Irreverent Humor and “Good Message” Trojan Horses

trojan-horse Years ago I was chatting with an LDS co-worker about favorite movies. Married in the temple, loving wife, three kids – he’s one of the most affable, nicest guys one could ever hope to meet. As he rattled off several of his favorite films – all comedies – a pattern began to emerge along these lines: “Big Daddy was really funny. I didn’t care for the bad language, and all the jokes about Hooters – but it had a great message about becoming a father and sacrificing for your kids. And did you see his other movie, Click? That was a great one too. The jokes about their dogs always humping stuffed animals and couch cushions was pretty over the top, but that movie had a wonderful message, too – to not take for granted the everyday opportunities with the wife and children.”

This conversation has stood out in my mind for many years, because it encapsulates the justification dance many LDS (including myself) do when it comes to the selection of worldly entertainment that is allowed into our homes, our minds, and the minds of our children.

For a moment, let’s put aside the oft-referenced Church leaders’ admonitions of seeking after wholesome, uplifting entertainment, of not watching R-rated movies (and other media with similar content), as well as the over-used catchphrase from the thirteenth Article of Faith to seek that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” For a moment, let’s reflect solely upon what the Savior, Himself, has said in regards to how we ought to entertain ourselves.

“But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High…. And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, not with much laughter, for this is sin, but with a glad heart and a cheerful countenance— Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours….” (D&C 59:12, 15-16)

“Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God…. Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you.” (D&C 88:68-69)

“Therefore, cease from all your light speeches, from all laughter, from all your lustful desires, from all your pride and light-mindedness, and from all your wicked doings.” (D&C 88:121)

The Lord does not mince words when it comes to how he feels about worldly entertainment:

  • “cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter”
  • “not with much laughter, for this is sin”
  • “cease from all your light speeches… all laughter… all your lustful desires… pride and light-mindedness”
  • “sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God”

I’m at least as guilty as the next person when it comes to light-mindedness and “much laughter.” Reflecting upon the Lord’s own words, I realize how much I have justified my entertainment choices through manipulating the generalized (and rather subjective) wording of the 13th Article of Faith.

Without divulging too much about my life experiences, let me just say that in a number of ways I was not a model Mormon as a teen and young adult. I was not a Word of Wisdom breaker or overtly rebellious, but I harbored a good deal of anger – I had a troubled and brooding soul. I had a penchant for highly irreverent and dark humor. Serving a full-time mission helped to begin curing me of that, but even for many years following my mission, I would often indulge in irreverent humor and belittling others – sometimes playfully, sometimes with malice. I especially enjoyed indulging in politically-based humor from talk radio pundits who “slammed” (just another word for “mocked”) others who did not share my political viewpoints.

It wasn’t until a key turning point in my life during 2006 that I began to fathom how greatly I had been sinning, and how much I had to repent of.

In 2007, President Boyd K. Packer gave a BYU devotional in which he stated the following: “You who are young will see many things that will try your courage and test your faith. All of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Let me say that again: All of the mocking does not come from outside of the Church. Be careful that you do not fall into the category of mocking.”  (Lehi’s Dream and You, BYU Devotional, January 16th, 2007)

Darkness invariably accompanies he who employs the spirit of mockery. Truly, if there is any behavior or attitude that could be considered the most un-Christ-like, it would be mocking and belittling. And I had done it a lot. And it also dawned on me that pride is at the core of mockery. For years I had justified myself in these things. Politically, I had championed media personalities who mock incessantly. I had failed to discern that a number of them utilize faux-humble self-deprecation as a means to feign piety to their audience.

In contemplating the past, my repentance was sore. Afterwards, my eyes of discernment were gradually opened wider.

