Vancouver School of Theology professor Jason Byassee believes Christians can find messages and analogies in movies that even may be perceived as "flagrantly irreligious or hostile to morality." This former North Carolina church minister insists morality can be seen in its own right, especially in superhero movies.
"I do think God is not above meeting us in the movie theater where people are trying to tell a beautiful story well and trying to leave you, as the viewer, changed," Byassee said in the Vancouver Courier.
He spent a decade writing film reviews for the magazine The Christian Century. He said he found many messages about religion that filmmakers probably didn't know were there.
"Clearly what a superhero movie or book is about is wanting someone to try to fix something we can't fix," he said, admitting religion means more than that, too.
Sports movies may not be overtly religious, but often evoke values and rituals that can mirror faith. Despite devoting a large portion of his career to pondering religiosity in popular culture, he said he is ambivalent about what he calls "popcorn theology."
He believes there are things a person can gain from church attendance that cannot be gained from sitting in a theater. "I have a really high notion of the church. I think there are things that happen as part of the church that can't happen anywhere else and so I'm reluctant to give that away to the Cineplex," he said.
"At the end of the day, Hollywood is a $1-billion business trying to manipulate us out of our money. I get that. You can go to the movies without having to learn how to love your enemy or feed the poor or become holier. You shouldn't be able to get away with going to church without those things."
Much like Hollywood, the minister said preachers try to tell a beautiful story well and leave people changed. "I guess what moviemakers are doing is what other storytellers and myth-makers are doing. They're trying to give people something worth living by. You can tell when someone has done that. It's an honoring of what it means to be human when someone tells a story well."
Bad stories are wasted time and a defaced notion of humanity, he suggested.
Human beings, Byassee said, are animals that live by the story, "that want to take stock of how tragic and awful the world is and also say, by the end, all things shall be well."
"In the Scriptures, God is one who creates everything with a word," Byassee said. "God speaks and, bam, there are supernovas and lobsters and the Canadian Shield. There is some distant analogy between when we speak and create something that wasn't there before or we draw or we tell a story or paint a painting or make a song. There's some analogy between us creating something that wasn't there before and God creating everything that is that wasn't there before."