Thank you, Jesus, for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.
No, I'm serious. That movie is a gift.
Now, I'll say it up front: it's not perfect. I'm not pleased with a handful of shots and lines in there. But as a whole, it's a good story. And everything good is of God.
The question is, how do you know when aspects of goodness trump possible non-godliness in a movie, TV show, book, or social media thread? You have to discern what is truly good on the whole...and what is not.
A couple of weeks ago, at the end of my article “Thus Saith the Lord Via Instagram,” I said that I’d offer some tips and resources on how to discern the goodness of secular media and entertainment. At the time, I was only envisioning one article, but then it started to look more like a doctoral thesis, so I’m going to give you guys a series over the next week.
Let's get this party started!
1. Ask God.
St. Paul says to “pray without ceasing,” and that applies to our rejuvenation time too. However, it is rather hard to focus on the Divine Mercy Chaplet while cheering on Thor to defeat Thanos. (Not that I’ve tried.) That doesn’t mean our prayer has to stop when we watch a TV show or read a book—it shouldn’t. God is our life. So why not invite him to the movies with you?
Before reading or watching something new, ask God to be with you in this moment you’re about to enjoy, and to send the Holy Spirit so you can discern what is of Him—and therefore worthy and edifying to intake—and what is not, which warrants vastly a different response.
Here’s a rough outline of what the prayer can look like.
Thank You for this break time. I’m excited to check out [insert name of book, movie, TV show, Instagrammer, TikTok hashtag, etc.]. But I don’t want any nonsense to take me away from you—I want this time to bring us closer. So would you please send Your Holy Spirit (Holy Spirit, would You please come?) so that this time can be healthy and holy?
Love You, Lord!
2. Do the "Skip and Skim."
In most of the things I watch or read, there’s something that I skip. (Annoying, right?) There are so many ways you can do this for all sorts of different entertainment mediums.
When I’m reading, and sense a sensual scene coming on, I do what I call the “skip and skim”: skip a few paragraphs and read the beginning of the first line for the next one to see if we’re past it. If the sketchiness continues, I skip another few paragraphs and repeat until it’s done and we’re back to the hair-raising suspense. (Thriller reader here.)
Or, take bad language on TV. When I was younger and my family would watch a movie at home, if there was a moment when we knew a word we don't say was coming up, we’d sing “lalalalalala” to block it out. When I got older, it became coughing loudly. (As a teenager, I was at a hotel with some girls, and as my roomies and I were watching a movie, I developed a conspicuous tickle in my chest for a couple of hours). Now, I just go for the mute button.
Or maybe it’s a scene in a movie. Look away and hit that fast forward button for fifteen seconds. You can always rewind back if you go too far.
On Instagram, there is a person who posts some absolutely amazing and uplifting images…and then some that aren’t. But I still want a chance to see the beautiful posts, so when I’m viewing such Instagram stories, I cover the phone screen with my hand and slowly start to lower it. If I can see that the pic is not going great places, I click away to the next one without having been exposed to the full thing. The same goes for TikTok.
3. Ask yourself if it promotes evil or just expresses it.
The fact that evil is depicted in a movie doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad. Evil things happen in the Bible a lot; humanity’s most innocent Man was tortured and murdered, for one. But the Bible makes it quite apparent that this evil is brokenness that needs to be mended—the evil isn’t reported just for the shock factor.
This point is the reason why I’ve found that sensuality (or worse) is always inappropriate in entertainment, but (fictional) violence doesn't have to be. Usually, or at least a lot of the time, the antagonist instigates the violence, and the protagonist’s violence is only to protect others. Take Wonder Woman. Diana Prince slays dozens of people, but it’s not because she enjoys it or is flippant about it—she’s doing it to protect the innocent and end the war.
Sensuality, on the other hand, is the opposite: it’s specifically intended to give viewers a bubbly feeling that is actually a severe temptation to unchastity. I won't list any works by name, but I'm sure you can think of at least one off the top of your head. Viewers see scenes (or whole movies and books) like that and want it because our human nature inclines us to desire concupiscent pleasure. So, that viewing is meant to lead to sin.
If it promotes an evil and makes the audience want to accept or take part in it, it's best to avoid, or at least prepare for an unwieldly heavy serving of Tip #2 (though I don't recommend that). If it just depicts an evil as an evil, though, it's more likely to be okay. But as always, the discernment continues.
Those are just the first three tips, so stay tuned for the next few days, and I hope these are helpful in the meantime!