“Prudence is the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid.” – St. Augustine.
As someone who works in media, I am constantly discerning the best way to engage in this field while remaining uncompromising in my pursuit of virtue. Many recent events have brought this challenge to the forefront of my mind – last month’s Veritas debate on social media, our last issue’s debate on secular music and the first presidential debate.
Additionally, months of staying at home due to coronavirus have moved me and many others to increase our already-high media consumption.
As Catholics, we must exercise the virtue of prudence in all areas of our lives, but it is becoming especially relevant in the area of entertainment, as mainstream media today is often toxic to our spiritual health.
There is nothing more important than getting to heaven. And there are many influences in our lives – including the television shows we watch, the music we listen to, the Instagram accounts we follow, and the news sources we choose to trust – that gently nudge us off this path to sainthood, often without us even noticing. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and reflect on the negative effects that these influences are having on us.
Here are six pitfalls that I have become aware of in my own navigation of the media world:
- Comfort with sin. You might say that you can listen to a song and just ignore the bad lyrics or watch a show and just not pay attention to the bad scenes, but that simply isn’t true. At best, you are desensitizing yourself to this constant influx of immorality. We should never allow ourselves to become comfortable with sin and to think, “Oh well, that’s just a part of life.”
- Comparison. This topic has been done to death by many Catholic speakers, but to summarize, “comparison is the thief of joy.”
- Uncharity. Instead of trying to destroy your opponent in a debate, try being respectful, and always keep in mind the dignity of all other humans, even those we disagree with politically. The problem with most political media nowadays – on both sides – is that it tends to dehumanize and ridicule the opposition. This is clearly opposed to Christian charity.
- Supporting evil. I don’t care if you “skip all the bad parts” during “Game of Thrones.” No Catholic should be watching a television show that has actual pornography in it. No matter how you slice it, your views are contributing to the success of an evil show.
- Intellectual laziness. Modern media may be relaxing, sure, but leisure should include enjoyment of higher goods as well, not just base entertainment. The man who spends his day on TikTok will not be able to properly appreciate a Shakespearean play.
- Addiction. This one is obvious – watching YouTube for hours but saying that you don’t have time to pray is just silly. This is true even if the media you are consuming is good and enriching. Even Catholic videos and podcasts are not more important than personal relationship with God.
Despite these dangers that I’m spelling out, I’m not going to tell you that you have to completely abstain from today’s entertainment media. Music and drama are legitimate art forms, and while I dare say that Chopin is objectively superior to Taylor Swift, that doesn’t mean we must listen to him exclusively.
But I am challenging you all to be more self-reflective in your selection of entertainment and to try and realize how these influences are subconsciously affecting your thoughts and attitudes.
Here are a few guiding principles to consider in this process: Is the “moral of the story” a bad lesson? Does it normalize what is evil? Do you find yourself feeling indifferent toward the immoral acts that you are watching or hearing about? Ultimately, is your consumption of this media counterproductive to growing in love and humility?
It is not a sin to want to relax and watch television. But, at the end of the day, the Bible doesn’t say “Blessed are the entertained.” What it does say is “Blessed are the clean of heart.”
To reach this goal, it is essential that we exercise prudence in determining what it is that we allow to enter our eyes, ears, minds and hearts.