Churches have long been preaching that Hollywood is undermining their values. Conservative religious parents take on an often onerous, quick-stepping job of keeping up on the latest releases of movies to determine if the messages in the films are supportive of their messages at home, and at a minimum, determining whether they pose a threat to the brands of faith to which they subscribe.
For as long as people have been able to jot their ideas down with writing tools, they have expressed their range of perceptions of and responses to God, gods, goddesses and the great force or forces long believed to govern events on our planet. A whole series of blogs couldn't begin to cover the range of God represented in written form. With hundreds of thousands of titles in print, God themes are often pretty decent reading.
God in art has been a constant contemplation since antiquity as well. From ancient sculptures of icons and figurines used in ancient worship practices, objects thought sacred date back to humanity's earliest days. It is now thought that a snake depiction found inside a cave in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana is possibly 70,000 years old and may be the oldest known religious object. Bostwani legend maintains that man descended from the python and scientists have pieced together what they think is a religious tradition there.
Over time, sophisticated paintings by some of the world's masters have captured beliefs in many forms of mythology, often featuring God, Jesus, angels, scenes described in the Bible and even featuring verses themselves in mass market art sold in shopping malls such as the inspirational works of the late Thomas Kinkade. All kinds of things are created to help us keep God in focus and hold God a little closer.
With art and books, people take time to consider the full impact of a work and make a more thoughtful assessment of its potential value. God in digital and online media presents a whole range of other challenges and opportunities unique to our time.
People often find themselves struggling to limit the spheres of influence on their lives, but it is quite an uphill battle.
Films alone cause quite a sensation. They don't just stay in the theatres anymore, with a few clicks they can be playing on a child's phone. Some churches or church organizations issue approvals for movies they deem appropriate for their audiences. Some ultra religious groups, such as Orthodox Jews, attempt to avoid these problems by not allowing electronic devices in their homes. But by now, many have come to rely on them for business and find it hard to avoid pop culture media pitfalls.
A Roman Catholic group called The League of Decency has a list of condemned films from 1933 through 1980 and growing.
Radio has other plusses and minuses. Many times every day unassuming people are verbally assaulted just by skipping radio channels and venturing into uncharted listening territory. A child exploring the radio's airwaves can learn a whole lot of undesirable words in a hurry. As free speech oriented and liberal minded as some of us are, we must all admit to being at least sometimes surprised by shock jock dialogue. Then again, a lot of people love the shock and even pay extra for it.
Still, with nearly 3,000 Christian radio stations in the U.S. alone, God is also getting a whole lot of airtime. There is plenty of Godly inspiration for those who can effectively circumnavigate the obscene.
The Internet is a vast expanse of information that only requires curiosity as a guide, but perhaps it is still the one form of media that parents can most easily control and monitor, if they try hard enough and are willing to set aside time for the task. So far, the world has shown no shortage of curiosity. A fifth grade homework assignment on animal reproduction is but a click away from a whole lot of other reproduction data and fascinating imagery.
Censorship in many countries does away with some of these concerns (along with many of the positives) but around these parts of the world, if one wants to avoid certain themes, one has to do a bit of work to maneuver around them. For all the wonders and joys of modern media, they sure have added hours of work for parents concerned with the influences they become on kids and themselves.
Perhaps what is surprising is that for years the church argument has been that "Hollywood is killing God," yet we can't seem to go very long without God as the centerpiece of a box office phenomenon. Why is that?
Is Hollywood really killing off God?
Not a chance! God is frequently a blockbuster.
According to IMDB, some 351 individuals have played the role of God in popular films, including an upcoming production in 2013 in which Martin Kast will play God in "Caravaggio and My Mother The Pope." And since the days of silent films, God has been portrayed in one way or another on the big screen.
Whatever the angle, God themes often make for good films.
Filmmakers do have a unique challenge when deciding on the voice of God, which is never described in either the Bible or the Koran. The voices of James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, George Burns come to mind for many of current generations, while older generations may snap to attention at the voice of Charlton Heston from "The Ten Commandments." Some films have featured a woman's voice as God, such as Whoopi Goldberg's in "A Very Merry Muppet Christmas" or "A Little Bit of Heaven," some have even blended a male and female voice together or used sound effects to alter the voice. By now, each generation likely has a version of God's voice on file somewhere in their minds, purely created by Hollywood.
Many popular films do not have an actual character for God or they may simply allude to God, Jesus or Heaven even if they do not mention God by name. The C.S. Lewis "Narnia" series is a good example of God, the metaphor.
God on the small screen is just as popular. Theresa Blythe wrote an interesting little essay trying to answer the question: What would you know about God if your only source of information were television?
"Dexter," "Joan of Arcadia" and my personal favorite "Drop Dead Diva," which just concluded for the season, are all examples of some form of God on TV or even God on demand.
In "Drop Dead Diva," God has an invisible boss-like role. For anyone not familiar with the show, it is the complicated story of a young, blonde and gorgeous model who died and went to heaven, where she promptly hit the "return" button on a computer and was sent back to earth as a soul who took over the body of a then-dying female powerhouse attorney who was a nice looking though very plus-sized person. Guardian angels help her with the transition and keep her in line a bit. Heaven is a dominant theme, complete with white, sophisticated technology imagery, but God the character has not made an appearance in two seasons.
Faith or God themed webisodes are being released at a rate so rapid there is not an accurate list of them at this time.
So, is God just finding a new home, one without a steeple? Are some of the staggering faithful church and synagogue fallout "statistics" actually not abandoning God but rather finding God in new media? Are they replacing church services with radio stations, streaming sermons, podcasts, TV shows, apps and GodTube talks?
As the world's faithful comes to rely more on technology for the many reasons we all do, it will be interesting to see what kinds of new "junk" filters emerge. Perhaps sites like some of these Christian filter services will start to serve other religious markets with similar concerns and will gain momentum. The same way Muslims can sometimes eat kosher meat because it also meets their dietary requirements, conservative religious people might band together to build an affordable, multifaceted well-constructed media filter. Now ranging from a few dollars to about $50 per month, current conservative Christian filters are fairly pricey but bring some peace of mind to those parents concerned with the negative influences of mass media, although they only block one device at a time.
It's doubtful anything will come along to reign in the media. The information train has not only left he station but accelerated, blazed off the tracks and pretty much dusted anything NASA has built in the history of high powered, fast moving rocketry.
The religious and irreligious alike will likely continue to be outraged by some of God's portrayals from whatever media they emerge. But with built-in audiences from here to forever, Hollywood won't be killing off God any time soon.
All faithful people need some imagination. How much can be debated but it seems clear that God, the muse, is eternal.