I took a couple of vacation days last week. One thing which helped me relax more than anything else was pulling the plug on Facebook for a couple of days. For just those precious few hours, I could afford to have zero online presence. I could remain blissfully unaware of the public outpouring of life’s most intimate details — and better: no belligerent political posts the entire time. My soul was refreshed. In place of it all, I got even more reading done than usual.

Of course, if we are what we eat, then we also think how we read. The ideas we willingly ingest, the ones in which we marinate our minds for hours, eventually become our own. Oh sure, we give proper credit to the originator of those ides, but we still speak them and believe them just the same. Who among us can truthfully say a book, any book, has never made an impact on our lives? Who can rightly claim the printed word, ink on paper in a binding, has never influenced their thinking one jot? Even if we ourselves never pick up a book (the horror!), the people we interact with each day do, and their choice of reading material thus affects us, too, albeit indirectly. Yes, books have nigh infinite capabilities to alter even our paradigmatic beliefs.And that’s what makes them so very dangerous.

For that reason, I, bibliovore than I am, have frequently purged my own library. There have been books I have read and owned which made me a worse human being. Oddly enough, they have always been fiction. I’ve read things as morally repulsive as The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf, for example, without becoming a socialist or a fascist. Such bold claims are easily rejected for their very boldness, just as a woman may smack a particularly lascivious suitor for his brazenness. The ideas which get to me are more insidious, fundamental assumptions made for the sake of the narrative. And once convinced of their truth and necessity (for the book’s sake) to make the world go ’round, it’s difficult to shake the notion those ideas are foundational for the real world, too.

Such is the power and the danger of books.

We’ve all bought into false narratives before. We’ve all had to dispel the errant notions undergirding our thinking; we’ve all experienced paradigm shifts. Sometimes it’s even been because of good things.

As Christians, our lives are Theocentric — God-centered. We organize everything we do around God, around the gospel of Jesus Christ. To do so, however, requires a book. We come to know God first and foremost through the written (and subsequently preached) word of God, the Holy Bible. That word — that book — provides central guiding principles for our lives. It offers a complete worldview, teaching us how to think, how to scrutinize the countervalues spoken to us by the world. It provides something holy and good, and that is what should fill our minds: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellent, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

That’s our guideline for all entertainments (and other things), too, to be sure. But let us apply it especially to our books, to those things which so directly affect our worldview — and which may lead us into the path of salvation.


That’s Entertainment

The recent release of the Deadpool movie causes mixed feelings in me. On the one hand, they put one of Marvel’s most entertaining characters on the big screen (chimichangas optional). On the other hand, “The Merc with a Mouth” is exactly that: a mouthy, vulgar, profanity-laden anti-hero. I find it telling that when typing “Deadpool review” into the search bar, the second autocomplete option is “for parents.” If you try “Deadpool ch” (like you’re searching for Deadpool with the aforementioned chimichangas,” the third option down is “Christian review.” As fun as the movie may be (I haven’t seen it), it raises some issues about propriety, parenting, and the theology of media.

We live in a world saturated with media. Everywhere we look, everywhere we go has some sort of image/song/video. We haven’t been safe in the car since the invention of the radio, and now DVD players are prevalent in “family vehicles” (which I put in quotation marks because I operate under the assumption anything labeled “family” involves spending time with one’s family, not isolated into individual consumption of Loony Tunes or Spongebob Squarepants; but I digress). While you’re stationary, there are a variety of options: the cinema, Netflix, smartphones (another way to avoid talking to anyone), the Internet (in all its beautiful and horrific glory), iPods . . . you name it. It’s little wonder the average person encounters 600+ advertisements a day as a conservative study estimated. No matter where we turn, we’re bombarded with media and the ads which keep it going. (And the ads are frequently more vile than the actual programming.)

Several obvious questions arise from all of this. How do we decide what to watch/listen to? Are there biblical guidelines about mp3s and Internet usage? If something is labeled adult, can I watch it in good conscience as long as I keep it away from my children? How much swearing, sex, and violence is permissible until I’m obligated to change channels or leave the theater?

I think the simplest answer is simply to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and maintain an attitude of constant discernment (and constant vigilance). In order to do that, however, we should take a look at a few keys verses:

  • Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. (Philippians 4:8)
  • A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  (Luke 6:45)
  • What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them. . . . Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them. (Matthew 15:11, 17-20)
  • Be holy, because I am holy (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16

In our world, many things compete to fill our hearts. The entertainment industry is a major player, seeking to shape our thoughts and opinions just as much as it tries to take up our time and provide amusement.  When our hearts encounter evil things on a regular basis, they slowly change to reflect that input. And while it may give you nightmares or anxiety, there are far more dire consequences than that. Think about it: do you tend to swear more after you’ve been around people who swear constantly, or do you use more profanity after studying your Bible? Are you more likely to come home drunk after a night at the bar or after a night playing board games with your small children? Do you become so desensitized to violence after watching episode after episode of a particularly violent show that you forget seeing such gore is not normal in the real world? Do you crave violent, abusive sex after watching reruns of The Brady Bunch, or does that come from prolonged usage of pornography?

What we let inside our hearts and our minds eventually gets reflected in our souls. Our personalities can change simply because of the movies we see, the books we read, and the songs we listen to. Once that internal change happens, then the things which defile us — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander — start showing up in our external lives. You didn’t mean to become a habitual liar; it just sort of happened after binge-watching __________.  You were horrified your toddler used that word . . . and then you remember where he/she heard it. Repeatedly.

For this reason, Paul says we should dwell on things with are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. When we let these things into our lives, our hearts become oriented towards them, just like the negative things. We become receptive to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit shapes us into people of holiness, we begin to show the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The garbage is cleared away, the weeds are torn out, and we become a fruitful people who live lives pleasing to God.

Don’t get me wrong: you can’t hide from everything which might potentially be offensive. It’s important to maintain a critical attitude of discernment to determine what is and what isn’t appropriate entertainment. If you follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I believe you’ll make the right choices about your media consumption. Just take time to consider what you watch and listen to, always with an attitude of holiness. And if all else fails, remember two things: God will always love you, and every television comes with an off switch.