Shattered: Exposing Windows of Evil (A review of the most recent incarnation of Christian legalism and fear mongering)

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The Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque, as many CCs are, is a city unto itself.  It boasts a membership of over thirteen thousand, and claims to be one of the twenty largest churches in America.  It owns its own television station, radio station, book store, skate park, restaurants, coffee shops, etc.  Of course, this all causes the congregation and its leadership to come under sharp, and sometimes unfair, scrutiny.  Apparently, the latest product of the holy city in the ABQ is a film production company (Connection Communications) that produces, among other things, Christian films.  The most recent of these Christian films, a documentary on culture, has me pondering some issues.

This film, “Shattered: Exposing Windows of Evil” comes out just in time to scare the bejesus out of evangelicals in Albuquerque at Halloween.

Now, in an uncharacteristically diplomatic turn, allow me to make several qualifications before I continue (these will be necessary, because I seldom aim the gun so close to home).  I have no “axe to grind” per se with CCs, Skip Heitzig, Chip Lusko or anyone else associated with Calvary of Albuquerque.  I have had most of Skip and Chip’s children in class (and have found them to be delightful people).  I have many students and friends that attend C of A.  So, for anyone looking for an offense, I know that the aforementioned are favorite targets of CC haters.  You’ll have to pick your fights with the ideology at hand, though, because I have no desire to breach these issues.

So, here’s my question – why the cycle of Christian scare films making claims that cause viewers to believe that our media has been infiltrated by the occult, and that participating in said media endangers us all personally?  While it may be extreme, there are even some that actually teach you will be possessed if you read or watch any of these media (though, I am not aware of any of these “teachers” being associated with CC).  Consequently, if you happen to have a personal penchant for anything of the fantasy or horror genre, then you are opening yourself unnecessarily (or so the theory goes) to the wiles of “the Enemy.”  Additionally, if you happen to be going through a “dark spot” in life or if you just happen to be one of those (gasp) “dark” people, then your very salvation is in jeopardy.  The documentary promises to “give the real meaning” behind the supernatural themes so prevalent in our media.  Perhaps, most troubling of all, is the prescribed game plan for dealing with this infiltration of the enemy.

The most frustrating element of this project is the “Quick Guide” insert in the DVD – which minces the project’s already poorly constructed thesis into short generalized truisms.  And, like the most insidious lies, it all contains just enough truth and genuine wisdom to cause thinking individuals to second guess their instincts.  Frankly, I deplore these appeals to fear.  I deplore it when politicians do it, when educators do it, and especially when pastors do it.  Without further ado, allow me to quote some of the examples – then you give me your take.

Intro: “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13)

Families are under attack as never before; media is aggressive and dangerous. But there is no reason for fear.  The Bible says where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.  The weapons of our warfare are not earthly, but they are powerful. God has given us what we need, etc. etc. so on and so forth… (Don’t want to get into copyright issues)  ;0)

Fast Facts

Harry Potter movies have made $4.2B worldwide, over 300M books in print

“Twilight” vampire movies have made over $775M, with 100M books in print

97% of teens play video games, 75% have cell phones

25% of teens have created an online false identity…

Warning Signs  “Being filled with all unrighteousness…” (Romans 1:28)

Glamorization of the occult

(Culturally)

Pagan versions of Christianity

Mocking of truth

Misrepresentation of reality, creation of false identities

(Personally)

Decreased interest in God

Obsession with increasingly dark and bizarre entertainment

Preoccupation with death and the grotesque

Increased isolation from family and social norms

Kids barring parents from their rooms

Excessive time online gaming…

Practical Steps  “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” [sic] (James 4:7)

Make sure your relationship with God is strong (James 4:8)

Have a biblical “filter” and worldview

Take inventory: where is your family really at in these matters?

Set an example: Make sure your relationship with God is strong (James 4:8) and that you have and use a biblical “filter” for your worldview

Get informed about what’s in your home

Learn about the current culture; it may seem foreign

Be bold, loving, and persistent

Now, allow me to itemize a list here, which I believe will help contextualize my complaint.  In my estimation this is poor theology couched in great parenting advice.  So, the positive things first:

1.  There is no such thing as parents being too restrictive with young children when it comes to visual media.  Countless studies from a diverse array of disciplines (psychological, medical, theological, etc) have directed parents to monitor carefully the influences children have at impressionable ages and have proven that visual media like television and movies have detrimental affects on small children.  Which, of course, is precisely what some of those interviewed in the film say.  There is a dangerous window of impressibility that closes around 10 years of age (but, does the presentation stop there? No)

2.  I wonder whether parents could actually do anything more productive in their homes than getting involved in the lives of their children.  This documentary, at its core, insists that Christian parenting requires engaged adults.  Who could argue with this?

