FaithGoesPop, part 5: New Digital Catherdals

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series FaithGoesPop

Movie theater in Ohio (1)

NOTE from Dr. Wayne Baker—Welcome Ken Chitwood, a scholar and journalist with a specialty in reporting on religious diversity. He’s the creative force behind the FaithGoesPop project, exploring the impact of faith on our culture and vice versa. Here is Ken’s fifth column this week

When I was growing up I had a huge crush on Roma Downey.

To say the least, I geeked out a bit (okay, a ton) when I had the opportunity to meet Roma Downey at a Son of God screening in Houston, TX. I got to talk to Downey after the film about her husband—Mark Burnett —and the faith-based media empire they were building together. First it was History Channel’s mini-series The Bible and then the theater-released Son of God. They’ve since followed this up with their most recent made-for-television biblical epic: A.D. The Bible Continues.

While we could critique these on their production values, I am more interested in the reception of the Bible on TV and in movies.

Here’s a question guaranteed to spark discussion with friends: Why is the Bible such a hot movie ticket and television cash cow?

There are a large number of biblical movies and TV series that have been released, or are coming out, to great fanfare, including: Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Heaven is For Real, God’s Not DeadMary: Mother of Christ (the prequel to The Passion of the Christ), The Redemption of Cain (Will Smith’s vampire remake of the Cain and Abel story…wha?!), Killing Jesus, Finding Jesus—and the list could go on.

To say the least, the Bible is big money right now.

Toss in Bollywood’s Hindu epics and other films with religious/spiritual themes and you’ve got “spiritual movies/TV shows” making up a significant slice of the film and television industry. But why? In my estimation, there are three reasons for the proliferation of biblical blockbusters and spiritually-themed television and media:

  1. The persistence of religion and the re-enchantment of the cosmos in a global age;
  2. The important role of media in belief in such an age;
  3. The piety of visual culture and media.

Beyond reviewing the current crop of films on the typical terms—writing, acting, directing, etc.—we should be talking about this major trend as a sign of the re-sacralization of the world in a new media age.

As media and modernization threaten to strip us of our religious imagination these new forms of visual piety are important mediums for confirming, or challenging, our religious curiosities and convictions and bearing us forward as religious beings in a global age.

In effect, they are the cathedrals and temples of our age, where we go to encounter the divine. With that, expect more biblical movies and Christian-themed television shows. Just as the faithful have given of their time, talents, and treasures over the years to build edifices to their religious sentiments and to bear testament to the divine in brick and mortar, stone and stained-glass, so too we will shell out our hard earned cash to see a movie that reassures us of our beliefs.

Start a discussion …

The OurValues project is designed to spark spirited, civil discussions. You’re free to print out, repost or share these columns on social media. Many readers like to bring these materials to their weekly classes or small groups. So, please, get people talking!

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