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Sharper than Any Double-Edged Sword

Do you get a thrill out of seeing images of darkness or sinful acts in a story? Where does this enjoyment come from?
| Mar 20, 2019 | 17 comments |

This article may come off as judgmental, and I’m fine with that. Any exhortations made are directly from the Scriptures. So with that out of the way, let’s jump into it.

The world of entertainment is incomprehensibly vast, and with mass media and the internet, nearly all of it is accessible anytime anywhere. As with most progressions in the human experience, this accessibility can be both good and bad. Good, in that our imaginations have an endless supply of creative food to ingest and digest. Bad, in that there is a whole lot of filth out there alongside the gems.

As Christians, we are called to a higher standard in our thoughts (Col. 3:1-2) and in our lives (Col. 3:5-10). We are not simply going through life feeding our urges before we die. We are meant to be Christ’s representation on Earth (1 Cor. 5:20) to shine His light to the unbelieving world. We as sinful entities are dead, and it is Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20). This means that we should strive to be more Christ-like in everything we do, no matter how monumental or trivial.

The reason I bring is up is because I want to look at an issue I’ve noticed in the Christian creative community, and especially in my own life. This issue is a lack of discernment in the entertainment we consume. This weakness manifests itself in many forms. Personally, I’ve always had an imagination that tended toward darker things. Dark music, dark imagery, dark books and movies. Nothing that outright glorified Satan, but my imagination would get excited by ominous imagery like skulls and weaponry or foreboding movie moments such as when the Ring-wraiths came galloping out of the gates of Mordor in slow motion in The Fellowship of the Ring. Something inside me would grin wickedly and whisper, “Awesome…!” I also channeled my grim inclinations into my early books, trying to be as melodramatic and shocking as possible (I can still vividly see the image in my mind’s eye as I wrote a passage about a disemboweled priest of the Church of Satan crucified on a pentagram in a cathedral). I devoured books, movies, and music that dripped with Gothicky goodness, and while I’ve never been a depressed, gloomy, or negative person, it would be dishonest to say that my creative inclinations were borne out of a Biblical mindset.

As I’ve grown closer in my walk with Christ, I’ve started to examine areas of my life through the lens of Scripture that I used to think didn’t matter, or I deliberately “hid” from God because I was afraid I would have to change. Sinful foolishness, I know, but our flesh is still a powerful influence in our lives, despite the fact that we are new creations in Christ. If the goal is to be like Christ (1 John 2:6), then no part of our life belongs to us. We can’t say, “Yeah God, I’ll give the big things in my life to You, but there are some things that I just really want to hold on to.” We either walk in the flesh, or we walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).

Before you get all huffy, I am not saying that dark imagery, fictitious violence, etc. are necessarily wrong. What is wrong is if we enjoy such things apart from our walk in Christ. Do you get a thrill out of seeing someone get killed in a really cool way in movies or TV shows? Do you get a tingle when a demonic or monstrous character displays their full power? Do you cheer for a woman who indulges in promiscuity under the guise of “owning her sexuality?” Ask yourself: where does this enjoyment come from? As believers, the Holy Spirit lives in us (Rom. 8:9) and He is our guide in truth (John 16:13). Do we enjoy the things we enjoy because they bring us closer to God, or do they tickle the sin nature that we are dead to (Rom. 6:2) yet still lingers with us (Rom. 7:20)?

Image copyright New Line Cinema

Some will say, “Dude, chill. It’s just a movie. It’s just fiction. No one’s really dying. It’s not real sex. Those skulls and bones on his armor are just props.” That is all irrelevant. What matters, and what is real, are the emotions and urges that are stirred up within us when we enjoy our entertainment. Everything in our life should be examined through the lens of Scripture and we must heed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I found that in my own life, there were things I needed to move away from, and there are still many more that I cling to, but in my heart, I know that nothing I give up for the sake of Christ is a loss. And my imagination is still very active and well-fed.

Yes, there are many levels of discernment, maturity, and tolerance, and it is not for another believer to judge another outright, unless they are indulging in flagrant sin (Gal. 6:1). Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:18) and refuse to open some areas of your life to God’s examination. If your conscience is clear, then praise God. If not, make a change. To borrow from Jiminy Cricket’s catchy tune in Disney’s Pinocchio: “And always let the Bible be your guide!”

Mark Carver writes dark, edgy books that tackle tough spiritual issues. He is currently working on his ninth novel. Besides writing, Mark is passionate about art, tattoos, bluegrass music, and medieval architecture. After spending more than eight years in China, he now lives with his wife and three children in Atlanta, GA. You can find Mark online at MarkCarverBooks.com and at Markcarverbooks on Facebook.

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Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Totally relate to this. Good post. And for any snarky remarks brewing from others, I think it’s important to re-iterate here that we don’t give up worldly things because it’s, “The right thing to do.” We give up worldly things so that we can cling more closely to our greatest treasure, Christ, and to experience the love and peace and joy we have in him. If you don’t actually love Christ more than anything else, you won’t agree with this post.

Michael Howell
Guest
Michael Howell

Bingo

Joshua Cookingham
Guest
Joshua Cookingham

Amen Brother.

I remember starting out in film school and justifying a lot in my heart and mind due to the importance of the story, and even getting thrills from things like violent deaths if they were ‘dramatic’ enough, etc.
God had to do some house cleaning in me when I saw how much it was affecting my walk. It’s still a process, but I’m a lot more sensitive to that small voice now.

