« Is Slumdog a Slam Dunk? | Main | Milk Will Take It All »

February 20, 2009

Americans Are Pro-Communist!

Box-office statistics don't paint the whole picture

Editor's note: This post is slightly revised from an earlier version.

If you break down box office statistics in just the right way, you could conclude that American moviegoers care more about supporting communism and its causes than they do about widows and orphans and global poverty.

We could do that if we used a similar approach to the logic employed in this recent op/ed in the Wall Street Journal, written by Movieguide's Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder, who argue that "what succeeds [at the box office] is capitalism, patriotism, faith and values."

Baehr and Snyder base this on their analysis of "250 major films from Hollywood studios and independents for their social, political, philosophical, moral and religious content. . . . Once again, family-friendly, uplifting, and inspiring movies drew far more viewers in 2008 than films with themes of despair, or leftist political agendas."

Consider how statistics don't tell the whole story.

First, the year's No. 1 movie - The Dark Knight, grossing well over $500 million domestically and $1 billion worldwide - depicted a city in complete despair until redemption finally wins through in the end. Second, family-friendly movies will obviously sell more tickets because you can take the whole family, and not just the "grown-ups." (In my family, that means buying four tickets instead of just two.) Third, Movieguide's "formula" for successful films doesn't even factor in foreign box office figures, which are often more than the domestic take.

And consider how some categories may be irrelevant to moviegoers' choices. Movieguide's WSJ piece praises The Dark Knight and Iron Man because they are "pro-capitalist" movies, simply because their protagonists are very wealthy men who did some good things with their money. There's no thought that perhaps so many flocked to the film because Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker was so compelling, or because it's a battle of good vs. evil, or because we just think Batman is one uber-cool superhero. I've never heard anyone say they wanted to see The Dark Knight "because I absolutely LOVE pro-capitalist movies!"

The editorial also slams movies like The Visitor for their "anti-American content" (we named it one of the year's most redeeming films because of the love and sensitivity shown to foreigners in desperate need) and Under the Same Moon (ditto; that movie was about showing compassion to immigrants).

This paragraph leaves us especially puzzled:

"The moneymaking trend was similar for movies with explicit or implicit anticommunist content. That group -- including an 'An American Carol,' which mocks communism; 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,' where Indy reviles communists and their impoverished ideology is exposed; 'City of Ember,' where a tyrant steals from the people; and 'Fly Me to the Moon,' about the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union -- averaged $71.8 million at the 2008 box office in America and Canada. By comparison, movies with pro-communist content, such as 'Che,' 'The Children of Huang Shi,' 'Gonzo,' 'Trumbo' and 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona,' averaged a measly $7.9 million in 2008."

It's hard to know where to start in response. First, it's not at all clear that these are "pro-communist" movies. For example, The Children of Huang Shi is a true story about a British journalist, George Hogg, who rescues Chinese orphans from certain death during the nation's war with Japan in the 1940s. The Chinese remember Hogg as a hero today, and the boys he saved are eternally grateful for his selfless act of mercy and compassion. We don't see how that's "pro-communist."

Second, using the same statistical logic, let's compare those those "pro-communist" movies - which averaged a "measly" $7.9 million - to the average for movies that depicted Christ's radical love in action, such Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Call + Response, We Are Together, As We Forgive, War Child, and Sons of Lwala. Box Office Mojo only has stats on Call + Response ($215,000) and Pray the Devil ($73,000), but I'm sure the others were well under $50,000. So, let's say their average was a "measly" $50,000. Compared to the "pro-communist" movies' take of nearly $8 million, that means Americans are 160 times more likely to be pro-commie than pro-love. Hey, statistics don't lie!

Well, that depends on how they're presented. Stats can be manipulated in any way, just as I manipulated them here to "prove" that Americans are more pro-communist than they are pro-compassion.

As a young journalist just out of college, I was told by an editor to read the book How to Lie With Statistics, first published in 1954. The book's title is intentionally ironic; it's not really a primer on how to lie with stats, but how to recognize that stats can indeed be misused so as to be misleading.

And that's all I'm doing here: Recognizing just that.

2/21 UPDATE: Others voice their frustrations with--and had some strong words in response to--the Baehr/Snyder WSJ piece, including Dan Savage, Glenn Kenny, and Sean Gaffney.

