If you ask a few different Christians to tell you the type of music they listen to, the type of films they watch or the type of books they read, you’ll probably get a few very different answers. For example, I love reading fantasy books, but I know many Christians who won’t read any book that has magic in it. I only listen to Christian music, but I know many Christians who listen to all kinds of music. I don’t have a problem with most film genres (although I absolutely refuse to watch horror films), but I know many Christians who are more selective in what they watch. So where should a Christian’s limits be when it comes to the media they consume? Does the Bible say anything that might be relevant?
I know that in Biblical times, they didn’t have the incredible access to all the sorts of literature that we have, they definitely had no TV or films and the musical culture was very different, but I believe that there are Biblical principles that Christians can apply to their media consumption. I’ll start by giving a couple of verses that I think are relevant:
Matthew 6:22 – The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.
1 Corinthians 8:9 – Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
I’m not going to analyse these two verses individually because I think that to build up a Christian view of media consumption we have to take them together. For me, from what I understand overall of New Testament teachings, there are some things which are clearly off-limits to Christians (like sexual immorality, murder etc.) but there are other areas which we need to talk to God about and see whether we feel that it is okay for us to do them and for me, the majority of media consumption falls into this latter category.
How do we know if what our eyes are seeing (or our ears are hearing) is good? Well your reaction to it is a good place to start. I’ve seen things on TV that I’ve started watching and then felt very uncomfortable, so I’ve turned it off. When I used to listen to non-Christian music, there would still be some bands that I wouldn’t listen to because of my reaction to the message of their songs (this is why I didn’t start to enjoy heavy metal music until I started only listening to Christian music exclusively). I have to say that, for me, there aren’t many books that I won’t read. This is because even if a book is anti-Christian, it will often raise issues that are useful to think about and can even help me grow in faith, the Wasp Factory is an example of this (sorry, Iain Banks, I know you hate religion and this reaction is not what you were going for).
This leads into the second verse that I gave – we have to be aware that what we don’t feel uncomfortable watching/listening to may be uncomfortable for someone else nonetheless. For example, if someone doesn’t want to have anything to do with magic in any form, don’t make them watch Harry Potter! Although it may not be a sin for us to watch something like that, 1 Corinthians 8 makes it pretty clear that we are sinning if we make someone do something that they feel convicted doing. 1 Corinthians 8, by the way, is actually about eating food sacrificed to idols. What Paul’s saying is that it’s not a sin to eat it, because it’s just food, but it is a sin if you lead another Christian astray by doing it. He talks about their conscience being ‘defiled’ in verse 7.
Let’s remember this: Christians are supposed to encourage each other in their faith (Ephesians 4:29). If you love fantasy books, like me, yet another Christian doesn’t because of the magic in them, don’t mock them or anything, encourage them in their decisions and support them in following the path that God has given them. Or if someone you know doesn’t listen to non-Christian music, don’t keep recommending them Lady Gaga songs to listen to; if you’re desperate to recommend them a song, find some new Christian music for them and encourage them that way. I’ve already mentioned about not watching a film with someone that you know they won’t want to watch. The Biblical onus is definitely on the Christian who is happier with more in a situation to encourage the person who is happier with less and not lead them astray.
I’ve tried to keep this Biblical, but I won’t hide the fact that when it comes to the media, as a Christian there is a lot of personal choice involved. At the end of the day, if something is harming your relationship with God, stop. That’s a pretty safe Golden Rule to live by.