Is there any effect on individuals, or society, when people watch lots of violent media? Or if they play gore-filled computer games? Or sexualised content on the internet?
You and I can easily find arguments for freedom to watch anything, as well as arguments in favour of tightly restricted access. And such arguments will have social science studies to back them up. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I tend to see that groups who commission social science studies get results that reinforce their initial beliefs. Science isn’t as ‘objective’ as we assume.
Instead of Professor Suchandsuch, I am turning to an unqualified Jewish carpenter. He happens also to be Lord and Saviour of the world. How does following Jesus guide media consumers like us?
All foods are clean, all people are not
Jesus did not follow the empty human traditions of his day. Special hand washing techniques, he knew, do not place people nearer to God. Yet Jesus went further: he also taught that even the God-given food laws of the Old Testament do nothing for godliness. “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him” (see Mark 7:14-22). The problem is the human heart – yours and mine – from which arises every evil.
This tells us that no media can create a murderer, or adulterer. Advertising does not create greed. None of us can blame another for defiled thoughts, behaviour, and conscience. Defilement is all our own work! In a real sense the murderer who copies a gruesome movie scene has merely found a media image that fits the already-existing violence their own heart. Perhaps the movie helped uncover it – but it was already there.
Jesus did, however, warn us about what enters the body. This time he spoke of light: “When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness” (see Luke 11:33-36). What we watch counts, for the eye is the lamp of the body. We are to watch and watch and watch Jesus – the one who is greater than Solomon, greater than Jonah, greater than all. In other words, our eye obeys our faith. We watch what we trust.
So, it’s worth asking, why do we watch any media? What is it we seek, what is it we see? As Jesus said, be careful.
Heart and eye in practice
What Christians watch comes down to heart and eye. We take responsibility for our own heart: no one else is to blame. We are careful with our eye: we choose what will illuminate our soul, not darken it. My summary of the two principles is this:
- If what you watch stirs the evil already within your heart, stop watching
- Choose to watch that which gives light, not dark
What that looks like in real-life will vary enormously. Here are some examples:
- If you can watch without stirring up evil, you could be part of the classification board for media. I’d hate to do it, but am thankful for the national system to review and classify
- If you find yourself copying the unhelpful language or thought process of a popular show, you happily give up watching
- You might watch something you don’t like, just because people you care for are watching it. You want to know what ‘light’ these friends are attracted to
- Christians won’t make simplistic protests that blame media for all social evils. We know the problem is the human heart
- Christians won’t blithely ignore what’s happening in media. We want to give every eye light to watch, not darkness
No doubt there are many more examples. Can you think of any? Please share them in the comments below. Or perhaps you know of a knotty media problem you’d like to share. Again, please comment. The media are so prevalent that we need to talk about media consumption more often.