Alright, this one is about something that has plagued me for a long time. Right from the start, I should say that my opinions on this subject are definitely just opinions, I have even less of an idea in this than in other things. Also, it is very possible that my vision is clouded by my own passions and interests. A strong evidence for this is that the majority of adults whom I respect disagree with me. But the same was true of Luther. So try to keep that in mind as I continue.
Many good parents I know have emphasized the good things about refraining from enjoying some art (by art I mean mostly movies and music) because it has some negative qualities. Basically, it is self-imposed/parent-imposed censorship. Without an in-depth and over my head discussion of aesthetics, I would like to think about this.
Following Aquinas’ example, I would like to present thoughts contrary to my belief first. One argument is derived from Philippians 4:8. Pretty much, they say that you should only think about positive, Christian things. Anything that is not entirely wholesome is not worthy of thinking about. First of all, that’s not exactly what it says. It says that we should think about good things, it never specifies that we shouldn’t think about not good things. It also says, “If there is any excellence….” That seems to me to say that we should focus on positive aspects of a thing. So right off the bat, some counter-arguments could be made. Other Scripture can also contradict the censorship interpretation. 1 Peter 3:15 is commonly thought of as the call to do Apologetics, which requires thinking about arguments against the core of Christianity, which would not fit into that picture. Acts 17:2 talks about Paul “reasoning” with people, which is Apologetics. Jesus himself hung out with deep sinners all the time, which has got to be worse than just watching a movie about vile people. I admit that you could say Jesus had strength that we don’t have, he was doing it only to save them, and other Scripture says to avoid bad company, but it is still a good point. Finally, sin is not a good thing. So under the above reasoning, we should never think about sin, which includes our own sin, which seems to imply we would never actively combat it, which is quite a bad conclusion.
Another thing they say is that perhaps we adults can handle it, but it would harm my little children. There is definitely some value to this. Being a little bit sheltered at a young age is not a bad thing. However, I think that we sometimes underestimate the strength of children; they can be exposed to the nature of sin and not be permanently damaged. Again, I’m not saying we should show six-year-olds R rated movies, but eventually they will become men and women in the world. As they grow older, they should acquire a greater degree of independence, which means making decisions about how their life will turn out, with guidance. Now I am not a parent (in fact, I am still under the rule of two parents), so a simple ad hominem would be quite powerful. But I think that there is at least some value in these thoughts.
It seems to me that the strongest argument they have is that when you see something on the screen or hear it through the speakers, it affects you at a fundamental level. It desensitizes you to the gravity of sin. I’m not so sure. In fact, I’ve found that movies that contain depraved characters can open my eyes even further to the weightiness of sin. I think the key is not removing ourselves from pop culture, it should be to fully engage pop culture with a discerning eye. Perhaps if we just sit back and let the photons roll over us, our soul will be altered. But that is true of all of life! The goal should not be to stop watching things that are uncomfortable, but to understand them within a system of beliefs. Understand what we like about them and what we don’t like, which increases our awareness of humanity at large. Mark 7:14-23 says that no food is unclean, and seems to imply that people are not as much victims of circumstances as we would like to believe. Now I will briefly discuss some verses that support the idea that art affects you deeply, be it positive or negative.
Proverbs 4:23. I think the proper way to guard your heart is to make your foundation be Christ, no matter what your experiences.
1 Corinthians 15:33. Befriending a person is different from watching a movie about that person.
Proverbs 6:27. This is talking about flirting with sexual temptation. I think it could probably be enlarged to temptation in general, but I will talk about that shortly.
1 Peter 5:8. I interpret this to mean Satan is all over the place, including movies. So watch the movie, but watch for Satan as well. Which means being discerning.
Psalm 101, especially verse 3. This is probably the most powerful one. It requires a longer explanation, which is given below.
So. How should we go about making movie decisions? Romans 14 is the answer I think. First of all, praise God for those who worship through not watching certain movies. It may be unjustified, but they mean it as worship, so it is good. Don’t cause petty quarrels about it. (Although discussion is fine, like what I am doing now.) Verse 14 is where the ethics start. If you believe that watching something will be harmful to you or kids, then don’t watch it! Don’t go against your conscience! In fact, if someone thinks something is wrong, you shouldn’t do it around them. If you even have doubts about whether you should be watching something, you shouldn’t watch it. That is the kicker I think. If you sort of think you should maybe not watch a movie, it would be sinful to go ahead and watch it anyway. But now for the question of taste.
My understand of the Psalms is that they present what the emotions of a mature believer look like. I could definitely be completely wrong, but I think I heard that once, and it seems pretty good. So, Psalm 101 is saying that as we grow in faith, the less we will want to be subject to worthless, trashy art. We want deep, Godly meaning in our choices of movies. It’s not that looking at the depravity of man is sinful, we just love the beauty of grace more and more. We can look at a movie, be disgusted at its outright vileness, and not sin or be taken in by it. And as we grow, we see more and more of that in greater detail in every area of life, including entertainment. We should teach children to naturally dislike certain things (like this), not ignore them. This is wrapped up in the idea of discernment I mentioned earlier.
So. As we grow, our valuing will grow. We will begin to enjoy things of God more and more, and hate sin more and more. We should be able to see the problems in movies and dislike them for it, but that doesn’t mean we have an ethical duty to not watch them. It just means we will start to not want to watch them, because we won’t really enjoy them. However, if we or anyone around us thinks something is sinful, then by all means refrain.
Final thoughts. I hope this isn’t controversial or anything. Unity is certainly possible through disagreement. I don’t think it will be, but you never know. And again, I could be completely wrong, and have actually been drawn closer to reversing some views through writing this, because despite it all, it is true that some things you just shouldn’t see. So please, if you have some good insights as to why I am wrong, tell me.