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February 8, 2012
by Troy Anderson
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side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar side bar Badly injured and pursued by a vicious pack of rogue wolves, "Diaz" sat against a log to await his death in the remote Alaskan wilderness.

Up until this time, the oil-rig roughneck played by actor Frank Grillo had been the most abrasive of the eight airplane crash survivors. He had defied and threatened the group's leader "John Ottway" (played by actor Liam Neeson) with a knife. As the men pondered the eternal fates of those who died in the crash, Diaz scoffed at the notion of an afterlife, describing it all as a "fairy tale."

But now, one of only three survivors not picked off by the merciless wolves, Grillo's character has gone through a great spiritual arc – transformed from a morally dissolute ex-con who had "never really done anything for anyone else" to someone now willing to sacrifice himself so the others might escape the approaching wolves.

"This is a guy who I don't think ever experienced altruism in his life," Grillo told tothesource. "Knowing that his life was pretty much done, he sat down to make the other two guys continue on without him, believing that was the only way they might have a fighting chance."

This scene, which ends with Diaz turning toward the breathtaking mountains of Alaska for an emotional confession to God, is just one of several segments in director Joe Carnahan's The Grey that explores existential questions about faith, death and the afterlife.

While the rough language used by the riffraff and journeyman jobber characters in the R-rated film is not for the faint of heart, the movie departs from other survival dramas like The Perfect Storm in which the characters facing death don't give a thought to the meaning of their lives or eternal fates.

"There are no prayers uttered in survival films like The Perfect Storm and Cast Away," says Craig Detweiler, the director of the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University. "So, The Greys shows how far Hollywood has come in dignifying the ultimate questions that haunt all of us when our lives are threatened. Does God exist? Is life after death a possibility? What is the route to heaven?"

In The Grey: A Film Companion guide distributed to churches and other groups, the authors described the movie as an excellent vehicle for discussion in men's, young men's, recovery, sports and outdoor ministries – offering an opportunity to "discover the many ways in which they can better face a life in which spiritual warfare – the battle for our individual souls – is a hard reality."

Tom Allen, a partner at Allied Faith & Family in Hollywood – a company that provided more than $10 million in distribution-expense financing for The Passion of the Christ and has produced film and Bible study guides for movies such as Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Warrior - says The Grey is filled with "spiritual warfare elements."

"In The Grey, you see a lot of direct metaphors regarding the spiritual battles we face in life," Allen says. "We are not dealing with flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, as the Scriptures say. And the wolves are very clearly the demons that are surrounding us and with whom we need to be prepared to do battle."

The film, which critics describe as a "man's man's movie," begins at a refinery in Alaska where the hard-edged, foul-mouthed workers break down crude oil for commercial use. The group of jobbers heading out on vacation encounter a violent storm, which causes their plane to crash in the Alaskan wilderness. All on board are killed except for eight survivors who head toward civilization pursued by a pack of mysterious wolves. During the journey, as the wolves pick off the survivors one by one, the men work out their relationships and issues with each other and God.

"I thought the film was very engaging in the way that these regular guys, these regular working men, are forced to deal with their core beliefs," Allen says. "The challenges they are facing forces them into a position to determine what they believe in. I think it's very meaningful for those kinds of conversations to break out in our culture because we can too easily get away from questions about the meaning of life and the questions of God and the devil, life and death, heaven and hell and faith or atheism."

Following the plane crash and questions about the eternal fates of those who died, Neeson's character, Ottway, affirms his atheistic views, saying, "It's this world I'm worried about, not the next." But near the end of the movie, Ottway rages at God, beseeching His help to escape the wolves.

"He's dealing with the question of God and faith in his personal moment of truth," Allen says. "You could argue that he rejects God and consequently winds up in the wolves' den. Maybe in this part of the movie what director Joe Carnahan is trying to say is that this is the consequence of rejecting God."

Like the stories of many characters in the Bible, The Grey doesn't have a happy ending. Rather, the movie focuses the viewer's attention on the great questions and the last things in life.

"If you read the Bible at any level, you discover pretty quickly that most Biblical characters don't end well," says Phil Cooke, president and creative director of Cooke Pictures. "I believe one of the greatest reasons the Bible has endured is that it's real, and tells the truth about living. The Bible doesn't gloss over or provide easy answers to life's challenges. Hollywood could learn something from that idea."

Grillo, who also starred in the critically-acclaimed action drama Warrior with Nick Nolte, Minority Report with Tom Cruise and Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson, was deeply moved by the experience of making the film. He was especially inspired by the scene in which his character is faced with his own demise. That part of the movie was filmed along a stream in a spot surrounded by mountain peaks and quieting snow – a place in nature "which for me is the closest thing to God."

"I grew up with a heavy influence of Christ in my life but got away from it," Grillo says. "It wasn't that I didn't believe in God, it's just that I didn't think He believed in me. I went through some beautiful moments in making this film. To prepare for my final scene, Joe and I talked about our lives and what we believed in, and we wept. It was a monumental thing to do this movie. It got me thinking about my faith again."

