Thanks for the review of Enchanted — that’s exactly what I was afraid it would be like.
I remain uneasy about Ratatouille. I thought the end was great, and the beginning was dull (although my 10-year-old son loved it). But mostly I got angry at there being an illegitimate main character. Yes, these people were French, but couldn’t they have had a short marriage, or a wife who sacrificed her husband to fame, or something? I really resent that a Disney film has a paternity test as a major plot point. And I have not seen this mentioned anywhere else.
Regarding Ratatouille, I appreciate your concern about Linguini’s parentage. Ratatouille may be Pixar’s oldest-skewing film yet, but it’s still a family film — and this is precisely the kind of thing that often does bug me about a family film even when it doesn’t seem to bother anybody else.
In this case, though, I think it’s far enough offscreen not to be a significant issue for me. I’m not even sure I would prefer it if Gusteau and Linguini’s mother had been briefly married — morally that might be preferable, but pedagogically I suspect that the broken-marriage motif is possibly a stickier wicket than the more minimal issue of Linguini not knowing who his father is.
It also helps, I think, that Linguini’s mother is never seen and Linguini himself is grown, so there’s no onscreen single parenting of a small child or anything. Ultimately, I suspect it’s more likely to bother parents than to confuse children.
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I always enjoy reading your reviews, and I thank you for the effort that you put into your work. I was curious as to why you left off Into Great Silence from your DVD list of 2007. I thought surely this brilliant film would merit some mention, as it has been released on DVD. Keep up the good work! Pax et bonum.
I can assure you I would never miss an opportunity to plug Into Great Silence, easily my favorite film of the year and a candidate for one of my favorite films of all time.
The reason it wasn’t mentioned in my DVD year-end write‑up is that the purpose of that piece is to highlight DVD releases of films that weren’t in just in theaters (and thus eligible for write-up in my general year-end piece). The same goes for the rest of my top 10 and other noteworthy 2008 films, none of which appeared in the DVD piece. The general year-end piece notes films theatrically released that year; the DVD piece notes other films released that year on DVD.
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I’d firstly just like to say im not religious in anyway (yes i’ve been baptised but i don’t follow religion and your articles surrounding dogma have been extremely helpful) but I think Steven Greydanus’s review of Dogma was a little harsh, the film does make wild claims about religion but as the disclaimer states the film is “comedic fantasy” and should no be taken as seriously as some people have. Plus the film made me want to read the bible and I’m not the biggest fan of religion, so how can a film that supposedly anti-religion be anti-religion when its made me show a little faith?
I can understand your finding my review “a little harsh.” I don’t think it was myself, but sensibilities differ. Regarding the film’s disclaimer, which I discussed at the top of my review, I think I allowed that this reasonably gives Smith comedic license to noodle on religious themes — the Walrus and the Carpenter stuff, “Catholicism Wow!”, etc. — but as I argued, not everything in the film can be put under that umbrella.
For instance, Smith is completely serious that “Mankind got it all wrong by taking a good idea and building a belief structure out of it,” i.e., “Faith good, religion bad” (or “not so good”) as I quoted him in my “Is Nothing Sacred? An Afternoon With Kevin Smith.” And he seems to be serious that while “the Virgin Birth is a leap of faith,” belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity “is just plain gullibility.” See also “Dogma in Dogma: A Theological Guide.”
Fair is fair. If Smith wants to noodle and satirize, I’ll give him as much room as he wants; but if he wants to seriously critique religious ideas and beliefs, he can be a man and take his lumps.
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I’ll keep this simple: Thank you for your review of Elizabeth: The Golden Age. It was excellent.
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My husband and I were in a local Catholic book store and came across the title Movies that Matter written by a Jesuit. it is a series of film critiques on different modern movies through a Catholic lens. He is very interested in the book and wanted to take it home immediately, but a few of the movies in there seemed a little oddly chosen. so, first I wanted to contact you to see if you were familiar with the book and could give any guiding pointers on it.
As well, we would like to know of any other books similar to it that you do recommend. My husband is a long-time film buff and I wrote my thesis for the bachelors in theology on Evangelization through film. I would love to see his criticism take on a more Catholic bent; I know that that would make it a deeper, even more thought-provoking analysis. Thanks very much!
