Internationally, America is known as the land of hamburgers, French fries, hot dogs, potato chips, and fast food. We have all eaten food that was overly rich or just plain unhealthy… and often regretted doing so after the fact. In the short term, it sat heavily in our stomach. Long term, it could lead to a heavy stomach, along with an assortment of other health issues.
Our body does not simply need feeding, it needs nourishing. Luckily, it seems that we are learning the importance of eating healthily.
Now we are inclined to eat more salads, fresh fruit, vegetables, and fish, while eating less saturated fats, sugars, or overly-processed foods. You can even buy apple wedges at McDonald’s! While there is still room to improve our diet, the old adage seems to be sinking in: You are what you eat.
The same applies to our souls… What we feed it matters.
And while it is not the only dish with which we feed our souls, media consumption is one of the main courses. Therefore, the following suggestions will offer some criteria on what to watch and not watch in movies, shows, and videos.
Firstly, just as we would avoid arsenic to preserve our physical integrity, so too we must avoid consuming any material that would poison our souls. Pornography is particularly toxic, but it does not stand alone. Also seriously noxious are things like blasphemy [seeking to insult God], and the morbidly cruel [such as depicting torture].
Secondly, there are some things that while not as toxic as the above-mentioned, remain nevertheless bad for you, such as romantic movies that are more soft-porn than romantic, or the intensely violent.
A third category, ideologically problematic, is subtler. It depicts good as evil, or evil as good. For example, it may promote things like moral relativism, cynicism, atheism, or Transgenderism. Ask yourself, ‘What is the moral of the story?’ To answer such a question prior to watching the movie, trailers are helpful, but even better are websites, some Christian in nature, which comment on the content and values of movies and shows, such as Movie Guide.
The fourth category is the action movie, romance, science fiction, or comedy that is not problematic, but not particularly profound either. It is neither overly sexualized nor morbidly violent. It is neither Christian nor anti-Christian. It is mostly entertaining, fun, and relaxing. We watch it to get away and unplug from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It is the mental and emotional dessert we allow ourselves. Such lighter fare is fine to a point; I enjoy cheese cake too… just do not make this the entirety of your diet.
Our souls do not simply need food, or a break, but nourishment.
The fifth category or type of show is one that nourishes. It is the inspirational movie, show, or video, that uplifts the soul. This may or may not be explicitly Christian – but it is profoundly human.
It depicts the beauty of the world around us, such as: BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’ series.
It reveals the grandeur of the human spirit, such as: ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Amistad’, ‘Glory’, and ‘Les Miserables’.
It is profoundly Catholic or Christian, such as: ‘The Passion of the Christ’, ‘Man for All Seasons’, ‘Mary of Nazareth’, ‘Amazing Grace’, and ‘Of God’s and Men’.
It has a strong family message, such as: ‘The Incredibles’, ‘Up’, and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’
There are many lists recommending movies with a moral criteria out there.[i] The point here is to emphasize the importance of watching things that inspire and uplift us.
Just as you watch what you eat… watch what you watch. Take care of your spiritual diet.
Fr. John Bullock, LC