It’s pretty obvious today that the world is steeped in irreverent humor, mockery, and subtle wickedness more than ever before. And yet, a considerable amount of such is packaged in a manner that we latter-day saints have no problem either excusing it or readily accepting it, especially when it comes in the form of “knocking” politics we disagree with. When it comes to entertainment, we seem to be so desperate to seek out anything “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” within Babylon that we resort to accepting countless “good message” Trojan horses into our homes, minds, and souls. These packages – typically thinly-wrapped in a feel-good message, correct principle, or other acceptable ethic – are filled with subtle (or not-so-subtle) content that aids the adversary in eroding our moral and spiritual defenses. Small, accumulative justifications cause us to gradually bend along secular currents; increasingly parallel our thinking with them. Our ability to properly discern becomes one of the first casualties of these secular Trojan horse attacks on our spirituality.

trojan-horse3Let me cease generalizing and provide some specific examples – starting with that which is rather obvious, and then progress to that which is comparatively subtle. When it comes to irreverent humor, consider some of the TV shows that have become etched into popular culture. South Park, and increasingly Family Guy, contain filthy language (beeped-out or not doesn’t matter – it’s not as if we don’t know what they’re saying), extremely crude themes, and purposefully shocking humor. Nothing is sacred in these shows – disrespect and blasphemy are all but universal. Regular viewing can generate increased desensitivity towards both sacred issues and extreme content. And yet, some faithful latter-day saints (including myself in the past) may argue along the lines of: “These shows are justifiable for keen LDS adults to view and enjoy due to how they aptly poke fun at societal issues, and how they expose political and social hypocrisy. They are equal-opportunity social and religious offenders, and those who get upset at their jabs are too sensitive and overly biased. The filthy content can simply be ignored and dismissed.” While this line of thinking may seem rational on the surface, it is anathematic to one’s spirituality – detrimental to one’s relationship with Christ. I can personally testify of that.

What about popular dramas, such as CSI, House, and Bones? LDS members who view such shows may contemplate: “There’s a great deal of good in these shows. Forensic specialists and brilliant doctors utilizing their skills and talents to solve horrendous crimes, stop perpetrators, or cure people of puzzling illnesses. There’s nothing “bad” about any of that.” True enough – there really is nothing “bad” about that. Yet, that’s merely the “good message” veneer that these shows are packaged in. Remove that veneer, analyze the content of these shows, and one finds their Trojan horses.

For one, each of these shows frequently contain vivid, highly-graphic, expensive, elaborate sequences depicting violent and/or grotesque re-enactments of murders or brutality – coupled with intense sound effects and music. Despite being presented medically and/or “tastefully” (as opposed to the gratuitousness of a horror film), it nonetheless generates desensitivity in viewers.

Another is that there are occasional, if not frequent, episodes within each series that paint traditional, religious persons (typically Christians, self-defense advocates, or patriots) as hypocritical fanatics and/or secretly murderous. There are also various episodes where sexual deviants are demonstrated to be rational and sane, just misunderstood and inappropriately judged by others.

Yet another major Trojan horse is that all three of these series center around characters who are considerably morally flawed – some of them alarmingly so. Yet the choices they make, their behaviors, and their ethical leanings are presented as rational, reasonable, or even laudable. There are few exceptions to this within these series. In nearly every single episode of House and Bones, the characters engage in extensive ethical and moral dialogs, which often throw-into-question or belittle traditional, religious values. These dialogs are often presented as even-handed, yet the argument in favor of traditionalism almost invariably is demonstrated over the course of each episode as unprogressive, uninspired, and detrimental. As the heroes of these fictional universes save lives and help others, and viewers experience the guided roller-coaster rush of a packaged-hour of conflict and resolution, they are subtly conditioned to seeing these heroic fictional characters as moral exemplars as well as capable doctors and law enforcement personnel.