While I’m not very familiar with the book you mention, I’ve spent some time looking it over, and it does indeed appear to be deficient in regard to Catholic teaching. Interestingly, at times the author seems too lax (an obvious example being Philadelphia, the discussion of which falls gravely short of an adequate treatment of Catholic teaching), but at other times is arguably too judgmental (to call the protagonist of Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle” a “fraudulent minister… deluded by his own charisma” strikes me as a ham-fisted oversimplification).
Beyond that, even when the films are well chosen and the discussion is adequate, the chapters are so brief and superficial as to be hardly useful. (What can you really say in a few hundred words on The Godfather AND The Godfather Part II, or the Three Colors trilogy?)
Fun fact: I happened to notice the phrase “vexed issue” recurring in the book at least three times, always in conjunction with the phrase “for some/many Christians” (two references to “a vexed issue for many Christians” and one to “For some Christians… a vexed issue”).
For the record, the author’s three “vexed issues for Christians” are nonviolence (“the vast majority [of Christians] are not pacifist”), homosexuality (“many maintain a hard line against the homosexual ’lifestyle’”) and “women in leadership roles,” i.e., ordained ministry (“Because of the way tradition has been appropriated, women have been excluded from ordination or ministerial commissioning”).
In other words, “vexed issue” appears to mean something like “issue regarding which the Church’s teaching and the historical Christian understanding is vexing to me.”
I’d take a pass on the book.
I can’t think of a book in this vein by a Catholic author that I would particularly recommend (which isn’t to say there isn’t a good one out there). Right now my favorite book on movies from a Christian point of view is my friend Jeff Overstreet’s Through a Screen Darkly.
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Thank you very much for your Matrix articles! I have a mental problem called obsessive compulsiveness and after watching The Matrix last night (I admit I was not ready for the seriousness of the the films philosophical implications) and I ended up having a lot of worries about existence and whether or not we are controlled. Today I read your Matrix articles and they have really intrigued me and I feel a bit better now. May God bless you for all the work that you do to help discerning Christians. I am very grateful for your articles and hope that you may write many more interesting reviews. I love your site and hope it will continue for a long time.
Thanks for writing. Your experience is a testament to the evocative power of the Wachowskis’ film, and I completely understand how being prone to obsessive-compulsive thoughts you found the film’s imagery troubling you afterwards. (I’m quite familiar with OCD, having family members and friends with varying levels of obsessive-compulsiveness, and I certainly know how a film like The Matrix can get under your skin and become a problem.)
I’m gratified to hear that my articles were helpful to you. I believe I mentioned in one of my articles that the “brains-in-vats” proposal is broadly attributed to Descartes (with the sci-fi component added by Jonathan Dancy), and that Descartes went on to refute the proposal based on what we can infer about God simply on the grounds that we exist.
Starting with “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes went on to argue that God is, and that the existence and nature of a loving and all-powerful God gives us confidence that the nature of our perceptions and their relationship to the world around us is fundamentally trustworthy.
For what it’s worth, I think it is rational to follow that argument and to trust God with what we must inevitably do anyway, trust our perceptions and our ability to understand the world.
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It’s disappointing to me that you didn’t see enough redemption in Walk the Line. The scene when the Carter family takes it upon themselves to see to it that Johnny quits taking drugs is an amazing scene of redemption as I’m sure that every one of those people could find reason to justify leaving him to his vices but they didn’t. I agree that his first wife was not portrayed well but I don’t think that Johnny was portrayed well either which makes me believe that there is some truth to both characters.
Part of the bad of Johnny Cash in the movie is his pursuit of June while he is married and I used to believe that no good can come out of bad motives but I think that it’s wrong to believe that as there is so many situations where God makes good of a less than ideal situation although we still have to deal with the results of our decisions despite forgiveness and redemption. I think that Johnny Cash portrayed a lot of realistic hope through his music and his persona and the fact that the movie didn’t lay it out with a conversion experience or alter call doesn’t mean the message is lost, quite the contrary in my opinion.
I can’t put it any better than artsandfaith.com poster Jeff Rioux, who writes, “Johnny Cash loved three things deeply in his life: drugs, June Carter, and Jesus Christ. This film only shows two of those loves.” I appreciate what Walk the Line does (hence the B‑plus!), but I can’t help questioning the artistic choices around what it doesn’t do.