3.  The video admonishes parents not to let schools and churches to do the parenting for them.  As an educator, I have experienced that you can almost point out the kids that have engaged parents and the kids that are being sent to me for babysitting.  I heartily congratulate this effort, and wish more spiritual leaders would emulate the message, “parents, you are the front line in a battle to raise Godly, church going Americans.”

4.  The video addresses a modern trend to view Satan as a “contemporary” or opposing force to God, instead of the limited, created being that he is.  (Though, I can’t help but point out here that one central premise of the video is the insidious infiltration of Satan and the occult into the lives of Christian young people through the glamorization of such in our media, and then boldly pronounces that the enemy has no true power, but indeed “cannot even tempt Christians without God’s permission.”  So, if it all has to be cleared with God first….oh, nevermind)

Now, a few of the things I take issue with:

1.  The host and guests in the video consistently assert that there is a concerted “occultist” effort to trap Christians in a fantasy world of power and control via their own personal curiosity.  They pound it again and again.  If your child is curious or role plays or has an imagination, then you may already be too late.  Which translates, at least to me, into a simple message, “listen to our story of power and control in your life or you’ll end up in hell (because we have the power and control and say so).”

2.  Their anecdotal “expertise” on the occult is manipulative and disingenuous.  For every “I was a mixed up kid, and turned to the occult to gain power over my situation and realized that I was influenced by my culture into dark and dangerous things that nearly destroyed me” story that the hosts can produce, I can produce an “I was looking to hurt people with black magic and the occult – now I am a fruitful Christian and movies/music/games had nothing to do with either of them” stories.

3.  Each of the presenter’s erroneous or anecdotal arguments eventually run thin and they ultimately identify the home as the impetus behind trouble.  Yet, they will not abandon their thesis.  They want us to believe that Columbine happened because those kids played video games, role played, and read fantasy/horror literature, and not because their parents were completely disengaged.  One father even laments, “Let me be perfectly clear about this, my son died because I put him in a secular, humanist school – and I knew what they taught.  And I did that.”  Then the host points out that the attackers wore t-shirts at school that endorsed “natural selection.”  “This whole crime,” the father goes on to state, “was based on the belief that evolution was true and that they had the right to kill those they deemed weaker…”  Any coincidence that there is a CC Christian school in Albuquerque that is in desperate need of enrollment?

4.  From this springs an entire series of slippery slope arguments.  If you send your kids to secular, humanist schools (i.e. public school), you may be sentencing them to death.  If you watch horror movies, you are getting a  perverse blend of sex and violence that will turn you into a serial killer – just like Ted Bundy.  If you dabble in Harry Potter or other “Wiccan” spiritual influences, you’ll become a crazy universalist pagan just like Chuck Russell who used to be a good Christian man.  If you are hurt in your relationships and get involved in online chat communities, you will join an online coven and will become demon possessed.  If you play the role-playing games (online or tabletop), you are merely trying to find a “life” you like better than your own and the occult content of those games will corrupt you.

5.  I reject the thesis that things are “worse than they ever have been before.”  It demonstrates a lack of scope or a lack of expertise, I’m not sure which.  Even the simple proposition that movies are somehow “worse” than they used to be is a completely subjective statement.  At best, the most that can be asserted is that the previous generation of media better suits the sensibilities of the writer, host, and guests in the documentary.  Frankly, I think “Nosferatu” is far more terrifying than many modern horror films, which according to the documentary, are the true gateways into the occult.

6.  The big problem – They are not offering a solution.  Bishop Pierre Whalon gave the sermon in our church last Sunday.  In it he gave a simple and profound explanation of the Church’s purpose: Reconciliation.  It is the job of the church to proclaim the Gospel, feed the poor, protect the orphan, care for the widow, and generally to live out the love of Christ toward the disenfranchised of the world – to reconcile them to God.  This video leaves its viewers at a serious disadvantage with an aggressive ideology.  Viewers who buy into its whole message are left feeling afraid, powerless, and inept.  A feeling that can only be alleviated by submitting to the ideology engendered in the video itself.  There is no option, take their advice, purge your home to rescue your family – assimilate.  There is no plan to reconcile those who may actually be hurting to God.  If your children pull away, seek privacy, get moody, want to be around their friends (you know, normal teen-age stuff), then they may have been infiltrated by the occult and you must aggressively intervene (but in a loving way).  Oh, and don’t be fooled, because, “This will all be slickly packaged and very attractive but the message is just below the surface – once an appetite for unhealthy entertainment is created it will only grow and demand more radical expression – take strong, immediate, action now…this is war.”

