1. Travis Perry says:

    Good nuanced discussion guys.

    However, I am curious about the implications of your comments on a cultural mandate–yes, I agree that humans will create culture and that’s part of how God meant human beings to be. Yes, I agree it is right and proper for Christians to go forth as creators of culture, including so-called popular culture (I don’t see how is the “popular” part really different from “regular” culture in any Biblically significant way). It makes total sense for us to work to shape our culture for the better.

    But do we have an obligation to be consumers of culture? We have permission, sure, within clear limits of avoidance of things that will cause us to sin (or influence others to sin based on what we do). But is permission the same thing as a mandate?

    Isn’t a Christian totally free to decide to withdraw from the consumption of popular culture if he chooses to do so?

    The only problem is if that same Christian implies that you are some kind of terrible sinner because you don’t make the same choice he did. Obviously, he’s not allowed to do that…

    • Cap Stewart says:

      Those are excellent thoughts, Travis. I think you are right to point out that we are not obligated as Christians to be consumers of culture. There is a big difference between permission to do something and a mandate to do something. True Christian liberty involves both the ability to *enjoy* certain pursuits and to the ability *avoid* certain pursuits. That is a helpful distinction to make, and I’m glad you brought it up.

  2. notleia says:

    Joke’s on East. I can crochet and stream Netflix AT THE SAME TIME.

    It’s like a weird sort of capitalist-flavored asceticism, that idea that we’re supposed to be productive at every waking moment, with no time for relaxation or self-care. That even our hobbies are supposed to produce things that can turn a profit. At this point, we might as well borrow the Japanese word for death by overwork. To borrow a old-timey labor strike catchphrase, Bread and Roses.

    • I know what you’re saying and agree with what you say is wrongful about that kind of attitude. At the same time, I don’t think that’s exactly what they’re getting at. I’ve found my opinions about my use of my own time have changed drastically after having a kid. Certain life experiences give us different perspectives. I think it’s a mistake to broad-stroke say my perspective or opinions should apply to you. I know I’ve wasted too much time on video games, and so have made adjustments so that I hardly play anymore. I feel good about that. I don’t think video games are evil or always bad to use. But there’s legit way better ways to use my very limited time–like being with my family. I wish I had always held this opinion, but people tried to tell me my whole life that video games were a waste of time and I blew them off. Everyone just has to come to their own conclusions based on their conscience, and deal with what it means for them in the long-term. It doesn’t tend to be effective to try to police people publically.

      • notleia says:

        Well, it’s Christian subculture where I seem to encounter that idea most, that we have to justify our existences by working, or something. Like a weird fetishization of the Puritan Work Ethic (TM). Granted, it’s mostly invoked by cranky old men who are angsty about the Frivolous Things The Youths Do.

        Whereas while I’m getting older I’m getting crankier about unqualified randos telling me what to do when I didn’t ask their advice in the first place.

        • “On the seventh day, God rested.”

          Right there in Genesis is the implicit command to rest as part of a life-rhythm. God specifically endorses this in the fourth commandment and in several other commands that promote rest and recreation.

    • But can you read anime subtitles and crochet at the same time? :p

    • Rachel Nichols says:

      Fun fact. Long before TV, in the 18th century, William Law decried “fancy work” or needlepoint as godless since you could spend the time praying, reading Scripture, or making garments for the poor.

      • So many things that are assumed to be “regular” culture were, at one point, considered popular culture and thus frivolous, ungodly, and so on.

        • In a Christian epistolary novel I just read, originally published in 1867, the young heroine agonizes about whether the pleasure she takes in music and drawing is frivolous. At last she concludes with great zeal that she will sacrifice her love of the arts in order to dedicate herself wholly to Bible reading and prayer, but her resolve fails and she falls into despair. She then has the following conversation with her mother:

          “I see how it is,” [my mother] said; “you have forgotten that body of yours, of which I reminded you, and have been trying to live as if you were all soul and spirit. You have been straining every nerve to acquire perfection, whereas this is God’s gift, and one that He is willing to give you, fully and freely.”

          “I have done seeking for that or anything else that is good,” I said, despondently. “And so I have gone back to my music and everything else.”

          “Here is just the rock upon which you split,” she returned. “You speak of going back to your music as if that implied going away from God. You rush from one extreme to another. The only true way to live in this world, constituted just as we are, is to make all our employments subserve the one great end and aim of existence, namely, to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. But in order to do this we must be wise task-masters, and not require of ourselves what we cannot possibly perform. Recreation we must have. Otherwise the strings of our soul, wound up to an unnatural tension, will break.”

          “Oh, I do wish,” I cried, “that God had given us plain rules, about which we could make no mistake!”

          “I think His rules are plain,” she replied. “And some liberty of action He must leave us, or we should become mere machines. I think that those who love Him, and wait upon Him day by day, learn His will almost imperceptibly, and need not go astray.”

          “But, mother, music and drawing are sharp-edged tools in such hands as mine. I cannot be moderate in my use of them. And the more I delight in them, the less I delight in God.”

          “Yes, this is human nature. But God’s divine nature will supplant it, if we only consent to let Him work in us of His own good pleasure.”

          As a reader, I found it fascinating that the heroine talks of her love of music and drawing as a consuming obsession for her — positively fannish, one might say. And yet her mother says the real solution is not for her to give them up, but to commit her heart and soul to God and let Him teach her how to use those interests wisely.

