This past weekend, Jonathan and I watched the film The Book of Eli. I know. It’s been out for a while. We’re still catching up on all the movies we didn’t get to watch during my spring semester. Thank you, Netflix.
Despite the frequent violence and sometimes gritty language (which lent much realism to the story), it was an intensely beautiful film. The allegorical plot line was brilliantly executed, leaving an impression on me that I will ponder for a long time. Had I pre-judged (and declined watching) Book of Eli based only on its rating, I would have missed out on an experience with true intellectual and spiritual value.
How then, should we as Christians properly discriminate when it comes to the realm of entertainment? Are there definite lines? Are those lines different for one person compared to another? Should we completely restrict ourselves to only Christian TV, film, and literature? This is a complex issue, to be sure, but not putting serious thought into how we feed our psyche is not only careless, it’s dangerous. Books have already been written on this subject, and it is not my goal to summarize all of their excellent points here. Rather, I’d like to give a brief, digestible argument for discernment when it comes to entertainment.
When considering what we are willing to expose ourselves to, I believe there are some elements of content that should cause an automatic red light. This list would include:
1. Sexual content (on-screen portrayal of sex acts, predominantly sexual themes/dialogue)
2. Glorification of sinful lifestyles (homosexuality, promiscuity/infidelity, idolatry, the occult, substance abuse, etc.)
3. Anti-Christian themes (blasphemy, mockery of Christianity or ugly parody of Christians)
4. Excessive, pointless use of profanity or gore (ever heard the term gore-porn?)
Forms of entertainment that use any of the above should be (I believe) ruled out automatically. It’s dangerous to underestimate the subconscious effects they can (and almost certainly will) have. What we consume visually and audibly has an impact on us, and repeated exposure amplifies that, for better or for worse.
With that said, I think it’s important to realize that secular entertainment can have redeeming qualities that truly enhance life. A film that permanently deepened my understanding of humanity was Schindler’s List. What about the glorious themes of selfless love, perseverance, and faith in the face of evil throughout the book The Lord of the Rings?
So, aside from the red-light list above, how do we make a decision about any particular film, TV program, or book? Obviously, this is going to be somewhat subjective, and differ from one person to another. I think we can make sensible decisions by asking ourselves a few questions:
1. What’s behind my desire to see this movie/TV program or read this book? This will be different from one person to the next, but you MUST be honest with yourself! Ask questions such as: would I still want to see this movie if all of the opposite-sex character leads were very plain-looking or downright unattractive? Ouch, right? (Seriously, I wonder how many “Twi-hards” we’d have if the vampires didn’t look like Calvin Klein models. In Hollywood, lust = $$$$.) Identify your motivation and compare it to biblical principles.
2. Does the film/book/TV show have positive redeeming qualities? A comedy based on potty or sexual humor probably doesn’t contain many good or even decent qualities. Sorry.
3. Is there a prominent plot element that would make it easier for me to stumble in some area of my own life? A movie/TV show/book that condones (even if it doesn’t glorify) adultery is probably a bad idea, especially if you’ve struggled with that particular temptation. The movie that sticks out most in my mind in this regard is Bridges of Madison County. It’s portrayed as a beautiful love story between a woman and a man that is not her husband. The story attempts to invoke a deep sympathy for the characters and their “plight,” and by the end of the film, viewers find themselves WANTING the woman to leave her (kind and loving) husband and children to run away with the other man. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve heard talking about watching that film and yelling “Open the door!” at the climactic scene near the end. How do we reconcile feeling that way about fictional characters with what we believe about biblical truth? Should we spend time on entertainment that creates within us a sympathy for sin?
Ultimately, there will always be content that we didn’t know about ahead of time, and trailers and synopses don’t usually talk about the more subtle moral/ethical elements of a story. The best tactic for dealing with these prior unknowns is to analyze what you read and view after the fact. What worldview themes did you notice? What does the Bible have to say about the behaviors and values promoted by the book or film? Spend some time talking about that with friends/family who accompanied you to the movie or who also read the book. Identify the things that were discordant with Christianity.
Being discriminating in our choice of entertainment goes a long way in honoring God with our minds and keeps us from a lot of extra temptation we wouldn’t otherwise have to deal with. It’s an individual issue, but by making an effort to be informed about our choices prior to exposure and identifying our own weaknesses and motivations, we can more carefully guard our minds and hearts to the glory of God.