Faith and the entertainment industry

Before I start, let me say in the interests of full disclosure, that I never watch the Oscars. Not this year. Not last year. Not ever and I never will, so I guess in some infinitesimally small way I’m responsible for the record low ratings. What does the future hold for Hollywood when some YouTube channels and TikTok accounts get more viewers than the Tinseltown’s biggest night of the year?

Call me a cynic, or maybe I’m just a grouchy old guy, but I don’t watch the Golden Globes, the Silver Globes or the Copper Globes either, or any other celebrity awards ceremony.

I suppose I shouldn’t judge Hollywood because one of my cardinal rules, taught to me by my father, is “Take your own inventory.”

Nevertheless, I’ve always believed the entertainment industry is in large part responsible for what ails America, which was notoriously described as a “spiritual malaise” by Jimmy Carter more than 40 years ago.

It seems to me that all the moral problems that afflict our country are celebrated in our entertainment—violence, casual sex, greed, immodesty, injustice, cheating, atheism, narcissism and hatred. I should also mention the relentless practice of portraying people of faith as evil-doers, especially when it comes to Catholics.

Whenever I watch a movie, I know it’s only a matter of moments before the villain will appear, wearing a cross, quoting the Bible or committing some atrocity in the shadow of a crucifix. In one particularly repulsive film—rated PG-13 by the way—he was praying the rosary.

For decades, Hollywood has been aggressive in its attack on faith. Gone are the days when movies like “Bells of St. Mary’s” and “Going My Way” were produced.

And equally sad, there’s a new trend that I call “pop atheism.” Some of our most popular celebrities with millions of followers are atheists, including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Julianne Moore, Johnny Depp, Jodie Foster, Joaquin Phoenix, Andy Serkis, Emma Thompson, Daniel Radcliffe, Keira Knightley, Zac Efron, Rob Reiner, Kevin Bacon and John Malkovich. To name a few.

Atheism has alway struck me as sort of simple-minded belief, even though its adherents fancy themselves as intellectuals in the tradition of Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. They seem to embrace the delusion that proclaims, “Hey, I’m smarter than everyone else,” when in reality they’re dumber because they never took the time to see the signs, which everywhere proclaim God’s glory.

Two millennia ago St. Paul said something that’s especially relevant today. In his Letter to the Romans—which should be reissued as a Letter to Hollywood —he said that “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse…. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” Is Oscar one of those idols?

Countless Americans, many of them young people addicted to social media, practice a sort of 21st century idolatry when it comes to celebrities, who have millions of “followers.” We worship them so much they could start their own religion, and probably would love to.

If you want to understand a society’s values, or lack of them, look at its entertainment.

Even a cursory examination of our entertainment, from movies and TV to pop music and video games, shows that in America we are what we watch. Consider that hundreds of studies have shown a correlation between violence in film and TV and social aggression. Since America is such a violent country, shouldn’t our legislators endorse gun control on the silver screen?

It’s time to recognize our entertainment for what it is and limit the exposure of our children and grandchildren. And it’s time to free ourselves from the obsession with the celebrity culture. Don’t worship them, pray for them.

Think about this: You may not have your own TV show or a $53 million mansion in Beverly Hills or 200 million Instagram followers or an international fan club, but you have something infinitely more precious…your faith in God.