Language And Culture

Over the past year or so, as I’ve been writing my book, I’ve been paying more attention to characters that are underrepresented in popular media. The first I noticed were people with disabilities. We’re hardly even on the map. Hopefully my novel will help fix that to a degree. The other I’ve noticed are “normal” people who happen to be Christian. What I’ve seen in TV shows and movies is that Christians are generally represented in two ways. The stock Christian characters are almost always either Bible beating, ignorant jerks, or intellectually stunted, and thoroughly content.

When I was a little kid, my dad told my brother and me lots of stories–stories he made up, old Greek myths, as well as stories from the Bible. I learned about Echo and Narcissus at the same time I was learning about Adam and Eve and Noah. I grew up on mythology, science fiction, and fantasy, and I made it through the public school system intellectually unscathed. I learned (or at least tried) about Chemistry, math, biology, evolution, and physics, and I don’t question the facts regarding those subjects. The point I’m trying to make is that the largely agnostic and atheistic culture has a tendency to stereotype. I want to see Christian characters who are smart, funny, and nice, because a lot of us are.

I have a friend who is very into social justice–women’s rights, LGBT rights, race relations–if there’s a social disparity, she knows and cares about it. I admire her for it, but at the same time, she’s so militant and angry about it sometimes that it can get tiresome. Last night she was talking about how there is so much corruption in our country’s justice system, regarding racism and police violence. She has mentioned before that she is very wary of people in positions of authority, especially when those people have access to weapons. To be fair, at least right now, I feel like the people in authority in our country are kind of useless, but I don’t distrust them per se.

It’s easy to stereotype, and we all have a tendency to do it. While some authority figures are corrupt and untrustworthy, some, in fact I’d say probably most, are good people. The same can be said for Christians. People notice the jerks and publicize them because it’s easy and because they make the most noise. The truth is that most of us are reasonable and nice. I would just love to see a moment in a movie or TV show where something good happens because a Christian character was kind to someone or gave them advice, or because they prayed. It doesn’t have to be corny. It can be done artfully.

I will say that sometimes an issue I have with Christian culture is that it has a tendency to lag behind the culture of the Country in general. This is partly out of necessity. We can never deviate from the core teachings and beliefs of the Church, but we need to be more willing to adapt without compromising our faith. We’ve done it since the Church began, but culture changes with such increasing speed in the 21st Century, that it’s harder to keep up. One thing that I think should be an easy fix that the Church has largely neglected, however, is the language we use. For example, I still pray the ye oldie version of the Lord’s Prayer because that’s how I learned it: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” I mean it when I pray it, but it’s the only time I talk like I was around when Shakespeare was writing Hamlet.

How a person expresses him/herself has a large impact on how that person and their ideas are viewed. Many Christian ideas are considered cliche or uncool because we’ve been using the same language and motifs to express our beliefs since the beginning of time. It’s why I often can’t listen to Christian music outside of worship for an extended period of time. Artists just recycle the same stories, images, and metaphors over and over. This is due, in part, to the of fact that many ideas and images are taken straight from the Bible, which again, is relevant in a worship setting, but isn’t going to be helpful when it comes to bringing people to the Church, which I’m much more interested in doing, at least when it comes to music.

However, I think there aren’t many actually interesting Christian characters in popular movies and TV for similar reasons. I think part of the issue is that Hollywood at least is largely secular, and the people who make the best movies honestly just don’t know how to write good Christian characters. What would that character be like? Maybe they’d be like me–a dorky writer who  plays pen and paper RPG’s and teaches religious ed once a month. Maybe they’d be a physics teacher who chose that job to try and expand his students’ intellectual horizons. Maybe they’d be someone with psychic powers, trying to figure out if using those abilities encroaches on God’s authority, while at the same time, trying to save the world from certain doom.

A character’s religion does not dictate their entire personality. In terms of characteristics, it is equal to their interests, their profession, their education, their upbringing, and everything else that makes a person a person. It is another factor that makes them unique. I bring this all up because I’m tired of seeing Christian characters that are nothing more than the designated annoying Christian character. I just want characters that are interesting human beings who happen to believe in Jesus, just as I want to see more interesting characters who happen to have some kind of disability. I’m tired of factors like these being defining characteristics above all else. I’m tired of annoying stereotypes that put me in categories I don’t belong in.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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