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I’ve read several reviews and I’d like to say that they are all particularly well written. I’d like to commend you on that. I’m emailing you now, I suppose, with a couple questions about being a Christian and a film buff (much like me).
The past few days, I’ve been sort of re-evaluating what I deem acceptable in movies when it comes to violence, profanity, etc. Normally, I’d jump at the chance to see the recent mindless action movie or, with a few exceptions, the most recent pointless comedy.
I guess my dilemma all started a couple days ago when I saw the movie Brain Dead. It’s an older zombie comedy movie with gratuitous gore by Peter Jackson before LOTR made him famous. I became aware by the end of the movie that something happened that didn’t happen before. The usual enjoyment and sometimes laughter at the over the top gore wasn’t there anymore. Sure, I laughed during the movie, but by the end, I couldn’t laugh about it before.
The problem is, though I know that I take my Catholic faith very seriously, I feel as though I’m doing God a disservice by appreciating and enjoying films that promote these types of materials. I have a fairly large film collection (about 200 movies). Though only about 5–7% of them are considered objectionable, I’m not entirely sure what to do. I mostly own action movies (Die Hard, Terminator, etc.) comedies (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Blazing Saddles) and a few horror movies (Saw, 28 Days/Weeks Later, zombie movies)
By watching movies that contain these materials, am I offending God in the process? When evaluating movies for you, how do you know when you’ve crossed the line between good entertainment and something that’s negative for the soul?
You raise some good questions, and I’m gratified by the seriousness with which you are considering these issues.
I haven’t seen some of the films you mention, but in principle I can think of several possible reasons why someone watching a film he has always enjoyed might find himself reacting differently to it as you have.
It’s certainly the case that growing and maturing in one’s faith can alter one’s sensibilities and reactions are no longer the same. It’s also true that one’s tastes and sensibilities in general change over time. Whether for faith-related reasons or other reasons, it’s not uncommon to find ourselves outgrowing our previous tastes in movies, music, books, clothes and so forth — and acquiring new tastes that previously might have held little interest for us.
This isn’t necessarily to denigrate the tastes of youth (though sometimes they should be). It’s simply to say that we aren’t the same person at 25 that we are at 15, or at 45 that we are at 35, etc. Not that we are totally different either — much of what we enjoyed or disliked in our youth may be with us throughout our lives — but when and where this doesn’t happen, it may simply suggest that it’s time to move on, to enjoy other things. This doesn’t necessarily mean we need regret our previous tastes and experiences — although again in certain cases we should.
Another possible factor is a kind of cumulative effect over time, or a saturation effect of too much of something in one’s diet. An occasional Big Mac and fries isn’t going to do you any lasting harm, but a steady diet of fast food will have a deleterious effect on your well-being, and at some point you may find a particular meal not sitting too well — in which case it may be time to lay off the Big Macs. And, of course, not all films sustain repeated viewings as well as other films.
Questions I ask myself while watching a film with potentially problematic content include: What is the hook here? Why are we supposed to enjoy this? Do I enjoy it? If so, why? What are the possible pitfalls? What are the possible safe zones?
For example, with a violent action movie like Die Hard, is the audience encouraged to revel in the gruesomeness of the violence for its own sake? Or is the violence part of a cathartic experience of undergoing great duress and conquering adversity against great odds? In my review I made the case that the latter, not the former, is what that film is essentially about. This doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t ever cross a line in any respect, but I would say that it is basically worthwhile despite some flaws, rather than fundamentally flawed.
By contrast, some movies seem to me to sadistically indulge in violence for its own sake. I don’t see many movies like this (I’m selective enough — not to mention busy — that films like that generally don’t make my playlist in the first place), but I remember feeling that way about John Woo’s Broken Arrow, for instance. (Then again, that was over a decade ago, and I could have been suffering from Big Mac attack.) Much more recently, I felt that Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, despite some worthwhile themes, was marred to an extent by directorial excess in this area.
I haven’t seen any of the new crop of “torture porn” films like Saw, but I would be strongly inclined to suspect that these films make a sadistic spectacle of gruesome and degrading content for its own sake.