2/22 UPDATE: And now Newsweek/The Washington Post have given Baehr and Snyder a forum for their statistical "analysis"--and the comments in reply are sassy: "No one sells more food than McDonald's. McDonald's must therefore be the most wholesome, moral food there is," says one. "Christians neither invented nor have ownership of love, sacrifice, or heroism. As is clear from Mr. Baehr's and Mr. Snyder's article, they are also not free from bigotry, smugness, nor self-serving delusions," writes another.

Related Tags: box office, Movieguide, Statistics, Ted Baehr, Tom Snyder


As for their list of anti-communist films averying $71.8 million, Seattle's weekly paper The Stranger noted this:

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull cost $185 million to produce and took in $317,101,119.
Fly Me to the Moon cost $25 million to produce and took in $12,857,206.
City of Ember cost $55 million to produce and took in $7,873,007.
An American Carol cost $20 million to produce and took in just $7,013,191.

So, yeah, those stats are beyond misleading. Totally ridiculous.

Kudos for your piece today. I was saying to a friend, that it is high time for reasonable, compassionate and thoughtful Christians to turn the temple tables on the fear and judgment mongers that hinder, in my opinion, the furtherance of God's Kingdom and damage the Church's reputation as the ones who love the world God made most and want to create good true and beautiful things because He is creator and because he is calling us as citizens of His Kingdom to go before Him and bring his Kingdom to earth so all know that he is Lord.

Keep up the good work.

And, The Visitor is an amazing film that ought call Christians to question our government when it acts wrongly and hold it accountable to the justice that God would have be present in our world.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why any thinking Christian would take seriously the argument that "because it makes money, it must be better."

Just look at the quality of films that often top the box office and you'll see that's not true.

It's a stupid and offensive argument, and more Christians need to call them on it.

In the WSJ article, Valkyrie is commended for its conservative content for its "theme of opposing Nazi tyranny." Does that mean they're going to laud Tarantino's upcoming Inglorious Bastards (in which lots of Nazis get slaughtered, according to the trailer) for the same theme? Also, reading that Mama Mia! had "very strong libertine content" just made me laugh. I didn't actually watch the movie, but I'm pretty sure that it wasn't anywhere near the territory of the Johnny Depp movie The Libertine.

Kudos to the first couple of posts. I also didn't realize that being a good Christian meant being a good capitalist...

Thanks for the article pointing out the manipulations in Movie Guide's report.
As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am embarrassed by the blatant mistruths used by people that claim to represent me. My math teacher often told us: "Figures don't lie; but liars can figure."
I would also point out that the villains in Dark Knight (save the Joker) and Iron Man were wealthy capitalists. And Gran Torino is hardly a family film, which Movie Guide itself labels with "extreme caution". But then again, figures don't lie...

Thanks for posting that. I quite agree.

Great points. Quite frankly, it's ludicrous to name either capitalism or communism when defining and describing what makes a movie successful -- just like it's ludicrous to link either thing with one's faith. God is the most non-democratic being in existence, and thank goodness. If we had input into his designs, one can only imagine the sinful havoc we'd wreak.

I'm a Christian and a capitalist and I still think the Movieguide people are nuts. Thanks for giving us a little clearer reasoning.

Thank you for speaking some sane words into this conversation, Mark. Movieguide is certainly obscuring the truth, at a minimum. Well-made films can glorify God, even if they mat depict vast amounts of despair. (Would that Call & Response had made at least a few million!)

I work for Ted Baehr and Movieguide and am quite proud of what we do. I have two granddaughters less than a year old. I am very concerned about the moral direction our society is going. When I was a child divorce was scandalous, unwed births were rare and crime rates were a fraction of that they are today. Ted Baehr seeks to "redeem the media." He works to promote the production of more movies with Christian moral values. You can take pot shots at him all you want but here's the bottom line. Christianity is not about hate. It is about love. It is about Jesus Christ paying the price on the cross so that sinners can be set free from sin. Ted Baehr encourages the Hollywood studios to make more movies that share the love of God and less that promote immorality.

