House Church Central Goes to the Movies

Paramount Pictures and Howard W. Koch Productions. Produced by Lisa Weinstein. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin. Directed by Jerry Zucker.

This Academy Award winner (1990, best screenplay) has plenty going for it. It's a mystery, it's a love story, and (thanks to Whoopi Goldberg) it is a comedy. One thing it is not is a source of good theology, although there are many in the nominal church who believe otherwise.

Writer Rubin and Director Zucker, who share a full-length commentary on the DVD edition of the film, are true believers in Ghost's theology. They admit that they contrived the story to present that theology by making the film from the ghost's point of view. The resulting movie borrows from Christianity but ignores its kerygma. When a person dies, he or she becomes a ghost with no body but with a mind. When "good" people die, bright, undulating lights appear to take them to a wonderful afterlife. "Evil" people, on the other hand, are dragged into the underworld by dreadful, howling demons who arise as a reformulation of shadows.

Any thinking person will quickly discover where the filmmakers failed by asking the question "How do I live my life so that I will be taken by the white lights, rather than the awful demons?" The movie does not, in other words, define exactly who the "good" and "evil" guys actually are. When we watch Ghost, of course, the question doesn't even arise because they have attempted to make the answer obvious. The good guys are people like this film's protagonists, Sam (Patrick Swayze) and Molly (Dimi Moore). The bad guys are those who launder money and kill anybody who gets in their way. But what is it that makes Sam and Molly "good"? Obedience to God? Even acknowledgment of God? No! They're just a nice shack-up couple and they are in love.

And what about the ghosts themselves? Yes, the Bible acknowledges ghosts, but it does not explain them. The Bible simply declares the subject taboo among believers and describes attempts to connect with Ghosts as "sin." This is a film ignores that ban and adopts a set of rules for the behavior of ghosts that emerges out of the popular speculation on the subject and which are internally consistent.

Ghost is an important movie because many in our culture--sadly, many who call themselves Christians--believe in this kind of lazy spirituality that demands no commitment and no participation in a community of faith. It is far more pernicious than a film like Sixth Sense (an outstanding and suspenseful film, with many twists and turns, that is also filmed from a ghost's point of view) because it actually takes its theology seriously. By all means watch Ghost with other believers, and plan for a good discussion afterwards.

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