Getting Religion Right

Reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver I was struck by a passage in which she describes a church service. The book is set in the Appalachians and many of its characters are outspokenly evangelical Christians. I appreciated that Kingsolver portrayed them sympathetically, in a way that she manifestly failed to do in The Poisonwood Bible. But her description of a church service demonstrates rather dramatically that she has spent very little time in evangelical church services. She just gets it wrong, in a tin-eared way. She’s like a fundamentalist trying to describe the talk in a gay bar.

Truthfully, you could read a lot of award-winning fiction and not find any such attempts. Religion–evangelical religion, in particular–just doesn’t appear. It’s clearly a foreign world to the literati.

It’s true of Hollywood too. If church is going to feature in film, it will be Catholic. I assume that’s because the liturgy is pretty easy to duplicate. The nuances of Protestantism–the precise ways of speaking and moving–are unscripted and probably much harder to fake. Most movies don’t try. The few that do make me cringe. (Remember the uplifting church scenes in “The Color Purple?”)

One wonderful exception is Robert Duvall’s “The Apostle.” This is a movie you either love or hate. I’m not pushing it. It’s a strange movie. I love it because (among other reasons) Duvall has clearly been in a lot of holiness church meetings. He precisely, lovingly brings their ways onto the big screen. The apostle (Duvall) even walks like a Pentecostal preacher.

Can you think of other examples? I’d love if you would contribute movies or books that get religion right–and movies and books that get religion wrong. (I don’t mean theology. I mean the portrayal of culture, speech, appearance.)

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3 Responses to “Getting Religion Right”

  1. Silas Says:

    This is a very good point. I’m struggling to think of any accurate portayals of church, although it is hard to put your finger on exactly what is wrong in most cases: the script is accurate, but the vibe is wrong.

  2. James Says:

    This is also my complaint about a certain number of churches I’ve attended.

  3. Jason Says:

    I’d nominate the communion scene in Places in the Heart.

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