Augustine on entertainment

New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:

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Nothing new under the sun, I fear. I can understand why the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell closed the theatres, in 1642.

I’d be interested what the “Sanity at the movies” people think about this… :thinking::grin:

Anyway, even the “news” seems to be mostly entertainment. I just don’t have time for most of it.

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The Sanity at the Movies people agree with St. Augustine. Seems like the wise thing to do.

That’s my short answer. Here’s my longer one:

Tim Keller had a tweet not too long ago: “It’s true that we must bring the gospel to the city. But we should also recognize how much the city brings the gospel to us.”

Ugh.

This same formula could sum up how a lot of idiotic and idolatrous Christians approach art and entertainment. TGC and the mainstream evangelical world are always crowing about how the movies bring the gospel to us. So, by some twisted logic, Quentin Tarantino movies are actually about “the gospel”, because, I don’t know, there’s some themes of depravity and redemption in them.

Actually, it turns out if you reduce the gospel to the vaguest notions of depravity and redemption, anything can be about the gospel. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre can be about how we’re all desperately trying to escape from the depravity that lurks in our hearts (because the girl, you see, is trying to escape from the chainsaw-wielding depravity that lurks in the heart of Texas).

No, I haven’t actually seen anyone do that trick with Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Although I have seen them do it with horror movies that are just as grisly. But mostly they do it with more upscale items, like Tarantino films. Which, somehow, annoys me more. If you’re going to call what is evil good, it seems disingenuous to restrict yourself to that evil which happens to be respectable.

All that to say, we live in a wicked world, and most mainstream evangelicals glut themselves on its wickedness. So do most uber conservative niche evagelicals. So do most everybody. If it’s not movies, it’s novels, or music, or TV, or, I don’t know, political Twitter posts that pander to our worst instincts. Everybody has their poison.

It’s not that every song, every novel, every film is bad. But the sheer volume of our consumption speaks to great idolatry. And much of what we consume is, quite simply, evil. And our excuses for both the volume of what we consume and the evil of what we consume are profanely inane or inanely profane, I’m not sure which.

So why do we (Warhorn) do a movie show? Why do we do a show about literature, for that matter? (Literature may not be as easily digestible or attractive a poison as visual media, but it can be a more permanently damaging one.)

Well, we wrestle with that question. I won’t pretend we don’t. We’d be dumb not to.

But here are a few answers.

First, our shows exist to tell people not to make an idol out of those things.

The Bookening lost friends and fans by simply suggesting that C. S. Lewis was a human being who got some things really wrong. I’m not trying to cop a noble posture here, “o woe is me, people didn’t like my Narnia hot take.” But we say stuff like that all the time.

On The Bookening and on the Sanity shows we say that there’s no place for Christians to make idols out of books and movies. We say that if art or entertainment occupies a place in your life much beyond “insignificant”, you’re doing it wrong. And if you’re making excuses for indulging in wicked art or entertainment, you’re dead in the water. We say that all the time, in many ways. If we ever stop saying it, cancel us with extreme prejudice. Please.

Second: our shows exist because everybody reads. Everybody watches. Everybody enjoys. And that’s okay. We don’t believe God is calling us to take a spaceship to Mars where there are no books or movies or mass media to consume.

So that leaves us to deal with them responsibly. How do we do that?

Well, back to the answer one. On our shows, at least, we do that by first calling people smash their idols.

And then we call them to approach these things with discernment. Know how to read a book. Know how to watch a movie. Know what it does to you. Know how it does it.

(For such a thoroughly media saturated culture, people are shamefully ignorant about how media works. The fact that most Christian schools don’t have a mass-media and movies 101 class is … stupid IMHO.)

Our podcasts talk about how books and movies do what they do. I hope they talk about it well. I’m not pretending that they talk about it perfectly. But it is something people should be talking about.

Buuut … how do you talk about things that many (most?) people idolize without propping up the idol yourself? Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? We’re still figuring out the answers.

But you start by taking God and His word very seriously. Yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, not very seriously at all. And then you look a little bit at the context of the work–what it’s doing, and how it’s doing it. And you go from there.

One final note: Hebrews 5 says “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Movies and books do provide a good practicing ground IMHO. It isn’t right for us to gossip about our foolish neighbor. But we can gossip about Mr and Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and learn a lot about marriage, manhood and womanhood, wisdom and foolishness, in the process. There are worse springboards to talk to your daughter about feminist empowerment than Frozen 2, etc etc.

Of course, fools excuse idolatry and wicked indulgence in the name of “learning discernment” or “reaching the culture” and all that kind of crap. So use with caution, don’t be a fool.

The end.

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Good stuff, Nathan. I think your points about our ignorance relating to the nature of how media works, and your reference to Hebrews 5 and training in discernment are very relevant.

What I have appreciated most about Sanity at the Movies is the way you guys tend to dig into the nature and history of cinema itself, and draw out how movies are designed to make us think or feel a certain way. I’m not so much interested in the “I liked this,” or “they could have done this so much better,” (though this can be entertaining and I agree with you often). But what is really profitable to me is the way you draw out what a given movie is saying, or taking for granted, or trying to teach us about the nature of reality — and then interact with that from a biblical worldview. One example of this was your helpful dialogue regarding the emasculation of fatherhood in Endgame, and all the implications that came with it. These were excellent observations, and made for some really great things to think and talk about.

All in all, I think Sanity has benefited the way I interact with entertainment, and made me a more deliberate thinker, and less of a drinker.

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Years ago, a pastor described his approach in one message, as being not about reasoning from the Scriptures, but reasoning to them. Indeed, years ago, I preached a series around Lord of the Rings, the ideas in which I used to feed through to a number of Biblical themes.

I now understand how this can be a temptation, esp if one wants to look or sound “cool”. On later reflection, this sort of thing has to be done well if it is to be done at all. It is true that Saving Private Ryan has a strong message about sacrifice, as do the Harry Potter movies, for that matter. A British movie called The Railway Man (starred Colin Firth) had a lot to say about forgiveness. But these are the exceptions.

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