I posted yesterday on Facebook about the movie Cabin in the Woods, which I very much want to see. Someone responded to my status, commenting that Cabin in the Woods was a very bad movie and not something that Christians should watch. While I am very much in favor of Christians following their own convictions and wouldn't encourage someone to watch something that goes against what they feel they should watch, I did think, "Oh, I should write something about that."
My take on what Christians should or shouldn't watch is sometimes very different from other people's take on it. I tend to approach things from the complete opposite direction. When I go to watch something, my main question is, "Is there good in this?" while most Christians I talk to about consuming media ask, "Is there bad in this?" The reason I go the other way is based on the Bible verse Philippians 4:8:
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.
Interestingly enough, this same verse is often used to justify the opposite worldview. It frequently gets turned around to be entirely negative. Instead of, "Whatever is true, think about such things," it turns into, "Whatever is not true, do not think about such things." It's a subtle difference, but a very important one. The emphasis is on things to avoid, rather than things to embrace.
Here's the thing: When you're looking for things you need to avoid... you are thinking about them. If, for example, you sit through a movie and make a mental note of every time someone swears, then by the end of the movie that's what you remember. You remember the bad language and how offensive you thought it was. Any good that was in the movie got trumped by the bad, because that's what you thought about the whole time. That is the exact opposite of what this verse tells us to do.
Now what if the "bad things" outweigh the good things about the movie and can't be so easily ignored? Well, that happens too. But if the movie overall has lovely, right, noble, admirable themes intermingled with cursing... that's not an example of that for me. Cursing is made up of fairly arbitrarily-chosen words that society has deemed impolite. I don't believe in letting something like that take over and ruin a good story. It's not worth losing the story to be upset about the language. I'm a "big picture" kind of person. I'm bothered by big things rather than details.
Example: I love the music from Grease, but I'm really distressed by the movie because it has a terrible message: "Change everything about yourself so your guy will like you. It'll be totally worth it." That's a movie that's not worth watching for me. I'll happily listen to the music and enjoy that, but I will not rewatch it because its message is offensive.
A more controversial example: I hate the combined messages of Facing the Giants, Flywheel and Fireproof: "If you trust God and follow these steps, your life circumstances will fall into place and everything will be great." That message is just not true. I hate those movies not just because of the acting and the writing (although that sure doesn't help), but because I find the overall theme to be manipulating people into believing a lie. This is... if not offensive, certainly distressing.
On the flip side, there are movies like Annie Hall, my 4th favorite movie of all time. Annie Hall is not a "clean" movie. There's some cursing and a lot of references to sex. But its overall message is an uplifting one: "Relationships are difficult and complicated but can change you for the better." That is a true message. An excellent one. A right one. So that is what I think about and focus on. Those are the things I love in this movie. Those are the reasons I embrace it as a movie worth watching.
I would never make someone watch something that went strongly against their preferences. Some people don't like cursing or violence in their movies, just like some people don't like characters bursting out into song. I don't demand that people watch violent movies or musicals (or Sweeney Todd, which is both) just because I don't have a problem with them. But nor do I think it's appropriate to judge someone's level of faith by what kinds of movies they watch. I'm sure the person whose Facebook comment prompted this blog in the first place wasn't doing that - it's just something that I know happens a lot. "Christians don't watch this." "A Christian wouldn't listen to that song." "That's not very Christian of you." The reason those kind of judgments can't be made is I have a genuine prayed-about, thought-through, backed-up-with-the-Bible reason for watching the movies I watch and staying away from the ones I do. It's not out of rebellion or rejection of God or tradition. My movie watching choices do connect to my faith, very strongly - just maybe not in a way that most people think of.