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Responses to: The First Freedom

Dear To the Source, and Wesley J. Smith in particular, I've been an appreciative reader of To the Source for years. Thanks! Wesley J. Smith's article on Freedom of Religion is again a winner. The problem I have with Smith's argument is the following. Suppose there is a religion, say the Wasabi sect of Islam, which requires its members to kill infidels. Suppose a government, say the Federal Government, forbids killing even on religious grounds. Smith's argument applies. The Federal Government has thereby restricted religion. You see, one cannot address freedom of religion absent the ethical issues that the particular religion proposes. To the Source has said this in the past in several different ways. For example, in defending a form of Natural Law. If the Federal Government requires churches to advertise abortion providers, the problem may not be a restriction of religious freedom. It may be that the religion of Secularism is requiring what it regards as ethical, to prevent the religion of Conservative Evangelical Christianity from doing something which Secularism regards as unethical. If my freedom to swing my fist ends just short of your nose, then those who are pro-abortion could argue analogously that my freedom to restrict abortion should end just short of women's bodies. Thus the argument must be on the ethics of abortion. The framers of the Constitution had a pretty good consensus about ethics. Postmodern America does not. My wife has been a pro-life counselor for decades. She wants to show the glory of God in the wisdom of a pro-life position. I'm Constitutionally a strict constructionist. I want to show the wisdom of God in governments granting religious freedom. Secularism is not a neutral stand. There are no neutral standpoints. - Dr. Gene B. Chase - Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Computer Science - Messiah College

Wesley J. Smith Responds: Many thanks to Dr. Chase for writing. I pondered how to address this question in the original article, but decided it would distract from my primary focus.

No right under the constitution is absolute, even fundamental liberties ("negative rights") contained in the Bill of Rights. For example, to use a familiar cliché, we have freedom of speech, but the government can proscribe falsely yelling, "Fire!" in a theater. Why? Because in that circumstance, the government has a "compelling state interest" in preventing or punishing such an egregious threat to public safety. Similarly, it can pass libel laws allowing slandered individuals to seek redress for damages caused by maliciously false speech.

The same would hold true of religion. Let's say that the Cult of Baal were to reemerge and its adherents created an IVF clinic to breed children for use in child sacrifice. In that wild scenario, the compelling state interest of the state to protect the lives and safety of children would clearly supersede the free exercise of religion of the Baalists. In actuality, in this country female genital mutilation is outlawed and punished even if those who engage in it have a bona fide religious reason for engaging in the practice. Protecting the safety and bodily integrity of the girls is a compelling reason to overcome the religious exercise. In contrast, I don't think the government could ban Muslim organizations from requiring female employees to wear head coverings, as the state's interest in preventing the free exercise of the Muslim organizations in that case would seem to be far from compelling.

With regard to the Free Birth Control Rule, it seems to me that for it to pass Constitutional muster, the Obama Administration will have to demonstrate that ensuring access to female employees who work for religious organizations with a religious objection to contraceptives and other "reproductive" services is so compelling that it overcomes the free exercise of religion. I don't think it can. At least I hope not if the concept of fundamental rights is to have any remaining vitality. Nor, in my view, can it claim that this is merely a generally applicable law that only incidentally stepped on religious sensibilities. The government gave a limited exemption to "houses of worship." That means, it considered the issue of religious liberty but rejected it for most organizations. Indeed, one could reasonably conclude that Catholic organizations were targeted by the rule since they would be the primary objectors.

The question about the fist and the nose is also inapt. The religious organizations that do not pay for contraception, are not preventing their non-covered employees from obtaining it. They just aren't paying for it. Those are two different concepts.

The Obama Administration is contending, in effect, that women "positive right" to have free contraception overcomes the "negative right" of the free exercise of religion. That is truly breathtaking. The constitutional right to free exercise of religion is enumerated, meaning, that it is explicitly set forth in the document itself. If an unenumerated, and so far non-existent "positive" right to birth control defeats an enumerated right to freedom of religion, we are no longer enjoy the blessings of liberty. Indeed, this rule is such a threat that I believe we may be on the precipice of a true constitutional crisis unless the Obama Administration backs off.

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Interview: Director Joe Carnahan on God and spirituality in “The Grey”
Why do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films?
Religious Themes in the Movies & Television
Are Religious Themes Becoming More Prominent In Recent Films?
Movie Glimpse - Connecting spiritual insights to movies
 
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about tothesource
We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.
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Troy Anderson Trans Troy Anderson
An award-winning journalist at The Press-Enterprise, Los Angeles Daily News and other newspapers for 20 years, Troy Anderson freelances for Reuters, Christianity Today, Charisma, Outreach, Rebel, National Wildlife and many other magazines and online publications. He has won more than 20 local, state and national writing awards, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was featured as an investigative reporter in the McGraw-Hill book, "Careers For Puzzle-Solvers & Other Methodical Thinkers." He's a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His portfolio can be viewed at troyandersonwriter.com. He lives in Irvine, California.
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