Previous article in this series: January 1, 2005, p. 148.
We have maintained the position that drama per se is wrong. Since God abhors all worship that is not from the heart, He can only abominate the acting out of a Christian life, including, as it must, prayer and worship. Moreover, the holy God can only be filled with wrath against those who take His law so lightly that they deliberately mime sin, or are entertained by such acting.
Drama and Literature
The viewing of drama is not the same as reading a fictional story, or even a play. Some have argued that if it is wrong to act, or to watch drama, then it must be wrong to read a work of fiction. For, it is pointed out, literary works describe sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.
However, that comparison between books and drama is invalid. The principal reason is that books contain writing, not acting. No one is acting out sins of stealing, lying, or idolatry. Even when holy activity such as prayer is included in the narrative, no one bows in pretended prayer to God. That makes all the difference in the world. It means that book readers are not participating in sinful activities, as the audience in a theater definitely is. Reading good literature is certainly a valid activity for the Christian.
It should be noted that another difference between a novel and drama is that drama has far greater power to glorify sin. Now it is obvious that not every piece of literature is proper reading material for the Christian. Western society is awash in vile writings. Some stories do indeed glorify sin. All too many authors today write with the intent of eliciting sinful thoughts and desires in the readers.
However, the thinking Christian recognizes that such books are trash. His righteous soul is vexed as he reads, and he soon closes the book. Who has not pushed a partially read book away, because it contained more cursing than the sanctified mind could abide? When every irreverent use of God’s name requires the God-fearing response of condemning the sin and of hallowing God’s name in his heart, the believer soon concludes that the book is not only unprofitable, it is abominable to him.
Notice, though, that when a novel does include sinful acts or words, the reader can pause and ponder the dreadfulness of sin. The regenerated heart recognizes the deceitfulness of sin and the destructive power of sin as it unfolds in the story. Proper, sanctified reading demands this. Clearly, it is sin to the reader if he approves the vengeance, or the stealing, or the rebellion of the characters in the book. Yet, sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, books written by the ungodly can be received with thanksgiving (I Tim. 4:4, 5).
On the other hand, with a drama, the viewer is not able to pause and contemplate the right response to the actions and words displayed—not at least until it is over. Consider how impossible is a proper response, merely with regard to the sin of an actor taking God’s name in vain. One who views the drama becomes guilty of violating the third commandment. It is not sufficient after the movie is over to try to recall all the incidents of this sin in the movie and condemn it. That would be not unlike a woman sitting in a restaurant who hears a man behind her curse, but she says nothing to the blasphemer. However, after the man leaves, she concludes that the man sinned, and she should have rebuked him. Too late by far.
Likewise, the moviegoer has become guilty of violating the third commandment by his silence, by his failure to rebuke the actor. Yet, violation of the third commandment is but one sin among the hundreds that will be acted out. The drama carries the audience along to the end, stamping the images and sounds upon the soul of each viewer, even as it entertains through the sins portrayed. Along the way, the moviegoer becomes guilty of the sins that he witnesses and—by his continued viewing—approves.
The Power of Drama
The power of drama far exceeds the power of a book. Much of drama’s force arises out of the fact that it appeals to both sight and hearing, two vital senses. Virtually everything we learn or experience comes though our eyes or ears.
Consider the importance of sight. We believe what we have seen with our own eyes. Movies make the actions, the lifestyle, and the message portrayed real, and thus believable.
Additionally, we enjoy what is appealing to the eye. Movies showcase attractive, well-dressed, well-coiffured men and women, and the pictures taken present them at their best. Movies display for the eyes the glitter, the material wealth, and the ease of life of the rich and famous. Countless hours go into creating the right background, and the special effects—from the gigantic fireball to the fantastic physical feats of the characters. All to please the eye.
Add to that the dialogue. Although, from what I have read, much of today’s drama has degenerated to the level of the crude and the juvenile, yet the dramas of the Greeks and of such playwrights as Shakespeare contained much striking, even stirring speech. Still today, the dialogue of drama is at least entertaining, and surely appeals to something in the viewers’ souls.
Yet there is another element in movies often overlooked, namely, its music. Music itself has a powerful effect on the soul. In movies, music sets the mood for the action. When anger is displayed on the screen, the music is violent. When the chase is on, the music is swift. When the script calls for romance, the quiet music sets the mood.
The masterfully produced movie is arresting. Watching the action, following the dialogue, and stirred by mood-setting music, the viewer, to a large extent, experiences the thrills, the terrors, the lust, etc. portrayed so realistically on the screen.
