Some of you know that I am a nanny. Or a governess. I can't decide on which title I like better. Anyway, one of the perks of my job is the Theater Room, which my wonderful employers let me use whenever the kids are napping or I am off-duty. I love television. I just love it. Even television that is not 24, I love. I especially like crime shows. Like Law and Order! Ooh, I have the biggest crush on Detective Goren! … Ahem! But none of this is the point. The reason I brought this up was because I was going to tell you a story involving TV and my love for it. My boss, you see, recommended that I watch a show he has on Netflix called Mad Men. He warned me, however, that the characters have highly questionable morals. “Oh, that’s okay,” I replied dismissively. “I decided a long time ago that I love TV more than ethics.”
I was joking, of course. To signify this, I laughed. I also said, “I’m kidding, I’m kidding.” My boss laughed too. But it kind of struck me as funny on a different level, because once upon a time, I meant it.
I’m sure you can guess the time. It was during my family’s stay in an abusive church. Most of us in that church did not watch TV. In fact, many of us didn’t even own television sets. Movies were okay (if you had ClearPlay), but TV was from The World, and was therefore evil to the highest extent.
Ahh, The World! It was our Mordor. Nothing from The World could be godly, and if you even exhibited a vague inclination towards what we called “the things of the world,” it would surely lead you straight down into the fires of Hell.
Perhaps you would be interested in knowing what the phrase “the world” meant for us. Basically, although I would have denied this at the time, the world was any philosophy or thing, especially entertainment, that came from outside or was not sanctioned by our own organization. Not our denomination. Not even our movement as a whole. Our particular church. Everything that was from the world was evil, tools used by the devil to ensnare us and lead our wandering feet down the paths of darkness. Movies, television, books, music, all of it was wickedness. If it was something that “looked okay,” that was particularly dangerous. I had this vague idea that things like television and books without an overtly Christian theme had this subtle, hypnotic power, and they would turn you into an atheist without your knowledge or permission.
To illustrate just how far this phobic loathing of the world went, I will tell you that our pastor once condemned Nancy Drew from the pulpit. I will say that again, as you have no doubt convinced yourself that surely you read that wrong. He. Condemned. Nancy. Drew. Nancy Drew. I am proud to say that I completely ignored this one, but really, pastor? Nancy Drew? Please. Does it get more harmless than Nancy Drew? She did go to church, so that was one thing she had going for her, but still! Even if she hadn’t, Nancy Drew was not written by Satan in order to trick us into being Bible- and/or bra-burning feminists or whatever it is we were afraid of. But she was from the outside, from the world. And that was inexcusable.
Here’s the thing, though. Nothing would have persuaded me to give up Batman. Nothing. And the pastor actually did half a sermon on the evils of The Dark Knight, which I went to see in the theater three times and which I loved with my whole soul (this was before I had been introduced to Jack Bauer and there was still room in my heart for other heroes). His reasoning was that humanity, disgustingly sinful as we were, got a thrill from seeing the pure, undiluted evil in the Joker’s character, and feeding that dark side was dangerous. I believe he used the word “wallowing.” I had really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I loved God. But on the other hand, I also had a very strong attachment to Batman. I just couldn’t give it up. There were many things like that. I love to read, so there were fiction novels lying all around the house. Fun books without any deep meaning, you know. And there was my music. I’m not the biggest fan of Christian music for its own sake. I don’t have hymns on my iPod. I have movie soundtracks and Driftless Pony Club and Fort Minor. My taste is pretty tame and it doesn’t lean toward anything that would have gotten me excommunicated, but still, it all had elements of the world in it. And that was bad, wasn’t it? We were constantly told that we had a choice to make: was it going to be God or the world? There was no coexistence, no harmony, no "in and not of." It was all so black and white. Which do you love, Andrea? Batman or God?
