Christian Actors and the 3rd Commandment

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Fly Caster, Jun 14, 2011.

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  1. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    I have to confess to being one of the stodgy sort who is appalled by the all-too-common laxity of Christians (even "Reformed" Christians) towards language vulgar and profane, including that found in the arts. Thought it might be helpful to get that out of the way first.

    Doug Wilson mentions on his blog that the young star of the movie Super 8 is from his church. Hopeful that this might mean it would be suitable for family enjoyment, I looked at Plugged In to get a synopsis. Apart from the (usual) excess of crass terms, there's this-- "God's and Jesus' names are misused nearly 30 times."

    I realize that the folks over at Plugged In don't always have a handle on what makes a film suitable, but can anyone find this excusable? I also realize that it doesn't state that this young man (child?) actually says these words (and since I don't plan on watching, I won't know unless someone tells me), still by playing the main role, he is yoked with the whole. I wouldn't allow a child of my his age to view a scene in which the Lord's name was used profanely, let alone play in it-- and profit from it.

    I do think that there is a genuine need for Christian influence in the arts, and in film. And this sometimes will mean portraying what God forbids-- but doing it as to show the results of judgment upon adultery, drunkeness, etc. However, I don't see any possible way of baptizing the profaning of our Lord's name in this manner. If this is what it means to bring a Christian infuence into the realm of the arts, it would be better to let them go.

    That's my humble opinion. Someone else can have a say...
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2011
  2. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    To tell any kind of meaningful or redemptive story, a movie or novel or similar sort of art must depict sinful behavior. So I'm hesitant to say that all instances of a character misusing God's name are necessarily wrong in a movie. Are all instances of a character telling a lie also wrong? No, not if they supply insight into the character's struggles, morality, need to repent, etc. So lying, stealing, adultery and—yes—misuse of God's name are problems if the movie glorifies or celebrates these things. But not when the movie condemns or corrects them.

    Remember that the Bible itself includes accounts of many, many people who misuse God's name, and doesn't necessarily directly condemn the behavior in each instance. But such behavior is useful insight into the character's sin.

    HOWEVER... That said, I contend that the majority of the misuses of God's name in movies today are simply gratuitous and are used only to make a character's speech more colorful or, in the screenwriter's opinion, sound more authentic. I tire of it, too, and we should be wary of becoming accepting of it. It represents not the sinfulness of a character, but the unthinkingly sinful patterns of the filmmakers.
  3. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    As an author, I will say that you can write a powerful dialogue without using God's name in vain. It can be done. I've read excellent works-from Christians and non-Christians as well-that use little to no profanity, yet are well-written and engaging. So this whole idea that dialogue has to be loaded with profanity is bunk.

    That being said, Jack K is right that sin has to be depicted in meaningful art. The difference is that in non-Christian art, sin is depicted as cool or pragmatic.
  4. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Interesting discussion..
    As for the actor and his culpability, one could argue that it is not he saying the words, it's the character that has been written in the script which he is portraying as a paid professional.

    In a similar case, all TV commercials feature "employees" of companies that do not actually work of the company but are paid professional actors and actresses. Is this the sin of giving false testimony?
  5. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I'm just thinking off the cuff here, but my first inclination is to think that taking the Lord's name in vain is probably different from other sins depicted in movies. I'm reminded of a quote by John Piper in an article on why he doesn't watch movies much:

    "I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father."

    From here: Why I Don

    Does blasphemy fall under a similar category? Should we say, "that person is really taking God's name on his lips in an irreverant or even spiteful manner"? I'm inclined to think so.

    I can see how it might instead fall under the "they don't really mean those bad words" category, but then, I think watching a movie with even just those tends to numb the conscience and make us comfortable and familiar with profane language.

  6. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Any clear violation of taking the Lord's Name in vain in a movie is in itself reason to decline viewing or supporting, or even lending credibility to it for the believer.

