June 09, 2022

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The Message Behind the Movie Reboot

photo from Douglas Beaumont’s webpage: douglasbeaumont.com

Douglas Beaumont is a convert to Catholicism. A former professor in an Evangelical Christian Seminary, Dr. Beaumont came to the Catholic church about eight years ago. He just published a Catholic update of his former Evangelical book The Message Behind the Movie Reboot published by Ignatius Press. The following is my interview with him about his history and his latest book. It was edited for clarity.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I was an Evangelical Christian for about 20 years and during my Ph.D. studies at the seminary where I was a professor. I kind of read my way into the Catholic Church.

Over a period of about five years, I and several other people actually came into full communion with the Catholic church. So that was about eight years ago.

Prior to that, while I was still an evangelical, I was trained in apologetics and philosophy of religion, and that sort of thing. I was asked at one point to speak at a national conference and I wasn’t really sure what to talk about and I wanted to make sure people were interested. So, I came up with this idea that I could talk about my interest in movies and stuff like that, and kind of combine it with defending the faith and it was a pretty big hit. And so, it actually turned into my first book.

That is where the book that we are talking about today came from. This is actually like a rebooted version of the original. So that’s my backstory.

What Seminary were you at?

I was at Southern Evangelical Seminary. That’s in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was out there for about 15 years and I spent about 10 of those teaching at the school. Once I received my Master’s Degree and started working on my PhD.

Is that connected to the Billy Graham Association?

It’s an independent school. It’s not really officially connected to anything. They would definitely be in support of Billy Graham. In fact, several of our students worked out there at the farm, but it doesn’t have any official affiliation with any denomination or church or even school really. It’s completely on its own.

What was some of the things that brought you into the Catholic Church?

Well, I think for me, there were two primary things: one of them was that as an evangelical, I was really committed to the idea that the Bible was our ultimate authority in matters of faith. The deeper I studied, the more I got into my doctoral-level kind of studies. I realized that the apologetics that I had been taught in my master’s program really wasn’t quite complete. We learned how to defend the inerrancy of scripture, and that sort of thing in general, but we never really were able to get into each and every single book.

As you know, the Bible is really more of a library than a book. What I realized was, well, it’s all well and good to be able to defend the word of God in the abstract. But this is a collection of books. Like, where did that come from? So that was one major issue I had. If I can’t figure out where the canon of scripture came from, trusting the Bible doesn’t really make a lot of sense because I wouldn’t even know what it was.

Historically you go back and you realize that it was basically the Catholic church that determined what books were scripture. That was a big problem for me. And then the second thing was that as an evangelical, I was constantly fighting these theological battles with my own brothers and sisters in the faith. Trying to figure out so many different issues, and it just seemed like practically everybody’s opinion had some kind of biblical support. It kind of came back to that authority problem again as if I don’t know what the Bible is or how to understand it, authoritatively then what am I defending here?

The farther back I looked, I realized that the historic church generally speaking settled all of those matters of orthodoxy. Once again, it wasn’t the church I was in, it was the Catholic Church. So between the two, I realized that in order to have the Bible as my authority. I would already have to trust the Catholic church. And so, you know, why stop there? Why not the rest for everything else that it claims. So, in a nutshell, that’s kind of the story of how I came into the Catholic Church. And by the way, that’s actually detailed in a book called Evangelical Exodus also from Ignatius press. I and nine other guys from Southern Evangelical Seminary wrote it. It’s all of our stories about how we went from being Evangelical to becoming Catholic.

That’s it’s fascinating you bring that up. I’m actually on Salem Media. So we broadcast to a whole bunch of Christian denominations including Catholics, but ironically enough I left the Catholic Church when I was in high school and then I became a sailor and it was while I was in the Navy, the evangelicals led me back. Obviously, I went back to my original church. So they led me back to the Catholic Church. It’s interesting because I know in your experience, and it really comes out in your book, you obviously had this passion for the faith and then it was, it seems like your experience and your, you’re searching more led you to the church.

Yeah, I think when you find the same answer in the same place over and over again, it kind of opens your eyes a little bit. And eventually, I just realized, you know that behind the scripture itself is the Catholic Church and there really isn’t anything behind it other than God. So I felt like I was kind of floating in mid-air a little bit with my defense of the scripture in my Protestantism because the real Foundation seems to be actually with the church and not with the scripture. Without the church, you don’t necessarily know what the scripture is or how to understand it. So yeah, that was a very eye-opening number of years and resulted in some kind of traumatic life events.

Now I’ve met other pastors who followed a similar route and you would mention you came in with some other pastors such as Scott Hahn and John Bergsma. Yeah. Over at Franciscan University in Steubenville.

Yeah, and actually, another one of the authors of Evangelical Exodus. Brandon Dom is also a professor there now.

Are you a professor now?

Oh, no. At this time. I am the director of Faith formation for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto, California. I am here to be closer to family and it’s a large Parish. I mean, it’s roughly equivalent to like a full-size elementary school or something. With the number of kids we have and I cover everything from adult to youth ministry to children’s. We have a small staff here that runs quite a bit of it. But yeah. It’s been an amazing experience being here.