We at MOVIEGUIDE® will have a formal response later to this silly article, which shows that the author did not really read what we said in our column, and the comments here. Our article talks about “movies with more conservative content” and movies with liberal or leftist content. We are not saying in the article that the movies in question don't have other positive and/or negative qualities that attract audiences or repel them, or that the political content in them was the only thing that attracted or repelled audiences. Nor are we saying that these movies were entirely pro-Communist, anti-capitalist, anti-American, anti-religion, or anti-biblical or vice versa. For example, we did not praise THE DARK KNIGHT, or IRON MAN, simply because it had some pro-capitalist content. We only note that that the hero in these franchises is a wealthy person who has a sense of moral duty to truth, justice and the American way, not to mention innocent civilians preyed upon by criminals and nihilistic terrorists. We are saying, however, that American audiences go to movies that generally affirm their values, not movies that attack their values. That includes socio-political, aesthetic, religious, moral, ethnic, and philosophical values. All seven years that we have done our political analysis, the more conservative movies politically tend to do much better than the more liberal, more leftist movies. You can quibble with some of the movies in that extensive database, but you really should look at our comprehensive reviews of these movies. For example, you will find in our review of THE VISITOR, we noted that the movie ended up being pro illegal immigration, and portrayed every American working in the system to catch and detain illegal immigrants as uncaring, kind of mean people. If that's not leftist and anti-American, I don't know what is. Even then, we did not thoroughly “slam” that movie in our column or in our review, which noted some of the more positive aspects of that movie. We review movies according to 50 different aspects (including genre, psychology, narrative structure, epistemology, attitude toward sexuality and sexual immorality, theology, not just politics), and our letter code system includes more than 125 separate categories, which are thrown into a database. Here is our content section for CHILDREN OF HUANG SHI: CONTENT: (HH, CoCo, So, RHRHRH, B, Pa, FR, LL, VVV, S, N, A, DD, M) Strong, but not didactic or strident humanist worldview about an historical figure with some pro-Chinese Communist and pro-socialist content but very strong revisionist history that conceals the protagonist’s apparently left-leaning politics, plus some moral elements that include strong displays of compassion but with little or no discernible philosophical foundation, which may leave viewers wondering, plus Buddhist pagan scene where boys pray for good crops; 10 obscenities, five strong profanities and five light profanities such as Good Lord and My God; brief very strong and strong violence such as point blank shootings, Japanese troops massacre Chinese peasants in one scene, man almost beheaded, battle scene with explosions and gunfire, two men executed, boys beat up man, implied suicide by hanging oneself, soldiers beat man, and cart crushes teenage boy to death; implied fornication in two scenes; brief upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking, depicted opium use in opium den and leading female character addicted to morphine but goes through withdrawal; and, wild boys rebel against authority figure trying to help them and vandalism. Apparently, Mark really didn't see the movie or he would know that the protagonist was a socialist pacifist who had dealings with the Chinese Communist Party, which are alluded to in the movie, but downplayed, according to my research into the real story. A main character who helps the protagonist is a Communist soldier of a high rank. Also, the movie does not portray National Chinese Army officers, who eventually fought the Communists, in a good light. By the way, if you take out the Woody Allen movie, which we found only had a light Neo-Marxist subtext to it, the strong and very strong pro-Communist movies in our database like HUANG SHI did even worse when compared to the strong and very strong anti-Communist movies! As an ex-Marxist, I think I know Communist content when I see it or hear it. Regrettably, there seems to be a lot of hidden Marxism in America today, including the churches and even among some Republicans. Tom Snyder, Editor of MOVIEGUIDE®

By the way, here is what MOVIEGUIDE wrote about the politics of THE VISITOR:

THE VISITOR is more of a character study than a political treatise on immigration. Even so, it sides with illegal aliens and makes low-level American immigration officials look mean and apathetic. More balance would have made THE VISITOR, including its downbeat ending, easier to swallow. Illegal aliens only have themselves to blame for violating American laws, but streamlining and clarifying government red tape, and making it just and fair, are always a good thing. TS, MOVIEGUIDE(R)

Tom, speaking as one who didn't care for The Visitor myself (but I'm Canadian, so whether a film is "anti-American" is neither here nor there for me), I have to wonder why you and Ted constantly focus on American films and American revenues to the exclusion of all else.

