On Sin in Entertainment and Churches

The Problem

A great sermon from Voddie Bauchum says our enemy is "The World, the Flesh, and the Devil." The flesh is already prone to sin, separating us from God from the start. On our own, we'll do plenty of evil. The Devil's kingdom can draw out our sinful desires, plant ideas in our head, and manipulate our circumstances. They'll ensure the even the strongest person can't avoid sin. At the group level, the combination of our sinful nature with the Devil's schemes leads our groups and man-made institutions to promote and reinforce sinful behavior. When the Devil gets his way, the resulting world is an environment that puts sin in our minds, rewards joining in on sin, and increases the amount and intensity of sin. Such environments also respond to holy thoughts and living with apathy, mockery, or violence. The flesh, the Devil, and the world combine to make an insurmountable obstacle for man to love God and each other.

God's Solution

Jesus was born without sin, resisted external temptation, and cleared the debt of our sin with His innocent blood. In the Spirit, we're told to crucify the desires of the flesh to be born again as new creations living holy lives. We focus on God our Father through Jesus Christ to let the Holy Spirit sanctify our inner being. Both Jesus and the Apostles, esp Paul, say our thoughts, words, and actions are to reflect the fruit of the Spirit, not the desires of the flesh. Whether internally or as others watch, everything we do must reflect who Jesus Christ is. The unreached see we're different from the world, they wonder why, and all who lean in are drawn to Him through His faithful servants and friends.

Where We're At

Yet, many sinners see no difference. They say Christians are hypocrites who have as many character flaws as other people. I tell them we remain flawed humans with a sinful nature. The Spirit improves on, but doesn't eliminate, our character flaws. We'll still slip. Then, they point to how we live and entertain ourselves. That is, what we focus our time, money, and energy on. Jesus and Paul told us what fruit we bear shows what's in our heart. They say we entertain ourselves and each other with sin: vicious or crude humor, materialism, violence, sex, and so on. Most Christians defend that it doesn't count because it's fake. Does it count?

Abhor Sin!

Yes. The biggest reason: we're supposed to abhor sin [cite]. As we become Christ-like, we see sin the way He probably saw it [cite]. We know that God literally hates sin [cite]. It disgusts Him. It angers Him [cite]. Sin left His creation in ruins, made His most prized creation His enemies, and His enemies torture and kill His only begotten Son. Since Jesus is God, our sin even forced Him to endure His own wrath to save us. He is so intent to eradicate sin that He promised to destroy everything He created that it affected: our bodies and minds, the earth, and heaven He threw Satan out of. He'll replace all of it. If being one with and thinking like Him, would anyone whose thoughts and lives are guided by the Holy Spirit be entertained by sin?! Real or pretend, would we even want to look at it?

Let's get right to softcore pornography. Unlike so-called hardcore porn, soft porn is actors pretending to have sex on screen for people's entertainment. There's a story but that's not why folks watch it. Their entertainment comes from mental and physical effects of watching the sin. They might also enjoy picturing themselves doing it. They might get inspiration to try something like that later, too. Your fellow Christians would tell you that you shouldn't watch it since the producers' goal is to get you to focus on, be entertained by, or actions influenced by that sin. As I considered the reasons, I found they generalize to other sins people pretend to do on camera for entertainment. Let's look at them.

A World Designed to Cultivate Sin

1. Sin starts in our head. If we lust for it, we've already sinned.

Looking at it puts it in your mind. Scripture says pull your eye out if it causes you to sin. Just keep your eyes off what tempts your mind to sin. In movies, TV, and advertisements, they increased the amount of sinful things we'd see over time to tempt us via the flesh to look at and participate in them. Advertising got so obvious with it that even people outside the industry tell their friends "sex sells" and "it's all stuff you don't need anyway" and (the most enlightened) "I just stopped watching TV." They also appeal to our vanity with models that don't look like average people, they present us things to idolize (one show is called American Idol), and recently most movie humor has switched to vicious. What previously put Howard Stern's and Eminem's careers in jeopardy is now normal talk even among young kids. It's cool and fun. Sin draws you in.

