Forget, for the moment, about all the violence in the "Rambo" movies and the kinky sex in "Basic Instinct."
Much of the sex, mayhem and even rough language that rattles across the wide screen with mind-numbing frequency today is hardly shocking in a pop culture that routinely exploits human dignity for commercial ends.But what continues to jar many people - in a nation where four in five believe the Bible is the actual or inspired word of God, according to Gallup Polls - are the increasingly frequent profane references to the deity in movies and on television.
"People will put up with almost anything. The thing that upsets them the most is the profanity," Ted Baehr, chairman of the Atlanta-based Christian Film and Television Commission, said in a recent interview. "They feel that God is holy and separate and their Lord and their savior, and he deserves respect."
"You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name" is the third commandment as set forth in Exodus. Leviticus 24:16 issues this harsh warning: "One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer."
But Hollywood, otherwise prone to ignore religion in the daily lives of its fictional characters, rarely puts out a film without profane references to the deity, according to some researchers.
In a study of more than 100 popular movies in 1991, the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Entertainment Research Report, which puts out a monthly publication alerting moviegoers to the amount of sex, violence and profanity in films, found that R-rated movies contained an average of 10.4 profane references to the deity. For PG-13 movies, the average was 7.3 profane references, and for PG movies, it was 5.9 references, said Dave Winston, the report's editor.
In a week of monitoring prime-time TV programs on the three major networks in May, researcher Randal Wright discovered 158 profane references to the deity, and no other mention of God. That was up from 92 times the deity was used as a profanity during a similar study period in 1986, Wright said.
"Essentially, God has been censored in prime-time television, except in a profane reference," said Wright, a doctoral student in family studies at Brigham Young University.
But Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, attacks critics who use "a broad stroke" to indict the entire industry as being anti-religious and profane, and ignoring quality films such as "Beauty and the Beast," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Little Man Tate."
"I might ask Mr. Baehr a counter-question: Do all clergymen sin?" said Valenti, referring to the scandals surrounding Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart.
When some religious leaders earlier this year called for a new decency code for movies and television, some industry officials responded that it would provoke censorship.