Thinking Biblically: Entertainment
As you’ve probably heard or read on this website, we hope to cover how to think biblically about any given topic. I appreciate that phrase, as it’s close to something I’ve said frequently in sermons and other messages: “Keep your brain turned on!”
But what about entertainment?
Sometimes the problem with thinking biblically about entertainment is that entertainment is usually designed to help us stop thinking. When I consider some of the entertainment I enjoy, like fantasy football or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I know that part of the reason I enjoy it is because it’s not mentally taxing—I can transport myself to a happy, fictional place where superheroes defeat villains, or to an alternate reality where I know who will score more touchdowns.
There’s a danger in this, as you might expect. When we stop thinking, we are still taking in lessons. Sometimes wrong messages in movies or other entertainment are so blatant that they trigger our mental filter to come back online. This happened to me when I went to watch the 2014 movie Noah—despite some biblical names and a flood, it quickly revealed that it was not aiming to stay true to any message of the Bible. In the case of this particular movie, the reviews had already made me concerned, but the first few minutes let me know that I wanted to have my mind on guard for the bad ideas that were present. And those bad ideas came fast and frequently.
But what about entertainment that we like?
I am not sure what my religion was before I started attending with the Church of God—I went to a Protestant church on Sundays, but there is a decent case to be made that my real religion was Star Wars. They remain my favorite fictional movies (most of them, anyway) and it never hurts when your last name is close to a character’s name (the Sandalorian—get it?). But can I just turn my brain off and mindlessly take in Star Wars?
Let’s go over a few items that I realized I needed to filter out of my mindset after being raised on Star Wars. First, it sugarcoats war. Most PG or PG-13 movies do this—characters basically just scream and fall over when they die, and good guys can mow down legions of bad guys, rarely getting hurt, while “stormtrooper aim” probably doesn’t even need an explanation. As a result, I grew up thinking that even though war sounded bad, it was probably something I could survive, since I’d surely just be fighting a bunch of stormtroopers. Thankfully, I was able to grow out of that mindset as I got a better idea of what war is really like. Needless to say, God never sugarcoats war, and He’s looking forward to doing away with it entirely (see Matthew 5:9 and Isaiah 2:2-4 for a couple of examples).
A second problem I realized I had was that Star Wars (particularly the original trilogy) usually makes its bad guys faceless; stormtroopers are just evil and deserve to be shot for their crimes against the galaxy. In some ways, it’s no different from other stories that employ orcs or killer robots—enemies that neither give nor deserve mercy. But is that the Bible’s mindset? When we apply that thinking to human beings, it takes us to scary places in our history, such as the Holocaust and other instances of genocide. We have to keep in mind that every human was created in God’s image and that God’s master plan includes resurrection for all who have died. When God resurrects Nazis (see Matthew 12:41), do we think we’ll just gun them back down? Or are we called to help them repent of their evil deeds? Some of the Nazis were literally called stormtroopers—and for all of their evil in this age, they are still in God’s image and will have a chance to repent.
One more lesson, although there are probably others: In Star Wars, the rebels are the good guys. Now, this touches on a big topic that I won’t be able to completely cover here, but the point is that the rebels are not the good guys in the Bible. Rebels in the Bible include Korah, Absalom, Nimrod, and Satan himself. If you want more proof, do a quick study on the words rebel, rebels, rebellion, and rebellious. It is a stunning study, since the vast majority of the references are about God describing the Israelites’ attitudes toward Him! While there are times when we cannot obey men due to our greater responsibility to God (Acts 5:29), it’s clear that we should be trying to obey as much as possible. God instructs us to obey our parents, bosses, civil leaders, and church leadership. David is a great example of someone who stuck to this—he had every reason to rebel against King Saul, but he waited for God to handle the situation. Again, it’s a big topic, but the main point is that the Bible tells us to try as hard as possible to be obedient, while Star Wars celebrates the mindset of rebellion.
And for all that, I still like Star Wars. And the MCU. And fantasy football. But I try to remind myself to never turn off a biblical mindset. We have to make sure we use the Bible to filter the world and its entertainment, or the world will quickly start to influence us more than the Bible does. Don’t let the world slip in messages subtly through movies and other entertainment—keep your brains turned on.