Sunday, January 2, 2011

Warning: This Religion is rated R

In America video games and movies follow a ratings system. In cinema the MPAA has strict guidelines for films submitted to the organization for review. Now not all films are sent in for review, but they are usually labeled "Unrated" and it is usually implicitly understood that they contain content not suitable for minors.

In America there are G, PG, PG-13, and R rated films. G simply stands for films aimed at General audiences, family friendly films like Shrek. PG stands for Parental Guidance, basically films which are more or less safe but may have some action or violence such as Star Wars and suggests a parent or guardian should accompany their child (be present) when viewing such material. PG-13 is simply an extension of PG increasing the age requirement to thirteen (i.e., the teenage demographic) as such films may have minor swearing, sensual romantic scenes, and slightly more violence. R rated films are Restricted to 17 (years of age) and above. This means the film may have full nudity, excessive language, and may be gruesomely violent.  What this means is that nobody under seventeen should be admitted into the film (most American theaters card you and check your I.D.).

There are also the categories of NC-17 and X rated films which are both deemed pornographic material, that is, they are so extreme in their content that they are simply not for minors, period.

Video game ratings system presided over by the ESRB is very similar to the MPAA’s system. They categorize their titles similarly, from the games aimed at children (e.g., minors) to the games aimed at mature audiences (e.g., adults).

So what does this have to do with religion, you may wonder?

I propose a regulations board to set guidelines for what is suitable religious content. I believe that not all religious content is even suitable for children, and this is supported by the fact that neither does the MPAA. For example, a mere two hour film about Jesus’ life was so awfully violent that even a re-edit of the film still garnered a hard R rating. That’s right folks, the “family friendly” cut of Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was still so unsuitable for minors it was still restricted to those over the age of seventeen. Yet churches across America pushed their congregations to theaters, often times even buying out entire screenings of the film! This prompted the famed film critic Roger Ebert to state that the R-rated film merits the MPAA NC-17 rating in a "Movie Answer Man" response, adding that no level-minded parent should ever allow children to see it.

Assuming that a couple hours of a Biblical story could enrage a film critic who is used to watching all sorts of depravity on the big screen to assert such a strong position, it makes one wonder, what other religious content might be deemed unsuitable for minors? A lot actually. Anyone who has read the Bible or Qur’an will know how jam packed with rated R content they really are. Does not the scene from the film A Clockwork Orange where Alex undergoes the Ludovico treatment come to your mind?

Humbly, I offer a simple proposal. We should start a committee or organization to set a standard guidelines practice for suitable religious content and we should regulate that content by deeming it suitable for specific age groups or else restricting it from certain age groups. Like both the MPAA and ESRB I propose a self-regulatory agency which reviews religious content and rates it according to a prior to agreed upon guidelines. I have chosen to call it the RCRB, e.g., the Religious Content Review Board.

Just like the MPAA, which carries no force of local, state, or federal law anywhere in the United States, but merely serves as a consumer suggestion by a group of corporate analysts, in similar fashion, a religious ratings board would also carry no force of local, state, or federal law, thus allowing for the continued free practice of religion. Likewise, as with the MPAA which after screening films, their personal opinions are used to arrive at the aforementioned category of ratings a religious content review board (RCRB) would also review religious content and rate that content accordingly.

Now much like the film industry adhering to the regulatory standard set by the RCRB would be voluntary. However, it would be strongly urged that Religious Institutions submit to review, otherwise risk the penalty of being “unfriendly” or “anti-social” which would not bode well for their public image. Also, much like theater owners agree to enforce corporate film ratings as determined by the MPAA, when minors sneak into an R rated film, the theater where the incident took place will pay a fine. Such a penalty fee should also be mandatory for all religious organizations that join the RCRB.

Such an organization would not only make religious practices and beliefs more transparent within the communities, but it would also be a way to be aware of those religious ideologies which are promoting harmful, dangerous, violent, abusive, controversial and/or offensive material which, traditionally, has all but gone unrestricted simply because of the sacrosanct status religion has so long enjoyed.

Like the Passion narrative of Christ turned to celluloid however, religious stories may one day carry a warning that states: this religious content is rated R—not suitable for anyone under seventeen. I for one believe applying such a regulatory standard would be a step forward in ensuring our children’s safety, not only by offering a way to protect their impressionable minds from harmful religious content, but  at the same time respect people’s right to practice religion.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist