Mindless Entertainment: Privilege or Poison?

At a church potluck on Sunday, a conversation with another father challenged me to not give in to the lure of mindless entertainment. For much of my life, I’ve allowed “entertainment” to have some room to grow; it’s OK to indulge in entertainment as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. In college, I stopped playing video games because I saw what a waste of time they were. But I still indulge in an iPhone game every so often. In more recent years as my job has grown more stressful and busy, I’ve allowed myself to slip into habits of mindless entertainment, like a few minutes of funny videos on YouTube, or a TV episode here and there. On especially “brain-dead” evenings, I’ll convince myself that it’s OK to blow the whole evening watching a movie.

However, most of the time there’s nothing to show for it. Some of my YouTube video-watching might seem educational1, with a short TED talk here and there, but for the most part, it’s completely worthless. I heard someone once compare it to having your eyes in the ends of the earth. Most of today’s movies are the same way; a slightly intriguing plot, lots of impressive graphics or acting, along with the inevitable smattering of compromises in language, modesty, or violence, all carefully woven into the film. This kind of thing only serves to dull my senses to the creep of worldliness into my life and into my home. All too often, my kids are right there watching it with me.

In his letter to believers around the world, James the brother of Jesus wrote a stinging rebuke to this kind of lifestyle:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
– James 4:4 ESV

It’s one thing to think of a lifestyle that grows progressively worldly as something akin to the “frog in a frying pan”. As the frog continually grows accustomed to the increasing heat, it is eventually boiled alive. This analogy would be enough of a good reason to put away worldliness and run from its deception. But James makes an even bolder statement: this is like unfaithfulness in marriage. And it’s not just someone who indulges in worldliness; a person who even wishes to be a friend of the world is God’s enemy! Even the heart attitude of friendship with the world is antagonism towards God.2

My wife and I have had a number of conversations about the idea of mindless entertainment since I broached the topic to her on Sunday, and we have begun to see our own habits in this area through a different light. An important observation about this topic is the distinction of calling entertainment mindless. There may be things we enjoy and find “entertaining” that aren’t mindless, such as a walk to the park with the kids (it’s actually good exercise and a chance to meet others in our community), or the time I spend reading books aloud to our children (it’s an opportunity to build family culture and learn lessons from good literature). All of these things bring us pleasure, but they’re not mindless in the same way as television, a movie, or smartphone games are to today’s generation.

Yesterday, my wife decided to change the usual routine of allowing the children to watch a short film or children’s TV episode (usually very mindless) before nap time and instead put on a video called Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution. At dinner yesterday evening, the kids could not stop talking about the amazing animals they had learned about, including a beetle that could carry hundreds of times its own weight, or the ingenious anatomy of a woodpecker. I’m encouraged to see the results of this experiment and I’m encouraging my wife to search out other entertainment sources that are not time-wasting and mindless for our children.

Even more importantly, my thinking on this topic has motivated me to attack my tendencies towards mindless entertainment with more courage. This isn’t just some personal commitment to growth; I believe the change has to start with me as the leader of my family. What I allow in my own life will inevitably expand to the appetites of my children and my wife. I can try to preach one message to my family, but my heart attitude will come across much louder than my words.

  1. I believe that most of the internet browsing of the day is not actually educational at all, but instead only contributes to an inability to focus, and even continuous partial attention in kids and adults alike.
  2. For more on this, Episode 683 from the Ask Pastor John podcast is helpful, especially with the comparison of “dolphins and jellyfish in the ocean of culture.”