If your holiday plans include seeing a recent movie, you've got a wide range of spiritually themed films to choose from, according to Robert W. Butler of the Kansas City Star.
Call it religion. Or if that makes you uncomfortable, go with the more general "spirituality."
Whatever you call it, it's everywhere at the multiplex these days.
In movies as varied as the dead serious "The Road," the uplifting family picture "The Blind Side," the biting comedy "The Invention of Lying" and even James Cameron's sci-fi opus "Avatar," issues of faith and morality and mankind's place in the universe are all the rage .
Not all of these movies embrace religion. Some question human gullibility. Some ask for evidence of a higher purpose in what often seems a random universe. But whether they encourage prayer or doubt, they're all part of the zeitgeist.
Butler asks Greg Wright, an editor at www.HollywoodJesus.com, to explain why there are so many spiritual movies.
"The more paranoid elements of our culture tend to think Hollywood has a proactive agenda, that producers have a grand scheme to use movies to shape the thinking of audiences. I don't subscribe to that school.
"I believe that Hollywood gives audiences what audiences want to see. If people don't want to see movies with certain messages, they won't buy tickets.
"So if there's a trend out there, it's one reflecting what people are already thinking and feeling."
Butler also quotes Sister Rose Pacatte of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles. See sees the new animated version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" as a timely reminder that riches offer no salvation. And she believes "Up in the Air" is a modern "Christmas Carol."
And Mark Moring of Christianity Today is quoted on "The Blind Side," the most evangelical of the new films (and the one that shows the continuing box office power of evangelical believers, especially a large African-American audience that appreciates respect for faith).
Butler doesn't offer interpretations of the films' theology. There's no room in a story that also mentions "The Road," "The Lovely Bones," "The Invention Of Lying," "The Book Of Eli," "Legion," "The Last Station" and my top film of the year, "A Serious Man."
Meanwhile, columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times offered this reading of "Avatar," going so far as to say that this is the film that perfectly expresses the vague, default religious faith of Hollywood in recent decades:
"Avatar" is Cameron's long apologia for pantheism -- a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.
Apparently multiple gospels are available at the multiplex. Happy generic holidays, indeed!
PHOTO: From "A Serious Man."