On the first weekend in October, three movies debuted at the cinema, with nothing in common except this: Each had an overt and deliberate message. The messages differed considerably. Religulous (see "Bill of goods," Oct. 18/25) mocked organized religion; An American Carol (see "Swing and miss," Oct. 18/25) led three cheers for the greatness of our nation; Fireproof quietly pointed to Christ as the savior of marriages and men. In box-office rankings they placed 10th, ninth, and eighth, respectively.
With a nail-biter of a presidential campaign going on simultaneously with a worldwide banking and credit crisis, none of these movies may have any more lasting significance than Beverly Hills Chihuahua (No. 1). But the worldviews they represent are locked in mortal combat.
In this corner, militant secularism, represented by Bill Maher of Religulous. Maher is a vociferous atheist, unlike many of his crowd who lean toward agnosticism or "spirituality." Whatever the spiritual temperature, this crowd is all agreed that religion is a private matter and God (whoever he or she is) has no voice in the public square. Secularists aim to take over the public square, setting up gods of the here and now. Though Barack Obama claims to be a Christian, he must be considered one of the secularist crowd, as his proposed solutions are not in line with biblical teaching.
In this corner, triumphant Americanism, touted by David Zucker, the producer of An American Carol. Most "Americanists" tip a nod to traditional Christianity as a building block of this nation but ultimately put their faith in the USA as the "last best hope of earth." John McCain, who also claims to be a Christian, proclaims his membership in this group with his campaign slogan: "Country First."
Finally, Fireproof: a very small-budget movie produced by a Baptist church in Georgia, which nevertheless scored above the other two in revenue on its debut weekend. That may not prove anything except that evangelicals know how to spread the word and have enough pin money to give Christian films a decent launch. Subsequent weekends will show whether Fireproof has resonance with the culture at large.
Let us pray it does, for by every indication hard times lie ahead-for secularists, for Americanists, for Christians. A widely circulated YouTube video of California children singing for Obama while their parents benignly beamed struck many viewers as "creepy." The creepiness was not the children but the parents who had those "Imagine Hope" T-shirts and signs made up. Imagining, John Lennon style, will not solve the problems posed by real enemies within and without. No matter who wins the coming election, secularists will be disappointed.
Those who put Country First are sweating right now because opinion polls do not look good for their cause. They (we?) need to take a deep breath. With respect to Abraham Lincoln, who coined the phrase "last best hope of earth," and to noble Americans who have used it since, the statement is heretical. As blessed as she is, America is worldly and temporal in essence. A trust grounded in the United States is certain to be disappointed.
As the protagonist of Fireproof discovers, Christ is the last best hope: only and ever, now and forever. Recall Joshua's meeting with the militant angel on the eve of Jericho's fall. Joshua wants to know, Are you on our side? "No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come" (Joshua 5:14). At that, Israel's commander fell on his face and worshipped.
Christians everywhere should be falling on their faces. Whether or not the Lord's angel stands over America with drawn sword, our shield is a hope that does not disappoint. Whether or not God is on our side, we must endeavor with all our might to be on His. Psalm 46 describes catastrophe: Nations rage, kingdoms totter, mountains collapse in the heart of the sea. But "God is our refuge and strength. . . . Therefore we will not fear."
Rather, we lift up our heads: The world's catastrophe is the church's opportunity.
If you have a question or comment for Janie Cheaney, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.