December 28, 2012 by Stacy McDonald

The Stimulating Simulation of Sin

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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.



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23 Responses to “The Stimulating Simulation of Sin”

  1. debbie says:

    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
    Phil 4:8
    So I will not watch ANY movie or tv show that is offensive or not pure or lovely…..for this IS THE WORD OF GOD. There is no medium to this…..we are either DOERS of the Word of not.

  2. Rita says:

    I love this article.
    Some of the “innocent” movies we used to watch suddenly made us close our eyes this Christmas. Parts of films that the makers think will do no harm suddenly appear as what they are- horrible.

    Our hearts have been softened by God’s Grace alone so that even a novel I am reading to review it- a Christian novel- is going to get a two star review from me. For me at least, that novel does not help me think of men as “brothers in all purity.”

    I do not sense legalism from you at all- I sense a loving heart that hates sin and does not want us to flirt with it. I have found that that same stuff which fils and novels try to sell me for “fun” does not lure me any more.

    After reading about the beauty of Biblical Courtship, I am disgusted by movies like the one you describe. Why watch it? For me at least, I was sinning vicariously when I watched them or read them. To be frank- that is why I watched them and read them.

    All I want to do by saying that is to testify of God’s goodness in saving me. If it honestly is not leading you into sin- then that is between you and God. But if it is- I am a living testimony that I do not miss it!

  3. Rita says:

    I meant films and novels- not fils!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Um, what did Paul mean “all things is lawful to me”??

    I do disagree on one level: I believe some movies are sinful. The writers and producers can be very sinful, and I speak of some films I’ve heard of that have had nothing but grotesque, gratitious violence or exploitation.

  5. ChristinMom says:

    Stacy, yes, there IS “no shades of gray”. Sin is sin and will always be sin. God knows our hearts and He knows just how weak we are. If He says don’t participate (in any way), we shouldn’t.
    Love your post. I’m with you all the way.

  6. Jennifer says:

    “All things ARE lawful”, Paul said; hate how my grammar slipped!

    Excellently put at the end of the article, Stacy. As an OCD person especially, I’ve come to respect more than ever those who are very cautious.

  7. rcjr says:

    Stacy,
    Thank you for this, thoughtful and gracious as always. I have, as you know, been accused from time to time of legalism over this issue and that, libertinism on this other issue and that. God in His grace speaks to some close calls in Romans and I Corinthians- meat offered to idols, days and seasons, etc. Trouble is, the Bible doesn’t come to us equipped with a list of those issues which are clearly sins, which are not, and which are meat offered to idols issues. When someone with a more tender conscience than we might have affirms, “I will not do x” my response is, “God bless you.” However, when the tender conscienced one says, “I will not do x because while all things are lawful, all things are not helpful” we are inching closer to saying “On the one hand x is not a sin, and on the other, x is a sin.” But, when we go one step further and say, “I will not do x because we are to think on whatever is pure, whatever is noble” we have clearly stepped over a line and said “X is a sin.” Now X may well be a sin. But when asked for evidence that it is, having laid out Phil 4:8, we can’t then retreat to, “Well, I’m not saying it’s a sin. I wouldn’t do it, but you certainly may.” Neither can we say to those who object to having X placed in that category of that which is not pure and noble, “Please stop judging me for avoiding X.” That is, those who call “Retreatist! Fearer of the world!” at you are guilty, but no more guilty than you for calling, “Dancer on the edge! Naive danger diminisher!”

    Those who think X is a good thing have two choices. They can silently do X, or they can make a biblical case that doing X is a good thing. Those who think X is a bad thing have two choices. They can silently not do X, or they can make a biblical case that doing X is a sin. All this in-between stuff, this “I’m not saying it’s a sin but…” or, “I’m not saying anyone has to do this but…” is where we end up in a place filled with pride and judging on all sides. Both sides want to clear their own consciences, find the other side guilty, all without having to take up the burden of proving their case. Which creates internet fodder, and a whole lot of unnecessarily hurt feelings. That’s my two cents. Sorry you all weren’t able to make it, grateful to have seen some of your blessings. You are blessed indeed.

  8. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi RC – We were so sorry to have missed the wedding, as well as missed seeing your family, but we are glad some of the kids were able to make it.

    Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your thoughts as always. However, I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to communicate what you said here:

    “Well, I’m not saying it’s a sin. I wouldn’t do it, but you certainly may.”

    If something is actually a sin, it’s a sin for everyone. My point was that sin resides in the heart, so there is no way to know whether or not another person sinned when they watched a movie, regardless of what is in it.

