A Christian Facebook group I belong to spent the better part of last month in a civil war over “Deadpool,” the hard-R shoot ’em up based on Rob Liefeld’s salty, wisecracking comic book mercenary-antihero of that name. This group (normally devoted to theology and beer) broke into a firefight over whether it’s acceptable for Christians to see the movie.
Why the debate? Because “Deadpool” includes some of the most graphic sequences of nudity and sex the R-rating has ever endured. But a sizeable minority of Christian men in this Facebook group saw no problem with plunking down 12 bucks to watch it. Many planned on taking their wives or girlfriends.
They’re not alone. The Christian blogosphere has developed a penchant for defending nudity-as-entertainment. A lot of Christians are arguing that the Son of Man would have no problem joining them in front of a 50-foot screen dominated by flesh.
Here are some of the recurring “buts” I’ve seen.
But #1: “It’s just a movie!”
Sometime between “Breaking Bad” marathons, and HBO’s success at turning softcore porn into something you can watch with your wife without her smacking you unconscious, we’ve divorced media from reality. What happens on screens isn’t real, we tell ourselves.
But it is real. Screens don’t make nudity fake, or morally irrelevant.
Imagine for a moment that a friend and his fiancée invite you over for dinner and board games. Halfway through the first round of “Apples to Apples,” they begin taking off each other’s clothes—in front of you. What do you do? Do you say, “This looks like a good show, hold that thought while I make popcorn!”? I think not. So what moral property of celluloid or on-demand programming makes it acceptable?
Let’s get real. There is sin occurring on at least two levels, here. The viewer, as you can see, is more like a voyeur. Secondly, the actors, actresses, and everyone else involved are sinning. Tim Challies puts it in uncomfortably vivid terms:
“What would it take for you? What would it take for you, husband, to be okay with your wife baring her breasts and body in front of a movie camera? What would it take for you to allow another man to strip off her clothes, to kiss her, to fall into bed with her, and to pantomime having sex with her? . . . What would it take for you to be okay with the rest of us watching this as entertainment? And you, wife, would you be okay if your husband was the one acting it all out, holding her in his arms, mimicking ecstasy?”
Challies concludes with a simple appeal to the Golden Rule. If we wouldn’t accept our spouses aping sex on camera with a Hollywood star, why do we think it’s okay for someone else’s spouse to do it? And lest someone point out that actors aren’t always married, it’s hardly kosher for single actors and actresses to get frisky for the cameras, either.
Some raise the excuse that the characters are often married to one another. Occasionally the actors are even married. But my first hypothetical loses none of its yikes-factor when we put rings on the couple’s fingers. Making the sex itself moral does nothing to diminish the impropriety of peeping.
But #2: “The nudity advances the story!”
What I hear when someone raises this defense is that he or she thinks pornography is dandy, as long as it has an engaging plot. Defenders often insist that their favorite lurid sex scene establishes the spiritual brokenness of the characters, and actually serves as a commentary on human depravity. I hear this especially often from “Thrones” fanatics who believe the lengthy sequences of full-frontal male and female nudity, often in a homosexual context, really add a certain something to the story. I typically reply that this is the real commentary on human depravity. As Chuck Colson used to say, the human mind has an infinite capacity for self-rationalization.
But is graphic sexual nudity ever necessary to make a good film? After all, we live in a fallen world, and fallen people have sex in ways, at times, and with people whom they shouldn’t. A movie without any portrait of sin would be a movie without conflict, right?
Luckily, no one is demanding that. Let’s try a thought-experiment: Can a screenplay that calls for a child rape make it to the cinema without incurring a charge of child pornography? Many such films have done so. The heartbreaking “Kite Runner” comes to mind. These films suggest this monstrous evil, and often use it to tell morally compelling stories, without depicting the details of that evil. They have to skirt around it, because taking and distributing pictures of naked children is a felony.
Why then, when it comes to adult actors, do I so often hear that nudity is essential to some point the director is trying to get across? If a plot can sustain a child rape without showing us everything, why can it not sustain adult sexual immorality without “baring all”?
Christopher West at LifeSiteNews explains (and please understand that this article isn’t for young eyes), that “Deadpool” not only “bares all” in the traditional sense; it also ventures into sexual territory hitherto rare in R-rated fare. One activity depicted in graphic detail leads him to conclude that this witty superhero flick is intentionally aimed at normalizing perversion. This stuff isn’t necessary for any plot, unless it’s a plot to mainstream debauchery.
