April 21st, 2014
11:00 AM ET
Opinion by Drew Dyck, special to CNN
(CNN) - The 4-year-old boy sees angels floating toward him. They start out as stars, then slowly become more visible, wings flapping behind orbs of white light.
As they approach, they sing a melodious song. The boy cocks his head, squints into the sky, and makes a strange request. “Can you sing ‘We Will Rock You’?”
The angels giggle.
So do people in the theater.
The scene is from “Heaven is for Real,” the latest in a string of religious movies soaring at the box office. Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the real-life story of Colton Burpo, a 4-year-old boy who awakens from surgery with eye-popping tales of the great beyond. The film took in an estimated $21.5 million in opening on Easter weekend.
Even Colton’s religious parents (his dad, Todd, is a pastor) struggle to accept the celestial encounters their son describes: seeing Jesus and his rainbow-colored horse, meeting his sister who died in utero, and talking to his deceased great-grandfather, “Pop,” who, Colton exclaims, has “huge wings.”
The book and film are part of a larger trend. Depictions of journeys to heaven have never been more numerous or more popular. There’s “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “To Heaven and Back,” “Proof of Heaven,” and “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” just to name a few.
So what should we make of such accounts? And what does their popularity say about us?
April 5th, 2014
08:56 AM ET
Opinion by Joel S. Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) - Most modern people tend to distinguish between the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the merciful God of the New Testament.
In our age, the merciful God reigns - or so we like to think.
But every so often, stories or books or natural disasters summon visions of a wrathful God, and nowhere is that more in evidence than in the biblical story of the Flood, now brutally depicted in Darren Aronofsky’s new film “Noah.”
With our notion of a God who loves us all individually, especially the little children, we struggle with a deity who would wipe out all of humanity. Surely there were many innocent people, children, who died in the Flood?
But let’s be clear: This is our problem, not the Bible’s.
March 28th, 2014
01:22 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
Los Angeles (CNN) – Forgive Darren Aronofsky if he’s begun to identify with the title character of his new film, “Noah.”
Like the infamous ark-maker, the 45-year-old director has weathered a Bible-sized storm – and it’s not over yet.
Aronofsky’s epic, which stars Russell Crowe and boasts a $130 million budget (with marketing costs to match), rode a swelling wave of controversy into American theaters on Friday.
Despite fierce criticism from some conservative Christians, "Noah" was the top box-office draw last weekend, raking in $44 million in the United States.
Part Middle-Earth fantasy flick, part family melodrama, the film is an ambitious leap for Aronofsky, director of the art-house hits “Black Swan” and “The Wrestler.”
Both of those films were showered with praise and awards. “Noah,” on the other hand, has sailed into a stiff headwind.
February 28th, 2014
12:08 PM ET
Opinion by Carol Costello, CNN
Editor's note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. Watch at 9:40 a.m. ET Thursday for a discussion of the new film about Jesus.
(CNN) - Clearly Jesus was sexy.
After all, He is the Son of God.
I don't mean to be disrespectful, but as I watched the trailer for the new movie, "Son of God," I found myself gawking at the actor portraying Jesus.
Diogo Morgado is one hot dude. His Jesus looks more like Brad Pitt than that nice man with the beard in all those paintings.
I'm not the only one gawking at Morgodo's Jesus. He inspired the hashtag, "#HotJesus". It went viral on Twitter. The actor told The New York Times he doesn't want his looks to distract from the movie, but, "If the message of Jesus was love, hope and compassion, and I can bring that to more people by being a more appealing Jesus, I am happy with that."
Clearly we have a new trend. A "more appealing" Jesus is not just a better prophet, he's ... sexy.FULL STORY
August 17th, 2013
09:00 AM ET
Opinion by Brett Robinson, Special to CNN
(CNN)— Forget the forbidden fruit logo and the cult of Apple jokes. The legacy of Steve Jobs is anything but religious.
Apple was conceived in the heady days of the counterculture movement. While Jobs and friend Steve Wozniak were busy hacking into AT&T’s long-distance phone lines from a Berkeley dorm room in the 1970s, the culture was awash in New Age experimentation and social unrest. Traditional institutions were under siege by idealistic youth rejecting what they viewed as mass-marketed delusions.