There are, of course, numerous other anachronisms, inaccurate facts, and incomplete statements made throughout.  I cannot really fault the production as a documentary for such things, though.  Which documentary have you watched that got all of the facts right?  My most serious complaint is that it is a production designed to “scare parents straight” on the “facts” concerning media.  Ultimately, though, the “facts” fall short of anything but the preferences and sensibilities of those involved in the production; and they belong to a broader group of Christians that are under the impression that only “wholesome” media are pleasing to the Lord.  This certainly causes a plethora of problems for me, that cannot be rightly expressed in a post that is already too long.  In short, the experts are suspect, the evidence is anecdotal, the theory is flawed, and the outcome is fear and confusion.  It’s just too bad, because all of its shortcomings obscure some sound admonition to be an involved parent. 

If you want it in an even shorter version, it’s legalism.

(As a minor, personal issue in a post script – I think the video’s characterization of J.K. Rowling, a baptized Christian, as someone who is peddling Wiccan religious philosophy in her books is unconscionable.)

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19 Comments

  1. Well said, and well done. Functioning out of fear is the foundation for fundamentalism. The evangelical church of our day has become stuck in a form of church societal regression like the Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages before the Reformation with its fear, superstition and mechanistic pagan sacerdotal system. Regression is characteristic of highly anxious emotional system that ends up in stasis because it is frozen by fear. The more fear you introduce into the system, the more rigid and unbending it gets. To use the horror genre, it is the grotesque monstrous evil twin of the Gospel. The Gospel frees us from fear because perfect love casts out fear. Unfortunately these evangelical fear-mongers are to one degree or another enemies of the cross of Christ because the pedal fear on the Church rather than the liberating Gospel of Christus Victor.

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  2. George,

    I value your opinion, so your praise is appreciated. Thank you.

    Todd,

    I am often struck by the irony that many of the accusations leveld at the Catholic church by Protestants are now present in their system.

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  3. Indeed, much of the time, much worse in my experience. I am a Church planter in Providence, RI, which is statistically the most Catholic county int he nation. I find the evangelical community is far more driven by fear and guilt than the Roman Catholics they often criticize.

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  4. All religions have been created so that they could cap free thinking at its core, and it also causes the people to be held down with religious dogmas. This also causes the people to be divided like the tower of babel with language. Occultism was the name churches gave science in the Dark Ages. They burned people for being Heretics and Witches because of the inquisition, and the Vatican is responsible for the deaths of millions of people. All of this is very scary. Happy Halloween.

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  5. Josh,

    you express an interesting perspective. Tell me, do you have any substantiation for your claims? Happy Halloween/All Saints Day/Reformation Day to you as well

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  6. Joshua, While I think there is “some truth” to every one of your points, they also strike me as very sweeping and exaggerated too. Correct me if I am wrong, but it sounds as if you are saying all religion is a ploy to control people and that no good can come of it even that which is rightly related to God and grace. I do not really have enough info to go on, but your post strikes me that you are putting forth a secularist religion that rejects all forms of theism as that which leads to injustice and oppression. If that is the case (it may not be in your case) I would say that that line of reasoning is in fact a secularist fear based fundamentalism. Ironically enough, radical secularism that wishes to do away with religion because of potential “abuses” will degenerate to oppression and injustice in its fear based attempt to protect itself like any other fundamentalist. It is the sad but great irony that the most secularist movements which sought to rid the world of the injustices of religion lead to the greatest humanitarian atrocities such as communist states of Russia and China and Nazi Germany all of which their secularist policies lead to the greatest mass murders and genocides on record. So forgive me in advance if I have misread you, but regardless I do want to assert that secularism has proved to be a more inhumane ideology than even a dysfunctional Catholic Church and so far really far out-doing even Hamaas and Al Qhaida. Secularism is non-thinking fear based fundamentalist reactivity par excellence

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  7. I just sat down with my 12 yr. old son last night and watched the Sixth Sense. He has also seen Doubt, the Last Castle and 12 Monkeys with me. I see it as my responsibility to give him this extra privilege as the oldest, and to share my love of movies in a thoughtful way.

    A great discussion on how to train your kids to consume or interact with media and the arts is a great idea. Calvary Chapel is the wrong source. Of all the denominations and tribes within the Church, CC is the only one that I will say I hate. Not that I hate the people within it, but the reasons why I think that whole way of being Christian sucks are too numerous to mention.

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  8. Very perceptive critique and an eye-opener on the climate of fear in Albuquerque.

