During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered this important spiritual observation: “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Well, Jesus didn’t say it exactly that way. The phrase is popular in the computer software world, and it means if you start with incorrect data, you’re going to end up with incorrect results.
This concept is mentioned in the Bible, sort of. In his epistle to the Romans, St. Paul wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). And in his letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:2).
Paul meant that if we fill our minds with unwholesome thoughts, we will end up living unwholesome lives. In other words, Garbage in, garbage out.
This idea came up recently when I read an article on a Christian website that said believers should not watch movies with bad values. The article specifically mentioned James Bond movies.
Is it wrong for a Christian to watch James Bond movies? Um, asking for a friend.
It’s an undeniable fact that James Bond movies glorify violence, alcohol abuse, and sexual promiscuity. I guess you could make the same statement about three-quarters of all the movies and TV shows produced these days.
So, I guess the question is, can we watch popular entertainment without some of its unwholesome values seeping into our souls?
Well, I’ve watched a lot… er, I mean, my friend has watched a lot of James Bond movies over the years. And he doesn’t go around blowing things up and shooting people every 15 minutes. He hasn’t had a drink in 30 years, and he has never cheated on his lovely wife.
But can he really say he has not been subtly influenced by all the coarse themes depicted in James Bond films, along with all the other secular content he watches, reads, and listens to?
Hmm, that’s hard to say.
And speaking of “listen to,” what about popular music that is not very wholesome? I’m reminded of that classic song with a nice melody but horrible lyrics: “Imagine,” by John Lennon. The song opens with these words: “Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.”
The song is pretty much the Atheist Anthem. It’s about as ungodly as it gets. And this song is played frequently on my favorite Catholic radio station, along with many other well-known pop songs. I’m pretty sure faithful Catholics do not hear this song and suddenly renounce their religious beliefs and embrace Mr. Lennon’s dream of godless utopia.
In addition to enjoying James Bond movies, I also, er, I mean, my friend also likes listening to John Lennon and the Beatles. So far, my friend has not been tempted to try Eastern Mysticism, LSD, or comically odd hairstyles—as long as we ignore his 1975 high school yearbook photos.
As Catholics, we are not Bible-thumping fundamentalists who insist that watching any movie or having a single drink of alcohol are sinful behaviors and therefore prohibited. The Catholic Church teaches that alcoholic beverages are acceptable—in moderation. Alcohol abuse, however, is a sin.
The same, I suspect, is true for movies and music. If it’s occasional entertainment that doesn’t cause us to “conform to the pattern of this world,” as Paul described it, then it’s probably OK.
The Holy Spirit can help us discern what is best. If the only movies a person watches are in the James Bond genre, or if he or she only listens to coarse music, then maybe it’s become a “Garbage in, garbage out” situation, and it’s time instead to “think of what is above.” It might take some digging, but there is a fair amount of wholesome, uplifting entertainment available.
I think I’ll give that a try… er, I mean, I think I’ll tell my friend.