If you had to choose someone to upload ideas into your brain that will change the way you think and see the world who would you want to do it? What if you couldn’t choose the person and you couldn’t choose what ideas they upload?
This may sound like science fiction, but I’m not sure it is.
We are a culture that loves to be amused, and much of our amusement takes place on our screens. I personally am grateful for the ease with which I can find a favorite film, episode, song, sermon, or teaching. At the same time, I’m learning to be wary.
The word amuse comes from the Old French word meaning “to stare stupidly” or “delude, deceive.” The formal meaning has changed, of course, but the old definition may fit more than we think. When I sit down to watch something at the end of the day, or mindlessly look down at my phone, how many times am I just hoping to “zone out” or “turn my brain off” for a while?
The late Dallas Willard taught that our most fundamental freedom is the freedom to choose our thoughts, and he insisted that no thought enters the mind without having an effect either for good or evil. This means that “zoning out” in front of entertainment may actually be doing something similar to the scenario I presented at the top of this post. It’s choosing to open our minds to ideas that change the way we think and see the world around us.
In the realm of sexuality, we know that lust’s fundamental problem is its insistence on viewing people not as people, but as objects. Lust fails to see a whole person. What we watch also often fails to show whole people. Action movies wouldn’t be anywhere near as exciting if we actually had to sit through the heroes sleeping or traveling across the globe. Romantic movies would lose their appeal if the characters looked, smelled, and acted like most real people do first thing in the morning.
Maybe this is benign, but I have to wonder how watching even PG content on a regular basis may train our brains to not see people as real people. If we watch too often, might it train our brains even a little to view people as characters rather than human beings?
I’m not necessarily recommending you cut out all media. God can use these mediums just as He does other art. I’ve experienced Him powerfully through movies, shows, and music, as I know many of you have. What I am suggesting, however, is that we be mindful about how much we view and we change how we watch our screens. Especially if you struggle with how you view others—whether family members, people on the street, or the men and women you’re tempted to watch in porn.
Purpose to be mindful when you watch. Look for the actors and actresses behind the parts they’re playing. For example, consider questions like these before, during, or after you watch:
- What does this actor really look like when he firsts wakes up in the morning?
- What does she sound like when she loses her temper?
- What is it like for his kids when he travels to a faraway destination to film?
- What is it like for his wife when she sees him passionately kissing another woman (or man) on screen?
- What does she think about when her world gets quiet?
- Does she have anyone who sees, hears, and knows the real her?
- Jesus knows this actor. What does he see when he watches this scene?
I’ve been practicing this off and on for years, and it has helped me to look through the image to see at least a glimpse of a real human being on the other side of the screen. To be fair, it’s also occasionally taken some of the magic out of what I’m watching. But when I see a real human being, I stand a better chance of being able to love them.
Try it and let me know what you think.
And if you must zone out, consider other options like taking a walk, listening to instrumental music, watching a sunset, feeding pigeons at the park, watching people go by, or staring up at the clouds.
Jesus, you always seemed to see people to love. And how you saw them moved you. Would you enter into how I’m using my eyes, and help me to see what (or who) you see?
I’d value your thoughts: What other questions might a person consider to help them see a real person and not just a fictional character or a one-dimensional sex object?
Thanks Josh for this thought provoking article.For me it would have to be though the eyes of our brokeness. We are all wounded in some way. Some much more than others. What would it be like to walk in this person’s shoes! Our outer appearance can be really decieving until we get to know the person. Lastly often what a person projects to others is in a lot of ways different from who they really are.
Josh, this is truly profound. I personally am challenged by what you have brought to light. And I love your statement that to be fair such questioning also destroys the magic of what you’re watching. I get concerned about kids watching too much that is imaginary online. And I’m sure you do as well. But thank you for your honest treatment of this addiction that seems to be part of our world. This zoning out, amusing ourselves. Thank you it’s a worthwhile challenge!
Hi Josh, thanks for providing another way to engage with the “silver screen”. I got to thinking, how would the person acting feel if a million people saw beyond the imagery and saw the real person all at once? How would they feel if all folks did was objectify them at the same time — would they race off the set and feel embarrassed and self conscious?