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Spirituality Hollywood Style

By Belinda Elliott Daily Life Producer - Hollywood seems to be hungering for spiritual things. That’s the conclusion I reached after a recent trip there.

I was in town for a press screening of the new supernatural thriller, The Reaping, starring Hilary Swank. The new film is just one of many in recent months to explore spiritual themes. Drawing from Exodus and the story of Moses and the biblical plagues, the film pits science against faith and leaves the audience to figure out which one wins.

I’ve always been interested in the spiritual beliefs of celebrities, and it seems that lately Hollywood’s rich and famous are becoming more “spiritual” than ever before. Whether it is Madonna showing off the infamous red string of Kabbalah, Tom Cruise singing the praises of Scientology, or Oprah promoting the latest spiritual craze to hit Hollywood, The Secret, it seems that more and more celebrities are pondering the spiritual aspects of life.

When the film’s stars came into the press room to do interviews, I was eager to hear about their own religious beliefs. Their comments both intrigued and saddened me.

Swank said she accepted the role because the script challenged her and made her think. As part of her research she talked with both scientific scholars who are skeptics and scholars who believe in God.

“The authors would come and you would hear them, they would say, “No I believe firmly that there is a reason for everything and that God isn’t involved.’ And then other people would say, “There is no way to scientifically prove that and without a God that could never happen.’ So it is just interesting to hear both sides,” Swank said.

When asked about her own spiritual beliefs, she said that she is “more of an optimist than a skeptic or a pessimist.”

She also said she enjoyed being exposed to new ideas.

“I think the great thing about my job as an actor is that I get to dive into all of these things on such a deep level,’ Swank said. “I would have never thought about any of this had I not been an actor. That’s the cool thing about it is that you just get to challenge your own mind, and look at things differently and become more open minded about things.”

The film had the opposite effect on her co-star, Idris Elba. Though he began the project with an open mind toward spiritual things, he said he finished the project as a skeptic.

Idris Elba and Hilary Swank in 'The Reaping'Elba portrays Ben, a very spiritual man who became a Christian after a near-death experience. Unlike Swank’s character who seeks evidence to disprove God, Elba’s character examines the same evidence in an attempt to support his faith.

It was in doing research for the role that Elba found himself becoming very skeptical. He said he read accounts of people faking ‘miracles,’ such as making a statue cry blood, to attract people to their church.

“I was exposed to so much material in the making of the film that really just highlighted the great lengths that people go to to fake that sort of stuff and to make people believe in something like that,” Elba said. “Now I’m more of a skeptic.”

But it was evident that he was disappointed by his conclusions.

“It really broke my heart because I want to believe,” Elba said.

“I’m not a religious man in terms of organized religion…but I want to believe that the spirits can take on a physical presence and wow us as human beings and (make us) go, ‘Whoa!’” he said. “But after doing this film, no, there was so much that I’d read. The skeptic society is huge and they can almost disprove anything.”

His comments saddened me.

As I sat with members of the secular press between interviews and listened to their ideas on topics like creationism, evolution, God, Heaven, and Hell, I began to better understand Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

It was clear from their conversations that most of these folks had bought into the film’s stereotypical portrayal of Christians. The film takes place in the Bible belt and depicts the Christians there as pushy, self-righteous, backwoods fundamentalists. Many of my colleagues seemed to agree with that assessment. For these “intellectuals,” reason rules and faith has no place in the life of someone who is able to think rationally.

How can Christians effectively share their faith with these types of individuals? I wondered.

It became apparent very quickly that their minds would not be swayed by simply examining more intellectual evidence.  Launching into an apologetics course would only add fuel to the fire. I ran through the many “defending your faith” types of Bible studies I’ve attended through the years, but nothing seemed appropriate.

Then the film’s director came in for his interview, and something he said gave me the answer I was looking for.

Stephen Hopkins, like many in the industry, said he adhered to his own unique spiritual belief system comprised of ideas from various religions including Christianity.

“I believe in there being deities, and there being a whole different spiritual landscape hidden from us that you have to look for,” Hopkins said.

He also described the beliefs he held about Christians. It seems he too had bought into the stereotypical portrayal of believers.

His ideas changed after Hurricane Katrina interrupted the filming of the movie. The filmmakers returned to hard-hit Louisiana after the storm to finish filming. They felt it was important to show the community their support and also to provide jobs for people who were working on the film when the storm hit.

Hopkins said that what he witnessed when he returned stunned him.

“I’m (thinking) okay, these people are religious fundamentalists. They’re not very well educated. What’s wrong with them?” Hopkins said. “And then after the hurricanes, I saw these people and these churches open their doors to all the refugees. It didn’t matter how rich or poor or what color they were. They gave up everything they had. They let families move into their houses, they were feeding people.”

Their actions amazed him.

“You know, it does make you change your reality,” he said. “I was looking down my nose at these people, and I’m wrong to do that. And I was knocked out by the generosity of the people down there. It was extraordinary.”

That’s when it hit me that sometimes sharing our faith with nonbelievers is more about what we do than what we say. The old adage “Actions speak louder than words,” applies to our faith as well.

Perhaps no amount of reasoning with someone or explaining our faith will ever speak as loudly as our actions. People need to see a difference in our lives. It is when we show God’s love to those around us that our beliefs become credible to them.

Jesus said it best when he instructed His followers, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

That’s a type of spirituality that even the most cynical of Hollywood hearts can appreciate.


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