S2_Ep.2. Six Key Reasons Why Christians Are Afraid to Write Rated R Stories
Hello, and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
Well, today is episode two of The Storyteller's Mission for season three of this podcast. And last week, we started out by going through some of the reasons why I think Christians are afraid to engage or to create content that is specifically made for adults. And I'm actually arguing that that's where we need to go. We do not need more family friendly content created by Christian companies or Christian writers. We actually need adult content— stuff that speaks to us and the adult issues that we struggle with. But there's so much fear surrounding this issue.
And so in the last episode, I discussed how we're afraid to be soiled. Bad company corrupts good morals—good character, right? So we're afraid that it's somehow going to inadvertently soil us. We're going to be damaged goods because we engage with rated R or adult content. We're afraid that if we take that sort of stuff in, that's what we're going to regurgitate in real life.
It's a similar thing, a little bit different, but out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. We're afraid that if we focus on those things, then we're actually disobeying God because His scripture says whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is honorable, whatever is good, whatever is pure, lovely, all those things, think on these things, right? Think on these things. And so if we focus on things that have sex, language and violence, are we in violation of that?
Now I'm trying to address these as we go. But these are worth thinking about. These are worth thinking about. This is what we have to think about in order to reach freedom. Because I believe we're in bondage. We are approaching entertainment in chains. And so we need to understand the freedom that we are in. But we need to understand why we're free, so that in our freedom, we don't become in bondage to the entertainment that we're consuming. So it is a catch-22. And we do have to think through these issues. And that's why we're doing what we're doing right now.
Okay, so now we're going to move on to number four, which is that whole thing that says, "be in the world, but not of the world." Now, if you've been a Christian for a long time, you know that this is a standard line, "Well, we should be in the world, but not of the world." I really believe that this verse has totally been misapplied.
What does it mean to "be in the world, but not of the world?" It always comes back to worldview. See, when we're in the world, but not of the world, what we're talking about is a way of being in the world, it's a system. It is a way of engaging people and things around us. And when you have a worldly worldview, you use people. You exploit them. It is survival of the fittest. You're engaging with others in a way that perverts the world, the order of the world, or the way that we're supposed to interact with the world.
When the Bible says, "Be in the world, but not of the world", that does not mean that we shouldn't be aware of what's going on. I know so many Christians that take that verse, and literally turn their back on the world, as if we don't need to know what's going on. We should just focus on our own little worlds. And they block themselves off to the rest of the world. I don't believe for a minute this is what God called us to do, or what Jesus wanted us to do or what He had in mind when this verse was given to us. So again, one of the things that we have to be careful of is that we're not applying Pharisaical interpretations to scripture, legalistic interpretations to scripture, because we're afraid of our freedom.
In the Bible, Jesus ate with sinners. That's what He did. He associated with "evil people". The difference was a couple of things. First of all, the people that He was meeting with, maybe they were the outcasts of society, they were the dregs of society, right? But when Jesus fellowshipped with them, they were there. Their motivation was to learn from Him, to engage, to understand more. They wanted something good. They weren't trying to drag Jesus down with them. They weren't trying to be pervert Jesus or get Him to engage in their sinful activity with Him. So motivation matters. That's the point, motivation matters. What's going on in the person's heart? We tend to think that people in Hollywood are trying to pervert us. Hollywood is very screwed up in a lot of moral areas. It's true, certainly in lifestyle.
What's interesting, though, is that writers have this rule that they cannot escape. Which is that stories have to be told, based on their understanding of humanity. Characters have to be understood on a psychological basis. Which means they are confined to having to pursue truth. They don't always get there, right? They don't always get there because they have learned false things too. And so sometimes in their grappling with it, they don't find the right answers because nobody's ever presented a truth to them that they can wrestle with. So, they have false conclusions.
Nevertheless, what I think is amazing about Hollywood is not how often it "leads us astray", but rather, how often it doesn't. The morals that come from a Judeo-Christian background actually get exemplified in story form. The need for justice. The need for honor. The need for honesty. The need for integrity. The need for duty, and sacrifice, and love. These are the things that keep being brought out of so many movies and television shows over and over and over, because they are confined to the same palette that we've been given. And that is us. We are our subjects that we study to understand humanity, to understand characters. And then try to put it into a form that others can relate to. So they're studying the same thing, which is what God gave us.
So again, "be in the world, but not of the world" does not mean what I think we have come to believe that it means. And we need to change our mind about that.
What about that verse that says, well, be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Well, I absolutely believe that. "Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you will be able to test and approve what God's will is." His good, pleasing and perfect will. See the truth is, if we're not transformed by the renewing of our minds, we will not know what the truth is. And we will not know what God's will is. But that means that we have to engage in the work.
Notice that it is a work oriented thing. Do not be conformed, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. That is a call to action. It's not a once thing. It's an ongoing thing. It's a process. And the reason that's important is because I think we adopt these sharp, harsh criteria, so that we don't have to think anymore. We want to give up the right to think. It's just too hard. It's hard to grapple with these things. We want to just make it easy for ourselves.
