How do you decide?
By Veronica Wee
Having grown up in a Christian family, I have more or less had the stereotypical Christian upbringing: Sunday school every week, prayer before meals and before bed, and – notably – not allowed to watch or read Harry Potter (amongst other things). This was not necessarily a bad thing. Not being allowed to read or watch a handful of books and movies was no big deal, as I had access to countless others instead.
When I started school, many friends found it strange that I knew nothing about Harry Potter. Back then, though, your parents’ word was absolute, so they just accepted that my parents were stricter than most. This peaceful acceptance continued until I was introduced to books that I actually wanted to read — like Japanese manga.*
My mother insisted on getting all the manga I wanted to read. My friends would roll their eyes when they recommended a manga, only to discover that it wasn’t allowed. “Your parents are way too strict!” they complained.
At that time, I happily joined in with the complaints. Yes, my parents were so strict. Yes, it was so unfair. But was it unfair? In hindsight, my parents were always firm in their decisions, but they were not unreasonable. Even at that age, I privately understood and agreed with my mom’s reasons against reading those “bad” manga. But blaming my parents was significantly easier than trying to fight popular opinion by myself, so “my parents won’t let me” became my favourite excuse.
Transiting into adulthood
Unfortunately, I turn 18 this year and that excuse is getting old. Soon, I probably would not be living in the same house, or even in the same country, as my parents anymore. I have reached the point where I can and should be making those kind of decisions for myself.
At this point, most people would be jumping with glee. Finally, freedom to do whatever I want! Well, sorry to be a wet blanket, but I find it a little harder to be so excited. With freedom to make my own choices comes the responsibility to make good choices – and this is a heavy responsibility.
Why does it matter anyhow? All these things are just stories — fiction, fantasy, not real. What’s the worst they could do?
Does it matter?
Yet, it is important to be careful what goes into your ears and eyes. Books, movies, television, music etc. — our minds consume these things like our physical bodies consume breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And remember the saying, “You are what you eat”? Your mind, “the wellspring of life” (Pro 4:23), is influenced by what you consume with your ears and eyes.
So, what should you be filling your minds with? Paul answers, “those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable” (Phil 4:8). That seems straightforward enough. But then, what is “good”? What does it mean to “deserve praise”?
The simple answer is that God is good. This doesn’t only mean that “good” is a description of God — instead, God is what it means to be good. When Jesus was called “good teacher”, he responds by saying that “no one is good — except God alone” (Luke 18:18-19). God is the standard of what is “good” and what is worthy of praise.
Feeding my mind
So how does this translate into being careful of what we consume with our minds? How can we evaluate every single book, movie, or game to see if it matches up to God’s perfect standard of goodness? Somehow, I think my brother might have to throw out at least half of his games and I might as well turn off my computer and television permanently.
I am probably being over- dramatic, but the world is filled with media that does not match up to a godly standard. You cannot turn your head without being bombarded with secular values and influences. And I can understand why my parents were careful in what they let me watch and read, because it is so easy to be swept away in a tide of secular media.
Christians are called to be in the world (John 17:18). We can’t go into all the world and make disciples of every nation if we hide in churches or bury ourselves in only Christian media. At the same time, we do not belong to the world (John 17:16) and our lives and choices should reflect that reality.
What would Jesus say?
Everyone I have brought this topic up with has given the same response: This is hard. So, as with every hard question, I looked at Jesus. Sadly, there was no television or internet back in Jesus’ day, so there is no definitive answer on how to handle the steady stream of worldly values that flow through our screens. We can, however, look at who and what he chose to surround himself with — prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners.
Jesus also surrounded himself with his disciples, but he spent time talking and even eating with tax collectors and prostitutes. People often use this to point out how Jesus was a friend of sinners and accepted all people, but wasn’t there the danger of being influenced by them? The company we keep affects us just as strongly as the media we consume does, maybe even more so back then. We know he could be tempted (Matt 4:1), but somehow he did not sin.
Somehow, Jesus was in the world, but did not let himself belong to the world. He influenced those around him, instead of getting swept away. Notably, though, he did not only surround himself with secular people. He often withdrew to pray (Luke 5:16) and spent a great deal of time with only his disciples. Also, when directly tempted by Satan himself, Jesus focused on God and His Word.
It seems like, once again, the answer is God. If our minds are already filled with something good and deserving of praise — God, the Bible, other godly influences — then it is possible to watch or read secular media (in moderation), but not consume it. We can be in the world, but not of it.
* ‘Manga’ is the Japanese word for comic. Manga are often popular for their distinctive, slightly caricatured drawing style in black and white – quite different from the more realistic Western comics. Some famous comics, like One Piece or Detective Conan, have been going on for decades and are beloved by both children and adults alike. There is a great variety of genres – some directed towards younger readers, others more suited for adults. When reading manga online though, as I did, it can be hard to differentiate one from the other.
Veronica just graduated from high school in Japan where her parents are missionaries. She is waiting to enter university.