Movieguide has repeatedly made the argument that movies which pass muster with you guys are more likely to make money than movies that don't; you are, in a sense, appealing to the studios' greed. Shouldn't it matter, then, that a lot of movies make a lot of their money overseas, and that they sometimes make a lot more money overseas than they do in North America?

To cite two compare-and-contrasts:

Fireproof grossed $33.5 million in the United States, which is more than the $23.2 million that Vicky Cristina Barcelona earned in North America. But Fireproof has never been released outside your country (not even in Canada, which is considered part of the "domestic" North American market!), whereas Vicky Cristina Barcelona has grossed an extra $65.7 million in the foreign market. So on a worldwide level, Fireproof still has $33.5 million, but Vicky Cristina Barcelona has a whopping $88.9 million. Which of these figures is going to look more impressive to a studio executive?

Meanwhile, you lump Mamma Mia! in with the movies that didn't do so well at the box office, but that film has grossed an impressive $590.4 million worldwide on a $52 million budget, which is not far behind the $611.4 million that The Passion of the Christ grossed on a $30 million budget. (Both films were #5 worldwide in their respective years.) Would you suggest that The Passion of the Christ was an underperforming film? If not, then why would you imply that Mamma Mia! was?

I am cherrypicking my examples, of course. But so are you!

My examples at least have the advantage of supporting my argument. (I can't imagine what possessed you guys to cite high-profile flops like City of Ember and An American Carol as examples of successful conservative films.) And the deeper question remains: if the studios are thinking globally and acting globally, then why is Movieguide thinking only locally?

Oh, one last question: Can we really say that Indiana Jones "reviles communists" when his first instinct, after losing his job thanks to McCarthyism, is to take a job at a university in East Germany?

Tom, I am glad you saw this thread - your responses provided some balance to the criticism being offered.

Mr. Snyder asserts that I "did not really read" their article in the WSJ. That is, to use Tom's adjective of choice, a "silly" assertion. Had I not "really" read it, it wouldn't have warranted a response. Tom's reactions here mostly rehash what has been written at Movieguide, NOT what was written in the WSJ piece. I was responding solely to the WSJ piece; if there's a lot more between the lines of the WSJ piece, then that piece isn't clear enough. Readers should not be expected to go to Movieguide to read every review of every film cited just to "get" what Snyder and Baehr were trying to say at the WSJ. The WSJ article should stand on its own.

Tom, it looks like you and Ted engaged in more counter-productive cherry-picking in that Newsweek article mentioned in the update above.

You begin one sentence with the words "Six of the most successful movies of the year..." and then go on to mention six films that are spread out among the Top 20 of the year -- domestically, that is, since Gran Torino has not even cracked the Top 40 worldwide yet.

And then, four paragraphs later, you claim that Americans "rejected" movies like Wanted -- which is also in the Top 20 both domestically and worldwide. Wanted, in fact, is, at the moment, higher on both of those charts than Gran Torino and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Ah well, at least you didn't mention Mamma Mia! and Sex and the City this time, both of which have done better than three of the six films you cited.

The WSJ commentary appears to ignore the influence of marketing and distribution. It's not the least bit surprising that Crystal Skull had a higher gross than Trumbo -- one is a mega-budget blockbuster and one is an indie art-house film. One cannot claim that themes/ideologies are responsible for the difference in gross until one has controlled for all the other factors that might be responsible for the difference. A look at per-screen revenues, or revenues in proportion to marketing budgets, might remove some of the distortion. (Of course, it might also lead to a conclusion other than the foregone one that Movieguide wants us to accept.)

Also, I don't see evidence of any audience surveys or other research tools supporting the idea that moviegoers always choose what to watch based on theme and ideology. For most moviegoers I know, the two most important considerations are (a) Who's in it? and (b) Is it playing nearby? Methinks that before you say a film's ideology is what makes people decide whether to see it, you'd have to poll that film's audience and find out how many of them actually listed ideology as a consideration. That might be a relatively high number for Religulous or An American Carol, but probably not as high for Crystal Skull and Iron Man.

Movieguide's content analysis of films might be detailed and sophisticated, but its assertion that conservative ideology equals box-office gold is alarmingly simplistic.