Good post!

Autumn Grayson
Guest

Good post. Something that’s been useful for me when navigating all of this is to consider why I like/watch a story, in addition to its affect on me. When it comes to a lot of the bad things in this world, I actually feel scared, angry or sad. So if I watch a dark story, there’s usually a subtle sense of trying to figure out how to overcome/avoid those bad things. The sins and dysfunctions of the world have always been the enemy in my eyes, so to speak.

This isn’t a story, but a similar thing happened when I researched NPD and psychopathy a few years back. At that point, I was going through a hard time in my life, and learning that psychopaths existed just made me feel afraid and resentful. Researching them further was fascinating, since I love knowing how the human mind works, but the main motivation was understanding how to spot and deal with those people if I ever come across one. It ended up being good for me, because understanding problems makes me feel less helpless.

If there’s a villain or whatever, it’s ok to find them interesting, but who and what are we rooting for, ultimately? Is it difficult for us to root for the good guys? Are we consistently rooting for the bad guys? If so, that’s a problem.

notleia
Guest
notleia

I swear, you’re becoming the adult that your teenaged self swore you’d never become. πŸ™‚

I dunno what it is about human psychology that gives us such a thrill from perversity. (Not necessarily pervertedness, but perversity.)

notleia
Guest
notleia

Further thoughts: I also don’t like the purity game because there is no real way to know when you’re in the clear. Because the goal posts can always be moved further, because none of it is concrete enough to be remeasured with any effectiveness. Someone will always tell you that your doin it rong and everything wrong is your fault.

The only way to win is to not play.

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Sounds like you have some repressed guilt. There must be a Freudian theory I can apply to this…

notleia
Guest
notleia

Nope, I’ve worked hard to get over the unwarranted guilt I never should have had in the first place. Look up “vaginismus.”

notleia
Guest
notleia

On second thought, there is another way to win the purity game, for certain values of “win”: lying and cheating.

People see what they expect to see, so follow the checklist of what they would expect for a purity-gaming person: regular attendance on Sunday and for the weekly bible study. Look respectable, maybe slightly frumpy. Look solemn and nod when it’s time to denounce gays, liberals, and “the world.”

Also keep your yaoi manga password-protected, keep your backup Xanax stash in an old Tylenol bottle, and avoid going to the same liquor store twice in a row. πŸ˜›

Brennan S. McPherson
Member

Those are the least pure. “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” If you hate “violent, domineering imagery,” you may want to change your opinion after reading some of the “violent, domineering” activities God has planned to inflict on people who live in that kind of hypocrisy.

“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.’ One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.’ And he said, ‘Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,” so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’” -Luke 11:39-52

notleia
Guest
notleia

Except I don’t actually advocate the lying and cheating bit. More my point is just how much of the purity game is about performance.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I think we’re programmed to feel that way because it’s part of our lives and something we have to deal with in some way or another. If it holds our attention, then we’ll learn about it and deal with it, which is something we have to do. Some people deal with that instinct in a bad way, and others don’t.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Well, take The Passion of the Christ movie. Would it have had as much gore as it did without the intent to titillate the audience? And yet church culture ate it up with a spoon and brought kids to an R-rated movie.
I guess I’m just reinforcing a part of Carver’s point that even if you slap some Jesus on it, not everything is hunky-dory. Except I don’t care about stuff like Gothicky aesthetics or simple emphasis cussing that do no real harm.

Autumn Grayson
Guest

I don’t know that the Passion was meant to titilate the audience. It kind of came across as trying to show the depth of Jesus’ suffering. A lot of people found it shocking, upsetting or disturbing, from what I heard. Of course, it’s hard to know the actual intent of writers and filmmakers sometimes.

Though I agree that throwing a bit of Jesus into a story doesn’t automatically make it good.

Jess Hanna
Guest
Jess Hanna

Obviously, you are not advocating that the terrible things that happen in stories and real life be glossed over with a paintbrush full of whitewash. I think the point you are making is not to revel in the darkness while exploring darker themes, but seek to portray redemption through suffering.

The world is a dark and terrible place decimated by sin. To pretend otherwise is to reduce its impact on real lives and make it easy to play the church game of giving lip service to empathy while diminishing the pain of others.

The Passion of the Christ was necessary to wake the church up to the reality of suffering Jesus endured to save us from the stain of sin. The filmmakers goal was to accurately portray the brutal death He suffered for us. Sanitization of the reality of death, pain, suffering, and the daily horrors experienced throughout the world will accomplish nothing except clouding our perception of the persisitence of evil and feed our collective apathy.

The verses you quoted and described are true, but they also have context. The world at that time was just as brutal and a multitude of people suffered unjustly. To focus on the goodness of God is not to ignore evil, but to defeat it with good.

In my own writing, I describe darkness and evil without looking away. My goal is to show redemption, not revel in the horror, but to some extent creative types must immerse themselves in a subject in order to deliver an authentic impact.

And, if you feel convicted based on your experince, by all means follow that conviction. God bless you and be well.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Awesome post, Mark!

Becky

Jason Brown
Guest

Interesting to read this as I was getting bored watching the newest MK11 videos on YouTube. Plus gave up on Game of Thrones early in season 5 (also found it boring). My assessment was that the gore violence and action were waning as I was maturing. Reading this, perhaps it’s deeper than that.