    Whether done under pretense of amusement, cultural critique, ignorance etc, particularly for an actor who professes to be a believer.
  7. he beholds

    he beholds Puritan Board Doctor

    This is my line of thinking, as well. If I were to utter those words, even at the direction of a script (or were I reading aloud from a novel), I'd still be saying them.
    In fact, even when I read them in a book and the voice is only audible in my head, I am uncomfortable.
  8. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    I think there's a difference between a description of a sin and a commission of a sin. Theatrical portrayals, news broadcasts, fiction writing, and hear-say reports of sinful acts are not themselves sinful. Even scripture, which cannot sin, describes graphic violence and sexuality in its pages, and gives reports of those who blasphemed and what they said. Offense received from the hearers is one-step removed from participation in the sin itself.

    ---------- Post added at 01:41 AM ---------- Previous post was at 01:39 AM ----------

    at the end of the day, i think this may be a case of personal conscience -- I'm just glad I'm not in the industry. We should pray hard for our brethren in Hollywood.
  9. FCC

    FCC Puritan Board Freshman

    There are several old Puritan books and articles on the theater and it's ill moral effects on those attending and especially on the actors that should be revisited by Christians living in our current permisive culture. We are media addicted and think that we must "redeem" the arts or the movies or any number of other cultural icons, when in reality we should be forsaking them. The Puritans even went so far as to close down the Globe theater, where Shakespeare's plays were performed.

    Our Christian fathers took a very high view of the law, not only the third but also the ninth commandment against lying. The early church was stedfastly against any Christian attending the theater to the point of denying communion and church membership to the actors. This was not only because the early theater was performed in the worship of false gods, but because the actors were actively engaged in lying as part of their daily work. The early church fathers and the Puritans have much to re-teach us regarding the theater, or as they are known today the movies and television.
  10. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    This reminds me of the movie, The Invention of Lying. In this pristine world they had no concept of acting or movies, but people who read historical pieces in front of a camera. But even that would be inconsistent, because history is often shaped by the authors.

    What are considered cultural taboos fluctuates as much as the cultures themselves, with reasonable arguments each time to back it up in light of their societal ills. While the Puritans condemned the theatre, they also condoned and practiced drinking and smoking tobacco, which is condemned by most Christians in Asia. I've heard fundy baptists tell me that drums are evil and syncopated rhythms are unnatural and do not follow the beating of the heart, and is therefore should not be used in church. Tell that to the church in India or Africa. Abraham Kuyper thought that certain pieces by Wagner were vulgar and aesthetically horrendous.

    Our benchmark is scripture, which alone can bind the conscience, and I believe there is a difference between describing and committing sin, and we should appreciate that cultures change and its theology should develop in response to it, rather than imposing anachronistic and antiquated models.

    what think ye, is Shakespeare trash?
  11. FCC

    FCC Puritan Board Freshman

    Shouldn't our culture develop in response to our theology and not our theology in reponse to our culture?
  12. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    I would say both are happening and should happen, but culture probably changes faster than our theology. A "Christ against culture" outlook would view them antithetically, whereas Christ the transformer of culture is what we should aim for (according to Niehbur's model). You might be mistaking me to say that culture is foundational and logically prior to our theology, which is not what I'm saying. Only look at nearly every major theological development and see whether or not it has arisen as the church sought to understand God's revelation in light of the worldviews, beliefs, practices, and culture around them. I believe it has in almost every case, which is why each generation writes a new theology and seeks to understand things afresh.
  13. Grillsy

    Grillsy Puritan Board Junior

    Would you allow your children to play make-believe or use their imaginations when playing?
    Perhaps historical reenactments should be outlawed as well since they too are performances and all the performers are lying because they are not actually fighting a real battle nor do they live in another time period.
  14. he beholds

    he beholds Puritan Board Doctor

    Good points. I think lying has the intent to deceive. I am not deceived when I see an actor playing a part. He is not bearing false testimony to me.
  15. Quatchu

    Quatchu Puritan Board Sophomore

    Is it lying when everyone involved and watching knows that its not real, when there is no deception going on. No one is being deceived in theater because there's a universal assumption that what is being said and done is not real.
  16. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    But in this instance, he is saying the words-- he is committing a violation of the 3rd commandment.

