all, yours will be front and center. ” 🙂
    I do quite like to think of God looking like Morgan Freeman, just because it’s a kind image, rather than the old wrath fire hell and brimstone type of misery 🙂

  6. Very interesting post! Christians are an acceptable target. I doubt you’d ever see Hollywood portraying Jews as fanatics or weak or in any other very negative light.

    As to religious wars, I agree with you totally. If the Irish and the people of Northern Ireland were all of one religion, they’d still fight, because the real issue there is the conquerors versus the conquered. But because they are of different faiths they — and the world at large — can focus on that.

  7. I think that over time, Hollywood has become less of a mirror of our culture, that a creator of our culture. Oftentimes, the religious aspects of a movie are not part of the main plot line, but are instead part of the underlying theme. We go to see a movie because something else about it peaks our interest. Once at the theater, the anti religious theme is snuck in. After seeing the inaccurate portrayal of Christians over and over again on TV and the big screen, we start to accept it as truth and start to see those behaviors in the Christians we know. Even if that behavior doesn’t really exist in that person. The move of our society away from Christianity has been long and slow. It was not the result of our society growing intellectually, in fact in many ways our society has done the exact opposite. It is the result of an orchestrated plan to move us away from looking to God for our salvation and instead looking to the Government, the “Collective”. Hollywood has become on of the most effective tools for carrying out this agenda.

    • I really like what you write about the influence of Hollywood over its viewers. I think that is very spot on. Most do not go to a movie to be led in a certain direction, but the more exposure a certain idea gets (such as the idea that all people of religious are crazy and evil), the more our minds start to accept that. This is not true for everyone, of course, but it can happen, and has happened. Pop culture can be quite the dictator. Thanks for stopping by!
      –JW

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