Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Entertainment or Art: A Christian Response to Apathy

I know it has been a long time since I last posted here. I just finished putting grades in for my first college class. Overall it was a good experience, although I feel that I failed to make the impact upon the students that I had hoped to. In the education community, and in academia in general, there has been much discussion on critical thinking skills. After teaching my first semester I have to admit that many of my students simply lacked the critical thinking skills to properly analyze issues. What I’m going to present in this post is an argument for why I believe a redefining of the word “art” could help solve this problem in critical thinking, particularly for Christians.

Typically, Christians approach the world (i.e. the secular) in one of two ways: total rejection, or indifference. Those whole totally reject the world often legalistically identify certain elements of the world as evil and therefore reject them and anything associated with them as fundamentally evil. An example of this would be the Good Fight. At this site you can order videotapes which allegedly reveal the demonic truth about Rock and Roll and other music. Essentially they take quotes out of context and/or point to sinfully lifestyles as evidence of satan’s presence in the musician’s work. Their purpose is to identify sinful and potentially dangerous elements of the world and warn Christians to avoid them. Those who are indifferent to the secular tend to view rejectionists as paranoid and reactionary. Instead, they believe that we have the freedom to enjoy things in the world. If man is created in the image of God, and God is a creator, then man’s creations must be at least partially a reflection of Him (they reason).

Of course most Christians live somewhere between these two extremes, but what I would like to suggest is that we as believers should avoid viewing the secular in terms of totally evil or perfectly acceptable. In light of God’s call for us to focus on what is praiseworthy, to be wise as serpents, and to love our neighbor, I believe that Christians should abandon the notion of entertainment altogether and replace it with art.

Phi 4:8 Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable--if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise--dwell on these things.

Whether in definition or connotation, our conception of “entertainment” contains the idea of acceptance. When we want to be entertained, we do not question the ideas, themes, messages, images, or concepts being presented to us. Entertainment is our time to relax and put down our guard. Entertainment is our right as Americans to stop thinking and be amused.

Those who tend to reject the secular entirely combat this problem with entertainment by condemning anything not blatantly Christian. But this, unfortunately, comes with its own set of problems. Because this response (as seen on the usually means finding surface level conflicts with Christianity (i.e. profanity, sexual allusions, drug abuse, etc…) and ignores the deeper philosophical implications (i.e. humanism, relativism, materialism, secular positivism…), it fails on many levels: 1. it fails to address the true problems for the sake of the lost; 2. it fails to identify the true spiritual challenge in order to protect the church; 3. it fails to recognize what is true, honorable, just, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy all for the sake of what is not pure; 4. it privileges the simple, shallow, and obvious in art and condemns the complex as suspicious, and 5. it allows for poor workmanship in Christian art by eliminating competition, discouraging criticism of any art labeled “ministry”, and privileging simple art.

The indifferent approach to the secular deals with the problem of entertainment by ignoring it. This view simply argues that TV, music, movies, and the Internet are all simple things made for enjoyment and fun. To them, people who get all up in arms over entertainment have too much time on their hands and are simply outdated fundamentalists. As with the reactionary view, those who are indifferent to entertainment suffer from several problems: 1. they encourage poor workmanship by merely accepting what is given to them as good; 2. they allow subtle, yet extremely dangerous ideas into their minds; and 3. they are treating faith and life as separate.

In our conception of the word “art” is the idea of critical thought. If you go to a museum you do not just look at the pretty pictures, instead you thoughtfully stare at them and attempt to search them for meaning and purpose. Compare this to your attitude and mindset when you go see a movie. I would suggest that Christians should abandon the word entertainment with its concept of mindless relaxation and replace it with “art”. I believe that if we were to do this, it would solve many problems:

1. Since the idea of “art” includes critical thinking, if believers viewed everything as art (TV, Media, Music…) then they would be more likely to focus on both the surface and deeper messages sent by the works. Where those who are reactionary struggle to identify the deeper issues of a work of art, and the indifferent Christians fail to identify anything, calling everything art would demand that we examine the themes, belief systems, philosophies, and ideas portrayed. This of course depends on Christians actively reminding themselves that art is not the same as entertainment.

2. Following from point 1, Christians would be themselves more aware of the philosophical struggles of their neighbors and the lost, and would therefore be better able to minister and love them. Additionally, they would be able to identify and reject any subtle challenges to their faith and the Truth.

3. Christians would be able to recognize and appreciate what is worthy of praise without having to abandoning it as totally evil. When we fail to acknowledge that there is evil in the world we sin against God and prepare ourselves for a great fall; when we fail to acknowledge that there is beauty in the world, even beauty made by the hands of fallen man, then we sin against God and do not love our neighbor.

4. Christian art would be improved because there would be a privileging of complexity, the competition of the secular, and an emphasis upon excellence. If Christians were all viewing what we now call entertainment as “art”, then a desire for truly excellent works would naturally develop.

5. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, it would establish Christ’s Lordship over the whole of life (to steal Schaeffer’s phrase). The very concept of entertainment suggests a shutting off of the brain, which is something that no Christian can do righteously at any point on this fallen world. To believe that there is an action that we can do in this life without examining our hearts and the action against what we know is True from the Word of God is to suggest that all of the world is not fallen and/or that Christ does not belong in every area of our lives. But if we consider everything as art, then we can say that everything should be judged according to the Truth and Christ is given His proper place, at the seat of the throne of our lives.

In conclusion, if we view TV, movies, the Internet, literature, magazines, music, video games (both secular and Christian) etc…as art, we will be better prepared to understand how to love our neighbor, protect ourselves from false doctrine, and admonish our artist brethren to good artistic works.


Bradley Wagner said...

Kudos! I heartily agree that we cannot shut our brains down at any time. Discernment should be practiced at all times and (yes this is a "read your Bible more" plug) can only be accomplished through reading your Bible: Hebrews 5:13-14. One word of caution, there are those in the Christian community who love to fight for "causes" and get wrapped up in terminology and not content ex. dating vs. courtship. So just don't let art vs entertainment become terms people fight over even when they agree on the content of the argument. :)

noneuclidean said...

That's a great point. There are few things worse than seeing people fight over semantics. I guess the only thing worse is to argue over terms and yet fail to make any change in your life. Typically I would not call for such a drastic change in our vocabulary; however, since we seem to be see united to the idea of entertainment as mindless relaxation void of critical thought, it seems to me easier to take a stand with a new lexicon as a basis.

I also appreciate how you brought up the tool for discernment in these issues: the Bible. The New Covenant is such an incredible blessing to us as believers, however it also demands a lot. And one of those things is that we cannot easily condemn all of something as evil. We are given a freedom, but with that comes the responsibility (before God and man) to have true spiritual discernment. Luckily God has given us the perfect tool to do just that.