Well, I’m reading your book. Giving me your history. I can understand your position better.

I’ve dealt with people who will not go to movies because they feel movies are too challenging to the faith. Of course, your first chapter is where you’re illustrating that tension between, do I go to movies or do I not? So, that really brings me to basically understand a little background of where that story may have come from.

Yeah, the introductory chapter was, you know, initially, I think in a sense, a lot more to the Evangelical audience, just because it really is a very live issue. I mean, even just what kind of music to listen to is still a live issue in you’re more fundamentalist conservative circles. I do still get quite a number of questions from Catholics who are also just trying to be faithful to what the church teaches. Something comes out and they oh my gosh, there are some elements in this movie, that are pretty bad. I mean, you take Father Stu, for example, I mean, you know, you’ll probably never hear more, cursing in your life.

I put that in my review. Yes but I enjoyed movie.

I think of the different stances out there, you know, you’ve got people that are just completely uncritical. They’ll just advocate for anything. And then you have people on the other side that just abstain, period, they won’t even have a TV in their house. And I think, you know, each of those is fine in its own way depending on what our motivation is and what our particular vocation is, but for those that are, kind of in the middle, that’s really to whom this book speaks.

The book brings out if you’re looking for a nice pristine story, the Bible is not your source because you’re going to find all kinds of very similar stories of all types.

Yet. We use the Bible to give us a spiritual background, but I don’t care how secular the movie is, I always get some kind of spiritual background for it. I think one of the best examples and you bring up is Contact. When I first it, saw it really spoke a lot about the reality of God, even though the author was an atheist and you kind of touch on that.

Yeah, I think the movie was actually a bit from what I hear more fair to Christianity than Sagan’s original book. But yeah, I think, overall. I mean, there were a couple of inconsistencies that we could probably nitpick out, but overall, it was just nice to have a Christian character in a movie that wasn’t an idiot and wasn’t secretly evil. This was a fairly decent representation of a fairly liberal Christian.

If you follow the protagonist line, in the end, she does kind of advance in her spirituality and she certainly doesn’t get baptized Catholic, but, overall, it is kind of a faith-affirming movie.

I loved The Exorcism of Emily Rose and I think it was a powerful, powerful story and adds to it that it was a horror story, but that that just added to it. It still was a wonderful story.

Yeah, I think that is a very underrated film. It’s kind of unfortunate. I think that you know, the original movie, The Exorcist kind of soured audiences to any kind of movie with the word Exorcist in there. You don’t even want to see that again. I thought the original Exorcist was very good in many ways, including the message. But the style elements that you have to put yourself through in order to get that message are a lot for many people. Whereas The Exorcism of Emily Rose is very tame. I mean, it’s still terrifying but it’s terrifying in that old-school horror way where. It’s what you don’t see many times that is far scarier than you know, someone’s spitting pea soup out of their mouth. Yeah, the screenwriting, the acting like it’s all just very well done. And the message is just absolutely dead on. I mean, I don’t think you could get a better single line gospel message than, one of the last lines of that film and It’s just it hits all the punches, all the cards for me.

I will just tell a little side story and that was when I saw the movie, and I won’t give it away but there is a very climactic scene where horses whiny. If you’ve seen Young Frankenstein, it ruins that scene.

I actually mentioned it to a youth group. They asked me about it. And I said that line and they all looked at me and went Young Frankenstein? and I was surprised they never saw it.

Yeah, we’re definitely revealing our age, with any knowledge of

One of the most powerful stories? I realized it’s not in here. I wouldn’t expect it to be in here. It is rated R and it is something I warn people that it’s rated R. I saw it as the dramatization of Saint Augustine’s teaching on evil and that is Event Horizon. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it.

I did see it, but it was quite a while ago. I couldn’t. tell you much. I know it involves some kind of like alien possession of people. Is that, is that right? It’s been a while. I couldn’t tell

I warn people. It’s rated R. So you have to understand that because it’s a horror movie. What it does is they are in the universe where everything is supposed to be all in order, but in order to get to the other side of the universe because they can’t travel at the speed of light, they have to go through a part that’s all chaos and that’s where that scene you talk about. As a matter of fact, they had to cut about 30 minutes of the movie out because they were so good at portraying evil, as the story goes. I looked at that and said, that’s exactly what St. Augustine taught. You know, I teach it all the time: if God is good and you walk away from God, where you’re going to go. The story illustrated it so well. It is a horror movie. It’s rated R. It’s not something you would take the family to by any stretch of the imagination.

Definitely. Yeah. I think I came to largely the same conclusion with Seven, One of my favorite scenes is when they won’t give anything away either, but they finally have the bad guy caught, and he starts arguing with them about whether or not what he did was even wrong. And it’s amazing because he has such an outlandish position. Like it’s just impossible that this guy could possibly be doing good with what he’s done. And yet the police officers can’t really argue with him.

It’s just astounding. Like yeah, this is where we are as a society, that, you know, these guys have no moral footing and it’s like, gosh, this guy’s making good sense and he’s insane or is he, you know, yes.

