Today is Father’s Day. My sister and I are living in Sugar Land this summer while we both work for First Colony Church of Christ, so we were both able to actually spend Father’s Day with Dad. Our plan was to go eat at The Swinging Door for lunch (an awesome BBQ place in Richmond) but the wait was insane. We ended up at Chili’s instead. It was good, but not exactly The Swinging Door. Amy’s gift to Dad was buying his lunch. My gift, though, happened last night. By a stroke of coincidence, Dad and I were the only people home last night. We went and ate pizza and then went to see Pirates of the Caribbean. My gift to Dad was buying his movie ticket. The movie was good; certainly better than two and three, but it had nothing on one. Alas, The Curse of the Black Pearl is the only truly good Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
Anyhow, the movie actually caused me to think. Well, really, I’ve been vaguely planning all week to write a post about 1 Corinthians 10 and the freedom a believer has and have, therefore, been looking for subject matter. I think I’ve found it.
The title of this post, “Meat Sacrificed to Idols,” may very well turn into a series in which I address various ways in which culture, seemingly without meaning too, promotes the Kingdom of God.
In First Corinthians 10 Paul makes the same argument he has made in other places in his letters, namely Romans 14. The argument is that nothing, in itself, is unclean. Things are made clean or unclean by the motive of the one doing the thing. The examples in Romans 14 are Holy Days and eating meat. If you think it is wrong to eat meat, and you do it anyway, then you have been made unclean, despite the fact that those in Christ may eat whatever they want. The implication is that those who are free, those who realize that eating unclean animals doesn’t matter, shouldn’t make those who do still believe in the purity laws stumble by convincing them to violate their consciences.
First Corinthians 10 has a different twist. The specific discussion is about meat sacrificed to idols. Paul says to eat all meat without asking where it comes from. If you find out that it has been sacrificed to idols, then don’t eat it lest the person who gave it to you think you are participating in their pagan worship practices. But, the restriction on eating meat sacrificed to idols is not about the conscience of the believer (Paul has an “all meat is God’s meat” attitude) it has to do with the conscience of the other person. If, by giving you meat sacrificed to idols they seek to make you, as a Christian, knowingly participate with demons, then refuse so that there is no misunderstanding. But, if you don’t know where it comes from, don’t ask. Just eat it while giving thanks to God. For, how can you be condemned for doing something for God’s glory? There is nothing inherent in the meat that makes it unclean.
My point is that much of culture, art, music, movies, etc is meat sacrificed to idols. To the gods of money, power, fame, sex, pride, self-gratification many songs, movies, T.V. Shows, etc have been sacrificed, their blood spilling on the altars of this world. Nevertheless, such songs, movies, and pieces of art are not inherently unclean. If, by participating in them (or the way in which you participate in them) you end up knowingly and willfully approving the pagan gods, then you are unclean. Neither, I think, should Christians apply Christian ethics as a test to art. Simply watching a movie, taking the parts which are about people helping each other, and doing away with the parts about people cheating each other is naïve and ignorant of the way plot works. Christians cannot merely divide up secular works into parts they like and parts they don’t like. Secular art, like anything, needs to be evaluated on its own terms. What I don’t mean is not picking apart art based on ideological grounds (like Feminism or Marxism or Christianity) I mean that Christians cannot merely evaluate a piece of art by how well it moralizes. Nor do I think Christians should create such moralistic art mostly because the results are total crap. Just look at “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof,” “Left Behind,” Bob Carlisle, and Kirk Cameron, but that is beside the point.
So, I will briefly point out a few things that the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie has me thinking about.
First, I am excited that the only true good guy in the movie is the minister. The only other good movie I have seen where the Christian is the good guy is “Changeling” in which the Presbyterian Pastor, in his concern for justice, openly challenges the corrupt LA police force and successfully rescues Christine Collins, the main character, from false imprisonment in a mental hospital. In Pirates, Jack Sparrow is obviously the protagonist, but he isn’t good. He is selfish and proud, even if he is less so than others in the movie, namely Blackbeard. Even Angelica, who wants to redeem her father, pursues her end through a course of action that manipulates, tricks, and kills people. The minister, though, is consistently good. When all of the mutinous crew is cowed by Blackbeard, the minister, unafraid, denounces Blackbeard as a villain and a miscreant. He never takes up arms for any reason. He doesn’t defend himself, fight for the mutinous crew, fight against the mutinous crew, fight to free the mermaid, or try to kill Blackbeard.
When freed from the mast he tells Jack and Scrum that he is neither for their side nor against their side. Throughout the movie he serves a different God than the gods served by Blackbeard (fate, self), Angelica (self, father), Jack (self, reputation, lust for the Black Pearl), Gibbs (acceptance), and Barbarossa (revenge). Even when he is in the cave with the fountain of youth, his only goal is to return to the pool to save the mermaid who, in point of fact, is part of a murdering race of freaking scary demons appearing half-naked in order to trap men. When the mermaid would have had to walk up the mountain, and she could not and would have been killed by Blackbeard’s zombie pirates, he carried her, covering her nakedness with his shirt. Additionally, he suffers multiple wounds that do not kill him or stop him. The only other characters who are immune to wounds are the zombie pirates. It seems that he is protected by some other force. He is a great example of the Christian call to both love always and speak out against evil.
Second, one of the questions raised by the movie is the comparison of faith to magic. In every one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies the main characters are in a competition to get or control some powerful artifact or treasure that would grant some sort of amazing power to the one who gets it. The item in the latest Pirates movie is the fountain of youth. Like any good pagan system, all that the individual has to do to gain eternal youth is go through a certain set of steps. Much like putting together a piece of furniture is merely a matter of fitting the pieces together in the right way, so gaining eternal youth is merely a matter of following the map, saying the incantation, and using the proper implements. Anyone can gain eternal life by merely doing the right combination of arbitrary requirements. This is not much different than ancient mystery religious systems which required sacrificing the right animal in the right place in the right way so that the right god wouldn’t squish you, or modern Evangelicalism which merely asks for an apology prayer to God and, sometimes, a baptism in water.
It is revealed in the end that the Spanish were searching for the fountain of youth so as to destroy it. The Spanish commander says, in giving the order to destroy the fountain of youth, “Eternal life is found only in God. Destroy this pagan temple.” The Spanish, after collapsing the cave, then leave. Now, don’t get me wrong, the magic does work. Angelica is tricked into stealing life from Blackbeard in order to survive. She meant to sacrifice herself so that he could live, but was thwarted by Jack. She ends up surviving and then is left by Jack on a deserted island with a revolver with one bullet. The life she has gained from her mechanistic pagan ritual is nothing more special than continuing in the same sort of life as before. Magic, you see, can’t free you. It can prolong your current state, but it cannot save you. And, actually, this sort of eternal life is turned down by Jack who doesn’t want to take the surprise of life away. The eternal life that the minister gains, however, sets him free. Mortally wounded, he nevertheless seeks to save the mermaid. After doing so, his sacrifice is recognized and she saves him. He is free. He has found, in loving another person, true life. Faith, then, grants a life that transcends circumstances and does not prolong them.
Of course, there is a lot more that could be said about the movie itself. But, as far as meat goes, it is just meat. It is actually pretty good meat. It is not just valuable for, what I perceive, as the Christian implications I have pointed out above. I thank God for this movie which was inspired by the creative impulse he put inside people. I also thank God for Penelope Cruz who improved the scenery. And, as Paul says, “If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” (1 Corinthians 10:30). Meat sacrificed to idols? Probably. Worth your time? Definitely.