At the top of the hit list was organized religion. When Jobs and Wozniak got the phone hacking device to work, their first call was to the Vatican. They proceeded to hang up on the pope’s personal secretary before he could connect the call to the Holy Father. Jobs the iconoclast relished the prank.
June 14th, 2013
04:05 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN Belief Blog
Baltimore, Maryland (CNN) - As the new Superman movie takes flight this weekend, filmmakers are hoping the Man of Steel lands not only in theaters, but also in pulpits.
Warner Bros. Studios is aggressively marketing "Man of Steel" to Christian pastors, inviting them to early screenings, creating Father’s Day discussion guides and producing special film trailers that focus on the faith-friendly angles of the movie.
The movie studio even asked a theologian to provide sermon notes for pastors who want to preach about Superman on Sunday. Titled “Jesus: The Original Superhero,” the notes run nine pages.
“How might the story of Superman awaken our passion for the greatest hero who ever lived and died and rose again?” the sermon notes ask.
April 13th, 2013
10:00 PM ET
By Alan Duke, CNN
Los Angeles (CNN) - When a film's credits list "prayer coordinator" before the hair/makeup and wardrobe teams, you might guess it is a faith-based production.
"Not Today," which premieres on 50 screens in 20 U.S. cities this weekend, was not funded by Hollywood investors, but with $1.6 million from the collection plate at Friends Church in Yorba Linda, California.
Still, the church couldn't avoid the controversies that seem routine in Hollywood productions — including a lawsuit over pay.
The idea for the film began during a trip to India where the church began building schools for the Dalit class - considered the lowest in India's caste system - in 2002. It's a project that fits Friends Church's Quaker tradition, said Creative Arts Pastor Brent Martz. President Richard Nixon's parents worshiped at the church, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.
"Our hearts were totally ripped open for the Dalit people," Martz said. Social rules and poverty make their children vulnerable to human-trafficking in labor and sex.
January 3rd, 2013
02:42 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN)—In spite of tepid reviews from some film critics, "Les Miserables" is booming at the box office, and that financial success can in part be traced to a group of its biggest boosters: Christians, particularly evangelicals whom NBC Universal went after with a microtargeted marketing strategy.
The story in "Les Miserables" is heavy with Christian themes of grace, mercy and redemption. The line everyone seems to remember is "to love another person is to see the face of God.”
NBC Universal looked to capitalize on those components and promoted the film to pastors, Christian radio hosts and influence-makers in the Christian community.
The latest film adaptation of the musical is raking in the cash. As of Wednesday, NBC Universal reported, it had pulled in $80.57 million in 2,814 theaters. After winning Christmas Day, the film finished third in the box office totals over the weekend, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, narrowly losing out to "The Hobbit" and "Django Unchained" despite being on significantly fewer screens.
December 27th, 2012
07:00 AM ET
Editor's note: Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an ordained Episcopal Church priest and author of "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom."
By Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Will you be strong and stand with me? That’s the question the cast of "Les Misérables" asks viewers at the end of the film as they stand along a barricade. But it’s also the question one particular character, a bishop, asks early in the movie.
And that question has radical implications for all of us who want to see our world transformed by hope.
That bishop meets the main character, Jean Valjean, after he’s released from serving nearly two decades in prison. With no job prospects and lifelong parole haunting his name, Valjean cannot find employment, a home, financial stability.
Then he stumbles upon the bishop, who invites him into his home, feeds him dinner, offers him a bed.
That night, a desperate Valjean flouts the bishop’s kindness by stealing his silver, but the next morning, when he’s caught and returned to the bishop’s home for condemnation, the bishop says something quite curious:
“But my friend, you left so early, surely something slipped your mind.” He hands Valjean two silver candlesticks.
September 13th, 2012
02:54 PM ET
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – Some time in the summer, a small theater in Los Angeles screened a movie to which hardly anyone came.
It was a clunky film filled with scenes in a desert and in tents. The characters were cartoonish; the dialogue gauche.
The actors who'd responded to a July 2011 casting call thought they were making an adventure film set 2,000 years ago called "Desert Warrior." That's how Backstage magazine and other acting publications described it.
The American-made movie, it turns out, was hardly an innocent Arabian Desert action flick.Read the full story about the director behind the anti-Muslim film
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.