    This is similiar to a "Christian" actor "playing" a Sabbath breaker by filming on the Lord's Day, "playing" a thief by actually stealing from a fellow cast member, "playing" a murderer by actually taking another's life, "playing" an adulterer by actually committing a sexual act. No "paid professional" argument could excuse any of these actions.
  17. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    I would disagree. He is not saying the words; it is not coming out of his own soul and mind (unless he's employing "method" acting, but that's another issue). His character, whose fictitious lines he is delivering, is saying them. Do you consider an author who writes these lines for one of his characters as committing a sin when he writes these words for his character to say? What about biblical authors who wrote blasphemies for his real life characters to say? The words themselves are not sin; the soul and intention of the person must be taken into account.
  18. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Yes, he is actually saying the words and for this reason I think an actor would have to pay particular attention to portrayals of a character who broke this particular commandment. The vast majority of uses in movies today are not warranted.

    But... to merely say the words does not break the commandment. To say them "in vain" breaks the commandment. I maintain it's possible for a character to misuse God's name but for the actor involved to portray this sin in a way that acknowledges it as sin and intends, through the telling of the story, to bring honor to God. In such a case (rare these days), the actor himself is not using God's name vainly at all, but soberly and reverently, albeit in a creative fashion.
  19. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    He is only saying it in the same way the biblical author is saying it when he puts the words in the mouth of his character. I don't consider it sin. "In vain" are the operative words.
  20. he beholds

    he beholds Puritan Board Doctor

    I would consider an author to be sinning were he to write a line that actually takes the Lord's name in vain. Someone is responsible for the writing of that line. Now if he described it and merely said, "He took the Lord's name in vain..." That wouldn't be sin.

    I don't think it's possible to "misuse God's name" in a way that is not in vain. Either it is a misuse or it is not. If the actor swears with God's name, he swears with God's name.

    Most of the characters in the Bible were real people, so an author did not put words into his mouth, but recorded what he said. (I still can't think of any times where the Lord's name is taken in vain in Scripture, but if it was how you described, it'd not be the writer's fault.)
  21. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    to use His name "in vain" would be to misuse and vice versa. When Matthew writes, "But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons,” (12:24) is he blaspheming? No, he's reporting what was said. He did write the words that blasphemes the Lord's name, but obviously his heart is not behind these words he writes. The blame of the blasphemy lies with the Pharisees. In the same way, the actor's heart is not behind the words he speaks. In a sense, he is "reporting" (though role-play) what a character was saying.

    In terms of the distinction between real and fiction. One might say that to rehearse what happened in real life by real people would be worse than something that's purely fictitious, isn't it? Which is more tragic and heinous: details of a brutal murder on the news, or the same in a work of fiction?
  22. Fly Caster

    Fly Caster Puritan Board Sophomore

    There is an added seriousness to this command, note by the warning attached to it. The warning is grave and serious, and we dishonor God if we don't take it that way. Any leeway added for fiddling around with it isn't expressed by God and seems to me to be a course of wavering to the right or to the left. Jessica has well stated that, were it necessary to portray this sinful behavior, it could be done without committing the sin of violating this commandment..

    As far as charging the human authors with sin, I sense no compulsion to accuse a Holy Spirit inspired writer of any such thing-- no more than I do of accusing John, for relating a physical description of the Glorified Christ in his Revelation, with violating the 2nd commandment.

    ---------- Post added at 01:37 PM ---------- Previous post was at 01:27 PM ----------

    I can't say that I'm ready to accept everything that you have stated here, but I do recognize that these were the views commonly held by a Godly group of blessed men that were far less encumbered by the spirit of the age that most of us are.

    And yes, you are correct that we should learn from them.
  23. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    It has not yet been shown that the 2nd commandment has been violated in this case, IMO.