2. The Devil Uses entertainment media to mass-distribute temptation.

That last one is worth following up on given how the Devil's ideas and our sinful nature combine to make it happen. That combo puts more sinful content in our entertainment products, has distributors make it widely available, gets businesses keep it on the shelves, and makes individuals prone to buy it. Worldly systems start reinforcing it the second it's seen as profitable. We usually reward whatever is feel good, funny, perverse, or shocking. Industry takes chances on more of that. Anything that works they turn into series from them, habits for us, to get long-term revenue out of. They even churn out piles of movies about spirituality, God, and our souls so long as they don't mention Jesus. The Devil's real goal for all of this is to drag us as far away from Jesus Christ and holy living as possible. The people who join big labels in film and music even sometimes describe the experience as "selling your soul to the Devil."

The Devil does this for a reason. He knows God strongly blesses those who listen to Him, follow His Word, and act on it. Those blessings will cost our adversary dearly as people renounce sin and worldly things to follow Jesus Christ. The last thing he wants is for us to purge sin out of our minds to hear the voice of Jesus Christ. Our adversary rigs the game by putting tempations to sin in front of, behind, and all around us. We're already sinful by nature. We can only be hit with so much of it before we give in. Much like the fruit of the Spirit, the sinful thoughts that make it are a root that grows into bad fruit in our lives. We start acting on it.

3. The Devil uses groups of people against individuals.

People learn from other people. Followers, leaders, and rebels alike make decisions in reference to what other people think, do, or have done. Once a group forms, other individuals will join in perceiving they will benefit from doing so. Influential individuals and groups can lead large numbers of people at once. Groups can even converge into groups of groups: the entertainment industry had many sub-industries, many types of people vote for the same political party, and so on. Enough momentum in a specific direction creates forms of value, like money or fame, that can create lock-in for individuals and businesses. It goes from being easier to get into to hard to leave. Business and psychology experts call all of this network effects. Some call them ripple effects due to how they spread outward from a source growing in size and impact. Whatever the name, both the titans of industry and governments try to create or control them to shape the world as they see fit.

A perfect example is Facebook. "The Facebook," as it was called, started out as a site to connect students at Harvard University with no real, business plan. As piles of people joined in, they started doing their own thing on it with friends, family, and organizations. This user-generated content brought in massive numbers of users. Seeing this, Facebook's management kept pivoting its goals and design to grow it exponentially. As it grew, they generated piles of money selling detailed profiles of its users to advertisers, governments, and scarier people. Finally, the concept of lock-in showed up where people often couldn't move to a new platform or ignore Facebook's as much as they wanted. The reason was their network and everything it produced, like pictures of their best moments' in life, wouldn't come with them. Facebook was a brilliantly-executed plan whose network effects led to both good and evil outcomes on a global scale.

Sin and righteousness have network effects. Jesus likens them to sheep because most are natural followers. People look for leaders, guidance, what's trending. They'll copy what others do if they think they'll get something out of it, even a momentary high. They'll copy our sins, too, if they look beneficial and/or the person believes in us specifically. It's already in their nature to sin, to follow, and they just need a push or pull in that direction. Then, they'll do what always happens in network effects: they'll drag all *their* friends in that direction. Your decision to be involved in or entertained by sin has created ripple effects in others that can make waves in even more others.

First Impressions as a [Re-]Convert

(With some self-assessment)

[Personal note: I started by systematically purging sin from my life. God strongly blessed that obedience. I couldn't love and build up others living like a monk, though. I had to get back to hanging out with people. Most were into and spoke of these entertainment products. What should I join in on?]

I looked on the world with fresh eyes through the lens of God's Word. Movies (esp Netflix), popular music, and even "thought-provoking" games I liked (eg Metal Gear Solid, Mass Effect) went past desensitizing us to sin: they straight-up indoctrinate viewers with built-in philosophies that push them to think and act in a way that undermines what Jesus wants to do in our lives. Their heroes are godless, self-driven, worldly, and/or rebellious. The underlying, sinful themes are consistent enough that the Devil's influence on industry is beyond obvious. If we want to emulate Jesus, we often can't emulate our fictional heroes. If He can return at any minute, we might not even be able to watch or promote our heroes.