When potentially otherwise problematic content is played for comic effect, as you seem to be suggesting in Brain Dead — which, again, I haven’t seen — another set of factors comes into play. Humor can have a significant moral leavening effect on what would otherwise be problematic content — though it doesn’t always.
In part, a satiric, over-the-top presentation may play as a kind of spoof on genre conventions; we don’t necessarily watch such scenes as a self-contained narrative, but as a kind of satirical commentary on other narratives. Also, while humor is compatible with great excess in some areas, it can also impose various kinds of restraints.
An example of the latter principle is the scene from The Pirates of Penzance in which the titular pirates forcibly snatch up the shrieking daughters of the Modern Major-General — a scenario that would obviously be disturbing in a straight dramatic presentation, but in the comic context of the operetta is unlikely to upset even the gentlest viewers.
In part, this is because the comedy depends on the rules of the Gilbert and Sullivan world being such that there is no real harm in the pirates and no one can come to a truly bad end. In this scene we aren’t being invited to wink at rape, but to enjoy a stylized narrative in which even apparently lawless men are ultimately bound by the same basic allegiances, and so the evil of rape is simply unthinkable in this universe.
Another variation can be seen in in Monty Python’s Holy Grail in the bits with the increasingly maimed Black Knight. Here, obviously, it is possible to incur what we would consider real harm — but real suffering is precluded by comic intentions, and so the Knight loses one limb after another while insisting that it’s “only a scratch” and he still wants to fight. We aren’t being invited here to laugh at suffering, but to laugh at absurdity, or, if there’s anything more to it, at the follies of self-delusion and pride (as well as the conventions of dueling and chivalric honor).
However, comedy can also accompany real moral problems in a narrative. Humor can be mean-spirited, inviting us to gleefully embrace the comeuppance of a comically demonized character. Or winking sex farce may suggest that immorality is a lark and no big deal. (Both types of problems are on display, for example, in The Fighting Temptations.)
Well, I’ve rambled on well over my allotted word count; I hope some of it is helpful to you. Whether or to what extent such considerations might shed any light on the films you mention that I haven’t seen, or on others in your collection, is something you need to contemplate for yourself. God bless.
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My roommate and I had a good time looking over your amazingly detailed review of 3:10 to Yuma a few nights ago. We both thought more highly of the film than you did, but appreciated your criticisms and clarifications. The thing I value most about your reviews is your rigorous attention to detail, and it’s undeniably fun to follow your train of thought as it careens toward (often) unforeseen conclusions. Thanks for your honesty and conviction. (You could bump up the moral–spiritual rating a couple of notches, since the film isn’t nearly as injurious as you make it out to be. :) )
Your remark about the fun of following my “train of thought as it careens toward (often) unforeseen conclusions” strikes me as one of the most flattering descriptions of my writing, or rather of reading my writing, I’ve ever encountered. Thanks for making it sound so exciting!
I’m glad you enjoyed my 3:10 to Yuma review despite our different takes on it. I realize I’m very much in the critical minority on this one, but I’m uncowed … like Gary Cooper and Van Heflin, I’m sticking to my guns and standing my ground.
Regarding the moral-spiritual rating, I agree that 3:10 to Yuma is unlikely to be actually injurious the way that, say, Million Dollar Baby might be. But 3:10 outraged me more; I found it to be nihilistic where Million Dollar Baby was merely (!) anti-life. That’s the movie I saw, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
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Let me preface my remarks by stating that I’ve been reading your reviews for years, and I have a very high regard for you as both a critic and a judge of morality. Also, I have to say that I very rarely write in comment boxes.
That being said, I now to vehemently object to your minus-3 rating to 3:10 to Yuma — not only because I think it is dead wrong, but because it will influence Catholics to not go and see this strongly moral film, which in turn may discourage Hollywood from making more.
Your main beef with the film seems to come from the fact that you are a big fan of the 1957 version of this film, and that this version “rapes the original”. That may be true, but I think you’ve made a classic film critic mistake of basing your view of the film on things outside of the film itself — of writing a review for yourself rather than for the readers, most of whom have not seen the original on which you base your moral judgment.
