Media like movies, music, books, and television are more than just pass-times. Each of them has messages that they are conveying whether those messages are obvious or not. This is especially obvious when we look at movies. Have you ever left a movie theater inspired or changed in some way. The movie Up moved me to tears and made me want to spend more time with Christy. The movie The Grey left me discouraged.
Movies, music, television, and other forms of media influence us. They plant ideas in our heads. They encourage us to emulate the characters. . . not always in good ways. They paint a picture of what is important in life. As Mark Driscoll says, "They preach sermons."
BUT, we can't just give up watching, reading, or listening to anything that includes bad things like immoral sex, swearing, violence, rape, etc. If we did, we would have to stop reading the Bible! What we need is wisdom and discernment to make sure that the things we are letting in front of our eyes and ears are not influencing us to sin. Below are some guidelines to help you make those decisions. But first, let the spirit of this verse guide you as you think about this issue.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever islovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. -- Philippians 4:8
What rules have my parents given me?
This is short and simple. If you are a kid, then honor your parents' rules on this. If they say don't listen to music that swears then honor them in that. Follow their rules. Its as simple as that!
What areas of sin and temptation do I especially struggle with?
Figure that out and avoid media that contains those things! Years ago, I couldn't stop swearing and a major reason was that everyday I was listening to an hour minimum of music that swore non-stop. Do you struggle with lust and have a hard time keeping your thought life pure? Then let me suggest that shows, movies, and songs that talk about sex are bad for you. That means you should probably avoid B96 and shows like How I Met Your Mother. If you were an alcoholic, it would be stupid to go to a bunch of parties where alcohol is served. The same thing applies here.
Does it make sin look normal, good, fun, or rewarding?
The Bible's stories and content are full of sin. Lot sleeps with his daughters. Judah solicits a prostitute. Jacob is a deceitful coward. The list goes on and on. But the Bible shows those things for what they are. It shows that they are sin. It shows the terrible consequences that come from them. It also doesn't give us every sinful detail.
Many movies, music, shows, etc. do the opposite. They portray people living lifestyles of sin and imply that those actions are normal, good, and healthy. In increasing ways, they give us more and more of the lurid details. They even go as far as claiming these things are rewarding! Going back to How I Met Your Mother, Barney sleeps with hundreds of women in a life full of one night stands. Is this character shown as heartbroken, disease ridden, or immoral? Not really. He is happy, successful, wealthy, charming, and one of the funniest characters on the show. These are subtle messages that work their way into our thinking and influence us.
If a show is constantly telling you that sin is normal, good, fun, or rewarding, then its only a matter of time and exposure before you begin believing those lies.
Does it make righteousness look strange, boring, foolish, or unrewarding?
A show or song can portray sin as a good thing. Likewise, it can make a holy life look like a bad thing. A prime and funny example is Ned Flanders on the Simpsons. He is the go-to Christian guy on the show. Often times, his faith is portrayed as silly and dorky. A more serious example are the myriad of shows and movies that portray virgins who are waiting for marriage as losers.
If a show constantly portrays what the Bible says is right as strange, boring, foolish, or unrewarding, then its only a matter of time and exposure before you begin agreeing with those messages.
Am I being entertained by something that grieves God?
For this one, you have to look at what portion of the show or song you are enjoying. Be honest. When you watch Saw 4, what is it that is entertaining you? For most people who enjoy those movies, its the gore. So the entertaining part of the movie is watching a human being get tortured. Does that sort of thing entertain God? Nope. We have a problem here.
You can argue that you know its fake and would never really be entertained if this happened in real life. I would argue that the fact that you draw entertainment from pretending a person is being tortured reveals something sinful within your heart. I would also argue that if you keep feeding that sinful corner of your heart's weird and perverted desires, you will end up stepping closer and closer to that sin in real life.
On a similar note, I honestly can't understand how Christians can listen to music that swears nonstop and talks about sex and violence. What profit is there in that? What are you training your mind to think about? Why are you OK with being entertained by sinful things?
What is my personal level of maturity?
If you show a five year old a movie that has one joke with a swear word in it, they will likely be repeating that word for days trying to get a laugh. If you show a fifty year old Christian who doesn't swear that same movie, he probably wouldn't be tempted to go around swearing in the slightest.
Part of this comes down to the very tricky issue of knowing your own maturity level regarding various issues. Are you mature enough to hear a swear word without repeating it? Are you mature enough to watch a movie with a person dressed immodestly and not have lustful thoughts? Are you mature enough to look away from that movie when you need to? These are tough questions to answer honestly. I'd encourage you to error on the side of caution.
Those are questions I tend to ask myself when I'm considering a questionable movie or song. Its a tricky subject because its not an issue we can address legalistically.
The movie Crash, for example, is filled with bad language, racism, violence, and even has a scene where a woman is sexually abused. Yet I fully recommend that movie to Christian adults mature enough to handle it. Why? Because that movie leaves you disgusted with racism and disgusted with the way the characters are treated. It causes you to hate the sin you see in it and that is a very good thing.
In the end, we Christians need to realize that everything we spend time watching, reading, and listening to has an influence on us. We need to weigh the value of it all. We need to make sure we are not sticking temptation in front of our faces to do its worst. We have to be careful to discern the messages in media to take what is true and reject what is false. I hope these questions will prove helpful for you as you process through the things you watch, read, and listen to. Let's be careful what we allow to influence us.
PS. Pluggedin.com is a great Christian website that reviews tons of movies, shows, songs, and more. Check it out. I tend to visit it before going to see a movie I'm not sure about. You may find it helpful.