    • Just as a side note, East included sleeping, resting, or sitting on one’s porch as better alternatives than Netflix, so apparently he actually thinks rest and a lack of productivity is acceptable. (Quiet reflection while sitting one one’s porch isn’t ENTIRELY wasteful, but certainly less productive than a lot of other things.)

  3. That first quote you have from East makes it seem like he lacks a lot of understanding and nuance. Pop culture can be bad, but at the very least he’s over exaggerating when he basically says ANYTHING is better than watching Netflix and whatnot. Like, if someone’s depressed, distracting themselves with a TV show is probably better than drinking themselves into a stupor. And, reading is part of pop culture. Even if he’s like ‘only read classics or nonfiction’, he forgets that classics often were a part of a pop culture at some point or other, and nonfiction often contains pop culture references.

    Thing is, pop culture and whatnot can actually be very useful to engage in. It simultaneously reflects and shapes people’s thoughts, feelings and therefore actions. It can be a way of illustrating examples we can point to when having certain discussions. It can ask us important questions so we can already have them answered in our heads before dealing with them in real life. Also, there’s been several times when seeing something in a show has helped me put real life experiences into context.

    Whether or not something is extremely useful depends on how people engage with it, though. For a lot of people, engaging with pop culture is going to have some use or another, even if they view it as mindless entertainment. But for other people, it’s very important. I’ve seen lots of people comment on YouTube videos with the lessons they learn from watching, say, Naruto. Like, one person said they probably would have been less kind and compassionate if it weren’t for that show. Other people made a list of like ten characters and stated what they learned from each one.

    I’ve learned a lot about people and how to deal with them because of my interest in stories, which is very important for someone like me that wants to navigate social situations well but has a hard time with it.

    In some ways, I think pop culture and writing and all that has been a bit better for my walk with God. Like, maybe it’s distracted me, but at the same time, I may very well have been distracted anyway. After hearing the same bible stories over and over again and all that, it’s very easy for me to get caught up in daily life, whether or not pop culture is involved. But, pop culture and writing kind of calls my attention back to God in some ways. Like, asking what a show’s implications are relative to Christianity gives me a reason to think and care about God. And more recently…I dunno. Trying to write chars that have a meaningful relationship with God can be hard sometimes. And I see Christian fiction sometimes that doesn’t illustrate actual relationships with God as well as I’d like. This is sort of convicting for me. Like, how close are any of us to God, really? If we were doing everything we were supposed to regarding God, wouldn’t we be able to write about that relationship just as easily as we write about romance and friendship?

    • Not to mention that it’s nonsensical to imply you can avoid interacting with pop culture to begin with. It’s just part of life.

      • Yep. Though I don’t know what his exact definition of pop culture is. But, in a matter of speaking, the bible itself is sort of part of pop culture when we think about how it’s influenced Western writing and how many references modern stories make to the bible without even realizing it.

      • Rachel Nichols says:

        Billboards and people discussing current events are forms of pop culture.

  4. Kevin Robinson says:

    YES!! So East is OK with me playing Eldritch Horror, Magic the Gathering and Cthulu Wars! Board Games are OK!! 😀 (Just kidding. I believe the standards apply to board games as much as anything and there are certain ones I won’t play. I just thought it was amusing that he gave a broad pass to board-gamers. I have a feeling he’s not aware of some of the junk in the board game world.) At any rate, EXCELLENT article and discussion, gentlemen. I enjoyed it immensely. Helped me even clarify a few things in my own heart. I’ve been really struggling with a lot of current entertainment and have all but written it out of my own life lately. So much garbage and in-your-face agenda. But you have reminded me not to allow myself to go full legalist nuclear option. Never-the-less, I do think the idolatry issue is growing and there is less and less to celebrate. It is definitely easier to break it off cold-turkey. But your biggest point that hit me was on the idea that we should be about what we’re FOR more than what we’re AGAINST. If we’re going to win this generation, we’ve got to celebrate beauty and art and heroism and do less crinkling our noses and frowning at everything.

  5. I am concerned with mindless consumption of TV, movies and pop music. It’s promoting materialism/consumerism and naivete. In addition to being harmless as doves we’re to be crafty as snakes.

    Christianity has its own pop culture full of banality. While not promoting unchastity or overt idolatry it too is full of materialism and lacks discernment. Until the indie publishing scene I only would read nonfiction from CBA houses. For fiction I read only YA and the classics. Glad we have more options now.

    BTW, C.S. Lewis was no big fan of movies. He stated “There is death in the camera.” Movies and TV kill the imagination and stifle rational thought with sensory overload, regardless of the message. I watch movies occasionally (last one I saw was Unplanned. Amazed at how good a Christian movie could actually be!) But if you watch TV 8-12 hours a day–on days off work–you should be concerned and prayerfully evaluate your life.

    • Actually, that’s more dependent on what one watches and how they engage with it. Obviously there’s a such thing as too much TV, but a lot of the shows I’ve watched have stimulated my imagination just as much, if not moreso, than books. And it can actually STIMULATE rational thought by giving more scenarios for one’s brain to chew on. That’s a lot better than assuming that simply going through the motions of every day life will somehow improve irrational thought more than something that’s actually thought provoking.

What do you think?