I didn’t see the movie. But I read your chapter on it. That’s almost the way evil works. I mean, that’s exactly what the devil does to Eve. “Did he really tell you?”

Yeah, you get some arguments in there. that don’t quite sound as ridiculous as you might have thought they would have at first. And yeah. Next thing, you know, it’s like well, I don’t know what to say to you anymore.

One of my favorite movies is Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood and a priest friend of mine, came home and said, it was the most morally depraved thing he’d ever seen. I had to explain to him there were certain symbols western movies use. I explained my feeling of the movie, my belief in the theme and when I explained it, he felt better, but my belief of the theme is, if you play with evil, evil will come

Portraying evil as evil I think is, is the name of the game. I mean that seems to be what Isaiah says. When he says, you know, woe to those who call evil good and good evil, right? Keeping that contrast is just so important.

In fact, I just remembered — Scott Derrickson the guy that wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose, he’s done some horror himself and one of the quotes I think — it might even be in the book — is him saying that horror is one of the last genres where you can actually show evil as evil. Everywhere else, you’ve got to you know, kind of compensate for the culture but at least with horror, you know, I can actually show evil as something you don’t want. Yeah.

That’s that’s a great point.

I loved what you did with The Truman Show.

I’ve gone back and forth on that. It’s just one of my favorite movies. I love showing it to people after like maybe doing this talk because you know on the surface you just seem to have some things that just so obviously point one direction and so much of it is just really like, what do you think coming into this?

And I think that both sides have a lot to say, so I tried to walk the line there, but I do think that a lot of people at least again on the more Christian Evangelical side, you know, tend to take such a dim view of Hollywood that they automatically take the most negative stance that you can. That movie is a good example of a lot of people doing that.

It’s funny too because I never picked up on that, but I do think of The Truman Show a lot whenever I watch TV, which I don’t watch that much. Watching TV, and I’m like, are we getting The Truman Show here? Because it’s just fascinating that you can get into that. What are they showing us?

I watch a lot of news sources and very few of them are American. One that’s become very popular lately is World Is One News, it’s Indian. And I’m seeing more and more people watching that because they’re not trusting American news anymore. Some of us used to watch RT America, which went off the air immediately after the war started, and that was fascinating. When watching some of the American News, you do get the sense sometimes that am I watching The Truman Show here,

Yeah

One of my mentors in a sense, someone I met. talked to about his ideas on media is Noam Chomsky. You know, people talk about Trump talking about fake media. Chomsky was warning about fake media back in the early 60s and Noam Chomsky very much on the left,

So yeah, that the left has changed a lot itself

I was actually just talking to my daughter this morning about it used to be when I was growing up in order to really have a voice, you needed to get on a major TV network, or you need to get published with a major publisher or at least get in the newspaper where there was some oversight. And there was going to be trouble if these guys told something false, but now I mean any kid with a laptop or an iPad can have his own entire, YouTube channel and website. I mean I’m guilty I do too.

So do I

People have just lost the ability to cite sources. They don’t know. Its I like this guy, so I guess I’m gonna believe him. My daughter was complaining because we’re making her do these papers where she’s having to do research at a library with real books and write down with publishing information. And I said, yeah, I’m giving you a skill very few people have anymore.

They say something. And you say: “Okay where did you get this?” They respond with “Well, that’s what they say.” Well, that doesn’t work. My father was a newspaper reporter for the Boston Globe. So I grew up knowing all this stuff and that’s where I picked up a lot of my writing skills.

Well, the name of the book, of course, is The Message Behind The Movie Reboot.

So, this is the second edition, he Message Behind The Movie was the first edition published by Ignatius too?

No. It was published by Moody Publishers,

Moody Bible Institute, right?

Yeah, so they’re pretty big. That was my first book. So I was very excited. When, when Ignatius asked me to redo it. It was kind of funny because I had sent them like three different ideas for a follow-up to Evangelical Exodus and they came back with: “How about the movie book”. At first I was kind of, I don’t know, I don’t really know if I want to go back there. I realized well, this would be a great way to like clean up some of the stuff that I didn’t really like that came out in the first one and I could add some new material that I’ve been thinking about. Plus now, all of my books would be as a Catholic and so I appreciated the ability to reboot this and Ignatius did a good job. They let me get a lot of material back in that ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, with Moody. And I’m a lot happier with this one

It’s very apropos there. Of course, I’m assuming when you wrote it you didn’t have streaming video as we do now.

Yeah, that was, that was just barely a thing. Originally, in fact that, you know, the whole idea of show binges and all that wasn’t even really around yet. So, a lot has changed. I mean, I kept it. I kept the book primarily focused on the big screen, big theater-type films, but you know, the principles in, it will go to anything. You watch TV showing anything with a story. This is going to work Yeah,

So I thank you for this time, and I thank you for giving me the chance to read your book.

The Message Behind the Movie Reboot is available at Ignatius Press and other bookstores.

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RJ Carr is the administrator of St. Anthony Parish in Allston, Massachusetts

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