    This is precisely MY point. But to add, it is not because they are inspired that protects them from committing the sin, it is because it isn't a sin to do what they did. My argument stands, once again, that there are such things as description, reporting, and portrayal of sinful events that are not to be confused with sinful acts themselves.

    I think we should also be sensitive of wrongly imputing sin on a brother, if a sin has not been committed. This would be a violation of the 9th commandment, which is grave as well.
  24. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    There are many instances of characters invoking God's name for their own purposes rather than his glory; for instance, while clearly telling lies. Two come to mind immediately. There's Jacob when he pretends to be Esau and brings meat to Isaac, who asks how he finished the hunt so quickly: "The LORD your God gave me success." And there's Saul when confronted by Samuel after failing to completely destroy the Amalekites' livestock: "The people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the LORD your God."

    These are clear misuses of God's name. But was the Bible author wrong to report them? Was I wrong just now to type them? Am I wrong if, in telling these Bible stories to kids, I reenact those words? No, because my purpose is sober and God-honoring, even if the character who spoke them was doing wrong.

    This is why I say that when it comes to storytelling arts, it isn't always automatically wrong to act out a character committing this sin. Most of the time it's unnecessary and has no godly purpose, but sometimes it may be allowed.
  25. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    I agree with Jack. That most television and movies is rubbish and serves no godly purpose to produce and watch is obvious and true - but that's a separate question altogether.
  26. he beholds

    he beholds Puritan Board Doctor

    These are still not examples of the actor/writer doing the taking. Many sins portrayed in arts do not require the artist to sin; however, I believe that if I were to take the Lord's name in vain (even if done in pretend--or in vain, ironically) I'd be sinning. I just cannot imagine a way for it to be OK taking the Lord's name in vain.
    I think an artist could portray sin, such as adultery, without sinning. But were he to actually have relations in that acting, he'd be sinning. An actor has to actually SAY his lines, and the saying, in my opinion, is half of the sin in taking the Lord's name in vain.
  27. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Junior

    Jack is right to note that there are certainly times when reenactment of stories (where biblical characters misused the name of God) for the sake of instruction (e.g. to kids) can be proper. However, I think that, for the most part, we are considering an entirely different idea from instruction: namely, entertainment. That is the primary purpose of most movies, right? (I know, there are exceptions, but they are few - and what many of those seek to instruct is equally godless.) Can the premise honestly be defended that the misuse of God's name is in any way justifiable for the sake of entertainment? I think not. That, then, disqualifies the vast, vast majority of such productions from any reasonably defensible position.
  28. JennyG

    JennyG Puritan Board Graduate

    J Dean says:
    As an author, I will say that you can write a powerful dialogue without using God's name in vain. It can be done.

    yes, it most definitely can. Every worthwhile novelist writing before the 20th century managed it effortlessly. There are villains aplenty in Dickens and his contemporaries, some spine-chilling exemplars of pure evil, but none who depend on profanity for the expression of that evil.
    Or take Tolkien. - not even Sauron swears. The nearest the writer gets to the use of that crutch is some invented orc words. Still moving down market, Star Trek the same - I was happy to let my children watch it knowing no matter how tense the action got, blasphemy would not figure.

    The profanity that modern writers indulge in is not there because artistic expression demands it.
  29. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    I guess two young Christians could have sex on TV to illustrate Sampson's life. :)
  30. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Nice and succinct. This highlights the basic disagreement on the thread: Is an actor pretending to take the Lord's name in vain or actually doing it, assuming the action is presented in a negative light within the context of the movie? Some of us (including me) think it's actual; others classify it as pretend. How do we determine who is right?

    ---------- Post added at 04:39 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:35 PM ----------

    Here's how I would answer my own question: Some things shouldn't even be pretended on film, even though it might make it difficult to tell the story otherwise. I don't think two young Christians should pretend to fornicate on camera, and I would place blasphemy in the same category.
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