At the Crossings, our mission is to explore the intersection between faith and art. This new series "The Crossroads of Faith and Secular Media," created by staff editor and content creator Elijah Bansen, contributes to the an important cultural conversation by exploring the ethical engagement of Christians with art and culture.
Have you ever been told that a piece of art you like is evil and sinful, and that you shouldn't engage with that art because of the content present in it? Perhaps a song you like was written by a musician who lives a foul and perverse life, or a movie you enjoy has too much swearing in it. Does engaging with this kind of content make you an awful Christian? How can we practice our faith and still engage with what the world churns out for us to consume? And most of all, can a Christian artist create something with some level of perverse content while still getting across a faith-based message?
Whenever I hear someone tell me I shouldn't watch Star Wars because it is full of dark "magic" and "sorcery", my quickest response is, "So is Lord of the Rings. So is Narnia. So is, quite literally, the Bible!" The reality is that darkness is all around us all the time, we just usually refuse to see it. We are called to be salt and light, but that doesn't mean we should detach and abandon the things of this world. If we ignore anything that has even the slightest bit of debauchery in it, how can we say we are engaging with the culture in which we live, since almost everything has some level of perversion in it. And beyond that, even in the darkest of stories, there is often still a message we can search for to buildup and edify our own lives and those around us.
To keep within the topic of writing, lets focus on things like books, movies, and video games. Yes, I'm including video games, because they too have become an art form with which our culture is impacted. Anyone who claims otherwise clearly has not played the likes of The Last of Us, Read Dead Redemption, God of War, Bioshock, Undertale, Dark Souls, Elden Ring, and the list goes on. Each of these are games with amazing stories that have gained a foothold in our culture for one reason or another, and thus are deserving of the attention of Christians to examine why. I think I'll delve deeper into the topic of video game writing and how important it has become in our culture today at a later date. But for now, suffice it to say that it has become just that.
Any human story is going to involve some degree of the fallen human condition, since our depravity is superb fuel for excellent storylines. Evil rises up and works counter to the natural order and design of life, and those who oppose evil stand and resist the coming darkness. Even stories without a clear hero and villain, devoid of any solid line between good and evil, can be studied in search of divine truth.
Let's look at John Wick. Yes, I mean it: John Wick. What is the first thing you think of when you hear that name? Vengeful psychopathic one-man-army, hellbent on dealing cruel justice to those who wronged him? Perhaps, and you wouldn't be far from the truth. Many would say this is a movie franchise without much in the way of redeeming values for us to learn from. But I disagree. The first movie is kind of just the above description to a tee, but as the second and third movies go forward, the first movie seems to become recontextualized by the narrative that follows. John Wick has taken his revenge, but this sudden return to his former life drags him back into a lifestyle he worked so hard to escape from years ago. It brings into question his identity as well as his motives for living as he does. Although living as a master assassin is not exactly a relatable problem for most people, his struggle to escape a doomed life of perpetual murder is one that audiences can connect with because we have all felt trapped and boxed in by life at one point or another. And yet in the face of unbeatable odds, he continues to lock and load to bring down the system that keeps him in indentured servitude. Whether or not he does this for the good of other people or just to save his own skin is irrelevant. No matter what, there is a cause he deems worth fighting for, and he is the only one who can unload an absolutely obscene number of bullets in service of that cause and still get up and keep fighting. That is what I would call a message worth taking in.
Of course, one should always think about what they are willing to read, see, or play when they engage with cultural material such as this, but to say that there is no moral value in it is wildly irresponsible and directly counter to the way we should be viewing life and society. If we refuse to engage with anything that is not expressly Christian, how are we supposed to shape the culture God has placed us in for His glory? Something to think about.