Most other popular television shows and movies – as well as popular books – are along these same lines in their manner of slipping Babylonian values within some sort of heroic or “good message” packaging. Additionally, there are recent trends in entertainment offerings that are downright alarming. Those that alarm me the most are:

  • the increased focus on and stylization of the undead (i.e. vampire romance, funny zombies, etc)
  • the increased number and intensity of movies that stylize pain and torture, even blending in humor
  • the popularization of witchcraft

To be certain, most of these evil works are not packaged in anything “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” However, the most “accessible” and popular of such spiritual Trojan horse offerings are wrapped sufficiently in “good messages” to the point that some of them are even sold by Deseret Book. And if Deseret Book carries it, then it must automatically carry a stamp of approval by the Lord… right?

As one scratches off the “good message” veneer, and objectively analyzes core content and subtle inferences throughout, the more one discovers the Babylonian Trojan horses and siren songs that are concealed within. As I’ve once heard it put: “There’s a reason why television shows are referred to as ‘programming.’” These subtle evils cannot be removed merely through beeping out four-letter words, or cutting out lascivious or violent content. A movie’s MPAA rating or television show’s parental-guidance rating offers nothing to inform us of its spiritual cleanliness or appropriateness.

As one looks for the Babylonian-values Trojan horses placed within entertainment produced for children, the more alarming the discoveries and the ramifications. For every overtly “good message” wherewith the majority of children’s entertainment is wrapped, there lies comparatively subliminal messages within, which indoctrinate young susceptible minds to the values of Babylon. With spiritual guidance and discernment, these Trojan horses become easier to recognize. As we ascertain them, we can counteract their influence by discussing them with our children; pointing out what is false, misleading, or contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

However, a Trojan horse is not necessarily needed for the adversary to make an impact on the behavior and personal values within developing minds. Sometimes all that’s required is a large does of lunacy.

Today’s cartoon offerings to children are rife with absurd, wacky humor. Even if there are no potty jokes, the zany, hyper-emotional, ridiculous characters and situations that TV cartoons bombard children with are counter-intuitive to instilling calm, measured, empathetic, reverent thinking and contemplation.

Irreverent humor is nothing new. Modern cartoons get their roots and inspiration from the then-envelope-pushing Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and MGM Tom and Jerry shorts dating back to the late 1930’s. These cartoons were heavily inspired by the corny slapstick of The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, and others – which, in turn, were inspired by silly Vaudeville-like stage productions going back hundreds of years. However, before the explosion of modern technology, all such things were a periodic treat to enjoy once in a while. Even in my generation, as children we had to wake up early on Saturday mornings to enjoy some wacky cartoon humor. Today, this increasingly irreverent and absurd form of entertainment is streaming onto TV screens 24/7.

The Lord has declared that if we are to be like Him, we need to “cast away [our]… excess of laughter far from [us]”. He has informed us that “much laughter” is sin. He doesn’t wish for us to be sullen and bereft of humor – we are ever to have joy and rejoice in our blessings. However, there is a line, and the Lord has defined it: excess of laughter is sin. Like all other sinful matters, we must be mindful of this line and repent when we cross it. I have crossed it many times, and I have been a poor example to my children, who are now accustomed to gleefully crossing this line. I pray the Lord assists us as I correct this in myself, and as I strive to guide my children to understand and honor this boundary that the Lord has set.

About D. Christian Markham

D. Christian Markham is the author of the free-online, freely-downloadable book There Are Save Two Churches Only, Volume I, available at twochurchesonly.com. He is currently working on recording it as an audio book, which will also be available for download at no charge. He comes from six generations of LDS heritage on his father’s side, and non-LDS Christians on his mother’s side. Christian served his mission in Hong Kong. Years later he gave up a lifelong dream of becoming a filmmaker and became an I.T. engineer in order to better provide for his wife and children. Over the course of eleven years he worked for several large and small businesses, including the Church Office Building. Christian and his family have since relocated to Taiwan so that his children can become bilingual. He teaches English full time to Taiwan children, and loves every minute of it. He hopes to complete and publish Volume II by the end of 2013.

