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Is Good Always Right? 4 Ways to Know What Media to Avoid

Is Good Always Right? 4 Ways to Know What Media to Avoid

As a teacher and author, I get asked a lot by teens, families, and colleagues to offer my opinion on art, media, entertainment, and pop culture. People always want to know what new movies they should go see, artists they should listen to, books they should read, apps they should download, and TV shows they should start watching.

It doesn’t take a media professional to tell you that we’re inundated with new forms of media everywhere we go.

Spotify. YouTube. Netflix. Instagram.

We have become media consumers, saturated in images, sounds, stories, and ideas that have incredible power to influence our thought-process, emotions, and even worldview.

But what are we exposing ourselves to?

What thoughts and images are being absorbed into our minds, and what is the effect of rampant media consumption on our lives?

As Paul wrote in Philippians, “finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

Is the media we consume grounded in this truth?

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of positive media out there.

A great movie can make us laugh or inspire us to pursue change.

A powerful story can add perspective or shake us from apathy.

A beautiful song can lift our spirits or cause us to rejoice.

Social media has the power to connect people like never before.

Media and art can speak great truths about creation, humanity, sin, and even God.

But as much good media is out there, there is even more bad media littering our television screens, filling the pages of our books, and popping up on our phones.

As a believer, how do you determine what media you should to avoid and what is acceptable to enjoy?

Unfortunately, there is no biblical rating system for movies and TV shows just as there isn’t a Jesus Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down button at the bottom of every YouTube video.

Now more than ever, believers must become personally vigilant, and intentional, about what they expose themselves to. What goes in, stays in, and just because something is popular, well-made, or entertaining doesn’t mean that it’s good for us.

Let’s be clear, there is no such thing as mindless entertainment.

The enemy loves to use socially acceptable media and popular entertainment to stir anxiety, tension, and negative thoughts. Anything he can mask as innocent fun or must-watch-TV that internally desensitizes us to evil, distracts us from the things of God, or blocks us from hearing the Holy Spirit is win for his kingdom.

Christians cannot afford to be so lackadaisical. Indiscriminate media consumption is not only reckless, it’s unhealthy.

So how do we develop a discerning media filter? Here are 4 ways:

1. Know and value your soul.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:22, “the eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

What we are exposed to has the power to soak into our thoughts and influence our behavior. As spiritual athletes running a very spiritual race, we must learn to know our bodies and develop an understanding of what things nourish and slow our performance.

My brother-in-law, like many people, is lactose-intolerant. That doesn’t mean that dairy products are inherently evil. They just aren’t good for him, and he knows it, which is why he passes on the gelato. 

Some media, even media that is well-made, can deeply disturb individuals while inspiring others. I know plenty of believers and even filmmakers who refuse to watch movies like The Passion of the Christ or Schindler's List because of the violence shown on the screen. Both are incredible stories with redeeming values and truthful, even biblical, themes. However, the individuals who abstain from watching them recognize that there are elements of those films that unsettle their souls.

My mother can’t stand any form of profanity in movies or music. My wife’s grandmother will turn off a television show that has violence of any kind. I personally walk away from or skip over most media with sexual overtones.

This is not a Puritan, old-fashioned, or narrow-minded way of thinking. These are instances where the individual simply knows their soul and recognizes the things that don’t uplift or edify it.

Edification has a deeply spiritual implication.For something to "edify", it should instruct or improve our lives on an emotional, spiritual, or intellectual level. Does the media we enjoy do that or does it shift our thoughts and behavior away from the things of God?

Indiscriminate binge-watching or excessive media consumption can be just as harmful when it distracts us from spending time with the Father. Missing out on the benefits of relationship is like starving the body of spiritual nourishment. We may not be putting bad food in our bodies, but we also aren’t feeding it properly.

Satan is just as happy to compete with a starved runner as he is a runner who only eats donuts and fried chicken.

2. Listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our life compass and spiritual health and fitness coach. This means He gets a say in how we treat our bodies through what we consume.

Paul asked the Corinthians, “do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

When we invite Christ into our hearts, He takes up residence as the master, owner, decorator, and tenant of our mind, body, emotions, and soul. The junk that once cluttered or polluted our old living space has no place in God’s new home. He is constantly pushing harmful thoughts to the curb and gives us the Holy Spirit to remind us what doesn’t belong.

Sometimes it takes seeing or hearing something to know that something is off. This is the Holy Spirit stirring our hearts and telling us to run away. The question is, do we listen?

Over time, an obedient listener will recognize the sound of His voice and know when to turn away.When we ignore the Holy Spirit’s warnings, we become desensitized to things like violence, sensuality, and profanity.

And what happens when a society no longer values human life or meaningful relationship because it has become desensitized due to media over-exposure?

When we disregard the Holy Spirit’s voice, we muffle it, making it harder to hear or recognize in the future.

3. As a parent, guard your children so they can learn to be their own gatekeepers as adults.

When I was growing up, my mom was always strict with our viewing habits, much to my disappointment. One night, I remember sneaking out into the living room and popping in an old VHS tape of Raiders of the Lost Ark without her permission. When it came to the infamous face-melting scene, seven-year-old Joel Ryan watched in horror as the enemies of Indiana Jones melted before the ark of the covenant like a grilled cheese sandwich on a red-hot griddle. It took months to get that image out of my head and for the nightmares to subside.

My mom knew what media would disturb my developing eyes or hurt my sensitive ears and stepped in to shield me from things that didn’t belong in my life.

As an adult, that role now belongs to me. I am the ultimate gatekeeper of my eyes and ears the and guardian of the gates to my soul. Back then, I didn’t have this discernment and hadn’t strengthened my spiritual walls. I thank God my mom was my spiritual gatekeeper and media filter when I couldn’t be.

Parents, guard your children and protect their eyes and ears from dangerous media exposure. Their spiritual and emotional development depends on your vigilance.  

4. Be vigilant about what should have a place in any room of your ‘home.’

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:23, "I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything, but not everything is constructive.”

We have the ability to create media, but that doesn't mean that all media is beneficial. We have the right to enjoy quality entertainment, but not all movies, TV shows, or books are constructive or even good for us.

When what we consume begins to consume our thoughts and shift them away from God and what is good, we have a problem. 

So the question I’ve learned to ask when it comes to the things I watch, read, and listen to is: what should be given a place in my home? My mind, emotions, and soul are all rooms in a very valuable house. Would I invite a rabid Old Yeller or a hungry Hannibal Lecter inside for a few minutes? Not a chance. Why not? Because no matter how strong I think I may be, some things simply don’t belong.

Sometimes, we need to shut and lock the door. It doesn't have to be a rabid animal or murderer tearing up our house. Even flies or a muddy shoe can taint a clean house.

What kind of home do you want to live in?

The answer to this question will determine how strict you are with your media habits.

When people ask me whether or not they should watch a new television show or movie, I tell them I can't answer that question for them. The soul is a precious and fragile thing, and yes, like the Depeche Mode song, it needs special handling.

It’s always better to be vigilant than careless. As it says in Proverbs 4:23, “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Be aggressive and selective about what you consume and allow inside. Your mind, emotions, and soul will thank you when you do.

Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s and young adult author who teaches writing at Life Pacific University. He has a heart for young adults and is passionate about engaging youth through storytelling and art. His blog, Perspectives Off the Page, discusses the spiritual and creative life through the lens of storytelling and narrative.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/vladans

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