The powerful effects of drama are well documented. Numerous studies, for instance, have connected violent behavior in people of all ages, with frequent exposure to violence on television and on the silver screen. Child psychology associations warn parents of the dangers involved in allowing their children to watch violent programs. Music videos are particularly powerful, and vile. The same associations caution that the common themes of such videos—violence, suicide, drug use, and perverted sex—have profound influence on the youths who watch them. Other studies conclude that if you are after “romance,” you had best see a romantic movie on your date.
One of the most frightening effects on people, especially children, is that after less than a minute of watching television, they progress into a state akin to one hypnotized. They focus exclusively on the television, and readily accept the content into their souls. Any parent who has tried to get the attention of his children who are watching television knows the truth of this.
Does this drama affect behavior and set attitudes? If it did not, companies would not spend untold billions annually on televised advertisements. In addition, the government would not have banned television advertisements for cigarettes and liquor. They know that it can create powerful desires, mold opinion, and change lifestyles.
Let us face reality, fellow believers. Drama is an extraordinarily powerful tool of Satan. By it he is developing and promoting a culture that is anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-church. He shows the world what is important in life—fun and money—and entices all to follow it. He powerfully demonstrates “the good life” that all should be seeking for “true happiness.” He makes the harlot to appear gorgeous and homosexuals normal. Rebellion of children is entertaining, even funny. The workplace is for eight hours of perverted and crude talk, and the pursuit of sex (i.e., fornication). The television is one huge propaganda machine, and astoundingly effective.
Newscaster Ted Koppel once said that the modern day tower of Babel is the television antenna. He is correct. Television is uniting the human race by molding the thinking, the morals, and the opinions of men, women, and children all over the globe. And the final product is vile indeed.
The Effect on the Christian
But our primary concern is with the Christian. What is the effect of the world’s drama on the soul of the believer? Consider that the believer has a huge spiritual battle on his hands already. Not only does he have a host of enemies in the ungodly world and the fallen angels. Every believer is also locked in a mortal combat inside his own soul—the spiritual battle between the old man and the new. Paul captures this battle within the regenerated man in Romans 7:19—”The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
This spiritual warfare is due to the two powers, two principles, within the believer. He has the life of Christ planted in him. Nonetheless, he is still prone by nature to hate God and his neighbor (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 5). He confesses that he is “so corrupt that [he is] wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 8, emphasis added).
Do you, Christian reader, recognize the Heidelberg Catechism’s picture of yourself? And do you experience that violent battle within between the power of sin and the power of holiness? And do you not also cry out with the apostle, in Romans 7:25, “O wretched man that I am: who shall be able to deliver me from the body of this death?”
Having done that, do you then willfully place yourself before the television set and drink deeply of the sinful poison of drama? Will you sit and enjoy sins acted out, where the wages of sin is cleverly blocked out, or at least put in the shadows? Where fornication is glorified, and has virtually no negative consequences? Where God’s name is profaned repeatedly? Where everything that is holy is held up for public ridicule, and all that is corrupt is approved?
Worse still, fathers and mothers, will you rent the videos for the covenant youths—those even less experienced in spiritual warfare and thus more vulnerable? And will you use the television to “baby sit” the little ones, God’s children, who sit mesmerized by the flickering images as the music carries the anti-Christian messages into their tender souls? God forbid!
What devastation this works in the soul of a believer! A man who indulges in viewing drama aids and abets the enemy within, his own evil nature. He foolishly permits the devil and the world to flood his soul with all the wickedness to which he is already prone by nature. The distressed cry of Romans 7:19, if it is heard at all, is but a faint echo in his soul. He willingly surrenders to the enemy, to God’s enemy.
You can be sure that this affects a man’s life. Continued exposure to sin for the sake of entertainment wears a man down spiritually. Initially he and his family are shocked or at least uncomfortable when the children in the sitcom openly mock their “parents.” However, the discomfort wears off, and the disrespectful attitude rubs off. If this sin is not checked, similar insolent behavior will appear in his own home. By then, perhaps, he will shrug it off—all families are like that, the television reassures him, and the children will turn out fine. He takes sin lightly. Eventually he is unmoved by the blasphemy of his fellow workers—he hears the same on television frequently, perhaps nightly. And how long will it be ere he is tempted by an attractive woman at work, and the way is open to adultery—but everyone does this, and, the television whispers, it is consequence free. This is not to say that every man who watches movies regularly will yield to this temptation by committing adultery physically. (Though we had better recognize that the just God can and does give over into this sin a man who seeks such sensual entertainment.) However, even if a man does not physically commit the sin, on the one hand he has been polluted by watching the sins, and on the other he has made his own battle against temptation much, much harder. The world’s drama cripples the new man within, hardens the heart, destroys covenant family life, and corrupts holy living.
There is no question about drama—it is sin. Sin incurs God’s righteous judgment. Watching it makes one a partaker of the sins, gives strength to the enemy, and, but for the grace of God, results in spiritual ruin.
…to be concluded