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27 Responses to Irreverent Humor and “Good Message” Trojan Horses

  1. James says:

    Amen and Amen, brother. The interesting thing to watch will be the level of angry, offended and otherwise contentious feedback you will get for saying the truth. I have come to recognize that attitude as the inextricable result of stepping on peoples demons. We each harbor them and give them a place in our hearts to one extent or another. I then realized that when I felt angry/contentious or mocking/dismissive, someone or something was stepping on my demons toes as well.

    But it is a wonderful and truly empowering thing to recognize the deceptions in yourself, because you can actually do something about that. Instead the world tells us constantly that we would be better people if only everything around us changed first. God wants us working on our beams in our eyes.

  2. James says:

    I have been thinking about and pondering exactly the same things you just outlined and the Lord has been changing my heart to start letting go of past weaknesses. In this culture we love our babylonian or egyptian false idols. But the rub is that if we dont let them go we will be staying in the wilderness forever and never see the promised land. We need to overcome the world and leaving this stuff behind is 101 in accomplishing that. If we dont work towards becoming celestial quality people we will never become such. Zion is ot a club we will oin where everything is etup and waitng for us to enjoy. Only those people that build it themselves will ever enjoy it. Ever. Anywhere, and at anytime. I think i have a quote about that. Ill post if i find it.

    • James says:

      Found this one which applies generally.
      “If the breach is daily widening between ourselves and the world . . . we may be assured that our progress is certain, however slow. On the opposite hand, if our feeling and affections, our appetites and desires, are in unison with the world around us and freely fraternize with them . . . we should do well to examine ourselves. Individuals in such a condition might possess a nominal position in the Church but would be lacking the life of the work, and, like the foolish virgins who slumbered while the bridegroom tarried, they would be unprepared for his coming”. . . . (Millennial Star, October 5, 1861 [vol. 23], pp. 645-46.) (6)

    • James says:

      This is the one. I love it.

      “Do we realize that if we enjoy a Zion in time or in eternity we must make it for ourselves? That all, who have Zion in the eternities of the Gods, organized, framed, consolidated, and perfected it themselves, and consequently are entitled to enjoy it?”

      “When we conclude to make Zion we will make it, and this work commences in the heart of each person. When the father of a family wishes to make a Zion in his own house, he must take the lead in this good work, which it is impossible for him to do unless he himself possesses the spirit of Zion. Before he can produce the work of sanctification in his family, he must sanctify himself, and by this means God can help him to sanctify his family.”
      Brigham Young

      • Fantastic quotes! Thank you for finding and sharing those.

        I agree completely with what you said about every individual’s personal demons — and how we get riled up when our demons’ toes are stepped on. Excellent analogy. We all want others to be respectful of our demons and not point them out, and thereby we won’t point out theirs… but then, when will we ever face them and humbly eradicate them?

        • James says:

          Thanks, but when I say “our demons” i really do mean it in a literal way. I think there is an article on this blog that essentially says, “possession by devils and evil spirits is as common if not more so than it was when Christ walked the earth casting them out. They are as varied and personalized as we are and find a place with us as we yield to temptation until have a hard time telling the difference between them an ourselves.”.
          Just try telling someone, within your stewardship, some truth of the gospel and watch their demons rise up in anger and hatred against you. Its easy to read the scriptures and think stuff like that only happened back then. Its eye opening to realize that it is real and is commonplace in our day. People harbor spirits of lust, pride, etc

          • Thank you for pointing that out even clearer. I agree that it is just as literal as it is figurative. The demons within us are truly literal — “stepping on their toes” is figurative. Whenever I enter the temple, I always check myself as to whether I might be literally harboring a demon within me, and possibly bringing him in with me — like a hermit crab deep within a host shell….. A thought that always smacks soberness into me.

