Film carefully: Hollywood’s religious-premised movies bring about conflict

It’s hard to rid ourselves of panging religious biases when other religious beliefs are constantly pushed upon us with unnecessary force. It’s like Newton’s law: Strong actions produce equal, opposite reactions.

I’m not saying that I condemn anyone for not sharing my religious beliefs, but one aspect of my personal ideology is making some effort to avoid conflict with others. It’s as simple as avoiding an aggressive attitude and taking personal satisfaction in your choices rather than antagonizing others for theirs, and this seems appropriate given that one function of religion is to take notice of something greater than the silly problems humans create.

In my ideal world, I would make it a priority for religious beliefs to be kept private, allowing for a sense of tolerance and acceptance such that society could function smoothly. Evidently, reality paints an entirely different picture. My faith, Islam, hasn’t portrayed the best track record of such ideals in the past, but frankly, I don’t think that any of the other predominantly practiced religions have either. This brings me to my newest annoyance: the recent surge in Christian-based Hollywood movies this year.

The films “Noah” and “Son of God” have brought the issue of intertwining religion and film to the center of the table. It’s no surprise why media outlets have dubbed 2014 the year of the Bible.

Each time I sit through a preview of any of these movies, I can’t help but object to the premises of this religion and film relationship. Maybe it’s because of how much effort a stranger is putting into making me feel something that should be rather intimate. Maybe it’s the defensive religious tones in the previews that just remind me of the antagonistic air that separates major religions. Or maybe it’s just the fact that I came here to watch Walter Mitty escape from the problems of the world and not revisit them. Whatever the reason, there’s something so unsettling about the concept of religious figures being portrayed in man-made sets, constantly edited and cut to fit a director’s vision — whether this manifests with truth, aesthetics or shock value. Some team in California strategically planned out this expensive moment with religion to bring out such apparent differences.

Movies with religious premises are misinterpreting what a religious agenda is, and in effect, add to the growing issue of individuals failing to realize that religion and film serve two widely different agendas.

The preview for “Son of God” managed to make me shake my head more than many others. Like films such as this of the past, I wondered what exactly the motivation was for creating yet another movie about Jesus Christ. But more importantly, why the directors felt the need to be so abrasive about the preview.

I don’t doubt the motivation of Christians to instill faith in others — Muslims are pretty guilty of that too — but seeing a movie titled “Son of God” definitely exemplifies this unnecessary abrasiveness and stirring up of conflict, simply from the title itself. For one, Islam doesn’t allow for figural representation in art because it’s accepted that only God can create a being. Almost all Muslims take offense to the idea of ever seeing their religious figures portrayed artistically, and this is why they limit their portrayals in the few religious films that they produce. But for another, there’s one major divergence that Islam has with Christianity: It lies in the distinction that Muslims don’t accept that there’s one son of God.

I’m not trying to jump to conclusions about the motivation behind naming the movie “Son of God,” but I’m guessing that Hollywood team was thinking about the reaction that these bold letters would yield at the end of the preview.

The way I see it, religion is intended to further an already existing sense of morality in individuals, which allows for a coherent society filled with rational, moral individuals. Too often we find ourselves doing the exact opposite, though. Believers exude no shame in using their faith to showcase who they are and portray the differences of religion to separate societies.

You’d think that after seeing the results of this over the years, people would end this mindless pattern. Although titling a movie “Son of God” isn’t by any means the most destructive form of this habit, it’s the repetition of the same counterproductive attitude that gives major religions a negative connotation in the first place.

As far as using these films to delineate these differences — as in getting those with differences on board with the belief system portrayed on the screen — I doubt that seeing the portrayal of stories will have the power to single-handedly convert an atheist into a believer. And if it does, the reasoning behind it — remember, the success of these films is presumably contingent on precise acting, lavish sets and expensive technology — doesn’t sound very genuine.

If you ask me, religion and film serve very different agendas. Ultimately, the success of a Hollywood religious film merely celebrates that we don’t understand what a religious agenda actually is. 

Write to Sophia at [email protected].