All right, if Tom Snyder *once again* feels compelled to sweep in to one of these discussion forums and Save The Day (I thought that was Superman's job), then of course he ought to be given a fair hearing. The problem is that he and Dr. Baehr keep giving the same old simplistic arguments which do not answer all the questions they need to, or have to jump through some amazing flaming hoops to arrive at their conclusions, or don't take into consideration a larger context. Peter Chattaway has already made the excellent point of Movieguide focusing almost exclusively on domestic box office receipts, instead of the worldwide impact of a given film. And I would *love* to see how they both account for the overwhelming success of certain movies which they would label as Unacceptable in their content. Take, for instance, movies like "300," or the upcoming film (almost certain to be a huge hit, as well) "Watchmen." As a matter of fact, whatever happened to other content-heavy blockbusters and/or masterpieces like "Silence of the Lambs," "A Clockwork Orange" or "Shakespeare in Love"? For that matter, would slasher films have ever become such a vigorous trend in cinema if the original Friday the 13th or Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street didn't "kill," so to speak, at the box office? If family-friendly movies really are that much more adept at raking in the cash compared to "seedier" cinematic endeavors, why exactly do we now have 5 "Saw" movies?

Hey, if Snyder and Baehr have a compelling answer for those questions, I would be pleased to hear it. But I suspect that if they bother answering at all, it will be business-as-usual with their typical ignoring of key points, whistling past the graveyard, and/or squirming more than an earthworm on a hook to fit all of these inconvenient films into their ideology.

Snyder, there's a reason why that phrase "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" became so popular.

By the way, if Movieguide gets their way and has something like the old moral Code reapplied to films...well, wouldn't that be the worst species of legalism anyone could dare imagine? Not only would Christians be telling other Christians (and the unsaved, as well!) what they can and cannot put into their own unique works of art, but Baehr and Snyder and their ilk would become 21st century Pharisees, with the force of law on their side. Of course, there's no way Christians could abuse this system, right?

As anyone who knows our ministry knows, we do focus also on box office overseas. And, we also examine movies that appear on home video. Guess what, the same stats usually hold. For instance, an analysis of the Top 25 Movies overseas from 2005-2007 shows that 20 of 25 movies, or 80%, had strong or very strong moral and Christian content with biblical/Christian principles and made about 80% of the overseas money of those movies! Every year, we look at the stats for the top movies overseas that make $100 million or more overseas. The point of the political study is to show what Americans and Canadians prefer, politically speaking. Tom Snyder, Editor

Movieguide is looking at box office averages, people. There are successful and unsuccessful movies in almost every category. The question is, what kinds of movies do better on average? CT and Mark actually seem be the ones cherrypicking things out of our articles, comments, reports, and what we do so that they can push some kind of bizarre agenda that I am still trying to figure out. Some of the comments here are starting to sound like the silly things I run into on atheist sites and in movies like RELIGULOUS. We try to apply objective standards based on biblical principles, logic and facts.

By the way, 80% of the Top 10 home video sales in 2008 were MOVIEGUIDE(R) winners. Our winners also include movies that don't so so well at the box office, but, again, we are looking at box office averages in our Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry. And, every year, we do an annalysis of the Top Movies overseas. If we got more funding, we could look at how the Top 250 Movies overseas did, so send us more money instead of some other ministry. Even so, year in and year out, our Annual Report shows that movies which affirm basic faith and values make the most money, and movies that attack faith and values, especially ones that overtly do so, make less money. Even THE DA VINCI CODE movie watered down the anti-Christian content of the book! And, THE GOLDEN COMPASS made less money than even PRINCE CASPIAN! The mass media creates the culture that elects the politicians who sometimes appoint the judges and hire the people who teach your children and grandchildren. You can help the church redeem the values of the mass media, or you can keep nitpicking evangelical, more conservative ministries like ours and remain part of the problem.

Tom, do you really believe the movie version of The Da Vinci Code watered down the book's critique of historical orthodox Christianity? I disagree. The film ramps up the slurs against the early church considerably, with its graphic depiction of Christian mobs branding random pagans, etc. The equivalent passage in the book has no such thing. And that's just one example.

The gap between The Golden Compass ($372.2 million worldwide) and Prince Caspian ($419.7 million worldwide) isn't all that big -- and to the extent that it exists at all, it is because of the North American audience. Overseas, The Golden Compass did better, despite being a generally inferior film. Just imagine what it could have done if it had been any good.

