Toning Down Spirituality

ben hur

What is the story of Ben-Hur actually about?

The main character is Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jewish man in Jerusalem, whose friendship with his childhood best friend is destroyed when an accident endangers the new governor of Judea. Judah is condemned to prison and hard labor, while his sister and mother are thrown into prison and (he assumes) killed. Judah winds up in Rome after a long sequence of events and finally returns to Jerusalem, newly wealthy and with a different identity, to fulfill his desire for revenge against his former friend. Yet, all of that changes through the intervention of the Messiah, who heals Judah’s mother and sister from leprosy on the cross.

Fundamentally, the story is about the Messiah’s influence on their lives. It’s a story of redemption and forgiveness.

But modern filmmakers don’t understand that. They strip it away and are left with a hollow, sexualized shell of the author’s intentions. Much as there are things I like about the most recent adaptation of the novel (such as its lack of cheesiness, its cast, its better exploration of the characters, and its development of secondary figures), it disappointed me in its complete removal of the messiah. Oh, he makes a couple of appearances… but without knowing the whole story, an audience wouldn’t understand why his mother and sister awake after the crucifixion healed of their leprosy! How sad! Not only did they turn the author’s noble Judah into a fornicator, they removed the author’s faith from the finished product!

Unfortunately, this is a common theme in movies these days.

The miniseries John Adams leaves out the faith of that particular founding father, and only references it in a couple of passing lines of dialogue about “providence.” It conveniently forgets one of its primary figures, Dr. Benjamin Rush, had a theological degree, and his sole purpose in reconciling Jefferson and Adams was due to a prophetic dream (in which they exchange many letters and die on the same day in history – which they did).

Atheist director Michael Apted famously boasted about his efforts to remove God from the story of William Wilberforce in Amazing Grace. Indeed, his faith is evident but also absent in many of his conversations, where his arguments for abolition have more to do with human kindness than providence.

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Many Christians actively praised The Blind Side for its positive depiction of believers… yet, their faith is barely mentioned and one wouldn’t even know they were Christians! The true story of the movie The Vow is that a profound faith in God enabled a couple to survive severe marriage trauma (the wife’s total loss of memories of their life together) and rebuild a strong marriage. In the movie, there’s no mention of God, or faith. It’s simply left out.

Believers have reached a point where like dogs, they beg for scraps from Hollywood’s table and are delighted when a piece of less-than-rotten meat falls to the floor. There’s nothing wrong with liking a good, clean movie with a few references to faith, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with the secularization of our society. We need to speak up more, support other believers in their efforts more, and stop pretending that this lackluster, passing reference to a non-specific “moral code” or “God” honors Him.

Never settle for less than the best… and always remember, the real story probably has a lot more religion in it.

7 Replies to “Toning Down Spirituality”

  1. This is all about society’s continuing attempts to take God out of everything. It’s sad. It’s horrible and it shouldn’t be accepted.

  2. Hollywood can’t come up with anything original, so they scour old classics and true stories, then when they find any sort of Christian faith, they strip it from those stories. It fits their agenda. I really like “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.” The director is an atheist but he had integrity and portrayed Sophie as she really was: a Christian. Throughout the movie there are references of faith, prayer and Scriptures. Its refreshing compared to everything else that is out there.

  3. It’s like Murder Rooms where the absence of Dr. Bell’s faith is a travesty in an otherwise brilliant series.

    When I heard about Ben-Hur, I was immediately apprehensive. I love the original series, cheese or not, and I knew, just by the images I saw, that they were going to unecessarily sex it up, and that ticks me off.

    I’m not one for boycotting, but maybe we should boycott Christian stories that have had the faith sucked out of them by Hollywood. I’m not going to watch The Vow for that very reason, and I really didn’t care for The Blind Side because I knew there was more to the story than what they showed us. Why I would want to support something like that when it brutalizes the original tale? I’d much rather not see it at all.

    1. That was indeed a shame in an otherwise magnificent program. (I mean… dude, it’s IAN RICHARDSON playing Bell!)

      If you ever want to see the miniseries for Ben-Hur, I have it edited, and it’s not bad minus the fact that Jesus is downplayed so much and their Pilate is a twat. I really love what they did with Messala in particular. (I’m reading the book now and… wow, if there was ever a case for abridgment, this is it! Great idea for a plot — bad execution; basically, every movie made on the topic has to fill in the entire storyline!)

      Last I heard, Hollywood is bandying about the rights to a big-screen version; let’s hope they make a decent film and not a rubbish one!

      I’m tempted by that. I’m also disappointed that so many Christians don’t keep better hold of the movie rights. Soul Surfer was made better because the family refused to let Hollywood tone down their faith on screen. Watching The Vow, I felt like most of the REAL story was missing! And actually, The Blind Side was an enormous disappointment after all the Christian hype — I came out wondering, “What’s the big deal?” =/

      1. I think I’ll probably pass on watching it. I don’t know, sometimes this type of things turn my stomach because I know the entertainment world has no respect for the religious aspect of the story. If they don’t respect my faith, why are they messing around with a Christian story? Why are they bothering with it in the first place? Hollywood gives us nothing when they do this to us, but we applaud the for trying. They could do it right if they really wanted to.

        Lynn and I went to see The Blind Side in the theater and she loved it. I didn’t have to heart to tell her that I couldn’t stand it. Christian critics lead me to expect some massive declaration of faith, and now I can’t even remember a single moment when Christianity was displayed in the movie at all.

        I’ve really had enough of Hollywood tossing us the bones and being satisfied with them.

        1. Modern filmmakers don’t understand that religion is the heart of the story — they completely miss the point every time they adapt Jane Eyre! The book isn’t a romance so much as an exploration of God’s influence on the lives of Jane and Edward, and how through her decision to make Him first in her life, Edward is humbled and comes to faith. Even so, many of the adaptations are still good… just not as good as the real story.

          It’s possible some screenwriters don’t even realize they’re dealing with a “Christian story,” since they wouldn’t know genuine faith if they saw it! Ben Hur is a story about a man who encounters Christ several times and comes to faith in Him… but it’s not overt. Even the old movie plays up some things and downplays others (plays up the romance and subtext…), but at least it was produced in the age of “epic Bible-based movies,” so it doesn’t exclude Christ. The new one doesn’t either, it just doesn’t tell its audience how Tirzah and Judah’s mother got healed.

          … I think Sandra Bullock’s character mentioned church… once?

          Me too. It makes me support Christian movies more, even if they aren’t as good, production-wise… at least I’m getting some real faith!

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