I was at a Christian leadership conference in the fall where Matt Chandler, famous Christian preacher, was a guest speaker (Lead 2011). There have been a few things that really stuck with me after the conference. One thing I’ve been dwelling upon lately is something that Matt Chandler said in regards to his views towards entertainment and sports. He said that he isn’t a fan of any sports team because of the danger and temptation of viewing a sport’s team as an idol. He went on how some guys in Texas will not be able to find some parts of the Bible and might not be able to list the 10 Commandments, but they can talk about the Dallas Cowboys and even the high school statistics and family life of new recruits for the team. There is a problem there when the Gospel is said to be the most important thing in a person’s life, but there is more knowledge, focus, energy, and time put into something else. Something else he said is that he is very cautious about watching tv because there is the danger and temptation of watching, enjoying, and laughing at things that God finds to be wicked and evil. At first hearing, it can sound like this statement is a little over the top and a little too conservative. However, if you just allow this comment to sink in a bit and simmer in your mind for a moment, you might find as I have that there is a great deal of truth to what Matt Chandler has said.
Jonathan Edwards is one of the most famous, brilliant, and godly people this country has ever produced. In the midst of his ministry he made various “resolutions” in regards to his life and ministry which typically each individual resolution were preceded by the word “Resolved: ….” There is an intentionality to these resolutions and the follow through by Edwards that many Christians have found appealing over the years. Although, it might need some fleshing out and is a bit vague, it seems that Matt Chandler’s view towards entertainment might make a great contemporary resolution for Christians. I say Christians and not only pastors because both pastors and laity would do well by such a resolution.
You might be thinking, well, how would we apply such a broad and catch all statement to how we live in the entertainment filled world today?
I believe it starts with introspection and deliberate meditation over Scripture. It’s one thing to say this is what God likes and doesn’t like, but it’s another to actually go to God’s Word and wrestle with it prayerfully yourself. For me, while thinking about this statement, I didn’t think much of it. I typically watch tv if any on the internet through Hulu. While watching one show I heard something that was incredibly wicked and evil, and my reaction was to just sit there and laugh. It was then, though, that the Chandler statement came to mind and I was sitting there asking myself if it was something I ought to be laughing at or even watching.
You see, sometimes, when we watch tv or movies we can get mentally lulled to sleep. It is like our brains shut-off and we are in a sort of hazy place where we have checked our minds and convictions at the door and are sitting there on mental auto-pilot. Well, maybe that’s not the case for everyone, but sometimes it’s the case for me. If we’re honest, I think it’s the case for more people than just me. Now, I love humor and I love to laugh. However, the humor and comedy that has dominated our world today, specifically, our country, isn’t a fun, family friendly humor, but is a crude, crass, and pointed humor. This humor typically mocks a person or a people, or it makes light of a serious and terrible thing. There is humor that isn’t bad like what was on the Cosby Show, most Seinfeld episodes, Saved by the Bell, and lots of other shows. Then, there is bad humor such as shows like South Park or Family Guy.
There are other shows that come to mind when I think about laughing at things that God finds evil, but South Park typically features someone experiencing a violent and bloody death for humor (Kenny) and Family Guy makes a habit of minimizing the severity of wicked and cruel things by making pithy, witty statements with accents while poking fun at all walks of modern American life. The two shows are actually quite similar in that regard. Both shows look as though they could be marketed to children. Both shows are cartoons. One has a talking dog. One is about a group of kids in a small town. They seem innocent enough. Except you also have the fact that one features a small child with a British accent who has a strong desire to kill his mother and makes various attempts to kill her, for the sake of humor. One show features a great deal of profane language while the other lags not too far behind. Both shows feature a fair amount of sexual innuendo and one show occasionally shows a couple in bed together. The truth is that children are watching both shows, children who can barely speak the English language are learning how to curse and gaining a full knowledge of sexual favors before they enter middle school. Now, it might seem like I am being a bit harsh and that both shows are clearly for adults and it’s okay for adults to watch shows like this.
