A bonus commentary for readers of Through a Screen Darkly.

Yes, I do grow weary of the relentless portrayals of Christians as brainless idiots on the big screen. And those who are eager to dismiss Christianity will happily embrace these portrayals as some kind of verification that our faith is empty.

When I encounter people who point to Christian foolishness as evidence that faith is misguided, I’ve reminded them that many of their favorite movies show the redemptive influence of faith on broken people. While Hollywood’s satires and send-ups sometimes speak the painful truth, there have been quite a few movies that offer dignified portrayals of Christians.

Here are a few titles that show faith in a truthful and positive light: Dead Man Walking, Ordet, Chariots of Fire, The Apostle, Magnolia, A Walk to Remember, The Year of Living Dangerously, Vanya on 42nd Street, Diary of a Country Priest, Shadowlands, Ben-Hur, A Man for All Seasons, A River Runs Through It, The Hiding Place, The Sound of Music, The Elephant Man, The Robe, Brother Sun Sister Moon, Molokai, Places in the Heart, Sergeant York, A Cry in the Dark, Tender Mercies, Le Chambon, Italian for Beginners, You Can Count on Me, The Mission, Les Miserables, Chelsea Walls, X2: X-Men United, and Signs.

Still, it’s unlikely that a society intent upon laughing at others, rather than themselves, is going to go out of its way to apprehend the integrity of Christian faith. Most skeptics prefer conspiracy theories and blended heresies like The Da Vinci Code to reinforce their prejudice.

But prejudice is not the primary reason we continually see Christians made into a laughing stock.

The mainstream media is made up of businesses. Most business people aim to make money. The media makes money by pursuing high ratings. And here are some surefire ways to earn ratings:

* Expose a hypocrite. Crowds love to see a proud man fall.
* Show something controversial. Crowds love a scandal.
* Broadcast an extremist behaving outrageously. Crowds love people who embarrass themselves.
* Turn two extremists against each other — crowds love a fight.

Thus, when the mainstream media looks for a representative of Christians, or any particular community, they often go looking for someone whose views are extreme enough to qualify as great, profitable entertainment.

*          *          *

Recently, I was working at my desk at Seattle Pacific University when I received a phone call from a woman who works for one of the three major news networks. She informed me that she had heard I was a Christian movie reviewer with a sizable readership. They wanted to pick me up, drive me downtown, and put me on camera for a special report on a TV news program.

This was the question of the day: Is the media anti-religious?

My first thought was, of course, “Give me an hour. I need to change into some nicer clothes.” But then I started preparing my notes and pondering what I would say.

Here was the basic idea of my planned reply:

When I say “the media,” I am aware that I’m using a gross generalization, like “Hollywood” or “Democrats” or “Republicans.” Thus, there will be exceptions to my answer.

Having said that, it is my opinion that the mainstream media tends to go with whatever will be the most arresting story. Thus, they often go for extreme voices instead of something closer to the truth. We end up watching a lot of interviews and reports in which religious people say and do extreme and terrible things, because that’s interesting. That’s unexpected. That’s exciting.

But you get the same thing in the religious press … religious voices speaking in extreme, attention-grabbing, self-righteous terms about the non-religious. We set up straw men, and we knock them down. It’s dramatic and engaging, but it’s not terribly challenging.

It would be a healthy change for everyone if audiences were exposed to those intelligent, moderate, insightful people who are widely respected by the Christian community. There are many who could contribute to an engaging and balanced dialogue without resorting to inflammatory language or stone-throwing.

But intelligence does not earn big ratings. Sensational spectacles are what win viewers, and thus we’re not likely to see businesses flocking to portray Christians – or any particular interest group for that matter — fairly.

Satisfied with my rough-draft answer to the question, I waited for the phone to ring with the details for my transportation.

And the phone did ring. But before I could offer my answer to the woman, she said to me, with profuse apologies, that the network had decided my opinions were not “extreme enough.”

They had looked at my Web site and realized I wasn’t going to offer an impassioned, defensive, outraged, anti-media response. They were looking for a Christian who would.

She added, “Off the record, I just want to say that this pretty much guarantees our program will have nothing of value to say on the matter.”

I can’t think of a punchline good enough to end this story.