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Allison Althoff
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April 6, 2010

Cut the Bleep Out

It’s healthy to revisit how you censor entertainment.

How to censor what we watch, read, and listen to is a continual debate among believers. I’ve been revisiting how I censor entertainment after listening to a friend’s conviction on the subject.

My friend almost lost his marriage and family from a sexual addiction. Now on the road to recovery, he and his wife have cut out anything remotely sexual from their entertainment. Close friends screen their movies for hints of sex, scantily clothed women, and dirty language.

They don’t watch much TV. How could they? Is there a drama or comedy on TV that doesn’t have sexual themes? While their convictions stemmed from avoiding temptation, the practice has proved to be extremely revealing and healthy in their journey to become more like Christ. In turn, their practices have led me to consider my own.

I’m not sure I could cut as much as my friends have. I really enjoy being generally informed in pop-culture references and current entertainment—even if that means letting a few things slide past my filter. Sometimes, my pride sways me to watch, read, and listen to whatever I want. But despite my pride and social desires, I’m attracted to the idea of flushing out the dirt on my journey toward holiness.

A friend challenged me once, “Seriously, if you walked into a room where a couple was having sex, would you pull up a chair and grab some popcorn?” Struck and appalled, I thought, No! I would never do that! But I had been doing that. Although now I try to rent movies without sex scenes or I fast forward through those parts, it’s difficult to always apply that conviction.

I’m currently reading a novel about broken people and their broken relationships. The narrative has included some graphic language about their obviously broken sexual lives too—and it bugs me. Several times I’ve thought, Is this worth it? Out of curiosity and the love of storytelling, I’ve continued reading, eager to see what happens to the characters. I know redemption is coming—the title of the book basically gives that away—but how do I know when to say, “Enough”?

I understand that sexual content isn’t the only subject we should be leery of exposing ourselves to. There are many other reasons to censor our entertainment. I’m still working on what’s going to be best for my spiritual life. My specific convictions aside, I’ve found this practice spiritually beneficial. Though it will look different for many of us, consider revisiting how you censor entertainment—what it does to your mind, your heart, how it defines your life, and how it affects your journey toward holiness.

Related Tags: Holiness, Sex


Lindsey, your post was indeed thought provoking. As a wife and mother of four young adult and teen children, censoring unhealthy media influences has long been a cause of concern for me. Thank you for your timely challenge to revisit what I’m currently viewing: I’ve found it easy to slide in the muck as I’ve lost control over the remote to my adult children.
Personally, censorship has only been half the battle in keeping on the narrow path to holiness. We are also called not only to stay focused, but to encourage others on their path: what we embrace is as important as what we avoid.
Censorship has been inconsistent for me because at times I’ve censored, but failed to actively fill that newly emptied space in my life with positive influences. If I’m not watching T.V. or movies, what am I going to do with that time? I need to fill that space with positive things that lead me to heaven. Media is the quick fix, the snickers bar of entertainment. It’s cheap and easy, but like the snickers bar it can’t produce the positive results I desire.
In reference to the married couple who are working together to combat spousal sexual addiction by drastically censoring sexual related media, I applaud them. Finding a common purpose is essential in building strong relationships. Developing a healthy intimate sexual relationship in marriage is modeled in the relationship of Christ and the Church. He wants us to spend time with Him, as a couple. He wants us to come together as one body, leading others to Christ.
Finding a common ministry to participate in can not only develop trust, but a deep lasting sense of intimacy. Studies have shown that the prayer groups in church that thrive the longest do so because they have adopted a charity to support. They work together for good to serve others and they pray together. Marriages and families need this as well. When others offer us the temptation of a snickers bar in a, “Hey did you see this movie?” We can enthusiastically respond with, “No, we were at the food kitchen.”
For many years my family has participated in a group that provides meals one Thursday a month for a Catholic Worker house the feeds up to forty people. Between the four families we divide up the menu, purchase and cook the food, deliver it to the shelter, serve and eat dinner with the men. I’m always amazed at our children’s response after dinner. By their excitement, you would have thought we’d taken them to Disney World. There is a joy in being given the opportunity to work together and serve as a family that can never be replicated by a passive activity like watching television. And there are never any inappropriate references to bleep.

Anne, how true that we must not only "delete" from our lives, but must fill that whole with godly things!

We have completely eliminated our need for censorship by only having SkyAngel in our home. It's so much easier than being on the look-out all the time, and MUCH cheaper!

What a timely article! My husband & I routinely watch TV after a long day at work while eating dinner, then pass out after without much xcoversation or other meaningful activity like Bible study or even serios coversation. We talk about cutting our TV hours generally to gain time for more meaningful activity but now with a baby on the way, we MUST! So its not just content we should sensor, we must sensor quantity too. Thanks too Anne, for your suggestions!

