A few weeks ago, our weekly newsletter cited a recent study about the movie-viewing habits of "religious" Americans, noting that when it comes to watching R-rated films, there isn't much difference between the religious and nonreligious. Interestingly, the same study noted that self-described "conservative" religious people are much more likely to watch violent R-rated movies than "liberal" religious folk.
That newsletter also asked for readers' thoughts on R-rated movies, including what criteria, if any, you might use in making your choices. We also asked if any particular R-rated movies had affected you powerfully in any particular way. (Not surprisingly, many readers cited The Passion of The Christ in answer to that question.)
We received a huge e-mail response, and we're sharing a number of those replies below:
Sonja Stanford: "For the most part my husband and I avoid R-rated movies. The general criteria we use is, if the R rating is due to an accurate reflection of a historical event, we might watch it. Therefore, we saw Saving Private Ryan and Schindler's List."
Judy Eckert: "I would watch an R-rated movie without the swearing and the sex. That is why we wait till they come to regular TV two years later without the 'stuff'!"
F. Kilbourn: "I do not tolerate movies with nudity. What saddens me is the number of my Christian friends who think nothing of nudity in movies. It just seems so hypocritical to me to believe that God created everyone equal, and yet they attend movies whose nudity content turn women into mere objects."
B. Kelley: "As a general rule, I won't see R-rated movies. I'm a very visual person, so I am very careful about what I watch, especially violence and sexual content. I figure the story isn't worth the violence and/or sex (and language) that I have to sit through."
Richard Underwood: "Conservatives might be more open to seeing R pictures precisely because they (me included) are confident enough in their faith to know they can be exposed to improper scenes without endangering their souls. Those less confident should avoid such scenes. For example, there was a time when I had to avoid magazines and movies with high sexual content because I found them fascinating. Now, due presumably to old age and decrepitude as much as virtue, I find them no temptation at all."
Renee Altson: "I'm not surprised that conservatives were more into violence. The primary difference between liberals and conservatives in movie going (and in much of culture) is that liberals don't like violence, and conservatives don't like sex. As a liberal, I avoid violence but have no problem with nonviolent sex in the movies."
Sherrie Gumienny:"Braveheart was rated R because of the violence, yet it ranks among my favorites. Its message of extraordinary courage in the face of hopeless odds is incredibly inspiring. The love story of Wallace and his wife is one of the most beautifully depicted in any film. Even the slight nudity of the wedding night is not the least bit gratuitous, but almost holy in its reverent portrayal of the physical union of marriage. Braveheart, though certainly not for children, is an R movie that Christians should view, as its theme of personal sacrifice for the sake of others' freedom is a most timely message. Other 'worthwhile' R-rated movies would include The Passion of The Christ, Schindler's List, and Saving Private Ryan. How could such films be watered down to earn them PG-13 ratings? No, such films must remain R, and mature Christians should not shy away from them. They're tough to take, but important to see."
Susan Stotesbery: "My husband and I watch some R-rated movies, either on DVD at home using our Clearplay DVD player (blocking all the content we want blocked—violence, profanity, and sexual content) with our 10-year-old girl, or occasionally at the movies if there is a bigger message, artistic merit and redeeming quality to the movie."
Chris Turner: "I am pretty conservative in my theology. But when it comes to expression, I depart with most of my church companions, as they are so afraid of their God-given imagination. I maintain our imagination is the gateway to reality. God made it and uses it all the time. I believe movies should be rated on age-appropriate themes rather than just the legalistic list of language, sex and violence. These three 'deadly sins' are all over the Bible and to depict them is natural—unless the artist is doing it to titillate, not inform the story. I look at R movies before I allow my kids to see them. Some of these have a lot to say and are less offensive than a PG-13 with unlimited violence. And I always discuss the movies with them, especially if it happens to have a theme that is more demanding. We hold it up to God's truth to see what sticks. I think I'm raising a discerning child that will think for themselves, not afraid to look at issues and the world, always in the context of redemption and our role here."