I disagree. I don’t typically watch tv except a show or two on my computer, but I was watching a Giants-Cowboys game on January 1 (Go Giants!) and during halftime I flipped through the 7-8 channels I get on basic cable and found an episode of the popular show Family Guy. I watched for a couple minutes and within that time frame they made fun of rape and people who are raped. The show tends to move fairly quickly and they didn’t dwell on it as they don’t seem to really dwell on anything, but it was striking how they could belittle something as serious and tragic and evil as rape. There are people who have experienced rape and sexual abuse, and it is not a laughing matter. Now, I am sure most people would agree here, however, for some reason when it’s on an adult cartoon tv show it becomes hilarious.
Now, I know I might be a little unique in thinking this, but what happened here? Rape wasn’t a funny thing to laugh at and make fun of, but when it’s on tv in cartoon form it’s okay? Is it okay to make light of something that is evil for our entertainment and a quick laugh?
I love watching movies. One of my favorite movies is the movie Gladiator. Historically, it’s way off-base and they got Aurelius and Commodus completely wrong. However, it was amazing how they brought to life ancient Rome, the Roman legions, gladiators, and political turmoil of the ancient world which was all too common. There is a scene in the movie that reminds me of how many moderns view violence and wicked things today. It is the scene in the movie where Maximus has his first battle in the Colosseum. He organizes the other gladiators so they are working together and after killing someone and taking their horse he leads the others in taking out the chariots. In the process he rides by several chariots and blazes his sword from side to side and as he does this you can see blood squirting up from the victims in the chariots. Then, the camera moves to the emperor, Commodus, who is watching and licking his lips with enjoyment at the violence and blood he gets to see. In the background the crowd is cheering and screaming for more.
This is extreme because people were actually killed in the gladiatorial games, so it is not a perfect parallel with our culture today. However, considering how people get excited at hockey games when a fight breaks out and how people go to games just to see a fight, and how people regularly watch movies and shows where people are mutilated, tortured, violated, or murdered; it would seem that our culture is not far off from that of the Romans who gloried in violence, death, and war. Just look at how many football stadiums exist in our country and how our country has placed such an emphasis on sports and entertainment, as well as the rise of Ultimate Fighting. There is a fascination in this country with zombies and the undead as well. Now, I find this very interesting for reasons beside the point I am making, but typically these zombie movies and shows feature people experiencing graphic, torturous deaths. One of the more popular horror movie franchises today is the Saw series which features a psychotic person who enjoys creating inventive and creative ways to slowly cause the most pain to people and violently kill them. It’s just entertainment though. It doesn’t matter if people like to watch people suffer and die. Really?
I think people in our world and culture today have become so mentally numb to the wicked and evil things in entertainment that when something wicked and evil in real life occurs such as genocides (plural) in Africa or forced famines, people if they react at all show a sign of disapproval and turn the channel so they can find something to laugh at and make them feel better. What is wrong with feeling pain and sympathy and compassion for people who are suffering?
As a Christian, absolutely nothing. It should be normative in Christianity to feel compassion for those suffering and to get upset at injustices that occur in our world. However, as much as I would like to say Christians are different when it comes to suffering and the wicked things that occur in modern entertainment, I can’t. Most Christians are as indifferent and/or apathetic to the injustices that are occurring in our world today. Most Christians watch many of the same movies and tv shows that non-Christians watch, and laugh at the same evils. One of the most popular movies today is a show about having a hangover from drinking too much or being drugged called The Hangover. There was a sequel to this film which brought in a great deal of money and many were talking about. The first film was based in Vegas and the second was based on a sort of “international Vegas,” Bangkok, Thailand. The movies typically begin with a placid, celebratory moment, then cut to waking up with a hangover. The second movie begins with a dog biting a penis, a man supposedly dying of a drug overdose, and the finger of a college boy being found without his body. This is supposed to be funny. It is what our culture finds funny. Both of the movies in these films glorify drinking, partying, sex, strip clubs, and prostitution. Yet, somehow, I have heard from Christians that they love these movies. What is infuriating about these films to me is that they glorify strip clubs and prostitution while avoiding the real problem of sex trafficking that exists in the world, and fails to mention how prominent Las Vegas and Bangkok are for these injustices.