And I had this constant feeling of terrible defiance. I never really felt that Batman was evil. I could not convince myself of that. But at the same time, the pastor’s word was law. So I actually ended up making the conscious choice that I was going to choose Batman and ask forgiveness later. I truly couldn’t help it. I guess it’s just some weird quirk in my personality, but I get really attached to fiction and to fictional characters, and I lived in constant terror that something I loved would be taken away from me. Thankfully, my parents dismissed the Batman-is-evil thing with the same contempt I did, but still.
Now, I just want to make it very clear that Batman was never and “idol” for me. Neither is Jack Bauer, believe it or not. I love those guys to death, but the idea of replacing God in my life with a fictional character (actually, anybody at all), no matter how awesome, is just laughable. And I’d know if I had. There was no subconscious idol-making.
I see now that I never did choose Batman over God, because the god they showed me never really existed at all.
We were taught that the path to Him was unclear, full of pitfalls and snares. Only the pastor, the elders, and the long-dead church fathers knew the way, and we were just darn lucky they decided to share their illumination with us poor simpletons. (Sidenote: I always had trouble trusting the church fathers because I love facial hair as much as the next person— probably more, actually — but these men took it too far. Really, John Calvin? An eighteen-inch beard? Who does that?) Especially with the things of the world— they knew how dangerous it was and we couldn’t spot it for the life of us. Everything that looked innocent was actually a demon in disguise, and we lived in constant fear of the outside world and what it would do to us if we did not remain firmly rooted in our church. Disney movies, secular music of any kind, every single TV show without exception, books without an overtly Christian theme or whose characters didn’t pray in every chapter; all of these things would send us straight into the waiting arms of the devil. And the pastor knew these things and we didn’t. Any of this sound familiar? That’s Catholicism. And it’s just a beautiful irony that they were so obsessed with the Reformation.
I can see now just how screwed up all that was. That’s happening more and more lately. Of course TV isn’t evil. Of course it’s not. I’m not an idiot, and neither are you. I’m not denying that art has a powerful influence over the human mind, and of course I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as subtle manipulation. But come on. I think we’re smart enough to figure these things out for ourselves, don’t you? I’ve made up my mind that I shall watch Mad Men, and like it. They used to paint these pictures of the TV putting you in a trance and when you wake up you find out that you’ve absorbed all the philosophies and morals (and lack thereof) of the characters on the screen. But think for a moment. When has that actually happened to you? Never. You watch these movies. You process the things that happen, and you analyze. You discover the message and decide whether or not you agree. Or perhaps you are simply entertained and you walk away with a supply of stupid quotes to use in situations where they’re completely out of context (I don’t think you understand. These boys killed my dog.) Either way, you did not turn into a monster or an emissary of Satan by the simple act of watching TV or reading a book. That doesn’t happen, and telling you it does is just another way to scare you into doing what you’re told.
I guess I have two points to make here: the “things of the world” are most emphatically not the two things that abusive churches make them out to be, namely a) possessing a strange and inexorable hypnotic power and b) hideously evil.
Because if you think about it, Batman is not evil. Batman is AWESOME. I will go to my grave declaring this. It’s the same with Nancy Drew. That girl is adorable. And Law and Order, which I have no doubt the pastor would have condemned if he had thought of it. Sure, there are some things out there that really are shocking. But they aren’t nearly as plentiful as I was once led to believe.
Basically, all I want to say is this: watching TV is not wallowing in evil. It’s not a Babylon Box, as I have actually heard it called. Don’t feel guilty for loving the “things of the world.” I think God likes for us to enjoy ourselves. Also, you are not an idiot. You do not need someone else to tell you what to watch and what to read and what to listen to. God created us with the ability to seek and find the truth here. Pastors are really not that much smarter than the rest of us. As long as you really do love God, you’re pretty much good to go.
I do love God. I know that much. I also know that I love Batman. And Jack Bauer. And I am sure that soon I will also love the Mad Men. The world is not a place to fear. It is a place to understand and enjoy, and to live in! And I know. I was born here.