Spirit of St. Louis
Remember when the church influenced Hollywood rather than Hollywood influencing the church? You may not be old enough to remember, but there was a time when there were no “Christian” movies and “secular” movies. There were just - movies. And admittedly - I love movies. Not all movies. In fact, I’m a pretty harsh critic. And as the years pass by, I find fewer and fewer flicks that pass my standard of “good”.
But, in 1957, legendary actor Jimmy Stuart plays aviator Charles Lindbergh in “The Spirit of St. Louis”. A movie I quickly dropped into my mental “really good movie” category. Based on Lindberg’s autobiographical account of his infamous premier flight from New York to Paris. The movie wonderfully depicts not only the trials and struggles of getting to the point of making the flight, but it captures the true danger and fortitude it took for Lindberg to make that first ever trans-Atlantic flight. A flight that hundreds of people now make ever day with little to no concern other than what tasty morsels might be offered them and how they might pass the time away.
But there is an interesting friendship that develops between Lindberg (Stewart) and a priest. And a short exchange that rung heavy in my ears reminded me of the ever widening chasm between Hollywood and the Biblical worldview it once embraced.
Priest: "You don’t you believe, huh?"
Lindbergh: "Well, yes. I believe in an instrument panel, a pressure gauge, a compass, things I can see and touch. I can’t touch God."
Priest: "You’re not supposed to. He touches you."
Lindbergh: ”Well, tell me Father. Now, suppose you were up in this airplane all alone and you stalled it and you fell into a spin. You were dropping like a rock! And you believe He’d help you out of it?
Priest: "I can’t say yes or no. But He’d know I was falling.”
Don’t mistake what I am saying. There never existed a time when Hollywood films sufficed as a place for spiritual wisdom nor genuine Christian affirmation. But could you imagine such dialogue just showing up in a film today? The vast majority of references to God are either cursing or in reference to one of many gods. Today this is actually applauded and awards are handed out for doing so.
As noted earlier, I am one who enjoys spending my leisure time with a bowl of popcorn and an old black and white movie. Not a spring chick myself, that means 1960 and prior. One reason is that in someways it’s a glimpse into the history of our culture. Not that old is synonymous with good, but in those old movies I am consistently amazed to discover lines from a past that not only embraced the Biblical worldview, but portrayed it somewhat accurately.
Though it was usually simplistic in nature, there is no doubt that the movie making industry is a realm that doesn’t take too kindly to the school of thought that was once so accepted. Rather we open our news feeds each day to one religious leader or another making grand announcements of how we need to abandon all those old outdated ideas.
Now if you’ve seen the movie, you know the end. Out of desperation, Lindbergh realizes his need and asks God to help him from his cold dark lonely cockpit. And history records his seemingly miraculous and successful landing. Sadly, the standard of movies today has become so subpar. Even widely acclaimed films that tell a good story, more often than not find some way to overtly insert ideas that not only contradict the Bible, they attack it. As a movie going culture, Christians are left with either crossing the theater off their list of things to do, or tolerate the offense. And this is precisely where the flow of influence changes direction. By and large, Christians tolerate it. Thus there is little authentic Christianity influence on the big screen.
How times have changed. And so quickly. There is really no denying culture in the United States is in a free fall. So Lindbergh’s question is as relevant today as it was in 1957. As a country, do we believe God can or “will help us out of it?”. And I think the only proper response is similar to that of the bothersome yet lovable clergy, “I can’t say yes or no. But He knows we are falling”.