Sunday, March 7, 2010

On Offending People.

In contemplating what it means to be a filmmaker and a consistent adherent to a Christian worldview, inevitably I have been forced to deal with the delicate issue of offending people. There’s really no easy way to actually categorize the people you might end up offending, which makes this issue all the more complicated.

There’s a couple broad and quite crude generalizations I can make, however. There are those people I might offend because of openly acknowledging my discipleship to Christ. There are also fellow followers of Christ who I might offended by not living up to their expectations of what it means to be an artist and a disciple. This, in a general sense at least, is what it can mean for a guy like me when I use the expression “between a rock and a hard place.”

Let me quickly make a very important point. I’m not actually interested in offending anyone. It’s not high on my list of priorities. I try to take to heart the New Testament passage that expresses the notion that, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”*

But here’s the key, “If it is possible ...” The truth is, it’s pretty hard to figure out what can and might offend everyone out there in the world. Particularly when you’re making something like a film (or even a blog entry) that might be seen by many people, most of whom you may have never met and may have very different perspectives from yours on all kinds of things.

So, how’s a guy like me to make sure I don’t offend people?

I’ve already indicated that offending people is no an objective of mine. Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret ... NOT offending people is also NOT an objective of mine. I do want to do all I can to live at peace with everyone. But even this passage of Romans leaves open the notion that you’re not always going to succeed at living at peace with everyone.

First of all, let’s face it, we all know people who just are looking to be offended by something. It kind of makes their day. So, when I do come across this kind of personality, I have to borrow a notion Jesus taught to his disciples about visiting a town that wasn’t particularly welcoming to them. He instructed them to shake the dust from their sandals. In other words, just move on. It’s not your problem, it’s not your fault, just move on. So, if you happen to be someone looking for something in this blog entry to be offended by ... huh, yeah, you really should get a life. There’s many better things to do with your time.

Now, there are people that may be offended by my open expressions of my Christian worldview in my films. That’s understandable. We live in a particularly secular and humanist society where someone expressing their religious worldview in art can be perceived as pushing that particular religion or worldview.

Okay, I’m going to let you in on another secret. Call it pushing, promoting, advocating, endorsing ... preaching ... call it what you will, but yes, I am in my own way expressing my worldview as food for thought for audiences because I do think it has great value (and not because of anything I bring to it but because of what it brings to me). Think of it this way, if someone out there discovers something great that helps life in very practical ways, wouldn’t you want them to share this idea? This is why, I for one am not in any way offended by works of art, conversations, blogs, or anything really that someone from a different worldview may wish to use to express and promote their ideas. That’s great by me. Dialogue is what I’m about! And at the end of the day, I’m a seeker of Truth. There is always more I can learn! I don’t have life all figured out! So, let’s talk!

So when it comes to someone being offended because I may present ideas derived from my Christian worldview, I can only say, I’m sorry if it offended you. However, I’m not loosing any sleep over it. We live in a diverse and exciting world and people of all worldviews should have the opportunity to express themselves, regardless of whether or not I agree with them on every point or their conclusions about this world, this life, God, or humanity. I should be able to respectfully hear them and engage in loving dialogue about our differences and even celebrate our similarities. That’s why I’m not all that worried about offending people because of my faith. If it happens, it happens. It’s not the end of my world. I hope it’s not the end of yours.

But what about the other side of that crude generalization I made above? What about the people that I supposedly share my worldview with (and I say supposedly here because far too many Christians I have met and interacted with throughout my 29 years so far on this planet actually don’t really adhere to a Christian worldview as might be derived from careful reading and study of Christ’s teachings). 

One reason this generalization into two camp (Christians and non-Christians) I might offend is so crude and problematic is that there are far too many complexities and variants of the “kinds” of Christians out there and how I might offend them. I’ve had this recently brought to my attention by a particular small Christian publication that will soon be running an interview with me. While I appreciate this, I have to admit frustration upon learning that this article will not include a link to my website in light of the fact that my films use offensive language. The excuse used was that they would like to promote my philosophy of filmmaking without necessarily promoting my films.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to point out that this is completely contradictory logic on their part. However ... whatever ...

I get why they have made this choice. It’s a real concern, especially when you officially stamp the label of “Christian” upon something like a publication or institution, that you not offend your ... “constituents” (for lack of a better word). And given that a large cross-section of American conservative Christians do find certain words in the english language to be offensive, I can see why this publication made this choice. However, I can’t help but shake my head at the underlying contradictory logic in running the article about me at all if they’re worried about their readers being offended by my films’s content. But they’re running the article without the link to my site. Ironically, this is only for formality's sake. Let’s face it, I’m pretty sure almost any one of their readers could just Google my name upon seeing the article and still be offended by what they discover.

But beyond that, I philosophically come from a totally different perspective on language and semantics than what has been upheld by conservative (usually evangelical) Christians in America for several decades. Without getting bogged down by a lengthy philosophical examination of semantics, let me just express here that I do not in any way think any one word is evil in-and-of itself, nor do I find any support for this idea in Scripture. However, what I do see in Scripture is a consistent warning that we not use words (any words) to hurt other people. I’ll put it this way, the real issue to me is not specific semantics (I can’t say the word shit because it somehow is evil), the real issue is the Golden Rule (I don’t call someone a piece of shit because that is a hurtful thing to call someone). So, all I’m saying is that when it comes to the whole issue of Christians getting offended because of language I use (myself or in my films), I attempt to respect such people’s perspective, but I’m not about to tip-toe around them either.

And then there are issues of sexual content, violence, corrupt characters, and so forth, that have long divided Christians when it comes to the kind of entertainment and art they expose themselves to. I’m not an absolute authority on these things. I am merely an artist struggling to make sense of the human condition and the world we live in. In struggling with the very harsh reality of the world we live in, I just see little point in sugar coating things. I would point out that careful reading of the Scriptures exposes one to such horrible things as murder, gang rape, genocide, adultery, war, torture, and many more horrific things.

Now, this is not to say I’m interested in any sort of pornographic presentation and reveling in things like violence, sexual content, foul language, and unethical or immoral behavior for the sake of glorifying those things. Absolutely not! My Christian worldview gladly guides me to seek redemption from these terrible things, to find what is good in a world filled with so much that is bad. 

So, let me say this: I do seek in all possible ways to live at peace with everyone. But that’s not always possible. Heck, that’s not even the most important part of being a Christian, now is it? So, as an artist, I seek to make the best possible work I know how to make in a manner that is true and authentic to myself, my worldview, and the world around me.

Finally, I am not in any way interested in offending any of my audience by making films that are untrue to the world we live in. Do I want to present hope, joy, peace, love, and redemption? Absolutely! But I want to present these ideas in the context of the broken, fallen, hurting, and frankly all around fucked up world we live in. If some find that offensive ... I am very sorry. But I’m not losing any sleep over it.

* Romans 12:18, NIV.


Danny said...

Very well put, man

Raz Cunningham said...

you're kind of my hero

Eric said...

You've just offended me with this post. How dare you??! You should be banned and never allowed to utter another word because only my viewpoint matters and everyone should write, speak, and act like me!!!

For this, I'm never following your blog again!


Mikel J. Wisler said...

Haha, I love you, Eric!