I think the film makes a very powerful case for doing the right thing in difficult circumstances. I think it epitomizes the quote from Chesterton: “…morals are not useless; nor are they institutions. They are passions” (Platitudes Undone, p. 35).
You object to Evans being a “broken man” and a “loser”. How, exactly, does this make him less of a moral example? You also point out that his motives are mixed. So what? That just makes him human. And it doesn’t change the fact that he gives his life to both do the right thing, and to protect his family — now, that’s a message that men these days desperately need to hear.
In the course of the film I saw two men who ultimately do the right thing, even as external imperatives are ruthlessly stripped away, and even at the cost of both their lives (althought there’s some ambiguity as to Wade — he may escape again).
Both men go through a purging experience through the course of the film. Evans is able to infuse in his son a moral example — young William starts out by admiring Wade and mocking his father, but in the end sees good and evil in a much clearer way, and sees his father not as a sucker or an idiot, but as a hero. And Evans knows that his son has absorbed the lessons he has been trying to give — “You got the best parts of me,” he says in their last meeting.
Wade, on the other hands, ends up by expunging the worst parts of himself, by using all of his lethal skill in an ruthlessly moral act — destroying the evil men who have destroyed Evans and countless others. Then he voluntarily gets on the train to accept his punishment (presumedly). This would have been unthinkable to the character at the beginning movie.
I would have given at least a plus-2 on the moral scale. But you gave it a minus-3 rating, between problematic and poison, which is simply unbelievable to me, since it will encourage your readers to avoid it like the plague. I certainly wouldn’t have rented it if I had read your review first, but now (sadly) I am glad that I didn’t. A film should be morally rated on its own merits, and not how it measures up to another film. Sorry, but I think you really called this wrong.
Let me end by again saying that my opinion of your judgment in this case in an anomaly. I usually agree with you, and I think you are going great work, and I’d like to encourage you to do even more reviews (as long as they’re reviews of the movie, and not comparison pieces).
Thanks for one of the most thoughtful and certainly longest dissenting views I’ve ever received. I wish I had space to print your entire letter in my mail column.
I’m certainly aware that I am solidly in the minority on the new 3:10 to Yuma. And it’s certainly true that different viewers will see different things in any film. I don’t gainsay your experience of the film — but I stand a hundred and ten percent by mine, even if like Dan Evans I’m alone in what seems a hopeless cause.
Which I’m not, of course. Here’s Mark Steyn: “There’s no moral universe, just a rotten state in which wickedness and violence are tempered only by degrees of politically correct squeamishness.”
There is only one point on which I will contradict you. While I can’t deny that my appreciation for the original (which I saw for the first time a week or so earlier) colored my response to the remake, it is absolutely not the case that my “main beef” with the remake is that it “rapes the original.” In fact, I explicitly denied this in the very passage you cite: I affirmed the filmmakers’ right “to depart from their source material in whatever way they see fit,” and specifically stated that the “rape” of the original “may be an outrage to fans, but it isn’t strictly what makes the new 3:10 to Yuma an odious film.”
I’ve seen too many adaptations with too many different relationships to the source material (known and unknown, known beforehand and known afterwards, liked and disliked, well adapted and poorly adapted, etc.) to make comparisons with the source material the basis for my take on nearly any film. Even when for literary reasons I find it helpful to discuss the comparisons at length in my review, my judgment of the film in itself stands above these questions. That is why, for example, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe rates a B-plus in spite of my extensive critique of its failings as an adaptation.
No, my loathing of 3:10 to Yuma is on the merits of the film, which I find amoral and nihilistic. The movie I saw presented Wade as a kind of Nietzchean Ubermensch, a strong man who does what he wants to because he can and because that’s how he wants it, and that’s who he is right up to the end.
It isn’t (I submit) for moralistic reasons that Wade mows down his own gang. It’s because he, Ben Wade, had chosen to have pity on the loser Dan Evans and to allow Dan to get him to the train and look good in front of his son, and Ben Wade gets to do what he wants. But this time he doesn’t, because Dan is gunned down by Wade’s psycho gang members, messing up Wade’s plan to have pity on Dan. And so in his wrath he kills them all, because HIS plan was to get on the train and make Dan look good in front of his son, and he gets to do what he wants, and they messed that up.
