This isn’t a new book, but now, finally released in soft cover, it’s every bit as important to Christians and pop-culture watchers it was in 2009. Because, as you might guess, the cultural atmosphere that produced Peter E. Dans’ “Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners” hasn’t changed much.
Hollywood has turned its back on Christians in the movies – or rather – its decided to make them reliable villains or comic foils.
In “Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners,” Peter E. Dans argued that Christians “may not have been as good as they were depicted in their glorification days, but are certainly nothing like the hateful stereotypes in today’s movies.” An associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of “Doctors in the Movies: Boil the Water and Just Say Aah!,” Dans provided a brief summary of and commentary in almost 200 films through 1905 to the present in order to note the growing enmity towards Christians in film.
Dans covered movies from “The Song of Bernadette” and “Quo Vadis” to as “Schindler’s List” and “The Passion of the Christ,” in straightforward, often humorous prose. (On “The DaVinci Code”: “To call his [Tom Hank’s] acting ‘wooden’ would be an insult to a lot of my furniture.”
The book’s genesis was Dan’s noticing Hollywood’s change in attitude towards Christians. “The movie clergymen of my youth were tough-yet-good-hearted priests,” he said. But now, “it appeared that all orthodox clergy and believers were either vicious predators or narrow-minded, mean-spirited Pharisees.”
Part of the downward spiral of Christian portrayal in film stemmed from the loss of accountability groups like the National Legion of Decency and the Hays Motion Picture Production Code, as well as cultural shifts such as the sexual revolution. Dans blamed a particular “disdain for dogma” by the film industry when picking and choosing which religions to cover favorably. One exception to the rule is Islam – in comparison, Dans surmised, Christians, “who are taught to turn the other cheek, may be easier and safer targets.”
That’s not news to many Christians, who’ve surveyed entertainment media, seen no place for themselves, and tuned out. After all, why invest time and money to be patronized, mocked, and even demonized.
But instead of merely avoiding the theater, Dans implored Christians to take action because films prove “powerful tools for framing public opinion.”
“In short,” Dans explained, “it’s time to restore balance.” He emphasized, “Constant negativity is not only detrimental to institutions and professions but has a polarizing and corrosive effect on society as a whole.”
Dans concluded in his intro: “I also hope it will encourage orthodox Christian believers who have stopped going to movies to get more involved in helping to reshape this important industry, which all agree has badly lost its way.”
— Katie Yoder is Staff Writer, Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media at the Media Research Center. Follow Katie Yoder on Twitter.