Based on a previous post about the comedian and my response to that I recently had a short discussion with a friend of mine on the merits of Christian consumption of entertainment. Specifically about how our entertainment speaks and how we receive, respond, and even have a voice with it. I had that discussion and while I was still pondering how this works I heard a radio discussion about why Harry Potter was not allowed to have Christian themes or anything redemptive because of its use of magic.
I know that Harry Potter was so five years ago but this still speaks to the current problem of what do we consume for entertainment. Now I have read all the Harry Potter books and watched all the movies. That perhaps lets me speak to the issue or admit that I can’t because I have already succumbed to its “magic” as another Christian dupe. But I will attempt to cast my spell and see if I have any influence at all. Expelliarmus!!
Now perhaps my obvious bias will turn off a few but kidding aside, Christians do need a response on entertainment, but it should be based on the Bible and reason and not fear. I will focus on just a few areas used within entertainment: sex, violence, and magic with pagan practices.
So let’s ask some hard questions should Christians watch “R” movies? What content should be avoided? Are some subjects too evil for Christians to view? Can Christians engage in any of these without it being sin?
I will admit that the one that I think makes the most sense is sex. This is one with the least nuance. This is the one that Bible tells us to flee from. This is the one that Job made a covenant with his eyes over. This is the one that proverbs warns us against. This is the one that can cause marriages to be destroyed. This is the one that Leviticus has the most addendums to for wrong practices. This is the one that gets repeated in the New Testament over and over again to take extra caution over.
So what should the Christian response be? Shame? Fear? No we have tried that and it doesn’t work. The Christian response should not therefore be that it is evil or shameful, but it does need a warning.
Some want to say “Well, that is the Old Testament” and true enough it is, but these warnings and commands are reiterated in the new Testament by Paul and then again at the Jerusalem council. The issue was on what, if any, parts of the law Gentiles need to pay attention to. See Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Acts. Then some say “But Song of Songs is all about sex!” True it is, but a theme of the book is not to awaken it before its time. This is the point, sex is an amazing thing, when it’s in the right context.
The song of songs is meant to celebrate sexual love. Which it is, a celebration of a gift of God. The Bible even contains stories of sex, but when it does the purpose was about the heirs that come from them and not for the purpose to arouse, when it is not about a bigger purpose the Bible is replete with warnings after warnings on this subject.
Let’s teach our kids that it is not a hateful, shameful thing, but that it is a wonderful thing but that it is reserved for marriage. So sexual content? In marriage? Good. For arousal and entertainment outside of marriage? Bad. For more information read your Bible. This is why porn is a problem, it involves actual people most of the time and its cause is for arousal. Christ clarified the way this sin works with the mind, so lust is the real problem, this happens with actual contact or not.
It seems to me that in the 80’s and before, sex was often used in movies to communicate that the couple actually loved each other. Obviously this had range as well, but now it seems that sex is simply used to entice. It sells, it always has, but it didn’t used to be only for a enticement. It seems as the times go on and as we become much more “mature” and able to handle these things we are simply injecting it into more and more of our entertainment.
I once had a friend who had recently got married and told me that he still went to topless bars. I was surprised not because he was a Christian, because he wasn’t, but because this type of sin actively wars against the vows of marriage. I asked him why and he gave me the typical response, that he simply looked and didn’t touch. I told him that I could never do that because it causes desire which leads to more darker, more tactile places. Then I asked him how long did he think it would be before only looking wasn’t enough? He got the point.
So 50 shades of Grey? Nope.
Violence, this one is perhaps more nuanced than sex because it is in all stories. The Bible is full of stories of war and battles and the victors are viewed as heroes and God frequently communicates himself to us as a warrior which is something to be looked up to. Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for war. War involves violence. God frequently involved his people in war and conflict, and used it as a legitimate punishment for evil. Even if the evil was other forms of violence.
The Bible encourages people to view warriors and victors as honorable and worthy or praise. The question then becomes all violence? Well no, the Ninevites for example are historically known for their brutality and gory shows that they put on to scare their enemies. This is why Jonah didn’t want to preach repentance to them because of the gross nature of their violence. The rule of an eye for eye was implemented not to make the world go blind as Gandhi said, but was to restrain evil. This was to put a cap on violence. We tend to go overboard with this stuff.
True enough that in the New Testament Jesus comes and shows a more excellent way. He shows the way of restraint and he seems to teach passivity when it comes to our experience of personal violence. But God himself essentially says leave the violence to me. “Vengeance is mine.” Actual violence is to be avoided by Christians. But violence is given to the government to restrain evil, that is until God arrives on the scene to deal with it himself. God doesn’t himself have a problem with punitive justice.
So violence is nuanced, God uses it, but should we be entertained by it? Well again the Bible frequently uses valor and victories to tell a story, so that does not seem so out of bounce. But what about gore? What about slasher flicks? Well I would draw the line there. It would be similar to the games of the Roman empire. Sure there were victors with stories of honor but essentially it was slaves in a bloody sport to the death for the citizens entertainment. Like how WWE is only for entertainment, except people were actually killed, and the acting was better. I don’t believe that Christians should have attended the Roman games and we should avoid gory entertainment, especially when there isn’t any redeeming factor. I wish zombie movies could tell there bleak and human survival stories without having to emphasize and capitalize on the gore, maybe a pipe dream?
The gore element seems to be the ‘lust’ factor in violence, it is only to entice with death. It seems silly to discuss brutality factors but that does seem to be the point. What is this violence enticing me too? Is it causing me to honor soldiers and valor or is it enticing me to glory in death? This may be why the Gospels exclude the gory details of crucifixion. The fact the word excruciating had to be invented to describe it should be enough to make the point. If not Mel Gibson helped us on this bit.
A further nuance? Well violence in films and TV do not hurt actual people in the making. The way Jesus addressed this sin was anger leading to violence. When we view violence it is not typically fueling anger in the person watching as porn does with lust. Violence is usually a MacGuffin, which is why we walk away with such themes as self-sacrifice, justice, honor, service, camaraderie, valor etc. While again in porn there is no MacGuffin it is about the acts being witnessed, it is to stimulate. This is why a book or a movie about the gulf war or famous battle is fine.
So Saving Private Ryan? Fine.
I believe for the Christian the purpose is how do I think Christianly about this? The Christian must answer these questions to engage culture. It must be more than a knee-jerk reaction to offense but a Biblical response, especially when the outside world loves to point out hypocrisy. So take the time to learn why the Bible says what it says and when it says it. Learn why the Bible had battles and had heroes. Psst. it had something to do with God’s judgement. For another example that maybe defies the gore element I spoke on? To avoid a knee jerk reaction, think about the Passion of the Christ. It was gorier than most films but the point was to show what Christ suffered for us, the extent of his suffering. I think that that is very redemptive. This was a unique situation where the gore did help the point, but again use your Christian mind to decide.
This is just such a big topic that these first two points have taken longer than I had thought, so I will do part two next time.