You know, here's the thing. The Bible talks about us as being free. We are free in Christ. We are no longer slaves, right? But the truth is, most of us don't want to be free. Most of us like our "chains" because it simply makes it easier. And we don't have to think so hard. We don't have to wrestle with it. It's hard to wrestle with it. I get it. I get it. All things are lawful. But not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. So right there, that should give us some criteria to aim for.
We learn from other people's mistakes. We learn from their sins, which again is why it always comes back to worldview. Anytime you have any film, whether it's rated R or rated G, that perverts or twists the moral worldview, we're in trouble. If we only fall into this criteria of G-rated things, and we don't watch R-rated movies, well, the problem is we're not protected from falling into a twisted worldview.
For example, I'll use the film Small Foot. Small foot is rated PG I believe, but Small Foot while it's rated PG and it's innocuous and there's no sex and language and violence and so it's "safe" by those standards. At its core, it is a nihilistic atheistic view that is far more damaging than any sort of sex, language or violence that you might see in a true worldview movie.
So we're not protected by this criteria. It's not enough to protect us. It's why we have to think harder. We need to understand what the difference is between this call to purity and godliness, and the freedom to be an adult.
So far, we've talked about five particular reasons why I think that we're afraid to engage adult content based on Bible verses. So now I'm going to bring up number six, which is, "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I put childish things behind me." This is a really important verse because it means that we ought not be "childlike", if you will. We have to have a seasoned, reasoned, mature faith. And a lot of the things that are happening in Christendom, a lot of these positions that people are adopting, are actually childish.
When I went to dinner the other night, to a networking event, one of the gals who's a screenwriter—who's an award winning screenwriter, by the way—proudly announced that she does not watch rated R movies. And I thought, "How sad for her." It's sad for her because she's a good writer. She could benefit from some of these films. She is missing out on the full spectrum of the greatness that Hollywood has to offer.
Movies are fabulous. They're awesome. And even when it's a rated R movie, sometimes those are the most fabulous ones of all. And they move me deeper, and they challenge me more, because I'm an adult. So, we can't be children. We can't approach this with an immature attitude. We need to grow up. I say this lovingly, we need to grow up.
It brings to mind the verse in Matthew, where Jesus is sending out His disciples, and He says, "I'm sending you out like sheep, with wolves around you. So be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as a dove." Be on your guard against men. You know, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as a dove. What does that actually mean, though? What does that mean? It doesn't mean that we cut ourselves off from society. It doesn't mean that we're oblivious to what's in the world. God sees it. Jesus sees it all. We can see it and not be distorted by it. That's what it's about. When we see the things that are happening in the real world, it has the potential to distort us, to make us bitter, to make us jaded and cynical, but the solution isn't to ignore it, or pretend that those things aren't real. The solution was never to cut ourselves off from the reality of all the darkness that's in the world. We have to be involved. We have to know. We should be informed.
"The gentleness of a dove", means how we respond to it, how we engage with it, how we reflect God's truth and beauty, even in the midst of the ugliness. Isn't that what Mother Teresa did? She went to Calcutta and cared for the lowest of the low, the most broken, the poorest people in the world, the people that were forgotten by everybody else. It's not that she ignored them. It's that she saw them. And in seeing them, she loved them in a very practical, tangible, effective way. So we need to do likewise in the stories that we're telling.
Which means we have to stop being afraid. Is your faith weak? Is your God too fragile? Are you? Let me tell you something. If you're watching this show, or if you've been listening to the show for a while, you know that I come out of a lot of trauma. I've seen some dark things in my life. And Jesus was there with me in all of it. He is not too fragile to look at the worst things that ever happened to me, or the worst things that I ever did. He doesn't pretend that He doesn't see it. Horrible things happen in this world. We should see it. We are not called to turn a blind eye.
And just because there's sinful behavior in a movie, or a television show, or a book doesn't mean we're vulnerable to repeat it. What matters is the worldview that it's reflecting. Is it glorifying that behavior? Now we have a problem where we could be contaminated. But that doesn't even, then, mean that we shouldn't necessarily see it, if we're going into it with a thoughtful approach.
See, it's always another problem of being a passive participant. That's why we can never be passive. We always have to activate our brain, so that we're never consuming anything in a way that does twist us without our knowledge. We have to bring from our subconscious, all the things that need to be in our conscious mind, so that we're not being inadvertently conformed to the patterns of this world. But we do that by being aware, by being more aware, hyper aware, not less, not closing our mind to those things or pretending that it doesn't exist.
It's about the worldview that the story reflects. But see, that requires us to work. And we would rather have black and white rules. We don't want to be free. We don't want to be free because freedom then requires accountability. But see if there's a rule, now we don't have to be held accountable for following it or not following it, depending on what the rule is.
