Retelling the Old Lie

In a popular film a young woman plucks a shiny, red apple from a tree and offers it to her man. He takes it, bites it, and their world is forever changed. Has somebody done a film version of the Genesis story? In a sense, yes. It's called Pleasantville. But the plot is a dangerous inversion of the real story in Genesis. The movie opens with two teenagers from the 1990s who are magically projected backward into the world of an old TV sitcom, called Pleasantville. In the black-and-white fifties world of that sitcom, everything is simple and secure again. The boy, Bud, has always loved Pleasantville, so he's delighted to find himself transported to its quaint world. But his sister is a gum-snapping, sexually active girl of the nineties who's determined to shake things up. When the captain of the basketball team takes her on a date, which for him means holding hands, she initiates him into sex. Immediately afterward a rose mysteriously turns red, the first blush of color in black-and-white Pleasantville, and nothing is the same thereafter. Soon the once-innocent teenagers of Pleasantville are all sexually active. As a result they begin to turn from dull black-and-white into blazing Technicolor. Gary Ross, the director, seems to be saying that, at long last, life has been introduced to this gray, boring universe. Even Bud's TV mom discovers sex and promptly leaves her husband for a sensitive local shopkeeper. As a result of their adulterous affair, the shopkeeper discovers hidden artistic talents. On his shop window he paints a nude portrait of his lover. The message is clear: All the pent-up passion of the repressed townspeople is finally being released in life and color and art. Well, Christians can quickly see that life hasn't come to this paradise, sin has. But the movie portrays this fall from grace as liberation. Sex has become the modern form of salvation. The movie is popularizing ideas that have filtered down from intellectuals over the past century. Take the writings of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Sanger is known as an early champion of birth control, but she also espoused a philosophy that treated sex literally as a means of salvation. According to Sanger, the release of sexual forces leads to increased health and intelligence, and sex is "the only method" by which an individual can find "inner peace and security and beauty." It will also overcome social ills: "Remove the constraints against sexual expression," she said, "and most of the larger evils of society will perish." But the release of sexual restraints has produced precisely the opposite. The sexual revolution glorified in Pleasantville has brought AIDS, skyrocketing divorce rates, unwanted pregnancies, and all the social ills that follow. Despite what Pleasantville and Sanger teach, unbridled sexuality leads to sin and death, not to life and liberation. Pleasantville is a very clever movie, and it's being much discussed. I don't recommend it. But if your children go see it, help them see why its philosophy is not only false but also dangerous. It's a twist on the serpent's promise in Eden: that sexual indulgence will make us godlike. Sex is a good gift from God, but when it is elevated into an idol, then, like all idols, it destroys those who worship it.


Chuck Colson


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