If you doubt it, just start filtering by the worst sins such as violence, sexual immortaility, and blasphemy. Entire categories probably just got eliminated in your mind. Add impure or malicious talk. Can you follow your friends' references and memes using just what's left? Did your corporate media and favorite politicians survive that filter? What you're picturing is how much the prince of this world is dominating our mass media. What you hear people saying and doing that's from the sources you filtered is how much he (and sin) dominates humanity. Forget sinners: can we even join our very brothers and sisters without participating in sinful thoughts, words, and actions? It painted a very, dark picture for me. I couldn't figure out how to be a part of that dark picture while simultaneously a light in the world.

The Cost of Avoiding Sin

If you decide to avoid sin, it will cost you more than the world. The first thing I noticed is that my brothers and sisters love sinful content. The Devil's three-point plan I outlined before worked so well that sinful entertainment is the default even for Christians. They believe they should avoid directly sinning but watching or sharing it indirectly is OK. Their group discussions and activities will often reflect this. Anyone who holds back in sinful speech or actions in such environments might be seen as weird, too extreme, or something like that. A person attempting holy living might become a willful outcast in such Christian environments just as easily as worldly ones.

It sounds like an easy decision to make. The challenge comes as the obedient believer gets in the Word, meditates on the love of Jesus Christ, and it overflows from their heart toward both sinners and believers. They want to spend time with believers to show them love. They want to build them up. They also need their support to stay focused on Christ. Yet, time with believers in these environments might expose them to strong temptation to sin that costs them their holiness and God's favor. That's the church doing exactly the opposite of its intended purpose!

Now, there's a choice to be made. God promises favor to and blessings on those who love and obey Him. If they *only* love God, they're not spending time with their brothers and sisters in Christ. We're called brothers and sisters because we're His adopted sons and daughters. We are to share in each others' joys, hopes, and sufferings together as His family. Those that love God are commanded to love and serve them, too. If they focus more on loving people, they can (i.e. will) get dragged by temptation into personal sin, fall into disobedience, focus less on holy living, the effects keep going full circles, and they start losing their holiness altogether. Their relationship with God weakens. Then, their actions serving Him will bear less fruit or fail outright. The pressure is on the new or visiting Christian to make a decision, and quickly.

(Main essay is over for now with no recommended solution. Originally, I chose to keep away from most activities with a strong, holiness focus. Joining them appeared to have dragged me away from that. To be clear, I still blame myself for lack of self control. All the circumstantial distractions just made it hard to keep a holy mind, focus on the Word, pray, and so on. I'm redoubling my efforts to get my focus on and obedience to God back in shape without going monk. In merely days, He's already responded with major events for people around me, esp family and unsaved close to it. I'll update the essay if He inspires me or even others to contribute something to the next part.)

Draft Recommendation

The easiest route is to assess entertainment against the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus says the fruit they bear is how you know if someone belongs to Him. Likewise, the good or bad fruit in any given piece of content or activity should tell us if we're to be involved in it. Pick content with themes closer to the Gospel. Think ordering movies like The Pursuit of Happyness, Shawshank Redemption vs Count of Monte Christo by how close they are to or encourage Christ's concpets. That leaves, actually, a good bit of movies, shows, sports activities, festivities, and so on to do. There's all kinds of things we can do as a group that eliminate or reduce worldliness. We just have to do them.

Actually bootstrapping this is something I'd rather not decide. I'm no leader or group organizer. One thing that holiness-focused Christians can do is to setup or host entertainment that would be pleasing to God. They create the environment in which people can have fun with either less sin or just not focused on it so much. The next step might be actively encouraging that. I don't know how well *that* will go over. The thing is that there's usually choices to be made when friends or churches hang out that can push it all in better directions. Each person, group, or church just making more of those decisions one by one over time will help. Do everything to the glory of the Lord.

(Read the Gospel, learn to share it, read other essays, or back to home.)