It's funny how I can ask kids in my ministry if they think what they are doing, watching on TV, or playing on their consoles would put a smile on Jesus' face if He were sharing the couch with them, but never presume to ask such a question to an adult. That may appear judgemental or pious, right? Maybe we need to ask tougher questions for all our sakes.

SkyAngel (and the like) are great tools but having it doesn't mean that we don't have to be on the lookout. In our family, we don't watch much TV, so that hasn't presented too many problems for us. But there are the theater productions, radio in the car, books, magazines... and the list goes on. I never cease to be amazed at how much explicit and implicit content I have to screen - and we are not even particularly strict. And as Lindsey mentioned, sexual content is not the only thing we have to screen for. For me, it seems like as soon as I get one area of my life weeded out, God brings another area to my attention that needs work. And so the constant battle toward godliness goes on...

Very compelling thoughts, Lindsey. I do think your friend's question (“Seriously, if you walked into a room where a couple was having sex, would you pull up a chair and grab some popcorn?") is a good one. Definitely gives us pause to stop and question what we're watching. I also find that the parents-in-the-room-too test is a good one, even now that I'm an adult. There have been several times when movies have made me squirm b/c my parents were with me...and it was like an extra dose of conscience, magnifying how raunchy, etc., the movie scene was.

I also respect the perspective of many of those who have commented here who have chosen to strictly self-censor or use technology to ban secular content from their television.

However, I take a different approach. I personally think our response as Christians needs to be nuanced beyond simply a rule of not watching or reading anything "bad." There's a case to be made for appreciating representational art -- art that depicts Truth about the human experience. The greatest works of English literature all contain elements that are NOT true, pure, lovely, etc. (In fact, so does the Bible itself!) My point here is simply that good art depicts the human experience truthfully and that experience includes brokenness. For example, I read Richard Wright's Native Son in college. The murder scene and the depictions of racial hatred and poverty in this book were extremely disturbing to me . . . but it was meant to be disturbing (by the author). And I definitely feel that book, though disturbing, deeply enriched my understanding of racial issues in our country. Countless other classics (Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, etc.) and modern works of literature (Toni Morrison, L'Engle, etc.) include disturbing descriptions of sinful things. Though some Christians may censor all these works, I don't -- I think their value far surpasses the "danger" of reading the "bad" parts. In fact, the "bad" parts contribute to the value of the texts in that they are an honest depiction of the human experience.

I know this is a very slippery slope. I'm already anticipating the comments of folks who will strongly disagree with me here. I respect their views. Further, I certainly don't think the idea of "truth in art" opens the door for Christians to justifiably watch or read (or write or act in) just plain raunchy stuff. I can also understand why important literary works like Catcher in the Rye or important films like Raging Bull are a problem for some Christians. Yet I'd still argue that these stories are worth reading and watching; they are beautiful, honest, thought-provoking, and contain Truth about humanity and our need for God.

For myself, I try to balance a standard of what's pure and good with an understanding of a broad sense of Truth about the human experience. And, most important, I strive to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

In summary, good "art" in literature and film can tell stories of human brokenness and redemption in a deeply compelling way (even if the art isn't rated G).

Thanks for this post, Lindsey!

Kelli, I agree with you about the "great literature" having objectionable content and such #I have a master's degree in literature, so I had to read plenty of stuff with explicit content.# As a writer, I have some objectionable content in my novel-in-progress: some relatively explicit sexual content and a few 4-letter words. However, I ALWAYS try to be careful in writing this content; it's not in there just for edginess. It's to show the truth of the human experience, how broken our sexuality can be because of the fall of man, and really, no one could walk away from my work believing that I condone sex outside of marriage. Certain parts are meant to be disturbing.

That being said, not everyone can "handle" reading work with content like this. Like Lindsey's friends, some people definitely don't need to subject themselves to certain content because it would prove to be spiritually harmful to them. And the raunch-for-the-sake-of-raunch stuff should be a no-no, I believe. I stopped reading a well-written novel because of the extremely graphic sex scenes and the contant use of the f-word on practically every page.

I like your article very much. At certain level i do agree with you. What we see ,that will remain in our mind and some way we try it into implementation. It will put impact on mind at good or at a bad point.
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While I've found this to topic and the reactions to be interesting, even fun, I just want to throw a caution and hope it's accepted kindly. Commenting about whether people can "handle" objectionable material sounds like a jab, a soft dig that might have the purpose of silencing critics by throwing a gentle bash. Choosing what level of possibly objectionable content we'll accept might come partly from jaded we already are, or maybe from what we perceive should be acceptable, because we're not sure personally where to draw the line, or lots of reasons. It's a personal decision how we want to represent ourselves. I'm also a writer, and for me, along with what impacts me spiritually, I keep asking myself whether what I write would embarrass my father or my children, and whether I'd want my grandchildren to be reading what I wrote.

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