December 28, 2012 by Stacy McDonald
Over the last few years, I have had a number of conversations both online and in person over the topic of Christians and entertainment. There are so many factors involved, and every life is drastically different; so, as far as what movies are acceptable for all Christians, I acknowledge and agree that there is no way to make a “good” and “bad” list.
All sorts of factors affect the way we respond to media stimulation: age, sex, past experiences, disposition, strengths, weaknesses, health, traumas…even our varying personalities play a part in how we’ll be affected. There isn’t a check list that can be applied to every person across the board. I get that.
However, it seems that, among Christians, the topic of entertainment can rile emotions like no other. Defenses go up and arguments are often made before positions or ideas are fully heard.
Let me begin by saying that it is true: A movie cannot in and of itself be sinful; man is sinful. We can’t blame our own lust or propensity for evil on any outside source. Even the most hard core pornographic movie or photo, which we would all probably agree is sinful for any Christian to purposefully view, is not sinful in itself. Sin resides in the heart of man.
Making Provision for the Flesh
Still, Paul warned us to turn to Jesus and avoid providing our sinful flesh with anything that would encourage our lust (whether it is a lust for sex, power, food, money, or violence). “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14) However, exactly what that means for each person will vary. And even the inflammatory power of the particular lust we’re discussing must be weighed.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Obviously, this verse can’t be used as an allowance for pornography; rather, it is a warning that our flesh is weak, and we can easily be brought under the power of sin if we do not constantly cling to Christ, and avoid vice.
Does that mean that the person who avoids being entertained (even stimulated) by a certain evil is weak or immature? Absolutely not!
Instead, it may mean that he has nearly fallen off the cliff, or seen others who have, and has soberly stepped back a few feet. He may even warn those daring souls who attempt to learn their lessons by gazing down to the bottom of the deep ravine, as they stand precariously at the top.
Vicariously Participating in the Sins of Others
The fact is that, via our emotions, watching a movie affects our minds, and even our bodies. We are stimulated by what we place before our senses. During a movie, we are stimulated by our senses of sight and sound. Music, whether it provokes stress, sexual arousal, sadness, excitement, or anger effects our emotions—it affects us.
Many of us learned this fact in grade school with memorable lessons from Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Without realizing it, we are often manipulated by the producers, actors, musicians, and cinematographers who create the movies we watch. They tell us when to be angry, scared, excited, happy, and even sexually aroused.
Next time, try turning down the sound when you watch a scary moving. It’s not nearly as frightening. That’s because the music plays a big part in how your emotions are influenced. Most of the time, this enhances the artistic nature of a good movie; however, it can also be a powerful, negative influence on our minds, depending upon the direction the movie maker plans to take us. I’m certain there is much more to learn about how these things affect our brains.
This is your brain; this is your brain on visual stimulation…
In fact, I invite you to read No Shades of Grey, and learn how scientists are just now discovering how viewing pornography produces certain chemicals in the brain that simulate drug use, and actually physically changes our brains.
Pornography is “a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience.” Boredom and curiosity lead many boys and men into experiences that become more like drug addiction than is often admitted. Pastor Mark Gungor, The Danger of Sexual Promiscuity
So, in a real sense we partake in the movies we watch. Especially if our guard is down, and as we immerse ourselves in the story, we may actually join the characters. If a man in a movie is being a glutton, I can’t join him in his sin. If a man steals from a store on the screen, I have not participated in his thievery. If the main character lies to his father, I am not an accomplice to his deception.
However, there are movies that are designed to professionally manipulate viewers by stirring in them sensual (and sometimes violent) emotions. They may use music, heavy breathing, lighting, enticing dancing or walking, special angles, passion, and the slow (or swift) removal of clothing. If I’m watching and listening to this, I may be in danger of actually participating in the scene emotionally—of sinning vicariously.
But I realize we don’t all agree. I have been trying to understand why so many Christians who otherwise agree so closely theologically in many areas seem to approach these life issues in often drastically different ways – sometimes to the point of seeming to speak a different language entirely.
To the Pure
I’ve been wondering if perhaps it has to do with God’s providence, and the various burns, scars, and otherwise “hard knocks” that many of us later-in-life-Christians have experienced. Others, having been somewhat shielded from the true up-close and personal ugliness of sin and debauchery seem to be a little bolder and perhaps somewhat naïve to its dangers.
While the simple purity which feeds their confidence is commendable (and desirable) on one level, their greater potential for arrogance (and ignorance) puts them in danger in other ways. And, as I watch my own children growing up, I worry that this type of confidence will be contagious.
I don’t blame them; in fact, in a very real way, I envy them. After all, they say even ignorance is bliss. However, as a mother and pastor’s wife, I often have a strange sense of maternal urgency when dealing with these subjects.
Like a mother forced to walk her children through a dangerous mine field that many people don’t even believe is “live,” I am often overwhelmed by the urge to gather my chicks close and wish the world would just go away. Yet, I know that is not what Christ has called us to do. While I find myself grieved over what often seems like arrogant insensitivity, or a lack of empathy toward those of us who have experienced the life-shattering results of Enemy bombing, and lived to…warn about it, I know that we must continue to press on – to live and love and move forward in faith.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
So, if you feel you are able to walk through what would be a mine field for many others, please at least respect those of us who don’t want to risk setting off that bomb in the lives of our families or others who may also be at risk.
Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
I fully acknowledge the fact that just because my brother chooses to watch a movie that I choose to avoid (at least parts of it), does not mean that he is sinning. I can’t know what is going on in his heart; just as he can’t know what is going on in mine.
So, if you hear us warn others of a danger that we feel is very real, and we give good reasons for it, please don’t accuse us of being legalistic, judgmental, or spiritually immature. We won’t judge your motives; please don’t judge ours.
Note: This article is not referencing any specific movie or television show.