Human trafficking and sex trafficking have become the 2nd largest criminal organization in the world next to drug trafficking. The United States is a global leader in both of these major criminal organizations and increasingly the leader in human trafficking (modern slavery). Instead of getting angry, frustrated, or passionate about putting an end to these evils and bringing justice to those who oppress others for sex or for forced labor, people would instead prefer to pretend like they don’t know what’s going on and simply laugh at the issue altogether or just call it entertainment.
This is the world we live in. Now, the easy thing to do as a Christian is to say that it isn’t that bad and that it doesn’t make a difference to expose ourselves to such entertainment. However, I believe this only contributes and adds to the mental numbness that is becoming normative in American culture which is induced with entertainment and increasingly with Christians. I think the difficult thing to do is to stop and analyze what we are wanting to watch and what motivates us to watch the things we watch. Are we wanting to watch something because we simply want to be entertained or because the world is telling us to watch it? If so, we need to check ourselves and spend some serious time in prayer and meditating over Scripture. If not, we ought to already be doing that because that is what Christians do. We need to go to God’s Word ourselves to gain an understanding of God’s heart for such evils. The closer we are to God’s heart and an understanding of such evils in His Word, the further we will be from mentally numbing ourselves to the evils that exist in the world and the more passionate we will be as believers in the Gospel against wicked and evil things in our world.
We as Christians need to stop saying what can I do, I can’t put a stop in evil in the world, and start saying I know I can’t defeat the evil around the world but at least I can take a stand against injustice in my community for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is high time that we as Christians started being as passionate about our actions glorifying God as our words. If churches began to look more at serving the communities outside themselves in evangelical Christianity as opposed to arguing amongst one another about fine points of church practice or the details of theology, perhaps we would start making a real impact in our world and people in the Western world wouldn’t see a church that is primarily concerned with it’s own problems, but a church that is concerned with making the world a better place.
People love to laugh at various evils and usually justify their enjoyment and pleasure by saying they are an escape or type of therapy for the cruel, harsh realities that surround us which can be bleak and depressing. Would you, if you say this, walk up to a starving child in an impoverished nation and show them an episode of an adult cartoon where they make fun of skinny, malnourished people, and talk about how funny it is? Would you, if you believe this, go to an urban rescue mission where people are struggling to survive and talk about how you recently saw movie that featured a popular comedian who had an addiction to drugs and became homeless? Would you walk up to a rape victim and joke with her about that cartoon which mentioned the great benefits of being raped? Of course not.
I was struck by the truth behind Matt Chandler’s words about being more careful about what we expose ourselves to in entertainment because we can become mentally numb and find pleasure in things that God finds evil. It isn’t a resolution yet for me, but I think it something I will continue to think more about and pray over in my own life. The more I pray and read Scripture, the more I find that there are many parts of our culture that we as Christians (conservative or liberal) ought to be more cautious of and should not partake in. Laughing at things that are evil and making light of wicked things is something we as Christians should not do. I know, I sound like a staunch conservative Christian who is listing prohibitions for all humanity here, but honestly, I think American Christians in particular would do well to commit themselves more fully to lives of holiness. This doesn’t mean we have to be separate from our culture, as if that were possible (we inhabit the same world), but we can be different from the culture we live in and show by our lives and efforts to be godly, living out the Gospel, that there is more to life than making a quick joke and getting a quick laugh about something. There is indeed far more to life than finding pleasure and enjoyment in entertainment, and as Christians we should be living testimonies to those around us that the ultimate enjoyment and ultimate pleasure in life is not a quick laugh which passes or a tv show or movie which entertain for only so long, but our ultimate enjoyment and pleasure as human beings is in Jesus Christ, in the Gospel, which promises an eternity of joy, and perfect peace.