Watching Christmas movies is one of my annual holiday traditions. Some of my favorite movies include It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn, White Christmas, and The Nativity. There are others, too. I watch the old classics in black and white, not the colorized version, for that extra nostalgic touch. These movies reinforce profound values of family, hope, sharing, joy, and sometimes a very clear message about God’s love for us as shown in the birth of a baby king.
I was discussing my favorites list with someone recently, and why other movies are not on my favorites list. One of the things I commented on was the foul language in some of the contemporary films. (I’m sure you can guess them. They often show up on the “Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies” lists.) I argued that there isn’t a valid role for profanity in these films. What value does cursing add to a Christmas movie, even if it is a secular perspective? I contrasted these to other movies such as Akeelah and the Bee, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Second Hand Lions, all of which have a certain amount of profanity, but it all occurs within the character, culture, and context of the film. I still don’t enjoy the foul language, but at least it is consistent with the context and there are other redeeming messages in the films.
The person I was chatting with said, “You have to realize this is what society is really like. Swearing is real and you can’t hide from it.” I believe this person was also trying to tell me, “You are being overprotective with your kids and sheltering them too much.” That caused me to stop and think. Many, not all but many, people do swear. Should I therefore just accept the profanity in these movies? Am I sticking my head in the sand and being overprotective with my kids?
After thinking about it further, I decided two things: 1) The argument that “this is what society is like” is wrong and 2) The argument misses the main point altogether.
First, there is the argument that “this is what society is like.” I disagree. Our society is marked by several things including tremendous cultural and religious diversity, capitalism, freedom of worship and association, an independent and free press, representative democracy, and the relative freedom for individuals to pursue their dreams. These are some of the hallmarks of our society, but not profanity. Sure, there are pockets of culture in which profanity is common, accepted and even expected, but not our society in general.
Second, this argument misses the main point. The issue is not whether this is what society is really like or whether profanity is appropriate for these films. The main point is that people need to exercise critical thinking in choosing what kinds of movies and television shows to watch, books to read, and music to listen to (among other activities). Also, as a father, I need to help my kids develop the ability to discern, on their own, why it is OK to watch one film and not another—the ability to exercise wisdom.
We don’t have our heads stuck in the sand, living a sheltered life. We are engaging in critical thinking and intentionally assessing the value of books, movies, TV shows, music, and other things. This is quite the opposite of a sheltered life! We are engaged in the world, developing a holistic and biblical approach to what happens around us and our role in it, and seeking to influence the world.
Nearly 2000 years ago, the missionary Paul wrote letters to churches and individuals, which on many occasions addressed these very issues. Yesterday, I sat down to write a list of these verses so that you could look them up and conduct your own study. The list started to become rather long, so I share a few below and you can use your cross-reference and other tools to expand your study. From these verses, it is very clear that God calls followers of Jesus Christ to be discerning (to know the difference between right and wrong) and to live righteously through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here are a few verses to explore (quoted text from the ESV):
- 1 Timothy 6:11—A reminder to pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, [and] gentleness.”
- 1 Timothy 6:20-21—Admonishment to guard what is from God and to flee what is not.
- Philippians 4:8—”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
All followers of Christ, especially parents and leaders, are called to a higher standard. We have a responsibility to critically assess the world, to be intentional and strategic in our choices, and to guide others (children and followers) in learning how to do the same.