Someone really should come up with a typesetter’s font for our liberal betters to use when forced to write about things they disdain. We could call it “Helvetica Sneer,” and it would save busy cosmopolitan authors a lot of time and trouble.
For instance, Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday could write reviews simply stating whether Christian-themed films are well-written/directed/acted. Christians could read the reviews without feeling like eccentric aunt nobody likes to talk about, while the people Hornaday really writes for would note the Helvetica Sneer and know she’s still one of them.
It would spare Hornaday from having to confess (protest) “the tensions, contradictions and fleeting moments of grace I have experienced as a film critic who also happens to be a practicing Christian.” And one also who is embarrassed about being Christian, about statements of theological certainty on which Christianity is founded, and about people with the guts not to apologize for their faith.
In light of Hornaday’s boneless Christian faith, it’s hardly surprising she disdains traditionalist Christian films and welcomes “The rise of Christian movies for the rest of us.”
Who are the rest of us (besides Washington Post movie critics?) Well, they are “including but not limited to churchgoers who welcome the separation of church and state; believers who consider the Bible a divinely inspired text, but not a literal one; and filmgoers who are as alienated by facile pietism as they are by facile nihilism.”
In the old days, the term was “our sort,” who could be counted on to avoid embarrassing displays of piety. The updated version is “I’m spiritual but not religious.” These are the people who can accept, at least as intellectual proposition, that Jesus suffered for the sins of the world, but actually witnessing His suffering, as in The Passion of the Christ, is in bad taste.
Hornaday calls her exciting new genre “God is not Dumb.” [Helvetica Sneer Bold Ital] And raves about Last Days in the Desert, which is about Jesus’s 40 days and the temptation of Satan. It’s directed by the son of Castro stooge Gabriel García Márquez. Rodrigo García “isn’t devout,” (of course!) so he sees the story of Jesus “more as a literary conceit.”
It’s probably a good movie, and so probably is The Confirmation, another of Hornaday’s Chirstian-but-not-too-Christian flicks. And some of the Christian movies Hornaday didn’t like were undoubtedly bad. But her formulation of what makes good religious art -- while sounding smart and "open-ended" -- is narrow and quite limited.
The best religious art has less to do with simplistically depicting God, or Jesus, or the events of the Bible than with inviting viewers into a much bigger picture, to wrestle with their own sense of purpose and spiritual understanding (or lack thereof).
So the best religious art makes Hornaday feel smart. Well, that’s one way of looking at it.
Another would be that a believer, not complacent in his own worldliness and sense of self-importance, can look beyond ham-handed directing or preachy screewriting or undeveloped characters in bad beards. He can look at simplistic depictions of “God, or Jesus or the events of the Bible,” and with the religious imagination that comes with faith glimpse the revelation and divine mystery behind the simplicity.
Because nobody, not Shakespeare or Cervantes or Gabriel García Márquez, ever told more powerful stories. They’d even read well in Helvetica Sneer.