This blog continues the discussion on why the young are leaving the Church.
Have ever heard this only partly ironic joke: Don’t smoke, drink, or chew or go with girls/boys who do? While the phrasing is archaic, the spirit of the statement continues in evangelical culture. It might be better said today as “Watch out for those video games, movies, music, internet chat rooms and Pokemon.”
How stupid can you look?
Reason number one why young people leave is that the church seems overprotective. As the Barna research reports expands:
A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).
I can still remember fear-based tactics to encourage a kind of ghetto, tribal, thinking under the guise of spiritual purity or holiness. Most of the readers can probably know this too. See if any of these statements sound familiar:
- Colleges encourage hedonism and secularism.
- It’s not acceptable to watch movies with nudity, foul-language, violence etc in it.
- Harry Potter encourages witchcraft.
- Martial Arts and Yoga worship demons.
- Halloween is a pagan holiday.
- Good Christians only listen to Christian music.
- Is that a “Christian” video game, movie, book, school, person etc?
Most of these look rather reactionary, strange, and often just plain stupid. It seems very odd to me that a movie or videogame ought to be denounced for sex and violence, but yet we are still expected to read passages like this in the Bible:
Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give us your counsel; what shall we do?” Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, the ones he has left to look after the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.” So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. -2 Samuel 16:20-22 NRSV
I want to be clear with the irony here. An overprotective church says that sexual content or violence is something Christians shouldn’t watch or see. However, it’s okay to read a story were a prince usurps his father’s kingdom through sexual exhibitionism. This is only one example of how the overprotective impulse would have us stop reading the Bible.
Little needs to be said here about Harry Potter, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, or a host of other forms of entertainment that children and teens have enjoyed. Harry Potter was actually infused with Christian symbolism. Pokemon and Magic the Gathering never turned children into little satanists.
But what about movies and television? Don’t these influence teenagers and young adults? Shouldn’t we be worried about our Christian witness when watching a film that has a premarital sex, gay people, occult activity, and curse words? A good Christian could never watch Dexter or Game of the Thrones for sake of these sins in those shows, or so it is said.
I actually do think that movies, television, and video-games influence behavior and even personality. Yet this kind of mentality concentrates on incidental superficialities, rather than evaluating a work of fiction as a work of fiction. In other words, an overprotective church complains about some presence of “sin” in a story, but fails to evaluate its role in the story.
Let’s use Game of Thrones as an example. Throughout season one, when see Daenerys Targaryen develop as a person. At the first, she is little more than a pawn (and property) in her brother’s ambitious schemes. At the end, we see her grow into a self-made monarch-to-be, the mother of dragons, and is also naked. “Also naked” is the superficiality that an overprotective church fixates on. There is no discussion about character arcs, themes, or anything else that a work of fiction should be evaluated by. Someone is naked, and it is therefore “not Christian.”
Doing entertainment differently
Let’s be clear: young people are going to encounter the world outside of the Christian ghetto. Attempting to censor what they read, watch, play or listen to out of fear will server only to make them resentful. An overprotective church does the Gospel no service. It only makes people appear awkward.
The solution to this is two fold.
For the first part, I am indebted to Glenn Peoples over at Beretta Online. I recommend everyone simply listen to this podcast. In it, he argues that we should not filter our entertainment between “Christian” and “everything else that is evil.” If we are to evaluate a song, a film or a video game we ought stop asking “is it Christian?” and instead ask “is it good?” Plenty of good things came outside of Christian ghetto. Plenty of things inside the Christian ghetto represent a lousy form of Christianity. What do I mean by this? Listen to the podcast. His accent is really cool.
The second part is this. When we do evaluate a work of art we should not be counting how many sins it represents. Rather, we should dig into its substance and evaluate the work of art as a work of art. In the case of works of fiction, we need to be discussing characters arcs, genres, three acts just to start. If we’re listening to music, we should be talking about musical arrangements, lyrical quality, vocal talent and so forth. If we’re playing a video game, we’ll talk about game mechanics, plot development, and other things that make a game fun.
For all of these things, I count myself lucky to be in Southern California. For all my gripes about “touchy feely west coast Evangelicalism,” it is wonderful to be surrounded by artists, musicians, actors and other Christian creatives who understand their faith well enough to interact well with the creative world.
So go out and watch something sinful tonight. Read a book where someone does witchcraft. Get yourself some funny shaped dice and slay a few dragons. Listen to a rap lyrics was bad language. Play a videogame where you shoot nazis.
When you’re done, ask yourself “was it good”?
I don’t think God is going to condemn you for your entertainment.