Saturday, August 6, 2011

Christians Consuming Questionable Media

So many movies and TV shows that promote worldviews that are not inline with Christianity (some blatantly anti-Christian) are coming out these days. I'm a big special effects guy. So any movie or show that will have lots of computer generated graphics tends to lure me. I love to see how accurately the effects are portraying reality. When I see the simulation of physics (movements) and electromagnitism (light) so close to the real world that its difficult to tell the difference, I get really excited. I love to see artistic talent used to imitate reality. I also like to see fictional worlds that contain phenomena that do not exist in reality. The level of design, talent, and time that I see behind this stuff leaves me in awe. I can't help but think of how the Christian worldview is really the only one that can explain the existence of something so arbitrary to survival as creativity, and how that creativity is evidence of the Image of God in every person. 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the movies and shows that require such effects that bring that kind of enjoyment in me are those that posit some kind of reality (or worldview) that is in direct conflict with my own. I am aware that continued exposure to certain ideas will cause one to accept them. And that causes a great struggle for me when deciding if I want to watch certain movies or TV shows, and with the realization that I may soon be a father, it also makes me consider how I might allow the consumption in my family.

When I really decided to set down and struggle through this, the first thing that I thought of was a quote by Ravi Zacharias: "Anything that refreshes you without distracting from, diminishing, or destroying the final goal is a legitimate pleasure in your life."

This can also be reworded to state, "Anything that distracts from, diminishes, or destroys the final goal is an illegitimate pleasure in your life."

To apply this, we need to know what our final goal is. As Christians we are to love the Lord with all our hearts, soul,  mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). Not to mention that we are to also be carrying out the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). We also need to know what would distract us from those goals. If consuming certain media will not distract us from those goals, then I think that we are fine in consuming them. However, if they will, then we should not.

Even though I am aware of the possible issues with continued exposure, and I have things in place to work against them, as a Christian, I also need to remember to not do things that might cause another brother to stumble (even if we don't see a problem with it). Not only do I need to be aware of what may distract me from my goal, but I need to be aware of others who are watching me. People watch what Christians do intently. People may see that I am a strong Christian, but then see me watch something like Avatar and enjoy it (with mute on, of course) and begin to question my commitment to Christ and/or my theological convictions. Avatar has graphics that made my jaw drop, but it unabashedly promotes concepts of the universe and god that are in direct conflict with Christianity and consequently, reality. Do I jeopardize someone's understanding of my Christian character and beliefs by indulging in movies such as Avatar?

I believe that those people need to exercise some graciousness in this aspect. When Christians consume this kind of material, it is not necessarily because we are weak theologically or in our relationship to God. Many people consume this material in order to be in touch with the culture and be able to reach a culture that is engrossed in such entertainment. These types of people need to be reached for the Gospel too. The people who can consume this material without it working against their goal (but, in fact, promoting the goal) are the ones called to reach these people. We are all part of the Body of Christ, and the member who consumes this material for this reason is no less important or valuable than the member who does not because it may cause them issues. Many Christians consume media to get a feel for what is being pushed on a culture. It is a way to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have versus a reason for why other worldviews (including the ones promoted in questionable media) are, in fact, hopeless.

There may also be absolutely no theological reason for consuming the media. (This was the case for me before I got into defending the Christian worldview. I went to these movies just for the effects.) In that case, as long as the test above passes, there is no need to deny yourself or another some entertainment. Today, I go to these kind of movies for both reasons: for the enjoyment of the art and for the cultural understandings. (Of course, this is not limited to just movies with great special effects [mainly action, sci-fi, and fantasy], even ones with no special effects, such as dramas or comedies can all promote a worldview or just a behavior that is contradictory to Christianity.)

The real danger here comes when I think that I have to incorporate a certain worldview into reality (from continued exposure that psychologically guides the person into gradually accepting it as true). If I were to think that the worldview presented in Avatar and the one presented in The Passion of the Christ are both equally true, that is when I am allowing the movies to influence my theology. That is when it is time to take a long break. I have to keep any inclinations that I might have to think that I have to incorporate a certain worldview into reality in check. The author of the letter to the Hebrews cautions believers to "not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another..." (10:25). If I attempt to figure out theology in isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ, I have influences from every source (including Hollywood) except those who God has given me to hold me responsible on earth- His Church.

Ever since I have been back in fellowship with Christians (and especially apologists), I find that I am more likely to see the underlying worldview being portrayed, with all its logical fallacies. My wife is a huge fan of StarGate SG-1 (IMDB and Wikipedia), and somehow she got me hooked. I can't help but see how the writers of the series are basically telling the audience that the "gods" we believe in are just aliens posing as benevolent (the Tok'ra) or malevolent (the Gua'uld) beings. This same idea was picked up in the recent movie Thor ( review can be found here). The live-action X-Men movies from the past decade promote not just naturalistic evolution, but specifically a version that is related to punctuated equilibrium. These tend to be the more mild of movies. What about more violent movies such as Underworld or occultic movies like the Harry Potter series? The worldview of the writers and directors of movies will tend to come out in the movies either overtly or directly. This MUST be understood when we are looking to see if a movie will distract us or others from the goal.

I'm not a parent yet, but I will use all this when I determine what I allow my children to view. I will know their theological maturity level and their personalities at different times in their lives. That will tell me whether they will be distracted from their goals by certain media or not, thus guiding whether or not I allow them to watch certain movies. A person's physical age will likely have less to do with whether they (or their kids) can handle certain media than their maturity level. I know many teens who are very theologically and logically mature. They can analyze and find the theological and logical fallacies in movies without a problem. By allowing them to consume the media, they get more practice and are exposed to more worldviews that they may come in contact with as they carry out the Great Commission. Also, I know many adult Christians who are theologically and logically immature. They cannot decipher the difference between the theological positions of Avatar and orthodox Christianity, nor can they identify the logical fallacies in The DaVinci Code. These people should not consume this material because it distracts, diminishes, and destroys their goals as Christians, not to mention their beliefs themselves.

To wrap this all up, this is why struggling through proper theology and surrounding myself with Christians is so important. When we have deep convictions that are built on a foundation that can be defended and supported by one another, we are less likely to be negatively affected by questionable media. The effect will eventually be neutralized to where it is simply entertainment. At that point, we are freed to take the effect of such media the other direction- we can use it to strengthen our skills as ambassadors for Christ. Thus accomplishing both our goals of loving the Lord our God will all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and carrying out the Great Commission simultaneously.

For more on this topic, please see my review of "The Message Behind the Movie" by Douglas Beaumont

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