Summer movie season is close. If friends have difficulty recognizing the gospel in everyday life, refer them to movie ratings. MA-LSV comes straight out of Genesis.
One of the best books I ever read on how to read a book is “How to Read a Book,” by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. The authors describe different ways of understanding literature, including reading imaginatively. The idea is to picture what’s happening in the book. Vividly imagine it.
I recently took this approach in reading through the Book of Genesis. The images are vivid and sure seem to explain movie ratings. Take MA-LSV. MA stands for Mature Audiences (make of that what you will). LSV stands for language, sex, and violence. MA-LSV means the language, sex, and violence is too graphic, making them profane.
Profane is the key word here. It comes from the Latin profanes, pushing against the sacred. For anything to be profaned, it must originally be sacred. In Genesis, language, sex, and dominion (power) are the most common topics. They are pictured as sacred. And they help us imagine what “the big three” look like when profaned.
Take language. God created by speaking wise words. We’re created to be sub-creators. We do this in many ways, including doing what God did—properly naming things (Einstein said the most important thing you can do is name something). The people of God make flourishing cultures by properly naming work, marriage, our bodies, sex, words, food, friends, cities, and so on. Misnaming anything is profanity.
Look at Lucifer. He claimed to be equal to God (Isaiah 14 & Ezekiel 28). He misnamed himself, the first instance of profanity. Lucifer was cast to the Earth. He misrepresented God’s word to Eve, who passed his profanity on to Adam. They fell for it and fell.
Now consider sex. We’re to enjoy nuptial union, the most powerful picture of the gospel, as in “Adam knew Eve and she became pregnant” (Genesis 4:1). If we read that imaginatively, we see them as naked. Reminds me of Tertullian, the father of Western theology, who wrote: “The flesh is the hinge of salvation” (Caro salutis est cardo). He meant that sexual union is at the center of the gospel. Outside of marriage, it’s profane.
Keep reading in Genesis. One of the most common phrases throughout the book is: “He went into her.” What do you think God wants the reader to imagine? It seems to me to be a rather graphic description of intercourse—pictured as good and normal. On the other hand, the horrible rape of Dinah is profane (Genesis 34).
We’re also made to have dominion, to exercise power and authority in making the world a better place (Genesis 1:26-30). We do this in many ways, including living godly lives, rightly defining reality, and gaining cultural capital. Sadly, in a fallen world what we often see is profaned power, evident in harsh words, inappropriate anger, and violence. Violence is typically the last resort of those who feel powerless. Hence, in Genesis 4, we read that Cain murders Abel. Power profaned.
MA-LSV seems to get this. The rating system signifies the language, sex, and violence is too graphic. They’re profane. I see film ratings are one of many “signals of transcendence”—human experiences that seem to point to a greater reality. They are universal, instinctive; yet assume and require answers that lie beyond themselves. The reason for film ratings can be found in Genesis.
I’m not suggesting we watch MA-LSV movies. Part of the power of good literature is that it leaves something to the imagination. Profane movies don’t. Good books (and movies) do. But you’d have to read Genesis imaginatively—picture what’s happening—to appreciate this. I hope this helps you select some good movies to see this summer.
 Tertullian, De resurrectione carnis (Treatise on the Resurrection), 8, 2.
 Peter L. Berger, A Rumor of Angels (Doubleday/Anchor Books, 1990), 59-65.