And that, in turn, leads to the deeper problem with your approach, which is that all-important factors like artistic quality and thematic impact simply cannot be reduced to numbers and statistics. How, exactly, do you determine that a movie is "biblical"? Seriously. I mean, even the Narnia movies have been widely criticized for watering down the Christian content of the books. So just how useful a data point are they, really?

As for what "Americans and Canadians prefer", I have been keeping track of the differences between American and Canadian box-office figures at my personal blog for years, and there are some significant cultural differences. You can't lump us together quite so easily.

Are Movieguide's critics supposed to slink away in cowed silence now that you've trotted your title out for us?

Just one question: How does an organization that goes to films to count every use of profanity and exhaustively catalogue every cinematic infraction in dozens of categories get to accuse anyone of nitpicking?

Upper male nudity is a category at Movieguide? Does that mean that all the blokes who go to the beach without a t-shirt on are somehow offensive? Crikey.

*sigh* Tom, statistics can only take you so far. Stop trying to wrench our gaze over to how much green a film did or didn't pile on at the box office. Slasher films are successful, too. Even if you are right about the receipts, you and Dr. Baehr would do well to investigate the reasons *why* these movies are more successful, instead of just assuming that the American public shares your convictions and going along your merry way. As other people pointed out, being able to take more family members to the cinema would be a huge reason why numerous family films end up being successful. I would rather not use this term, but the word "duh" comes to mind.

For what it's worth, a more commendable, godly, loving and patient response would also exercise restraint and not dismissively treat every criticism as something foolish, silly, or unintelligent. If you have actual *REASONS* why such people as Peter Chattaway or Jeffrey Overstreet are being idiotic in their critiques of you and Dr. Baehr, then give them. Don't mindlessly repeat the mantra that "Well, these movies are being more successful, so you guys are obviously idiots. In fact, you're starting to sound like atheists!" It's comments like that which make you seem like the real fool, who is being silly and isn't reading Scripture properly.

If God really meant for Paul to say, "think on whatever is sweet, whatever is comfortable, whatever is not dark or dreary, whatever can be enjoyed by the whole family, whatever promotes capitalism and patriotism," then why did God Himself go through the trouble of dying the excruciating, dark, gory, blood-spattered, demon-surrounded, humiliating death of a common criminal? Furthermore, why does He still command us to ponder this Earth-shattering sacrifice and its implications for us? Why did he put Song of Solomon into the Bible (with erotic language that, if translated into plain English, would be labeled as porn), an entire *book* dedicated to the explicit celebration of sexual love between husband and wife? If decent content and a bright, cheery worldview is what counts, then God's Word violates the very command you and Baehr *love* to claim it gives us.

The Bible could have simply told us "Jezebel died," but instead tells us she was ravished and her carcass torn apart by dogs. Graphic metaphors are given of how the unrepentant will be punished in hell. Reading the Bible itself ruptures your bubble of wholesome family-friendliness which Movieguide wants to set up around every child, a sappy and almost-meaningless ideal so loaded with sugar I just may stumble into a diabetic coma if I were to partake. Most often, it's darkness and the immediate awareness of sin and our fallen nature that tills the ground and makes it the most fertile soil for growth as a follower of Christ. Sequestering yourself from the world and its influences (or worse yet, reestablishing a code of "decency" to force the world to conform to your tastes) only drains the chances people would get for genuine, long-lasting growth by going to the cinema, and sets up the next generation for a violent wake-up call when they stumble out into the world on their own, and Mommy and Daddy aren't there to save them from that X-rated affair we call "real life." How can you and Baehr still claim that your approach to the movies is somehow more "righteous" or "godly" when it only guarantees that the children you seek to protect will be caught off-guard once they leave home, ill-equipped to deal with a fallen mankind and with weaker connections to God Himself? Scripturally, a lack of maturity is never an ideal. It's always seen as an obstacle to overcome. But rather than help remove that barrier, Movieguide's practices only set up extra fences around the American Christian so that he/she cannot grow into a more vigorous and mature person, and then you have the audacity to claim that you are "drawing closer to God" by doing this. Do you and Baehr even remember what criticisms Jesus reserved for the Pharisees?