Friday, March 20, 2015

Neutral Media

A couple Sundays ago, the gospel for Mass showed Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem. That day I said in my homily that with regards to entertainment like movies and music, "nothing is neutral." That is, it all either helps or hurts us in our walk with God.

Today in the FOCUS blog, in a post about judging the media we allow into our lives, "Some media is neutral: neither good nor bad for us." Their list for judging the media we allow into our lives is very good, even the point that seems to flatly contradict my point, and I would agree with them, even the seemingly contradictory point. And yet I would stand by what I said.

Ed Viesturs
So let's dive in briefly. First off, obviously, neither FOCUS nor I speak or blog infallibly. That is for the Pope to do ex cathedra. Both FOCUS and I could be way off base. But to reconcile the two statements, that nothing is neutral with regards entertainment and that some media is neutral, I would propose this. Some media is neutral in a generic sense, that is, it is neither moral or immoral. But every piece of media helps or hurts the individual who consumes it based on where he is at in his walk with God. I might put Ed Viestur's book "No Shortcuts to the Top" in this category. Basically, the book is his story of how he became a professional climber and then went on to climb the world's 14 highest peaks.

But for each of us, depending on the particular areas of virtue and vice in our life, even one man's adventure story will help or hurt the individual walk with God. For example, if I am prone to judgment then I might find myself judging, sinfully so, the choices and sacrifices he made to accomplish his obscure goal. If I am prone to rash decisions then reading his stories of danger in the Himalaya might make me waltz off to my local hills unprepared and become the next search-and-rescue story. If I am prone to see the best in things then reading his stories of doggedly pursuing a goal for years might push me to accomplish the delayed goals in my own life. But I truly don't believe that even a mountain climbing book is completely neutral.

Annapurna, Viesturs's final 8,000 meter peak
So if no media is neutral in the end, if it all either helps or hurts, then we have to acknowledge that some of it is so close to neutral that it barely helps or barely hurts the journey. Fine. But then to justify the things that barely hurt, we have to fall back on the flimsy defense of, "It's not that bad." In this regard, just yesterday I heard the apocryphal "dog poop story." Students were trying to justify a movie that had "just a little bit of swearing" in it, and that just a little bit isn't that bad. So the next day she brought brownies to the students and as they were enjoying the brownie she told them that the brownies had "just a little bit" of dog poop in them. After all, just a little bit isn't that bad.

We're dealing with a God who loves us. Our response to him should be one of absolute love. We are preparing our souls to experience unimaginable beauty. We don't want the ugly things of this world, the ugly things we voluntarily let into our lives, to distract us from that ultimate goal. No cheap movies, music, or books are worth the inestimable beauty for which we are created.

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