Hollywood Heaven

  Hollywood has discovered the afterlife. Aging baby boomers, who now head Hollywood's dream factories, have apparently begun thinking about their own mortality. The result is a rash of movies that explore the most basic religious question: What happens when you die? In the past year, films like City of Angels, What Dreams May Come, and Meet Joe Black seek to reassure us that death is not something to be feared by presenting a benevolent afterlife. This may sound encouraging—but don't be taken in. Hollywood's conception of life after death bears little resemblance to the biblical one. For starters, God is conspicuous by His absence. And even when He is invoked, the films have nothing to say about who He might be, much less what He might require of those who seek admission to His Heaven. What's more, there is no connection between the life that characters live on Earth and the afterlife. Angels, in films like City of Angels, and Meet Joe Black, simply accompany the departed to Heaven, with no explanation regarding why the departed deserve either Heaven or Hell. Even when some standards are present, they often seem arbitrary. The knowledge that there's life after death doesn't seem to change anyone's behavior. It certainly didn't stop many of the characters in these films from sleeping around. This only goes to show that if we want to make sense of death and find hope, there's really no substitute for Christianity. History demonstrates this. Prior to Christianity, only the gods were viewed as immortal. The idea that human consciousness could even survive after death was unthinkable. But Christianity, with its teaching that in "dying, [Jesus] conquered death," changed all of that. As Notre Dame theology professor John Dunne says, it was Christianity that enabled us to understand that death, like birth, is an event to be lived through. In contrast to the bogus spirituality Hollywood preaches, this teaching didn't simply make people feel better about themselves; it also helped them to love their neighbors and build civilized societies. As sociologist Rodney Stark points out, "The [ancient] Romans threw people out into the street at the first sign of disease, because they knew it was contagious and they were afraid of dying.” By contrast, the early Christians took care of their sick because, Stark writes, they thought "So what if I die? I have life eternal." This concern for their neighbors, even at the risk of their own lives, is why even today so many hospitals bear Christian names. The huge influence of Christianity on our culture is highlighted in a recent Newsweek cover story called "2000 Years of Jesus.” The article clearly shows how essential Christianity is, whether it is to change individual lives, to shape a civilization, or to answer the questions of a life hereafter—meeting the deepest human needs. Once again we see that only the Christian worldview enables people to live rationally and with purpose. And this is something you and I need to share with our neighbors—both for their sake and our society's. Because today's bogus spirituality—the kind we see in movies—is a matter of being neither heavenly minded nor earthly good.


Chuck Colson


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