      • Katie says:

        ”When Satan is bound in a single home – when Satan is bound in a single life – the Millenium has already begun in that home, in that life. ” – Spencer W. Kimball
        http://scottwoodward.org/satan_wecanbindnow.html

  3. scootd28 says:

    Whew, I’m so glad you didn’t mention NCIS, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, Once Upon a Time, or the Marvel Super Hero movies! If you had, I might have to give up mindless Babylonian entertainment completely!

    Seriously – I’m struggling with this myself at this time. One of the few things that my wife and I do for pure relaxation is watch such TV shows and similar movies. Guess I’ve got some thinking to do.

    • Trust me, I’m still struggling to not only help guide my kids better, but to guide myself as well. I still watch all the superhero movies (despite the various Babylonian Trojan horses within them), but I’ve done much better in avoiding a considerable amount of stuff that “everybody” has seen and talks about. Increasingly I have found myself not watching TV almost at all, and fewer and fewer movies. The reason I can quantify the Trojan horse content of CSI, House, and Bones is because I watched several seasons of them with my wife, who loves them — I didn’t particularly enjoy them, but she did; so I watched with her. Now, I spend time listening to her tell me about them instead of watching with her.

  4. Roark says:

    So whose standards do we gauge as app? Even within the bounds of the counsel of the church leaders on this issue, it leaves much to be desired. They give some boundary, but leave much open to personal discretion, too. Personally, most contemporary society with its entertainment is filth. I consider myself a romantic realist and as such look for uplifting, inspiring movies that have a positive sense of life, some of those movies are rated R, but most are not. Gratuitous violence and profanity are anti-values to me. I think members tend to, like most of humanity, want to be accepted and fit in with their peers so they go along with whatever may be popular and/or the current norm whilst justifying such decisions with excuses such as; I can repent for it anytime.

    • Well said! This is exactly the line of thinking that led me to ponder this deeper and compose this piece. The thing is, it’s not the Church leaders that define boundaries for us at all — it is the Lord. What the leaders say (unless they announce that they received direct revelation in a “thus sayeth the Lord” manner) is ultimately irrelevant in comparison with the Lord’s own words on the matter. What troubled me the most is to realize how much more direct and unwavering the Lord feels about these matters than the comparative ambiguity of Church leaders’ statements. Their position typically echoes the “in the world but not of it” sentiment — yet, the Lord expects us to be as far away from the world as we are capable of. Our eye must be single, not distracted.

  5. Excellent article and great comments! This fits right in with my own article here on the Mormon Chronicle: Television and the Three Degrees of Glory. We have all grown up completely saturated in filth, so much so that we fail to recognize it most of the time. What is required is that we strain our spirits as we would an adulterated liquid, with ever finer strainers, until we are free of contaminants. You start by cutting out the media with obvious things, like murder, sex, the F-word. Then, you move to rebellious attitudes, steamy romantic situations, and the D-word. And so forth, eventually, you will see that practically ALL modern media contains content that is offensive to the Lord, and which does not belong in your personal Zion, nor will it be in the Lord’s.

    • Thanks, Rod! Some may feel such standards are too rigid — but if we truly pine for Zion, why do we allow ourselves to indulge in material that is so anathema to Zion?

      • Katie says:

        It occurred to me a few years ago that the entertainment I was consuming consisted of voyeuristically experiencing telestial-level behavior. I then remembered the old story of the Watchers, who I had heard about in Institute and later tracked down to study about through Hugh Nibley… apparently these celestialized beings, from the city of Enoch who had been taken up into heaven, began to watch the forbidden goings-on back down here on earth and yearn for the good old days in Babylon. They fell – everlastingly. Over and over again I have returned to this thought. Why am I finding entertainment in telestial behavior? If I can not imagine what celestial entertainment would be like, or better said, can’t imagine myself enjoying it, what does that say about me?

  6. Spencer says:

    I seen a few episodes of Family Guy and have Jesus and Heavenly Father as characters sacreligious I think. Haven’t seen it for some time. Never really watched simpsons. Seen some episodes.

    Much laughter I think is loud and boisterous making fun of sacred things. We are commanded to be of good cheer. An appropriate sense of humor has it’s place. Laman and Lemuel on the voyage to the America’s people pointing at church goers that kind of laughter of course inappropriate.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Spencer.

    • Douglas says:

      There’s a line between wry humor (South Park’s “All about the Mormon’s and the “dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb” song..) versus outright sacrilege and borderline blasphemy (fairly much Seth MacFarlane’s treatment of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ on “Family Guy”). I’ve watched many an episdoe of FG but when the blaspheming starts, CLICK. I don’t need an extensive set of heuristics to know when I’m getting outright crap flung at me.
      It’s a matter of what you fill your time and mind with. So much reading, learning, spending time with family that needs to be done. I like my Giants but typically have to fast-forward through a recording and just get the highlights. After all, when my daughter is grown I can get my baseball fix. She needs me today.

  7. Ricky says:

    Great article Christian, and thank you so much for your book, I ate it up! I recommend that everyone read it. It seems that all of Babylon’s entertainment is contaminated with false philosophies and the precepts of men. If we are to build Zion and no one is to build it for us, and if Zion is to excel in beauty and the arts, then I conclude that we are to create the music, movies, books, plays etc. Imagine what quality of entertainment exists currently in the Zion of Enoch. How edifying, ennobling, and captivating to the soul! What truths can be taught through the arts that supersede the domain of words! This type of media will only be produced by those who love, understand, and embrace the celestial law, and wholeheartedly reject Babylon and her subtleties.

  8. joe e says:

    interesting article, thanks for the incentive. what’s neat about this “Zion” we are trying to obtain here on earth that i have found? that basically the missteps/potholes can by & largely be taken care through honest prayer, course we have our relapses from time to time were the conscious mind will wander back to our old thoughts, desires…..etc.

    since fall of 2011, 4 of my family members have been baptized into the Church starting with myself, then my 85yo Father, then my Wife and just recently my 16 year older Brother.

    it is completely amazing what the teachings of the Savior’s truth will do to the hearts & minds of Men & Women? my Wife & i have basically shut off the TV other than BYU & The Blaze……we read and discuss Gospel topics now, much better! Tks!

  9. EF Booth says:

    Is this the kind of Zion we yearn for: 3 Nephi 17:11 … and he commanded that their little children should be brought. So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him. … and when they had all been brought, Jesus stood in the midst, and he commanded the multitude that they should kneel down upon the ground. … and when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel. And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and

  10. EF Booth says:

    the multitude did bear record who heard him. And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father. … and when Jesus had made an end of praying unto the Father, he arose; but so great was the joy of the multitude that they were overcome. … and Jesus spake unto them, and bade them arise. And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye

  11. EF Booth says:

    because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.

    They weren’t sitting in front of the TV, and they didn’t have their ears plugged with ear buds. They weren’t at a rock concert or at the movies and they weren’t texting. But their joy was full and that made the Savior’s joy full.
    Oh, the lessons I have yet to learn!
    And thanks brother Markham for your wonderful article.

  12. Carma says:

    From 1999-2004 I taught early morning seminary in Texas. After supper I would study from 7-10 p.m. every school night. If I happened to walk past the family room where my husband would be watching “Babylon TV programing”, I would hear words that were so offensive to me, even commercials. I could not study the word of God in one room and overhear the world in the other without feeling as if the world had gone to the trash. When I was released and didn’t have to study every night, I began spending time with my husband who loves to watch TV (and who let our teenagers watch “The Simpsons” for years over my objections). Pretty soon, the dialog wasn’t so offensive, the stories just entertaining. Fortunately, I repented and am now very selective of the programing.

  13. I highly recommend everyone read “Twelve Diatribes of Modern Israel,” by Avraham Gileadi. You can find it here: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=109&chapid=1263

  14. Not important says:

    Chris, The next thing you have to repent of is that unsightly facial hair. :-)

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