The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Sex, Violence, and Hollywood, part 1

Would any of you avoid a program that might be good otherwise, but includes sex/nudity? Has such content become so much a part of society that we have become numb to it? Or, perhaps we should just accept all this as being an honest portrayal of life?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at InterfaithUnderstanding.org.

Over the years, Hollywood has gotten more and more explicit in displaying nudity, sexual situations and violence. I am curious about how the clergy members on this panel choose which content they will view, especially on the various streaming platforms that are available. Would any of you avoid a program that might be good otherwise, but includes sex/nudity? Has such content become so much a part of society that we have become numb to it? Or, perhaps we should just accept all this as being an honest portrayal of life?

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

Add one more item to your list of Hollywood vices: gratuitous obscenity and profanity. In our household, an ‘R’ rating is a deal killer. Ventures into ‘R’ territory have been few and unrewarding. It seems to me that the nudity and sex is usually highly produced and intended only to titillate. Fantastic, in the worst sense of the world, feeding distorted and unrealistic expectations. Searching through the offerings on streaming platforms reveals how many really bad movies have been made in the last few decades, whether ‘R’ rated or not.

Far more serious is the endless anger, violence, destruction and death that figure so largely in the ‘blockbuster films’ of recent vintage. Who on earth wants to live in such a world? We note in passing that many of the refugees thronging our southern border are fleeing such conditions in their homelands.

The strictures of the infamous ‘Hays Code’ evoke laughter today, but in their time they (unintentionally) inspired a lot of very good writing and acting, to standards unmatched today. But the evil genie has long since been let out of the bottle. Writers and actors today are addicted to the cheap shot and the low road. The only recourse is to find better ways to spend your time and money. Empty seats and falling revenues are the only language that speaks to studio executives. Spend more time observing and pondering God’s works of creation and providence: ‘Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD’ (Psalm 107:43).

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

You sure did nail it. I completely agree that Hollywood has gone off the deep end in terms of explicit sex and violence. This has been a concern of mine for quite a while. At the same time, I acknowledge that we are living in a golden age of TV. And by TV I mean both network and streaming services. There are so many wonderful, intelligent series being offered. I discipline myself to the number of hours per week I’ll indulge; and I know that I’m missing some fine programming. But it’s a choice I make. Now, to the last part of your question: The good news with streaming platforms is that it is so easy to fast forward through scenes that are far beyond my comfort level. I’ve got my nimble finger ready whenever I sense one is approaching. 

Ah, for the days when a couple would embrace, and the camera pans away. That was sexy.

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

The underlying moral principle in this question is that of violation of the Ninth Commandment of the Decalogue regarding respect for the human person. The Catholic Church teaches that ‘modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 604).

I do believe creators and viewers of programs have become desensitized to any respect for feelings and the human body. I choose to avoid programs that go beyond a modest sense of decency. I do this not because the program may be considered worth watching. The program might even be well written. I choose not to watch because the content disrespects my fellow human beings.

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

I believe that the best way to live is to be consistent in every area of our lives. This is the way I strive to live. Therefore,  my entertainment is not separate from my church activities. So, in the same way that I include God in my church activities, I must also include God in my entertainment. How hypocritical to say I am a Christian who lives for God and refuse to include God in all areas of my life!

I want to honor God in all that I do--including my entertainment--so when in doubt I think about what I am doing and if something seems offensive to God I avoid it. You're right in saying that: Hollywood has gotten more and more explicit in displaying nudity, sexual situations and violence. So, it's important that we become aware of our human tendency to dichotomize or compartmentalize our behavior and remind ourselves of the truth contained in Col. 3:23 ‘Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men.’ My Savior went to the cross to die for me, the least I can do is to live for Him. May God give us the grace to live for Him and seek to honor Him in all that we do!

[Ed. note: Watch for more responses on August 15.]

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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