And then he gets on the train, because he had decided to, darn it — although you may recall that as the train pulls away, Wade whistles up his horse, who trots after the train. The clear implication, I think, is that Wade only rides the train out of sight, and then hops OFF the train onto the horse and rides off, presumably to rob more stagecoaches and bed more barmaids, because the getting on the train thing was only for the benefit of Evans’ son. If you saw something different, let me know.
I’m willing to grant that a film may have a broken loser who is nevertheless a serious moral example. On the other hand, such a film may also tacitly imply that morality is for losers. Here is a question worth considering: At the end of the day, is it better to be (or to have been) Dan Evans or Ben Wade? The faith you and I both brought to the theater tells us one thing. But what’s the movie’s answer? On that, perhaps, hangs the film’s moral orientation.
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Lately I’ve been rereading your reviews of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, and after reading your “Extended Edition” notes for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. I’m wondering about whether or not you still agree about what you said of the theatrical version of The Return of the King and the trilogy as a whole. Too make it short, did the Extended Edition of The Return of the King ruin the whole trilogy for you?
Thanks for writing. By coincidence, I am currently rereading Tolkien’s saga to my three older children (we just finished the first part of The Two Towers) and are simultaneously working our way through the film trilogy, and are somewhere in the middle of The Return of the King movie.
While the The Return of the King extended edition was in some ways a disappointment, I certainly wouldn’t say it “ruined the whole trilogy” for me. My appreciation for the trilogy, including The Return of the King and in spite of the stumbles of the extended-edition material, is too great for that. The final EE should have been the series’ crowning achievement; instead, it was a mixed bag, both enhancing and diminishing the film.
Some of the missteps, such as the stupid drinking game, add insult to injury: Poor Gimli was already deprived of too much of his dignity and the butt of too many cheap jokes, and this was possibly the lowest of them. The “skullvalanche” in the Paths of the Dead is a tone-deaf action-movie affront to the uncanny dread that should pervade that scene. The whole misguided business about Arwen languishing, which undermines the nobility of two of Tolkien’s noblest characters, even the one character whom Jackson would glorify above all, Aragorn.
Yet the film’s achievements remain towering. Not just the big things, like the spectacle of Minas Tirith and the battle of Pelennor Fields, but little things, like Gandalf’s speech about the “grey rain-curtain of the world” and that unforgettable moment when Sam, unable to bear the Ring, grimly sets himself to carry the Ring-bearer instead.
The things I love about the film are too many to count: the brilliant use of Anduril in the Paths of the Dead; the haunting use of Pippin’s plaintive song to score Faramir’s doomed assault on Osgiliath; the tragic flicker of ring-lust in even aged, doddering Bilbo’s eyes. I remain deeply grateful to Jackson and company for the film — even if the confrontation between Gandalf and the Witch-King makes me want to beat Jackson with the largest available fragment of Gandalf’s staff every time.
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I came across an article about this play, Corpus Christi and I think it’s an outrageous display of “arrogance” against Jesus. I’m just wondering if… there’s a Catholic organization to police media against anything “libelous” against Jesus? peoples everywhere have laws against “malicious implications” with corresponding penalty. Don’t you think there should be something the same when it comes to any indecency attack against Jesus or any religious practices, morals and customs? There has to be something to protect “order” and keep arrogant people from creating chaos and confusion about religion and God.
Granted that McNally’s Corpus Christi is patently offensive, what sort of system would you propose to “protect” order and impose penalties against “malicious” speech? To whom would you entrust this authority? Who is fit to wield it, and to whom would it pass in the future?
It seems to me that, in our day and age, such laws would be far more likely used against Christians for “malicious” speech against, e.g., homosexuality or same-sex marriage than against writers depicting Jesus and the Apostles as gay. Indeed, laws against “offensive” speech do exist in other countries, such as Canada and the UK, and as a result Christians in those countries are not as free to proclaim their faith as are Christians in the United States. I for one am glad that our tradition of free speech protects my right to proclaim my faith, even if it also protects McNally’s right to blaspheme the same faith.
The day will come when both McNally and I will stand before God and be judged for every careless word we have spoken. In the mean time, I would prefer not to have my words judged by the state, which in effect means that I would prefer the state not to be in the business of judging words.
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