As I watched the 1952 film “O’Henry’s Full House” on TCM which ends with a tracking shot on the star of Bethlehem, I thought about how this type of religious symbol would never be shown in a movie today.
In fact, when is the last time you saw a major motion picture or TV program that treated religion in a non-sarcastic way?
In the past, having characters pray to God or attending religious services was considered normal, a reflection of audience’s lives back then.
A Gallup Poll asking Americans about their religious beliefs in June showed that 89 percent of Americans still do believe in God. Such a number has held steady over the years from a high of 98 percent in the early 1960s. What has declined is people attending religious services.
Reporter Emma Green points out in The Atlantic article “It’s Hard to Go to Church” that “50 or 60 years ago, churches, in particular, were a center of social and cultural life in America [but now] many people may be creating their social lives outside of a religious context—or perhaps forgoing that kind of social connection altogether.”
A litigious segment of the population that wishes to permanently abolish any religious shadings from America’s culture has resulted in what some perceive as an anti-Christian sentiment.
The word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance has been challenged several times. Some cringe when they hear that word in public (though the initialism OMG is somehow okay).
Yet imagine how less powerful Frank Capra’s 1946 “It’s a Wonderful Life” would have been if in the most gut-wrenching moment of the film when Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey begs for his life back—“please, God, let me live again”—he omitted “God.” It is the prayer to God that charges that scene with emotion; without it, the scene would not have resonated so deeply.
Even 1990’s “Home Alone” known for its slapstick comedy has a scene in a church. As “O Holy Night” plays in the background, Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, meets his neighbor, Old Man Marley. Neither character is shown praying, but the idea that two people who don’t know one another, one a child, the other an elderly man, can share a contemplative moment in a place of worship is a scene that would never make the final cut nowadays.
Just this week a legal battle ensued concerning 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the animated classic which depicts a school nativity program and Linus quoting from the Bible, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Dedra Shannon, a nurse’s aide at a middle school in Killeen, Texas, took that quote and, along with a likeness of Linus, taped it to the door of the nurse’s office. The school board ordered it removed. But on Thursday a judge ordered it back on the door with the words “Ms. Shannon’s holiday message” added.
Frankly, it is amazing the show is still played on TV without being edited or a disclaimer tacked onto the opening.
We are living in a time where religion and gender are being rubbed off of human identity. Then what is left?
Zooey Deschanel who recorded a Christmas album along with M. Ward as She & Him told the Los Angeles Times that “we tried to do ‘Here Comes Santa Claus,’ but then we realized how religious that song is.”
What specifically bothered her?
“It goes, ‘Santa knows that we’re God’s children / And that makes everything right / Hang your stockings and say your prayers…’” Deschanel then began to laugh. “It was kind of scary.”
Pretty sad the times we live in when using the words “God” and “prayers” make people laugh or scared.