This past weekend, over 12 million people voted with their entertainment dollars to see “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” Several million were no doubt churchgoing teenagers and young adults.
Yet “New Moon” is a spiritually confused, dangerous work.
On the one hand, it metaphorically asks the question, “How can I overcome my sinful nature and save my soul?” Thus, the “good” vampires in the movie are constantly trying to overcome their lust for human blood, often succeeding but sometimes failing. On the other hand, the movie’s heroine decides she wants to risk the possibility of losing her soul by becoming a vampire so that she can be with the vampire she loves.
Jesus Christ is very clear about the real spiritual dangers in this second message when he asks his disciples in Mark 8:36, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
The average American citizen today, however (especially among the nation’s young people), is biblically illiterate. They do not take seriously the theological teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles in the New Testament documents.
Numerous polls have confirmed that about 76 percent of Americans consider themselves to be Christian. Recently, however, USA Today noted that 70 percent of Americans were unable to name the Ten Commandments. In fact, another recent survey found that Americans were more familiar with the ingredients of a Big Mac hamburger than they were the Ten Commandments, including the command, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
Also, according to a survey this past spring by the Barna Research Group, only 9 percent of Americans have a biblical worldview where they said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is important in their life today and that they are certain that they will go to heaven after they die only because they confessed their sins and accepted Christ as their savior.
Faced with such spiritual confusion and biblical illiteracy, is it any wonder that “New Moon” almost broke the record for an opening weekend at the box office in the U.S. and Canada?
We live in a culture where physical health and getting government handouts are a higher priority than spiritual vitality and theological knowledge.
The Christian life, however, is about living for Jesus Christ and abiding in him through the power of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is lord of your life, he is lord of your entertainment choices.
When you pay for evil movies, you tell God, “You’re not the lord of me. I’ll do whatever I want.”
The consequence of ignoring God when selecting entertainment is that you push God away. When you push God away, he’s not as close as you’d like when you want him to be.
Jesus Christ paid the price to restore your relationship to God. You do not earn this relationship by obedience, but you do nurture it. God draws closer to those who draw close to him.
When you buy tickets to spiritually confused and biblically illiterate witchcraft and vampire movies, or nasty sex comedies, you are not drawing closer to God. You are pulling away. You do damage to the most important relationship in your life.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. When you don’t care about righteousness, you miss out on the best that God has for you and your life.
You may think, “Oh, it’s not a big thing. ‘New Moon’ is just a dumb movie.”
There is no little thing with God, however. To label anything as something God doesn’t care about is to miss the depth of his love for you. He cares about you from the food you eat to the person you marry, from the movies you watch to the career you choose. He wants the best for you. You get the best of God by nurturing a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Driving a stake in the heart of society
Our society is made up of people inspired to engage either in righteousness or in sin. The more who hunger for righteousness, the more honesty, integrity, courtesy, kindness and compassion you will see in the culture.
The more people hunger and thirst for illicit sex, drugs, self-gratification, money and fame, the nastier your community will be. Rapists, pedophiles, thieves and murderers are not living by the divine power of God or his Word, the Bible.
Today, the media defines what’s fashionable, and your vote at the box office has a profound impact on what the media will provide in the future. Buy tickets to bad movies and you’ll see more bad movies made. Buy tickets to wholesome movies and you’ll see more wholesome movies made.
The impact of this weekend on the entertainment industry will be profound.
“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” produced the third-largest opening weekend in history. Had the churchgoers who bought tickets gone to see “The Blind Side” instead, the message the studios got would have been radically different. While “The Blind Side” did well, it will not be what defines the box office this weekend.
The church – in particular parents and youth ministers – needs to understand the importance of media wisdom. The choices that Christian youths make not only impact their walk with God, they change the world.
If everyone who considers himself Christian made wise media choices, America would change. The media would be redeemed. We could export to the world movies that glorify God and minister to hurting people. Instead millions of churchgoers vote for more hell on earth with their box-office dollars and their television remote.
The United States and Western Europe are on the edge of cultural collapse, brought about, to a large degree, by the mass media of entertainment, along with the public schools and other institutions of mass cultural destruction.