Tom and Kathy Guttormson: "We consider ourselves conservative Christians, and we do not watch R-rated movies at all. The one R-rated movie we've seen was The Passion. We are sad that so many movies are ruined by violent or sexual content when they have a story that sounds good. We're pretty restrictive about what we view, because 'garbage in, garbage out,' and our minds would probably replay scenes from those movies for a much longer time than we would like."
Gerald K. Lawson: "I rent and watch R-rated movies from time to time that are action-oriented, with the R rating given mostly for violence and language. I despise the foul language much more than the violence. I don't know why filmmakers think they have to depict average Americans using the F-word as a normal part of their conversations. I really don't believe that is what normal Americans do."
James Sappington: "I haven't watched R-rated movies since college because I found myself being more absorbed in female exhibition than in the plot. I also found myself becoming quite angry over injustices portrayed on the screen. My weakness seemed to be that these films could stir me so intensely that I would be bothered about it hours after the movie. Francis Schaeffer believed that Christians should be willing to see such movies in that it keeps us connected with the non-Christian mindset and prevents us from becoming completely isolated from the world. So I cannot condemn Christians who take in these movies. But I do know my weakness and I do not wish to sin against conscience."
Kim Browne: "Some R-rated movies have had a profoundly spiritual and emotional effect on me—like Rain Man, Good Will Hunting, and Million Dollar Baby. I have viewed more offensive material in PG-13 movies than in the selectively chosen R rating. I have seen much more thoughtful rendering of the human condition in R movies, and the occasional F-word that may have earned the rating does not offend me, especially if it is in the context of realism rather than shock value. I am weary of 'Christian' reviews that are so simplistic as to 'not see the forest for the trees.' Thank you for not succumbing to that mentality."
Raquel Cummins: "I'd much prefer to see a gritty, explicit, and violent film that I know is truly an R (such as Crash), versus being stunned and numbed by a PG-13 movie that some arbitrary board considers acceptable viewing for the masses. There should be appropriately rated movies for adults simply because life isn't always sweet or Disneyfied."
Bill Bradford: "The MPAA reacts too strongly to violence and not strongly enough to sexuality. There are PG-13 films I would never let my 12- and 14-year olds see; there are R-rated films (very few) that I would let them see (for example, they saw parts of The Passion at youth camp this year)."
Pamela Newton: "Being repulsed by violence seems to be a liberal thing, keeping sex and nudity for the privacy of the bedroom and the sanctity of marriage appears to be a conservative thing. I know some very liberal people who appear to be as offended by bad language as I am, so I see that as an issue that cuts both ways."
Eric Hallett: "It is difficult to judge a film by its rating. There are many worthwhile R films, including Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, and The Passion of The Christ. When we place the final say on the rating rather than the film itself, we could easily overlook the good in some R-rated films. That said, the ratings system should be a guide. It all comes down to making educated, informed decisions. It requires reading reviews from trusted sources, asking theater employees and other theater patrons, and developing a sense of judgment based on the audience who will be seeing the film. Finally, I would keep in mind the purpose for watching the film. If they are merely for entertainment, we are not following the command in Philippians to think on whatever is pure, holy, and good; however, discussing tough films that address complex issues can help us in our Christian walk if we do it with intentionality and a critical mind."
DJ Cox: "My husband and I will view an R movie if it is due to relevant violence depicting an actual historical or prophetic event. We cringe over sexual content, language, obnoxious depictions of life, dumbing down or disrespecting authority, general bullying or abuse. The stronger our intimacy and reliance on Jesus, the more sensitive our senses are to anything that might not glorify him."
Stephanie Romero: "I don't necessarily view violence as a reason to not watch a movie; the Bible is filled with violence. But I am particular about what type of 'violent' films I would watch. If it were about war, I would watch it, but if it were something sadistic, I wouldn't. Personally, I rarely see even a PG-13 movie; I'd rather stick to the PG and G movies. I just want to be careful about what I fill my heart and mind with."
