I grew up attending private Catholic schools, youth conferences, and retreats. I was exposed to the Gospel on a regular basis. As a child, and especially as a teenager, I had countless trusted adults remind me, my siblings, and my classmates to “be on guard” and to be careful with what we consumed. They recommended the right books, movies, friends, experiences, and so on. They rightfully wanted us to protect our souls. While I agree wholeheartedly with the objective of their endeavors, looking back as an adult, I’m not so sure I agree with their means.
How to Navigate the Endless Streams of Entertainment
As I moved through high school and into college, there seemed to be less and less media I could find that was 100% virtuous. Songs on the radio had iffy lyrics, TV shows had questionable content, and it wasn’t uncommon for movies to be more obvious and less discreet in regards to their problematic scenes.
Thanks to the efforts of all the authority figures in my life, I understood the untruths that were being portrayed. Because of this, felt extremely guilty about watching or listening to anything with questionable content. At the same time, these bits of secular culture were highly enjoyable for reasons far beyond their bits of shady content.
Seek the True, Good, and Beautiful
I didn’t know how to rectify these situations. Was I doomed to only watch children’s movies and listen to sub-par Christian music for the rest of my days? I could see how much good was within these ambiguous bits of media themselves, but I often wondered if watching (or listening to) those immoral facets was the same as condoning them. And even if it wasn’t, were these immoral aspects going to change my own mindset? Would I become numb to seeing what was wrong with these actions? Would they cause me to descend down the slippery slope towards a mindset of relativism?
My dilemma was actually somewhat agonizing.
It wasn’t until developing a friendship with a priest that I was able to gain some clarity on the subject. Following Confession, he applauded my struggle, revealing that I was already absorbing the secular culture through the lens of Faith. I could see what was morally wrong and my well-formed conscience did not approve.
Listen to Your Well-Formed Conscience
As a Catholic, that was really all I was required to do in order to keep my mind from slipping into immorality. That is kind of the whole point of having a conscience: understanding right from wrong, so that when confronted with both, we can still choose to absorb what is good while rejecting what would cause harm.
We don’t have to run and hide from things that are unvirtuous. Thanks to God’s grace, we can face them. We are equipped to look evil in its face and tell him we know he’s lying.
This doesn’t mean we should seek out things that are blatantly wrong. It means we can sort through the content presented to us, separating the good from the bad. We can allow ourselves to only accept and absorb the good as truth.
Let Imperfections Train You in Virtue
Thanks to my priest friend, I’ve learned that being “in the world” but not “of the world” does not mean that we cannot interact with anyone or anything that is not 100% moral. If that was the case, most of us wouldn’t even be able to talk to ourselves!
What’s most important is that we view people and situations, whether in real life or in books or on the big screen, through the lense of Christ, the Truth (John 14:6). This is why my priest-friend gave me one last bit of advice before I left the confessional that day:
See the goodness and humanity within this show and focus on it. Try to understand the characters from a personal standpoint. Look for ways to love them despite their faults.
This guidance served me well. I started to enjoy that show even more than I had before my Confession. It actually helped me learn how to be a better Christian. I learned how to be more accepting and loving towards these TV characters, and therefore, I was able to better acceptant love people in real life with whom I disagree. I know longer focus on their faults, but see them as a whole person. One who is struggling but good at the core, just like me.
Guidelines for Consuming Media Through the Lens of Faith
Now, I cannot close this post without including some “secret weapons” for insuring the exposure to immorality has no power over me.
1. Do not seek out the immorality.
There are certain things available for our consumption that will always be wrong to watch. Porn is an extreme but good example of this. If you are drawn to a song or movie simply because of what’s immoral, be honest with yourself and cut it out of your life.
2. Regularly examine the effects this media has on your life.
Is this particular media leading you to love others more or less? If the answer is “less” figure out why and address the situation. If you continue to slip into sin because of the media, consider cutting it out of your life.
For example, once, after beginning a new show on Netflix, I noticed the reoccurrence of some impure scenes within my dreams as I slept. Though I wasn’t consciously choosing to rewatch those scenes, they obviously had some sort of hold on my imagination. This became obvious when the scenes started popping into my head during the day. Even though none of those things were intentional on my part, I immediately stopped watching the show before it’s effects could go any farther.
3. Continue to form your conscience.
It’s never fully finished forming. You have to “keep it in shape” just as you would your body. The process is continual. Seek guidance and direction from trusted religious figure-heads whether in person, online, in books, or in prayer.
4. Listen to your conscience.
A song may be relatively mild but still bothers your conscience when it comes on the radio. Listen to your conscience and turn it off. It’s actually a sin to act against your conscience. If you’re concerned that you may be acting out of scrupulosity, talk to someone who understands the struggle. You can also bring it up when you…
5. Go to Confession on a regular basis.
This helps you strengthen weapons #1-4. If media is causing you to sin in minor ways, the graces of the Sacrament may help you to stand firm when faced with that temptation. It will also help you to iron out any situations in which you may have misconstrued your conscience. Mostly it’s important because encountering the Truth of Christ will help you to better recognize and thus defeat lies planted within your heart and mind by the evil one.
Being Brave and Smart
Sadly, sin will exist until the end of time. However, thanks to Christ, sin is no longer something to fear. I don’t mean that we should be foolish enough to believe we can conquer and avoid these sins without the help of grace. Instead, I think we should seek grace constantly so that we can live courageously, unafraid of the secular world.
Do you have personal guidelines for what you watch, read, or listen to? Care to share them in the comments?
Grace Bellon is a lover of bearded men, rich coffee, cheesy puns, cuddly doggies, and Catholicism. You can find out more about her here (warned ya she liked cheesy puns).