According to Cornell University, nine out of 10 children abandon the values of their parents. According to USA Today, 83 percent of youth leave the church, and 80 percent of parents are very worried about their children and entertainment’s influence on them.
A new study of 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Research Group shows that America’s youths are growing more resistant to and skeptical of Christianity than were people of the same age a decade ago. Thus, currently only 16 percent of young non-Christians said they have a “good impression” of Christianity and only 3 percent have a favorable view of evangelicals, compared to 25 percent of young non-Christians viewing evangelicals in the Baby Boomer generation.
Many Christian parents are concerned about the influence of media violence on their children, but many of those who are concerned don’t know what to do about the problem. The good news is that there are effective ways to teach your children to be media-wise.
Five pillars of media wisdom
As the director of the TV Center at City University of New York, we helped develop some of the first media literacy courses in the late 1970s. Since then, years of research have produced a very clear understanding of the best way to teach media literacy. Specifically, there are five pillars of media wisdom that will help build the culture-wise family:
Pillar 1: Understand the influence of the media on your children.
In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, CBS President Leslie Moonves put it quite bluntly: “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with this is an idiot.”
The major medical associations have concluded that there is absolutely no doubt that those who are heavy viewers of violence demonstrate increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and aggressive behavior.
Of course, media is only one part of the problem – a problem that could be summed up with the sage biblical injunction, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor. 15:33).
As the results of thousands of studies on youth violence prove, watching media violence causes violence among children. Bad company corrupts good character – whether that bad company is gangs, peer pressure or violent movies, video games and television programs.
Pillar 2: Ascertain your children’s susceptibility at each stage of cognitive development.
Not only do children see the media differently at each stage of development, but different children are also susceptible to different stimuli. As the research of the National Institute of Mental Health revealed many years ago, some children want to copy media violence, some are susceptible to other media influences, some become afraid and many become desensitized. Just as an alcoholic would be inordinately tempted by a beer commercial, so certain types of media may tempt or influence your child at his or her specific stage of development.
Pillar 3: Teach your children how the media communicates its message.
Just as children spend the first 14 years of their lives learning grammar with respect to the written word, they also need to be taught the grammar of twenty-first-century mass media so that they can think critically about the messages being programmed for them.
Pillar 4: Help your children know the fundamentals of Christian faith.
Children need to be taught the fundamentals of Christian faith so that they can apply their beliefs and moral values to the culture and to the mass media of entertainment. Of course, parents typically have an easier time than teachers with this pillar because they can freely discuss their personal beliefs. Yet, even so, it is interesting to note that cultural and media literacy and values education are two of the fastest-growing areas in the academic community – a trend most likely due to the fact that educators are beginning to realize that something is amiss.
Pillar 5: Help your children learn how to ask the right questions.
When children know the right questions to ask, they can arrive at the right answers to the problems presented by the mass media of entertainment. For instance, if the hero in the movie your child is watching wins by murdering and mutilating his victims, will your children be able to question this hero’s behavior, no matter how likable that character may be?
Theodore Roosevelt said, if we educate a man’s mind but not his heart, we will get an educated barbarian. Cultural and media wisdom involves educating the heart so that it will make the right decisions.
So, how can you protect the eyes of innocence of your children and grandchildren? How can you redeem the culture?
- Teach your family to be culture-wise. One of the best sources of information on how to teach discernment of entertainment and media is the book Ted Baehr wrote with Pat Boone, “The Culture-Wise Family.”
- Become informed. Consider visiting MovieGuide.org daily.
- Spend your entertainment dollars wisely.
- Support the Christian Film & Television Commission.
Don’t vote for spiritual confusion and cultural collapse. Vote with God and Jesus Christ. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of media wisdom, and the fear of the Lord is to shun evil and overcome evil with good (Proverbs 8:13 and Romans 12:21).
For more information on protecting your children from the influence of the mass media of entertainment by teaching them how to be media-wise, please read Dr. Ted Baehr & Pat Boone’s new book, “The Culture-Wise Family,” available at most bookstores, on Amazon.com and at MovieGuide.org, or by calling 1-888-248-6684. Dr. Tom Snyder contributed to this article.