As anyone in the pornography recovery community can attest, there is a real challenge in determining what is safe to watch at the movies. There are bits of culture that are more difficult to avoid like commercials and billboards, but what we pay for at the theater is very much in our control.
The classic case of this is what I call the Requiem for a Dream Problem. The movie, Requiem for a Dream, is the story of how heroin addiction destroys the lives of four friends. Everything about the movie appeals to me. I have struggled with pornography addiction myself (not heroin, by God’s grace) and I love the raw nature of the movie. By all accounts, it is a classic film and worth seeing.
Unfortunately, it also has graphic sexuality and nudity which is only aggravated by the fact that I find Jennifer Connelly to be one of the loveliest actresses out there. So this movie is my equivalent of an alcoholic walking into a bar. I should not watch it.
Hence, the Requiem for a Dream Problem. At what point does the artistic merit of the film fail to outweigh the sexual temptation it will cause me. I suppose it could be called the Black Swan Problem or the American Beauty Problem, both of which are thought-provoking movies with serious sexual content. I wish I could watch them, but I can’t.
As with most problems, one should first look at the Bible. I looked for the movie watching guide in there and wasn’t able to find one. But there are important principles that apply. I should be cognizant of my own weaknesses for lust and considerate of the harm the film may do to others. Requiem for a Dream might make put a friend with a history of heroin addiction in a terrible position for entirely different reasons.
We should remember that movies are just stories and storytelling is an important art in all cultures. There is real artistic value that serves my soul in many films. We should be looking for the good in them. The Passion of the Christ may have an attractive woman in it, but the merit for honoring God is so profound that I should resist temptation and enjoy the wealth of God-honoring praise this movie brings to my heart.
There are also many foolish ways to approach this problem. For anyone who struggles with lust (read men), the idea of flipping through channels or going to a movie with no research is foolish. No plan is a plan and in this case, it is a very bad one. Our art culture is far to saturated with sexual imagery for us to march on with no plan. If you’re going to a movie, check it out online to see if it meets your conscience’s standard.
This begs the question, What is my conscience’s standard? How do I determine when a film (or any piece of art) crosses the line from being flawed but acceptable and when it becomes too harmful to warrant watching at all? This is a very personal line, but I want to discuss some ways to think about the issue.
Redeeming Value vs. Tempting Content
To be sure, images and movements are not evil in and of themselves. Sins only happen in my heart. A nude image of a women is not inherently evil (in fact, she was created “very good”). What if that image were of my wife? It would be good and even holy for me to drink deeply in delighting in her. The Bible in unblushing in its recommendations to enjoy one’s spouse (Pro 5:18-19).
Additionally, there is merit to the idea of redeeming value in a film. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest films ever made and yet it opens with a sex scene. It holds out such virtues as perseverance, hope, kindness, and justice. I love the line that Andy Dufresne gives, “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And a good thing never dies.”
I don’t know if Andy is right, but it is a great quote in a wonderful movie. Is the film worth the temptation I face in the opening scene? I think so. I often skip the opening entirely as it is not that pertinent to the rest of the film.
But I must be careful. More often than not, I am tempted to find a movie I want to see, then I go scrounging around for artistic merit so I have an excuse to watch it. I am not an unbiased observer. Many men are looking for excuses to see these films and it is not in a search for holiness, but in a search for cute girls not wearing much.
We are like a kid at the grand canyon. We don’t ask what is a safe distance to view the canyon from, we ask how close we can get to the edge without falling.
What is tempting to me?
Another important consideration is what specifically tempts me. Obviously, nudity is very tempting and I almost never watch films with nude women. I had to give up the shows House of Cards and Game of Thrones for this reason. I really like both, but it was simply not worth the temptation and sin it was causing.
I can’t watch any movie where girls kiss other girls. For whatever reason, this is a weak spot for me. A film need not have nudity or even sex scenes to be problematic. So when you are determining what is acceptable for you, know your own heart and steer clear of your own weaknesses.
What is loving for the actor or actress?
If 1 Corinthians 6:18 is right and whenever an actor or actress sins sexually, they sin against their own body. It would be unloving in that case to support their efforts to hurt themselves. The fact that it is consensual is irrelevant. I recently had a compelling discussion with a friend who said that he will not watch a movie where an actress had to undress in front of the camera crew even if no nudity is shown on screen. He argues that it is unloving to her to support her exploitation by men.
A more compelling argument is to ask, What if she were my daughter? I love my daughter very much and it would break my heart if she were to be ogled by a whole camera crew (who, by the way, would immediately go an jack off in the bathroom). It would break my heart.
To be honest, I don’t know how far to carry this standard, but I found it very compelling. If you want a more clear discussion about it, check out Cap Stewart’s excellent article Sex, Lies, and Star Trek.
Is it Lawful? Is it Helpful? Is it Enslaving?
In the book Real Marriage by Mark Driscoll makes the case that many of the wisdom decisions we make need to not simply ask, “Is this a clear sin?” There needs to be a higher standard. He suggests 1 Corinthians 6:12 as a guide. In Paul’s argument, he asks whether something is not only sinful, but helpful. Pastor Mark then applies this more broadly to ask the following three questions.
Is it lawful? This excludes everything the Bible forbids and that the state forbids.
Is it helpful? This asks if the film benefits me. Is there a good reason to consume the film beyond the fact I have an evening free.
Is it enslaving? Will the image of that girl follow me around the rest of my life? Will I have to use extra self-control later because I won’t use it now? Will I sin because I watched this film?
Will your freedom cause others to stumble?
Let’s say you set a clear standard and have satisfied your own conscience. You are fully convinced in your own mind what is safe for you and are comfortable with a film. Wait, there is a final consideration.
Romans 14 is a whole chapter about how Christians should give deference to the weaker brother. We should always ask if this will cause another to stumble. This is strange for me to say because I may be the weak brother. I am asking you not to put me in a tempting situation. Almost every time I see someone cite Romans 14, they assume they are the stronger believer. Not so this time. I am the weaker brother.
We need to be very cautious and respectful when recommending and watching films that we are not setting up a brother to sin. Practically, this means no one should ever watch any of the Transformer films (they are so sexualized and they are just awful movies anyway).
So What do I do?
If you have asked all the above and your conscience is still uneasy about a film, you probably shouldn’t watch it. The solution to the Requiem for a Dream Problem is that I will never watch the movie. I want to. I really do. But it is not safe for me.
The Movie Poster above is under copyright and is used under a Fair Use.