Here's a freebie for you. This is why there is such a push to get certain laws passed. Because once the law is passed, people give up on the moral wrestling over it. "Oh, I can have an abortion because it's the law. I don't have to wrestle anymore with whether or not that was a moral decision." And that's why there is such a push to get a lot of these things passed. So that we no longer have to wrestle with the morality of a certain issue. You need to reason through it and figure out what's actually best for you. But we actually don't want to. We want others to do our thinking for us. And that's why we keep going back to these black and white rules.
You are conforming to the patterns of this world when you adopt false criteria for the kind of entertainment that you should be consuming. When you give up your freedom, in favor of some sort of legalistic standard, because you're afraid you've conformed. And you're not being transformed because you've given up your right to think.
Christians can never be passive participants of culture, entertainment, stories, government, religion, lifestyle. We cannot be passive participants. We are called to fully integrate it all. Because it is a cohesive whole—it's all connected. So, to be a Christian means to actively engage all things that have been created by man or God.
It always comes down to what is the worldview behind that particular narrative, story, religion, law, rule. And I'm not saying all this to say that we are free and so watch whatever you want. No, this isn't about getting rid of those things. It is about calling us to a higher degree of discernment. One where we don't just out and out dismiss categorically certain types of films—R-rated films—as if we're not mature enough to handle them. No, but rather, we have to evaluate them now. We can't check out. We have to dig in. We have to dig in deeper.
There was a great article—by the way, if you can find it, you should. It's The Collision article from 2019, written by a guy named Daniel Blackaby. And Daniel writes a great article in there. He touches on a lot of the same things that we're talking about here. He basically says that we've been relying on a very rigid system that doesn't actually protect us from the danger that might come to us in seeing certain types of PG films or whatever, because it's not a criteria that has the ability to stave off these things. And it also robs us of the joy of experiencing the true power of cinema.
So, he comes up with these three principles, basically, that we're highlighting here. He says reject a posture of fear. He says that more than 60% of the Bible is written in narrative form. Isn't that something? Most of the information we get about all these terrible things, come through the narrative. So, if it was okay for the Bible in narrative form to capture these sorts of subject matters that clearly include sex, language and violence, why have we eliminated that for us today? So, most of the stories in the Bible are not rated PG. Most of them, most of them are rated R or worse.
This is a second principle, you have to go beyond a superficial reading of it. Now for me, that means you have to go beyond does it have sex, language, or violence? It's just immature. We have to get beyond that. Instead of evaluating whether or not a story is good based on that false criteria, we need to be asking the question, what worldview does it represent? Is it a twisted moral worldview? Or is it a biblical moral worldview? Even if our characters make mistakes. I'm not talking about whether or not they make mistakes. But if they make the wrong choice, do they at least know it's wrong? Or is it glorified?
The New Girl—there is so much distorted, twisted moral worldview in there, where good is not good. Where bad is good. The Big Bang Theory—there is funny stuff in there, but there's also some really twisted moral worldview. Did you know this when you consumed it? Because guess what? It's on television. Which means there's no sex. There's no language. There's no violence. And yet, it's a twisted moral worldview in many of those cases.
And I'm not even saying then that we don't watch it. I'm saying we watch it understanding that. If the rest of culture is watching something, I personally want to be informed of what people are watching, so that I can engage with my neighbors about it. And that might lead to a discussion that will lead to something exciting and might lead to God. So, I can still even watch those things without any fear that I'm going to be perverted about it because of how I'm approaching the content in the first place, which is thoughtfully, with my thinking cap on, with my brain engaged. It's not passive. Because I'm not using the false criteria.
The minute I use that false criteria, I'm lulled into a sense of complacency that tempts me into conforming to the patterns of this world, because I'm no longer engaging my brain. So the question always comes down to "Is there a twisted and distorted worldview at work in the art that you are consuming?" If there is, that is where the danger lies, not in adult content.
And the last point that he makes in his article is that not all bad content is actually bad. Because again, the Bible itself is rated R and probably then some. So, it's not about what the content is. It should be mature. It should be able to engage just adults. It shouldn't be always approachable or acceptable for children to watch. But how it's presented, how it's brought to us, how that information is brought to us matters. Motives matter.
So, at the end of the day, we should be more discerning, not less. But we should never base it on this false criteria, or these rules, hard and fast rules that just cause us to check our brains at the door.
So this is the foundation that we're establishing for season three of this podcast. We will continually be expanding that and looking at that and exploring that. We will be unpacking that and seeing how in the world are we supposed to recreate that in our art? What does that look like? What techniques can we adopt to do it well, so that we don't inadvertently spout lies and lead people astray. Because that is important. I hope you'll join me. It's going to be a very exciting year. And we're going to get into the nitty gritty of a lot of storytelling stuff.
Now if you have enjoyed this podcast, I would like to invite you to share it with another artist another writer, another storyteller that needs to hear this. That needs to hear this kind of material. That needs to be set free from this false criteria, from these enslaving confines that we have found ourselves in. And if you feel like it, it would be so great if you wanted to rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or the podcast app of your choice.
I want to thank you again for joining me for season three of The Storyteller's Mission with yours truly, Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai