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.
Let 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.