    In fact, technically, is pornography a sin? Lust is a sin, and I can’t imagine any other reason someone would have for viewing it; but, is the pornography the sin, or is it the act of lust in the heart – the imaginations of the adulterous mind?

    I’m thinking out loud here for the most part, but, regarding your comment:

    “However, when the tender conscienced one says, “I will not do x because while all things are lawful, all things are not helpful” we are inching closer to saying “On the one hand x is not a sin, and on the other, x is a sin.”

    I don’t agree. There are plenty of examples of things that are foolish to do – things that make it likely for us to be tempted to sin – but aren’t actually sins in and of themselves. We may warn our sons to avoid the beach during Spring Break, but can we say it’s a sin to go? No. Still, we’ll warn them and give them good reasons why it would be foolish to put themselves in the middle of that. But we can’t say that our son’s friend, John, who went to the beach anyway, sinned simply because he went. We don’t know what went through his head or heart. Though we might say he’s stupid. ;-)

    Is it a sin for a man to eat at Hooters? I would say the act of eating at Hooters is not necessarily a sin. There is no law that forbids it, and there is no way we can know if a man sinned in his heart while he was there. We may question his motives for choosing the place, but he could just as easily excuse himself by saying the restaurant was more convenient to his office, cheaper etc. He could tell us that he is spiritually mature enough to handle it and that he has his lust under control, so such things don’t bother him.

    We would probably all agree that his decision to eat there not only harms his testimony, and possibly his marriage, but he’s also putting himself in a stupid and unnecessary situation – one that invites lust. “All things are lawful, all things are not helpful”

    So, as unlikely as it may be, if a well done movie with a good worldview message also contained several truly pornographic scenes (artistic license), should we support Christians watching the movie? (This is purely hypothetical, by the way) If Christians are promoting it, should we warn others about watching the problematic scenes? Should spiritually mature men, because they are in control of their fleshly lusts, view pornography because it happens to be in the middle of a well-done movie with a godly message?

    Where do you draw the line? If a scene is obscene or lewd, whether or not it’s considered pornographic, is there no room for warning of the danger of viewing it?

  9. rcjr says:

    Hey Stacy,

    We may well be on the same page. I, however, didn’t say that saying something is not helpful is the same thing as saying it is a sin. I said this was inching in that direction. It was, however, other commentators, (or perhaps just one) who were praising your piece who dropped the “Whatever is noble…” quote that I believe did cross over the line to saying this is a sin. So, what I’m saying is, by all means let us be willing to say to one another- “It is not a sin to go to Hooters” and let us be willing to say, “It is not helpful to go to Hooters” without people in the first camp getting their knickers in a twist about the people in the second camp, and vice versa. In both instances we end up using inflammatory language (Can you watch a great movie with snippets of porn? I served brownies with just a smidge of dog droppings on the one hand and on the other hand- So and so is gnostic, thinking the sin is in the thing itself because he won’t go to the beach or Don’t be a retreatist baptist. Drink beer like me). We end up with either “Wise people don’t go see The Mis” or “Bold, world-shaping people do go see The Mis” which was precisely my point. We end up acting like one or the other is sin.

  10. Stacy McDonald says:

    Amen and Amen!!

  11. Jennifer says:

    Well, could either one of you please explain your thoughts on Paul’s meaning of the “everything is lawful” comment? Thanks.

  12. julie says:

    “Even the most hard core pornography, which I believe we would all agree should be vehemently rejected by any Christian, is not sinful in itself.”

    WHAT????
    Is this truly what you meant to write? I beg to differ. Yes, it is sinful!

    Think for just one moment what constitutes sin? It isn’t just things that Christians ought to avoid that makes them sinful. What is sinful is what GOD considers sin. God hates sin, all sin. Whether Christians agree or not or whether they partake or not. Thou shall not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife. Pornography breaks at least these two commandments, if not several more. Therefore it is sinful. This does not even take into account the whole motivation behind pornography which is also impure to the nth degree and God looks at the heart. Stacy, I am not sure what you meant by writing this but please reconsider.

  13. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Julie,

    I think maybe you’re misunderstanding me. Pornography itself (magazines, movies, etc.) are inanimate objects. The sin is not in the object; sin resides in the heart of man.

  14. Diana says:

    Bunch a crazy talk here, IMO. Phil 4:8 means something. There are things tgat are truly lovely, goood..edifying. Otherwise tge command means nothing. We are to avoid things like coarse jesting, filthy ,unedifying speech of filthy things etc. No way will yoi ever convince me tgat watching porn is not a sin for everyone. Cant believe you two are talking in such a confusing way that may lead others to justify sin.

