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2 December 2006

saved!
i finally watched it. the film. well, i missed the first twenty minutes or so, but i think i got a pretty good idea of what happened in them. i’d heard good things about it. and i can see why. the actors did a great job. the script was intelligent and funny. it very effectively skewered the hypocrisy of those who use christianity (christianity specifically, but any religion in general) as a weapon rather than as a way to enlightenment, as a means for self-affirmation and aggrandizement rather than as an avenue to self-knowledge.

that said, i have some reservations about it. when i started at uci, i was shocked by how many of my colleagues (mostly other grad students, but one or two faculty members also) were willing to dismiss christians and christianity out of hand as a narrow-minded, bigoted petrie dish for right wing fanaticism at best and more often for brutal hatred. i’ll never forget the day when i was walking from university center back to campus with my grad student “mentor” and we were approached by a representative of one of the many on-campus christian student associations. the woman who approached us very nicely invited us to a fellowship dinner. being a part of an actively evangelizing church myself, i know the potential cost of approaching perfect strangers in order to discuss religion with them. as a rule, i try to respond to any missionary-type effort with kindness. so i very nicely told her that i had other plans that night and my “mentor” and i moved on. as we walked away, she (the “mentor”) asked me, in a scandal-tinged sotto voce, if i could believe the nerve of such people. and then she looked at me askance and asked, “you’re not religious, are you?” with that balance of incredulity and horror in her voice that implies that clearly the answer will be a resounding “no, of course not! why would you think such an impossibly preposterous thing as that?! how could i be a smart, open-minded, thoughtful intellectual if i had a religion?!?” i quietly told her i was mormon and left her to squirm her way out of it.

that was simply one incident of many that told me that many of the generally liberal secular scholarly types around me thought christianity was the spawn of satan. now, i should also say that many of my colleagues have not demonstrated this kind of narrowness of mind where christianity is. i know many, many people in the academic community who have nothing but respect for me and my religious beliefs and do not subscribe to the notion that christianity automatically means everything thoughtless, ultra-conservative, hateful, and bigoted.

okay. with that backstory. i liked saved. it was funny. the characters were fairly well-developed. it’s a great satire of christian hypocrisy. but i am bothered by a too easy dismissal of strong belief as necessarily resulting in the kind of hypocrisy and inability to reason portrayed not only in the obviously satiric hillary faye, but also in the somewhat bumbling pastor skip. now, the pastor’s son displayed a christian belief that was charitable and accepting of human frailty. and the mother of the main character clearly was genuine and ultimately privileged family and love over blind, foolish belief. but the film clearly implies that those who really understand compassion and acceptance are the rebellious, unreligious jewish girl and hillary faye’s unbelieving brother. in other words, the victims of christianity’s hatefulness are those who are truly compassionate.

okay. so that’s a simplification. i think the film is more complex than that. but i also think that in our current climate, the message that christianity=bigotry comes across loud and clear while the nuances depicted in characters like patrick and in mary’s crisis of faith get buried. worse, because such representations appear to support the notion that christianity=bigotry, they not only reinforce thoughtless prejudice against christianity, they simultaneously reinforce the stereotypical notion that the secular left unjustifiably dismisses christian belief as backwards. nothing like fostering prejudice on all sides.

but what’s the answer? obviously the answer is not to avoid depictions of the problems of christianity just because such depictions might reinforce the prejudice that has become unfortunately prevalent against christianity. nor should they be avoided because some christians allow such representations to add to their martyr complexes. so what will save us?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 December 2006 10:40 pm

    i watched “saved” a month or so ago. overall, i really did like it – satire is just so fun – but as a believing christian, i certainly felt uncomfortable a few times. great analysis!

  2. 3 December 2006 11:24 pm

    you know, i’ve seen Saved a bunch of times and never really felt implicated by the satire, despite being, in my own estimation, a faithful christian. but then again, i could only see myself hanging out with the outcasts who mock so-called christian rock.

  3. 4 December 2006 3:19 pm

    well, i’ve definitely done my share of mocking christian rock. but had i been at that school, i probably would have looked askance at all parties. maybe i would have been the “patrick” figure who doesn’t really give a damn what other people think but has his own strong beliefs.the point is not that i feel implicated by any stretch of the imagination. simply that i find it problematic when the existing divisive stereotypes on both sides of the issue are reinforced.

  4. 5 December 2006 12:57 pm

    I enjoyed Saved when I watched it. I thought about this a little as I was watching it, but I’ve never really felt much of an allegiance to evangelical christians. I’ve thought about this time and time again, especially when I see other Mormons id with them and wonder why I don’t.

  5. 5 December 2006 2:26 pm

    i think it partially depends upon how you perceive social issues. for mormons who place a lot of emphasis on gay marriage, abortion, etc., as measures of our society’s moral rectitude, i can understand the identification with the moral majority/evangelical right population. but i don’t place much value on those issues as measures of morality, so i, like you sherpa, don’t really identify with evangelicals.the thing that i see in recent culture, however, is that christianity has been identified more and more with the kind of evangelical right the movie depicts. among some of my secular liberal friends, the evangelical version of christianity is christianity. it’s part of the polarizing trend in visible american politics and attitudes in the last five or six years. i say “visible” because i don’t believe that it’s true on large scale; i do think that it’s true of what is depicted in visual media.

  6. 8 December 2006 6:13 am

    Yeah, I agree with you there. I’ve been thinking of that for a while, that some Mormons id with evangelicals whereas others don’t for various reasons. I’ve noticed how many secular liberals id all christians as evangelicals in the past 5 years also. Not all of them do, but I agree that its part of the visible polarizing trend.Have you noticed how much religion has come into play on sitcoms and dramas? From Will and Grace to Studio 60, I’ve noticed a lot of religious jokes and discussion that didn’t use to be on broadcast tv. Some good, some over the line, and I’m pretty tolerant about that sort of thing. I’m not talking about Saved by the Angel jokes either.

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