Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fwd: CT at the Movies: Mocking Faith? D'oh!

Biblical perspectives on contemporary cinema
Friday, July 27, 2007

Mocking Faith? D'oh!

Love 'em or loathe 'em, say this much for The Simpsons (the characters, the show, and now the movie): They're equal opportunity mockers.

And say this much for Matt Groening and the whole creative team behind America's most famous animated family: When it comes to satire, everything is fair game.

That's why I don't get too upset when the folks of Springfield—or the writers behind them—make fun of Christians or the Christian faith. To them, nothing is sacred.

Take Ned Flanders, the Simpsons' cheerful next-door neighbor and, as described in a Christianity Today commentary some years ago, "the evangelical known most intimately to nonevangelicals." Sure, Ned is oft portrayed as little more than a stereotype, but his character is, in many ways, the one fictional evangelical in pop culture who really gets it right. Consider: He's a regular churchgoer who tithes and is in a Bible study group. He believes in salvation by grace, the Second Coming, and the inerrancy of the Bible. He prays at every meal and before bed. He's even an active volunteer in the community.

So the creators of The Simpsons make fun of him. Big deal. At least they got Ned—and, by default, "us" evangelicals—mostly right. Can't say the same for far too many portrayals of Christians in other TV shows and movies.

Look no further than last week's I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry for the latest example, where Christians are portrayed as hateful and devoid of love, and where one main character says Christians are ignorant, won't listen to reason, and speak out against homosexuality because they're miserable and want everyone else to be miserable, too.

Um, I'll take Ned Flanders over that stereotype any day. Okely-dokely?

Russ Breimeier, one of our critics (and a huge fan of the TV show), feels much the same way. In his review of The Simpsons Movie, Russ writes, "Christianity is mocked a few times in the movie, but it's not a mean-spirited agenda—more an indictment of religion than faith. And despite poking fun at the exaggerated straight-laced qualities of Ned Flanders, this film truly loves the Simpson neighbor for honorably showing love to others in need."

Still, keep in mind that this is a PG-13 movie, and it pushes the envelope a bit more than the TV series. There's the issue of Bart's "little doodle" showing when, on a dare, he takes a skateboard ride through downtown Springfield—naked. There is the usual irreverence and occasional sexual innuendo. There's little profanity, though, surprisingly (and disappointingly) one slip of the tongue comes from Marge, who uses the Lord's name in vain—which is so out of character for the normally cool-headed matriarch.

Three more new reviews this week: For the second time this summer, chefs in a gourmet restaurant (remember Ratatouille?) take center stage, this time in the romantic comedy No Reservations; Don Cheadle shines in Talk to Me, a rags-to-riches account of D.C. radio personality Petey Green's rise to fame; and renowned French writer/director Patrice Leconte returns to the big screen with a new comedy, My Best Friend.

And speaking of foreign directors, don't miss our Filmmakers of Faith feature on the late Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian master whose films were rife with spiritual imagery and signs of his faith. Finally, The Simpsons are hardly alone when mocking religion; Reel News reports that Bill Maher wants to offend religious people in his upcoming documentary. Hmm, perhaps he should have a word with Ned Flanders …

See you at the movies,
Mark Moring
Mark Moring
Online Editor/Music & Film

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