Hacksaw Ridge

It is important to tell you that there will be spoilers in this commentary.

There are two religious movies out right now from Academy Award winning directors. The first, Hacksaw Ridge, is directed by Mel Gibson, and is about a young Christian man who refuses to carry a gun into war as his faith will not let him take another man’s life. The second, Silence, is directed by Martin Scorsese, and tells the story of two young priests who go to 17th century Japan to find their mentor who they have heard has left the priesthood and apostatized — meaning he renounced his faith.

The two movies actually have quite a bit in common: they both star Andrew Garfield in the lead, they both represent the main character facing challenges to his faith, and they both require the main character to put his life on the line for his faith. While the similarities are strong, it is the differences that are important to consider in regards to how Christians must act considering the challenges to publicly living out our faith.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, who joined the Army as a medic during World War II. Unlike his fellow soldiers, Doss would not touch a weapon, as his faith precluded him from harming others. During basic training Doss was ridiculed, abused, threatened, encouraged to quit, kept from his own wedding, and even court-martialed, but he never gave in. He eventually was allowed to go to war without carrying a gun. Doss’ division was sent to Hacksaw Ridge — an extraordinarily dangerous and deadly location. Doss’ division attacked, but were eventually pushed off the ridge. Doss stayed behind and saved over 75 soldiers by carrying them from the battlefield to safety. Doss was awarded the Medal of Honor, and was the first conscientious objector to receive the honor.

Silence takes place in 17th century Japan, and follows the story of two Jesuit priests who travel to Nagasaki, Japan to find their mentor, Father Ferreira, and spread the Catholic faith. The two priests land in Japan and discover Christians are being martyred unless they reject their faith. They also realize that their mentor is now married, left the priesthood, and is helping the Japanese. Both priests are captured by “The Inquisitor,” and are told if they do not publicly reject their faith other Christians will die. One of the priests dies trying to help a fellow Christian, and the other remains steadfast as Japanese Christians are slaughtered. The Inquisitor has the remaining priest meet with his mentor who convinces him to give up his faith so that other Christians might live. The priest lives out his life working with his mentor to identify other Christians, and eventually dies without ever showing he returned to the faith. As the priest lies in his casket, the camera shows that he has a crucifix in his hand.

The differences between these outcomes are huge, and impact the way we see our faith playing out. Where Hacksaw Ridge illustrates the value of remaining faithful, Silence dangerously communicates that when you find conflict between your faith and others it is noble to hide it away and just live a “personal” and secretive faith.

So long as you believe, right?

In a post a few months ago, I wrote that “Oftentimes, we take an individualistic view of Christianity that is centered upon a personal relationship with Christ. But Christ also requires our faith to be lived out (James 4:17). Our faith is a both a personal relationship with Christ AND the public expression of that relationship.” The cornerstone of Hacksaw Ridge is to live out one’s faith no matter the cost. In contrast, Silence’s foundation was if there is a cost it is OK to not live out your faith. We are seeing Silence play out over and again in our society; a notion that faith is a personal idea to be lived in church and at home, but not welcome elsewhere. And Silence is saying that it is OK to submit. But our Christian faith is actionable, and therefore not compatible with silence (the movie or the failure to speak out).

If we are going to build a better, more moral world, then we must share the Gospel, and live it out in love. We cannot accept conditions where we compromise, are shamed, or frightened into hiding our faith. Instead, we must forge into battle proclaiming the truth so that all might have life.

I knew if I ever once compromised, I was gonna be in trouble, because if you can compromise once, you can compromise again

Desmond T. Doss

I just finished watching the Netflix original series Stranger Things, and yes, it is as good as everyone says it is. Stranger Things is incredibly binge worthy. It is thrilling, fun, scary, and dark. And it is that last adjective, dark, that made me think about the shows I watch; a lot of the shows are dark. I thought through all of the programs I love to watch: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead (and Fear The Walking Dead), Ray Donovan, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil. It occurred to me that all of these shows are pretty dark and violent. This brought me to a very important (and admittedly unoriginal) question: How does violent media affect our society?

Well, thankfully I did not have to wonder too long, since there are answers to that question, but I’ll get to that a little later.

Growing up, we constantly heard from parents that society was going to be more and more violent, and it was TV’s fault, or it was the fault of violent video games. As TVs got into more homes the programs got more violent and realistic. The popularity of video games grew rapidly, and the games got more violent and realistic. The truth is, however, as media violence grew violent crimes decreased.

Were our parents wrong about violent media?

A 2015 study by Christopher J. Ferguson reviewed the field of research and concluded that there is not a consensus by researchers that violence in media creates a more violent society. Ferguson’s research then establishes that there is not a direct correlation between media violence and violent behavior. In fact, in some instances, the consumption of media violence (specifically movies and video games) actually decreased violent actions from the respondents. Ferguson states that, “despite an explosion in the availability of mass media and liberalization of violent content in the same, we are living in what is likely the most peaceful epoch in human history.” This agrees with the FBI’s statistics on violent crime, which shows that violent crimes have decreased for 12 straight years.

Ferguson’s study says nothing about morality, and so one can argue that, from a moral standpoint, violent media is not good for the soul. This might be true, but it doesn’t negate the fact there is no evidence that media violence is encouraging violent behavior. So, while violent media may not be the cause of violence, another interesting fact might lead us to the cure.

The cause of violence is more complex than the simple algorithm of violent movie + child = violent behavior. In reviewing a myriad of studies on violent behavior, the causes of violence were often found to be a complex web of events and environments, but there was a wide consensus on one thing: parental involvement decreased the chance of violent behavior. I started looking to see if the consensus on the parenting solution held true in real world events, specifically in the recent string of violent events in America, and it certainly looks like it. According to W. Bradford Wilcox,

one common and largely unremarked thread tying together most of the school shooters that have struck the nation in the last year is that they came from homes marked by divorce or an absent father. From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s “list of U.S. school attacks” involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.

Moreover, the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency reported that “the most reliable indicator of violent crime in a community is the proportion of fatherless families.” It would seem that there are many contributing factors to violent behavior, but there is substantial evidence that an engaged mother AND father is our best defense against violence.

So, were our parents wrong about violent media?

The answer is yes, they were wrong, but the fact that they cared might just be the right answer.