The number of big-budget biblical films slated for release or production in the next few years almost is overwhelming. The stories of Noah, Cain and Abel, Moses, Pontius Pilate, Mary and, of course, Jesus all are being brought to the big screen with the hopes of capitalizing on the success of Mel Gibson’s 2004 “The Passion of the Christ,” which netted a box office total of more than $370 million in the United States.
The biblical push isn’t only in theaters. Last year, History’s miniseries “The Bible” was so successful that it put the cable channel at the top of the charts in total viewership and inspired a condensed big-screen version called “Son of God.” The Game Show Network’s popular “The American Bible Challenge” will air its third season in coming months. NBC, too, has plans to unveil a 12-part miniseries titled “A.D.: Beyond the Bible” in 2015.
There’s an overall sense that the word of God is becoming just another source, rather than the source of truth.
Obviously, for Hollywood and TV networks, profit and ratings — not evangelization — steer the ship. But what steers the people behind those numbers? Despite our increasingly secularized culture, it’s evident that Scripture continues to appeal to big audiences. The success of Bible-inspired entertainment manifests a continued thirst for meaning and permanence, which even non-churchgoers realize that Scripture delivers.
But this interest, paired with the facts, presents a paradox. Numbers released last year by the American Bible Society report that while 80 percent of Americans identify the Bible as sacred and 66 percent of those surveyed believe that the Bible contains information needed to lead a meaningful life, 58 percent responded that they aren’t interested in the information or wisdom contained in it. In addition, 57 percent of respondents say they read the Bible fewer than five times a year.
A similar survey conducted in the United Kingdom last month reports that 43 percent of parents surveyed believe it’s important for their children to be exposed to Bible stories, but approximately 30 percent of secondary (ages 12 to 15) students who responded didn’t know that the story of the Nativity originated in the Bible.
Another survey released by the American Bible Society in December said that while approximately 30 percent of Americans make a tradition of watching the film “A Christmas Story” or a version of the Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol,” only 15 percent read the Bible’s account of the birth of Christ during their Christmas festivities.
The disconnect is clear. While the “good book” is appealing, and there’s a sense that integrating it into one’s life is healthy, it’s also easily forgotten — save when presented in an entertaining format. This evokes an overall sense that the word of God is becoming just another source of information or entertainment — along with the words of famous authors, politicians or pop icons — rather than the source of truth.
Some responses this year are attempting to combat this notion, and we encourage their efforts. The Bible Society in the United Kingdom initiated the “Pass it On” campaign at the start of this year to encourage parents to read, watch or listen to a Bible story with their children. Another initiative — led by the creators of the Truth & Life Dramatized Audio Bible New Testament App — is attempting to re-engage Catholics with Scripture by encouraging them to read all four Gospels during Lent.
Our In Focus this week, too, centers on Scripture, and the reflections provided ideally will help our readers dive into the Bible this season — all without the help of Hollywood.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor