Christians and Secular Media

By Ben Casey

I always thought that the Sunday school song “Oh Be Careful Little Eyes” was a Bible verse. I’m embarrassed to say that I only just found out it isn’t. Whenever I went to a movie, I could always count on my mom to text me:

“O be careful little eyes what you see
O be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above
Is looking down in love
So, be careful little eyes what you see”

Being as familiar as I was with it, I assumed the tune’s lyrics came from a Bible verse, but no—it’s only a hymn written sometime in the 1940s.

It was that Sunday School song that went through my head when I stumbled upon a blog post on The Gospel Coalition. The post was titled, “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones.” In the post, the author calls out Christians for watching the television show, citing its explicit sexual content. But oddly enough, there isn’t one word about violence, except “violent sex.” Why wasn’t the author concerned with the show’s displays of murder, revenge, torture, and sadism? Why weren’t they concerned with displays of greed, pride, drunkenness, or other sins?

Adhering to this idea that viewing sin in media is inherently sinful, can Christians watch any media with a clear conscience? How many movies, books, or TV shows are there that don’t display some form of unrepentant sin? After all, during the time that “O Be Careful Little Eyes” was written, there were plenty of Christians boycotting almost all movies.

How do Christians discern what secular media is okay and what should be avoided?

The Bible is pretty clear that Christians should have some kind of method of discernment. Matthew 6:22 says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” In the same way, 1 Corinthians 10:23 states, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” Whether or not it’s a sin to watch certain kinds of media, it can be unbeneficial to living in Christ.

So how do Christians decide what is “unbeneficial”? When boycotts of movies and theaters caught on in the 1940s and 50s, this was the term that many Christian groups—like the Catholic Legion of Decency, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Better Movie Movement—used to describe any movie that featured marijuana, alcohol, non-traditional gender roles, violence, and a myriad of other “vices” deemed condemnable. Some even banned film altogether.

However, many of the fears these groups had were rooted in fear of change, not fear of God. Maybe a group called the Legion of Decency isn’t a good role model for discernment, considering their name makes them sound like cheap comic book villains.

So who should the Christians of today look to?

Pastor and acclaimed author John Piper looks to 1 Peter 1:15, stressing that the media we consume should express or advance our holiness. He condemns shows like Game of Thrones for their nudity, writing, “Violence on a screen is make-believe; nobody really gets killed. But nudity is not make-believe. These actresses are really naked in front of the camera.”

However, there’s a problem with this view, too. Nudity is not a sin. And the sex on the show isn’t real in the same way the violence isn’t. Sometimes, the sex on Game of Thrones is between a married couple. Is this sinful?

In the Middle Ages, it used to be common practice for the family and friends of a married couple to witness the consummation of the marriage. Even Martin Luther asked his good friend Jonas to be present in the bedchamber during his wedding night. Being present during sex was once not considered inherently sexual or lustful. How is it that now the naked body always inspires lustful thoughts? How is it that a Christian who feels they might be tempted can’t look away or fast forward through those parts? And let’s be honest here, we have the internet. If someone wanted to watch porn, they’d watch porn. If they’re watching Game of Thrones, I doubt it’s for sexual reasons.

Pastor John Pease wrote his own article on the show, praising its story and themes, saying, “[Game of Thrones] expects its heroes to see that there may be good worth fighting for, but it has to be done with a humble recognition of your own weakness and a wide-eyed awareness of the world’s brokenness.”

So, Game of Thrones is okay for Christians to watch?

I don’t know.

When my older brothers were eight and 10 respectively, my mother did not let them play the video game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time because it lets your character use weapons to attack people. When I was about their age, she didn’t bat an eye as I shot down aliens in Halo 2.

Standards change. Discernment for media and art isn’t something Jesus laid out on a list. It’s something personal that you have to decide for yourself, informed by your faith, the Bible, and trusted spiritual leaders like John Piper or John Pease. It’s something that should be ever-evolving through your life along with your faith.

Christians are not called to build a bubble around themselves and only consume Christian media. Neither are they called to immerse themselves in worldly things, blurring any distinction between themselves and the world. Just as we’re careful of what our little eyes see, we’re careful not to blind ourselves from reality.

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