    I have found what you say to be true about fundamentalist advice on parenting – so much of it is just plain ‘Dr. Phil’ secular knowledge. But then when their discussions turn to the spiritual (where they ought to know what they’re talking about), they dish up a stew that puts Satan on equal terms with God. It’s a kind of yeasty Zoroastrianism that is anti-gospel and way too prevalent among certain Christians I think.

    How odd to read that there are several Calvary Chapels – makes it sound like a whole denomination of Christianity (unknown to me). Is it a group with a seminary, etc., a single leader?

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  9. John,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I tend to look at Calvary Chapel as a denomination, too. I know they refer to themselves as a “fellowship,” and there is almost a kind of franchising that happens with the name. However, in order to call a church a Calvary Chapel, the church wishing to do so must meet certain organizational and doctrinal criteria. So, what we are left with is one group of experts saying it fits the criteria for denominationalism loosely and others saying that those criteria are too loose to demonstrate any centralized governance. Though, there is a certain univocal nature to CCs that sure make them function like a denomination – even if they aren’t 😉

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  10. Joey,

    too often, I am pleased that you’ll say the things I wish I could. Honestly, I wish more parents would just sit down with their kids. What kills me is that so many parents and pastors are in the dark about what their kids really have access to at school and in youth groups. Consequently, the fear mongering response is just a lazy attempt to be a thoughtful parent. Instead of dealing honestly with life and the things in it – they try to use fear and ignorance to manipulate the outcome.

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  11. I went to see what Wikipedia has on Calvary Chapel. How very interesting that they seem to have evolved from the old hippie ‘Jesus freak’ days.

    And I note that their leader got caught with some false predictions about end times in 1981 (sigh). Confirming what I wrote last month on the connection between failed eschatology and convictions about Bible inerrancy.

    Interesting also that I am someone who watches zero television and listens to zero radio, sees very few movies, etc., and yet, as a ‘liberal’ would probably be viewed by these assclowns as in league with their enemy anyway.

    Anyway, you’ve opened my mind on this, Shawn – thank you.

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  12. Shawn,

    Perhaps there’s something telling in the imagery utilized in the film’s subtitle? What does it mean, after all, to “expose” a “window”!?! I suspect that what’s at work here is a catastrophic failure of imagination. For all their vim and vigor, aren’t they ‘men without chests’? It seems evident to me that they themselves are victims of a kind of Christian worship, devotion, and catechesis that is cut off from the character-forming power of churchly practices and habits. This is a startling example of what happens when we strip Christian life together down to teaching ‘biblical principles’.

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  13. Chris,

    I believe I would take your assessment a step further, and say that it is what happens when we allow men to strip Christian life down to a series of “biblical principles” that purportedly stand independent of cultural influence, when, in fact, they are intended to stand as culturally normative on their own. It is a system trying to create its own tradition based on its own culture, without submitting to the tradition of the Church. It is manipulative and harmful, because it has no firm foundation in either sound biblical interpretation or traditional theological study or in classic liturgical life.

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  14. If you’re going to write comments like that, Shawn, you can quit worrying about me making comments you wish you had. What you said right there was a big “A ha!” moment for me.

    Calvary Chapel: Be Your Own Pope

    Except the Pope isn’t so silly as to think he’s infallible except every couple centuries.

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  15. okay, now that I’ve come out of my CC-hating closet, I can’t stop! My band played CCs quite a bit back in the day (explicitly using tithes for entertainment…how refreshing!) and I can think of no better (or faster) example of a movement-becoming-a-monument-becoming-a-mausoleum than CC. This “counter-culture” denomination went from beach bums and hippies to OC landholders so quickly. When I was at Costa Mesa (CC ground zero) I was afraid…AFRAID…to raise my hands in worship lest an usher-I-mean-elder asked me to leave.

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  16. Joey,

    It is amazing to me how many stories I have heard in my brief tenure as a church leader and blogger that follow this simple formula – “I was talented in music, and God gifted me with a heart to serve in local churches through worship; and then I ran aground with the pastoral leadership in some weird power struggle I didn’t even see coming, like they were a reef hiding out on the periphery of the congregation obscured by the fog of treachery.” (Sorry, felt a little poetic there for a moment)

    But, seriously, what is it with mega-church leadership and musicians?

    Regarding your “Aha!” moment, sometimes I stumble into saying something useful. In fact, Samuel Johnson has been running through my head the last couple of days:

    “Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere. He was dull in a new way, and that made many people think him great.”

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  17. PLEASE UPLOAD IT SOMEWHERE LIKE YOUTUBE FOR ALL TO SEE! why do they keep their documentaries under wraps so much if they wish to spread the word? its strange…

    Reply

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