Today’s teens and children are probably more familiar with violence than any other generation. While the murders and mayhem they see in movies, TV, and video games are fake, the moral desensitization caused by exposure to gratuitous violence is not.
Many studies have been conducted about the effects of viewing violent content, and while many of them disagree on the extent that viewers will personally imitate the violence that they see, most agree that the images and ideas behind them do have some effect.
Now, it’s worth noting that there are some commentators who argue that entertainment has no influence at all; that the images we see in a 90-minute movie have absolutely no impact on what we think or how we feel. But it’s also worth noting that corporations will spend millions of dollars on a single 30-second TV commercial in an effort to change how you feel about laundry detergent.
But let’s ignore the social scientists and advertising executives for a moment, and ask what scripture says. Obviously, there is no obvious command about MPAA ratings, or even a mention of video games to point to, but the Bible does give us the tools to understand and make decisions about media. Romans 12:2 is a particularly relevant passage:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 ESV
In this verse, we see a command to “test” and “discern” those things that are “good and acceptable and perfect” so that we can avoid being “conformed to this world.” While Romans 12 doesn’t have a huge laundry list of specific negative sins, it does describe many of the positive character attributes that Christians must cultivate in order to resist being overcome with evil.
Images are Powerful
Today’s media seems to be wholly focused on making its viewers conformed to this world, either by instructing them in which laundry detergent to buy, or completely redefining who heroes and villains are. And in the 21st century, bad ideas in media are usually accompanied by bad images. It’s important that we are able to avoid images and ideas that are not good or acceptable, but also that we can explain why we are doing so if we hope to overcome evil with good.
Christians are often called hypocrites for criticizing violent media when our own Bibles are filled with the historical accounts of battles and descriptions of God’s judgment. According to many liberal commentators, it is contradictory for Christians to prevent their children from playing bloody video games, and then teach them about martyrs that were tortured to death.
But is there a difference between media that glorifies death and media that describes it? Can we ever use the often brutal realities of history to teach and encourage, or are stories of violence and death simply too dangerous for our children?
Here’s one example of how we can look at violence. The emperors and crowds of pagan Rome reveled in the bloody torture and painful deaths of Christians in the Coliseum, but Christians were then and are now emboldened by the faith and character of the martyrs. The artists of Rome recreated these gory scenes in graphic images to entertain and defile, but Christian scribes recorded them in words to honor and encourage. Various Caesars were described as benevolent heroes for providing entertainment to their empires, but we understand that bravely dying for the faith is true heroism.
In modern America, we are less familiar with martyrs, but crowds of people still flock to movie theaters to be entertained by fake blood and fake death. Today’s children have probably seen more murders than the ancient Romans, but are also more sheltered and isolated from real death than any generation in history. This is a problem, because regardless of how well we protect our children from images of violence, we must prepare them for actual violence.
This sinful, fallen world that we live in is filled with real violence and real death. All of us will face death eventually. How should we explain this to our children? As parents, we must use discernment to decide how we should protect them from the serious effects of desensitization while still communicating the seriousness of sin. We must be able to shield them from bad ideas and bad images, while still explaining the consequences of bad ideas, and preparing them to overcome evil with good.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8 ESV
…And teach them to your children.
(To be continued in Part 2)