Choose Right Over Kind

Finding an appropriate selection for “Family Movie Night” can be a vexing experience for the Christian household these days. Not only must one sift through the filth that comprises most of pop culture, but I find that even some movies I recall fondly from years past have moments that I would rather not share with my eight-year-old daughter.

One evening a while back my wife, three children and I settled in and chose a movie we had heard positive things about, even from our churchgoing friends. Wonder is a 2017 film based on a New York Times bestseller by R. J. Palacio about a young boy born with facial deformities entering the fifth grade at a new elementary school.

What could go wrong? Well, for starters, shame on me for not running my antennas up as soon as I saw that cast in the role of the parents of this boy were Owen Wilson (whose apparently unrepentant history includes regular attendance at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion, drug abuse, and wrist slitting) and Julia Roberts (who was raised as a Catholic in Georgia but converted to Hinduism, made a huge splash on the silver screen in a cutesy flick glamorizing whoredom, and has since made a point of positioning herself somewhere between Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders on the far left end of the political spectrum – a customary spot for a large percentage of film entertainers).

The film was widely acclaimed and lauded as a “feel-good” sensation. And, while there are some positives I took from the film, there were so many negatives I felt compelled to call a family meeting afterward to discuss them. For the sake of this column, I will concentrate on only two.

My main objection to Wonder is that it deals with very difficult questions faced by children and families, yet nowhere and at no time was God invoked as a means of getting through any of it.  As a man of faith, I am sincerely at a loss how atheist and agnostic families manage to make sense or obtain peace in any of life’s struggles without such hope. In all fairness, the movie never made any pretense at presenting itself as a faith-based account, but dissecting the flaws of dealing with situations absent a Biblical worldview and perspective is one of my family duties as the head of a Christian household.

My second objection was the message that seemed to permeate the whole movie. It was taken from a line in a scene of a discussion held (where else?) in a public-school classroom. The impressionable young children were being taught the “precept” that, “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” Since the success of this movie, the quotation has taken off as a slogan emblazoned on t-shirts, social-media memes, websites, hashtags, etc. 

But is it good advice for the Christian?

I certainly know that kindness, on its face, is a positive thing not unrelated to the Christian virtues of charity and patience.  Scripture is filled with the word and exhortations for us to carry it out. But there is a hierarchy of virtues for when those virtues come into conflict with each other. 

For instance, Paul writes in Colossians 3:12 that we are to “put on…kindness…” among other virtues. But two verses later we are told, “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”

Above all these things… There is a time when you must choose, just as the movie line tells us. But which should we choose?

If by being “right,” we are speaking of trivial matters like a card game, a type of potato salad, or which “bro-country” singer is more terrible, then an argument could be made that kindness should win out. However, if we are talking about important matters, such as Biblical principles, then right should always trump kindness. Be both if you can, but be right if you cannot. 

A dictionary definition of “kindness” is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” These seem like positive things, and many times they are. But if my children want to stay up until two o’clock in the morning watching unsupervised television, while granting that may be friendly and generous of me, I would not judge it to be “right” or what is best for them. Too often I hear people say they just want their children to be “happy.” I respond that happiness is a fleeting emotion and, above all, I want them to be godly. 

If I have a friend who has initiated an adulterous relationship and he is trying to reconcile that behavior, he may feel better and it might make him happy if I encouraged him or at least looked the other way. However, the right thing to do would be to delicately point out his sin to him, because in that case my love for my friend outranks any amount of kindness I could extend to him.

Above all these things put on charity. Love is right. Love trumps kindness. And love is not always kind.

C.S. Lewis wrote of this so grandly in his 1940 work, The Problem of Pain, I feel it is worth quoting at length:

But if God is Love, then He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God. Because He is what He is, His Love must be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already so deeply loves us, He must labor to make us more lovable…

You asked for a Loving God, and you have one…The mere kindness which tolerates anything except pain and suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love. In other words, there is kindness in Love, but Love and kindness are not coterminous. When kindness is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, only that it escapes suffering. Personally, I do not think that I should value much the “love” of a friend who cared only for comfort and happiness and did not object to my becoming dishonest.

Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.

Truth seems to be less and less valuable and more and more subjective to each passing generation. Slogans and quips take the place of the inerrant Word of God. “Feel-goodism” has replaced what is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” We ask our kids what time they want to go to bed instead of telling them.

Children of God, we must work harder to set ourselves apart from these futile exercises at an idealized world where we all join hands and have a Coke and a smile. There would be no need to put on the armor of God if all could be accomplished with kindness. We are to “live peaceable with all men…if it be possible. (Romans 12:18)” On the opposite extreme of kindness, we have war. If we cannot avoid it, we should heed the words of that great Southern soldier, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson: “When war does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard.”

When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose right.

Josh Doggrell

Josh Doggrell

1 Response

  1. Vince Cornell says:

    It’s nice to see another father struggling with Family Movie Night. Thanks for the article. I have found that older movies are a treasure trove of really fantastic family entertainment. From the comedy genius of Buster Keaton, Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Laurel and Hardy on through some of Abbott & Costello and the Marx Brothers – everyone from the youngest kids up through the adults enjoy them. There are some great westerns out there, and war movies with all of the drama and none of the unnecessary and inhumane gore, and family comedies…etc. Even some of the schlocky stuff can be great fun, like Charlie Chan or Mr. Moto or the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes. I’d be happy to offer you recommendations on movies that have worked for our family (I’ve got 7 kids, ages 14 down through 2), but many of those recommendations came from either Ray Olson or Dr. Fleming or some other august associate of the Fleming Foundation.

    I will confess that I screen practically EVERYTHING before letting my children watch it. This can be difficult, but I’ve learned that inappropriate and downright subversive stuff can be found in old movies just as well as modern movies. The popular culture in America has been corrupt since the 1920s (although the source goes back further than that – things have definitely been downhill for at least 150 years), so it’s no surprise to find the same rot writ large in modern movie houses more subtly presented here and there in the older fare. I will also freely confess that I edit my movies to make them suitable for the kids. If there is a movie that I feel worth watching, I have taught myself how to put it on the computer, edit out whatever I disapprove of, and then broadcast it to my television. It took a while to master, but it’s not that difficult and no different than “edited for TV movies” we had when we were growing up (only my personal criteria is MUCH more stringent – I edit out all vulgar language, profane language, including any misuse of the Lord’s name, anything obscenely sexual, anything violent that mars the human form, and, especially for any more recent movies, probably 20% or more of the action which is usually pointless noise). The fun thing is that one never misses any of that trash when watching the movie, proving how truly unnecessary it all is. I should say I don’t support or participate in any pirating or torrent-streaming or whatever it’s called – these are my own movies I’m working on.

    For older kids, if they’re not raised with them, black & white can be a barrier. However, if you watch enough good films (and take a prolonged break from modern stuff), that barrier can definitely be broken through. I mean, I’ve to teenagers and toddlers excited when I tell them we’re watching a new Harold Lloyd movie (black and white AND silent) – it can definitely be done.

    Regarding the specifics of your article, I disagree with your first point. I believe that idea is what’s lead to a lot of the terrible “Christian” cinema plaguing Protestants and Catholics alike (I don’t think I can handle another low-quality St. Ignatius “life of a saint” movie). I also don’t think it’s a fair assessment. There are hardly any classic stories, from fairy tales on up, where characters turn to prayer to see them through the narrative. Why this is might be a worthwhile discussion, but the fact is Jack doesn’t stop to pray at the top of the beanstalk, and neither does Adam Wayne in Napoleon of Notting Hill nor Bilbo Baggins in the goblin caves. Some things do not need to be explicitly brought out, and when they are it seems to come across poorly. I can only think of a handful of times when prayer has been portrayed in a movie and I didn’t physically cringe.

    I’m completely in agreement with your Right vs. Kind comment, though. The false virtue of “Nice” will be one of the things that leads to the complete annihilation of our country.