Hollywood films are great to enjoy over a carton of popcorn. Enjoy but be discerning. They often promote a popular and pervasive form of secular faith. Don’t be mugged by the Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Let me explain.
At the beginning of the 2001 movie Legally Blond Elle Woods is a dizzy and rather shallow young woman. She talks extensively about ‘make-overs’, ‘hair styling’, ‘manicures’ and little else. She tells her friends that anyone who believes that ‘orange is the new pink is seriously disturbed’. However, when jilted by her fiancée, she wakes up one morning and decides to ‘believe in herself’ as a future heroine of the first rank.
By the end of the film, Elle has triumphed over all the odds. Not only is she a towering, intellectual giant who quotes Aristotle with consummate ease, she has also morphed into a wonderful and caring person that everyone admires.
She is the ultimate chameleon. She has gone from zero to hero in the course of the film. To cap it all she preaches a moving, ‘inspiring’ secular homily to remind us of the plot.
“You must always have faith in people. And most importantly you must always have faith in yourself.”
Her ‘gospel’ seems to be this:
“We’re all essentially good and all we have to do is dig deep and reach in to our inner reservoirs of goodness and gorgeousness and a lovely happy ending is guaranteed. ‘Trust in your instincts’. ‘Trust in your feelings’. ‘Follow your heart’ would be the appropriate mantras for this vibrant Hollywood faith.”
Why do I speak of faith here?
Hollywood films are often urging us to trust in a mythical, higher self that is pure, sinless and noble and in so doing we are being told to forget God and bask in our own innate virtue. This is the secular faith that the French boffin Jean-Jacques Rousseau proclaimed so successfully in 18th century France. Rousseau completely denied biblical teaching about original sin. Humans are innately good. Sin is an illusion.[i]
Oprah Winfrey, the American talk show host, actress, producer and billionaire put it like this: “Follow your instincts. That’s where true wisdom manifests itself.” Wisdom on this view has nothing to do with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7 & Revelation 14:7). In this narrative you are your own saviour and you are the hero. Mariah Carey’s song Hero also preaches this human-centred secular faith:
“Look inside you and be strong. And you’ll finally see the truth that a hero lies in you.”
So who is the hero? Is it your perfect, ‘higher self’ or God? Hollywood clearly prefers this secular form of individual self-salvation to biblical teaching.
The New Testament challenges the blandishments and polished deceptions of Hollywood mythology. We are wonderfully made in God’s image. We are also fallen, fragile, foolish and in great need of our faithful Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In conclusion we should be discerning as we enjoy Hollywood films. They can be very entertaining but they can also indoctrinate us into false and unbiblical ways of thinking and living.
[i] I am aware that Rousseau is more collectivist than the individualism of Hollywood.
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Andy Lancaster · October 25, 2022 at 1:48 pm
Thanks Mark. I enjoyed this. It made me think pof the song from the Greatesyt Showman, entitled, “This is Me.” Another self gloryfying concept. God bless you lots, Andy.
Hugh · October 25, 2022 at 2:36 pm
These Hollywood movies are like ‘coming of age’ movies, and the writers overstate the rampant stupidity of the beginning (make-overs and manicures) to contrast starkly with the heroic ending (the intellectual giant quoting Aristotle). But all of us have to do a lot of growing up, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually – and there can be a spotty hero inside each one of us. The problem is that we cannot save ourselves – we cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We need God. We need a Saviour. Banal people and intellectual people and everyone in between – we all need saving. I confess to enjoying Legally Blond (I and II), but your point is well made Mark. Away from Hollywood, the rich and successful are just as prone to failure, depression and suicide as anyone else, Jean-Jacques Rousseau included. Keep up the good work, Hugh
Bruce Gulland · November 2, 2022 at 11:28 am
Great piece Mark. I’ll certainly consider a poem on this. And look forward to joining on Saturday – online I suspect. Will invite friends too
P Thomas · November 6, 2022 at 2:07 pm
Many thanks for this quick but completely timely and important reminder, Mark. Yes, indeed, we can enjoy with some popcorn in the cinema on a Saturday night, the mirage (fantasy) notion that the cure to life comes from finding one’s internal hero. But the truth would better be found in the pews, hearing the words of Jesus at a Sunday morning Gospel Service! God bless you and your ministry.
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