    A wise man forsees evil and hides himself….he is intentional about what he does or doesnt do. Whatever you do, do all in the name of tge Lord and for Him…to honor Him. Porn? Shaking my head in bewilderment!

    Loved most of this article though, and I appreciate tge post.

  15. Stacy McDonald says:

    Diana – If you think I am saying that partaking in pornography is ever a justifiable sin for anyone, you are completely reading my words wrong. A man cannot blame his sin on an inanimate object. If he could, he could justify his actions by blaming his sin on his surroundings. A man owns his own sin – sin that resides in his own heart. It’s up to him to avoid things like pornography, or other less inflammatory resources that still give provision for his flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

    “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14)

  16. Stacy McDonald says:

    Jennifer -my comment on 12/29 pretty much describes my take on 1 Cor. 6:12. It is a warning that our flesh is weak, and, though we are under grace, we can easily be brought under the power of sin if we do not constantly cling to Christ in faith, and avoid vice.

  17. Jennifer says:

    I agree, Diana. Porn itself is sinful because the people involved are/were sinning.

  18. Melissa says:

    Porn denegrates women to objects. This is in no way lawful… And in every way a sin. I appreciate the heart of your post, however. I think entertainment has become a place of idolatry– it’s no wonder everyone gets their feathers ruffled. May we spend our time proclaiming Jesus and His salvation!

  19. Stacy McDonald says:

    Once again, Melissa, I was not insinuating in any way that viewing porn is ever lawful. Partaking in porn is in my opinion either an adulterous act or it’s the same as fornication in the mind. But we can’t blame our sin on the paper and ink. Sin resides in our hearts, and a movie doesn’t have to be legally “pornographic” to be used by man (or woman) as a resources for lust.

    Matthew 5:29–30 (NKJV):If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

  20. Crystal in Alaska says:

    Forgive me for commenting on an older article…I just wanted to say that I understand what you mean by pornography itself not being sin…you mean the material, the paper and ink like you said. The magazine on the table is not a piece of sin that you shouldn’t get to close to or some might get on you! It’s sin in the heart that causes you to pick up that magazine. It was sin in the heart that caused everyone involved to produce that material. Although, it sure can feel like sin is waiting around a corner ready to pounce!

  21. Tim says:

    Hi Stacy, like a lot of what you say, though I disagree with some as well. Have you ever listened to these talks by Fr. Ripperger on movies(http://www.sensustraditionis.org/webaudio/Sermons/Disk1/Movies.mp3), and on music(http://www.sensustraditionis.org/webaudio/Tulsa/Music.mp3)? They are super informative and I haven’t ever heard any other priest or pastor speak on them like he does. Enjoy! Thanks for writing this post!

  22. Stacy McDonald says:

    These were great, Tim! Thanks!

  23. Hello Stacey, my wife, Marie, recently became your friend on Facebook and has been telling me about you, including this blog. So, today I decided to come and check it out. I’m glad I did. Thank you for your thoughtful and much-needed post. Many of the comments from your readers seem to support your third paragraph:

    “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.”

    Whether the misunderstanding of some is a matter or semantics, or rather an example of what RC was talking about, I’m not sure, but I completely understand and agree with you comment about the inherent sinfulness of pornography, itself.

    Is pornographic material degrading to women and dishonoring to God? Absolutely. Are the producers, participants (can they truly be called “actors”?), and distributors of pornography desperately wicked? Undoubtedly. But to say that that the end product, whether film, audio, photographs, books, articles, etc. are in and of themselves sinful is not technically correct. It is, indeed, the lust that resides in the heart of man that is sinful.

    By way of analogy, this reminds me of the gun-control debate. The ever-popular argument of gun-control proponents is that “guns kill people” (or, that guns cause crime, or whatever other variation on this theme). Of course, the reality is that [sinful] PEOPLE kill people. In the same way, pornographic materials do not put lust in the heart; rather it is the lust in the heart that prompts man to pursue pornography.

    IMO, this is a non-argument. Since we are created in God’s image (ie. with his moral law written on our hearts), I think everyone here would agree, in the end, as to the proper response when confronted with pornography (or any other questionable content in “entertainment”).

    “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17

    I like Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse:
    “We are taught, in the whole of our conduct, to act up to our own convictions, and, whether we have to do with God or men, to see that we never go contrary to our own knowledge; it is aggravated sin; it is sinning with a witness; and it is to have the worst witness against his own conscience.”

    Thanks for the post, Stacey, and keep up the good work. Lord bless.

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