But #3: “Schindler’s List!”
If you can’t tell the difference between emaciated Holocaust victims stripped even of the dignity of clothing, and strippers gyrating on a pole (yes, that’s in “Deadpool”), you have bigger problems than my opinion on your choice of entertainment.
This excuse is really a form of another I’ve heard time and time again from avant garde Christian bloggers and the social media intelligentsia: “It’s ART!”
I usually reply that the crucifix submerged in urine was supposedly art, too. One would think from hearing this objection that these folks think the main problem with pornography is its low production value.
Whatever the literati say, God is not primarily concerned with kitsch. He’s primarily concerned with souls. And when Jesus said that a man who lusts after a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart, He didn’t add exemption clauses for highbrow lust.
Further, this objection suggests that art transcends morality, or that merely classifying something as “art” excuses its moral shortcomings. But art, like anything else, can be bent to serve good or evil. Indeed, art has a particular penchant for training our minds how to think, our bodies how to behave, and our souls what to love. This is why I also object to fully CGI nude scenes with no flesh-and-blood people depicted (something already common in the gaming world). To habituate our minds to lust is to warp them.
Philip Holmes observes: “It is not artistic integrity that is driving nudity on the screen. Underneath all of this is male sexual appetite driving this business, and following from that is peer pressure in the industry and the desire for ratings that sell. It is not art that puts nudity in film; it’s the appeal of prurience.”
But #4: It doesn’t cause me to lust!
So, are you a eunuch, or a liar? Go ahead and pick one. Because I don’t believe that any red-blooded adult male could see more than he should of Morena Baccarin and not lose his cool.
Women aren’t exempt, either. All the latest research indicates that women and girls are more likely than ever to seek out and become addicted to pornography. Barna reported last month that a third of women 25 and younger searched for porn on a monthly basis. So ladies may not be as visually wired as men, but they’re not immune to the allure of sexually explicit material. Anyone who’s seen a row of 30-something businesswomen on the subway reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” knows that.
But #5: “It’s no different from violence!”
Here’s how this one goes: Baby-boomers raised their kids with violence in their breakfast cereal. They let us watch “Tom and Jerry” and play “Halo” and “Call of Duty,” took us to see “The Passion of the Christ,” and taught us to vote for George W. Bush. Moral majoritarian parents have raised a generation of children bathed in blood and gore. But they clutch their pearls every time a nipple slips out onscreen. “How is that consistent?” some ask.
I usually pose a counter-question: How many people has director Michael Bay—the sultan of cinematic pyrotechnics—actually blown up? How many victims’ lives did Alfred Hitchcock claim? Now, how many women have actually stripped in front of cameras for nude scenes?
John Piper makes the crucial point that media sexuality, by its very nature, is real in a way that media violence is not. Death and dismemberment in Hollywood are accomplished through prosthetics, makeup, rubber knives, and CGI-wizardry. By contrast, nude scenes really happen. Real actors and actresses remove real clothes from their real bodies.
While I admit there’s a case to be made against overusing or glorifying violence, the comparison with graphic nudity is apples-to-kumquats. Human nature is not programmed to react to violence in the way it is programmed—hardwired even—to react to explicit sexual imagery.
Seeing Humans through the Screens
“There is no great film or television series that needs nudity to add to its greatness,” insists John Piper in a message about “Game of Thrones.” “There are creative ways to be true to reality without turning sex into a spectator’s sport and without putting actors and actresses in morally compromised situations on the set.”
He’s right. Art doesn’t require moral compromise. But to even recognize on-screen nudity as moral compromise, we first have to shake ourselves from the stupor of 21st century screen-addiction. Somewhere along the road, we have come to believe that media consumption is morally neutral—that when we sit down in a theater or in front of our televisions or iPads, right and wrong no longer apply.
This is the lie at the root of everything from pornography, to sexting, to the number of jerks on social media. We’ve conditioned ourselves to look at pixels or projections and see objects rather than people—objects that exist for our pleasure. But as many a grieving wife and divorcee can tell you, that instinct to treat people as objects rarely stays in the virtual world. It warps the way we look at those around us, and defiles the secret and sacred bed of marriage where God meant us to enjoy nudity.
Jesus told us to gouge out our eyes rather than allow them to offend God. It’s time to take Him seriously, Church. I want to hear a lot fewer “buts” coming from our circles when it comes to nudity at the movies. And failing that, I at least hope to see some blind Christians.
Image copyright Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
G. Shane Morris is assistant editor of BreakPoint Radio.