Patsy Koeneke: "Rather than focusing on the rating, my rule of thumb for choosing movies is based on content: If the gist of the plot focuses on people harming others, I don't watch it. Helping people learn to discern appropriate content for themselves may be more helpful than having them rely on a rating system."
Alyene Christie: "I've found similar movie-going trends among my friends. Although we all consider ourselves conservative to moderate Christians, many will watch R-rated movies without any thought to morals or values at all. Only recently have we discussed how our beliefs should affect our entertainment, and a few decided to change their viewing patterns. The only R-rated movie I've seen in a theater is The Passion of The Christ. All the other R-rated movies I've seen I have watched at home where I can edit for myself so I don't have to sit through particularly violent scenes."
Amanda Linerode: "Will I watch R-rated movies? Depends. Will I watch PG-13 movies? Depends. Will I watch PG movies? Depends. Will I watch G movies? Depends. I put very little stock in movie ratings themselves, as I consider them to be pretty subjective. Rather, I choose movies based upon their content, as well as their overall quality (plot, acting, filming, etc.). I do not watch movies that have what I deem to be an intense focus on evil, darkness, and the occult. As an artist myself, I understand that one can use all three elements to make statements about life, society, etc. However, as a believer who is dead to sin and alive in Christ, I have no desire to immerse myself in it. Although it may not be a sin to watch movies of various ratings, I think that it is, in essence, an issue of wisdom and stewardship. Is it really a wise choice for me to watch a particular movie? Will it make me more likely to think ungodly thoughts or to have sinful fantasies? If so, then I probably shouldn't watch it."
Nate Meiers: "The idea of Christian liberty teaches us that each individual must choose what would please the Lord and what wouldn't. I'm a bit of a Christian hedonist, believing that we can enjoy God by enjoying his creation and the arts which his creation makes. But I don't think most Christians really desire to please God enough and don't ask God questions honestly enough about what is appropriate and what isn't. Too quickly we err on the side of our own entertainment instead of what is profitable for godliness."
Veronica N. Panella: "I have never stayed away from a film simply because it is rated R. In fact, it was not until fairly recently that I realized that it was even an issue for adults—when I talked with some Christian friends who were applying the same standards when deciding what films they will see as they do when deciding what films are appropriate for children. I would hope that as an adult, I am no longer easily manipulated in my moral decisions by Hollywood. I would hope that I could see a film without adopting a 'monkey see, monkey do' attitude."
Chinyere Aja: "I think all Christian moviegoers should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit when it comes to decisions of which movies to watch. Some movies, while not inherently evil, do influence the choices we make on a subconscious level, whether we admit it or not."
Chris Jameson: "I usually drift toward R-rated movies about a historical war and have no sexual content. For example, Saving Private Ryan did an incredible job of portraying and educating moviegoers about the ugliness and realities of war. A movie like that shouldn't be shunned by the 'conservative' Christian community based solely on its violent content."
Dave Shaw: "As a sort-of evangelical Episcopalian, I've never understood the aversion some in the Christian community have to R movies. It's always struck me as a bit short-sighted to automatically dismiss something purely because of that letter. Yes, there are clearly trashy R movies that should be avoided. But there are purely banal G movies as well that are just as deficient in the spiritual and aesthetic departments as any Chucky movie. (How about The Land Before Time for starters?) One example of a great R movie is Blue Velvet, an absolutely great exploration of the divided heart that we humans carry. It is not simply a bad guy/good guy conflict; rather, it shows how the "good" Jeffery (played by Kyle MacLachlan) has to confront that dark side of his own human heart. And it seems to me that director David Lynch had to use the expletives, the sexuality, in order to show this conflict fully. Making it PG would have only watered down the true nature of a conflict we all face."
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