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I gave the following talk in another ward today:
photo credit: .eti
In our technologically-enhanced world, the entertainment industry has thrived in all its forms. TV, movies, video games, the internet, and more, all serve as vehicles through which money is to be made by those who wish to entertain. Our society has willingly gone along for the ride. Consider this frightening statistic: according to the A.C. Nielsen Company, the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day. This adds up to 28 hours per week, or two months of nonstop TV-watching every year. In a 65-year life, that person will have spent nine solid years glued to the tube. This says nothing of the additional time spent in the movie theater, listening to the radio or iPod, and using the computer, consuming other forms of so-called entertainment.
The statistics can be even more disheartening. I’ll share two that will help frame my remarks. First, a study conducted in 2004 shows that the average child watches more than 40,000 television commercials per year. Second, the average child will watch 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence on TV before finishing elementary school. By age eighteen, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders.
By now you have probably guessed the topic of my talk today. Following the pattern established by the stake presidency, today’s messages will be based upon the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, specifically the topic regarding entertainment and media.
Before proceeding with the topic, I wish to say something about the application of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. My own intuition leads me to believe that the decision to use this pamphlet as material for these talks was not only meant as a way to reinforce these principles in our youth, but also to educate and inform the adult members of our stake as to what the pamphlet contains, and why these principles are important.
When I was set apart for my calling, the Stake Young Mens President gave me a bound collection of the pamphlets used for the Young Men in the church. In addition to the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, the collection had the Aaronic Priesthood pamphlets for Deacons, Teachers, and Priests, as well as one I had never before seen, titled Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth. Last month, as I was perusing this last booklet, I came across the following paragraph:
As a parent, you should have a copy of the [For the Strength of Youth] pamphlet. Study it. Discuss the standards and principles with your sons and daughters. Plan family home evenings to discuss the standards. Live the standards yourself. Your example will do much to help your children live them too.
â€¨Just as Moroni spoke of cleansing the inward vessel first, we too must live these principles before teaching them to others. Indeed, were we to require things of our youth that we did not require of ourselves, or think ourselves to have outgrown or matured past these things, we would be entering the proverbial wide gate to a broad path.
Elder J. Richard Clarke, then a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, supported this idea when in the April 1991 General Conference he said:
Any film, television show, music, or printed material unfit for youth is also unfit for parents.
Those who rationalize acceptance of immoral material on grounds of maturity or sophistication are deceived. Those who excuse transgression by saying “Well, I’m not perfect” may be reminded that conscious sin is a long way from perfection. We would do best to consider this counsel of President Brigham Young: “‘Be … as perfect as [you] can,’ for that is all we can do. … The sin … is [not doing] as well as [you know] how.” (In Journal of Discourses, 2:129-30.) (J. Richard Clarke, “To Honor the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 1991, 41)
Hopefully it is clear to all of us, regardless of age, that the principles we teach to our youth are equally applicable to and important for us.
Reactive vs. Proactive
The section of the pamphlet about entertainment and media starts out with the 13th article of faith, which reads:
If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
In this article of our faith we, as Saints, declare what we are to seek out in terms of entertainment, media, and other outlets of communication. To seek something out implies a proactive quest to find or obtain whatever it is we’re referring to. If we are in need of food, we do not wait for it to fall onto our laps, but instead find a job, work enough to earn money to buy groceries, and then spend the time to assemble a meal and eat it. Similarly, we should proactively search out and support entertainment and media that is wholesome and virtuous.
I believe that this counsel runs contrary to how the average person views media. Channel-surfing, browsing the internet, or going to a new movie without reading a comprehensive review on its contents, is a reactive method of being entertained. We do not know what we will be viewing next, and chances are that we will be bombarded with things that certainly are not “virtuous, lovely, or of good report.” Anybody whose computer has become infected with obscene popup ads, or has sat through a movie with surprisingly questionable content, has experienced reactive media consumption.
Another reactive form of viewing media is delegating the judgment of content to another person or organization. In our country, we have the Motion Picture Association of America—a private organization originally created by the motion picture industry to satisfy the public outcry regarding the perception of scandalous content being promulgated through cinema. This body has become charged with reviewing and rating all motion pictures released for general distribution in the country. Relying upon this organization’s judgment of movies we might watch has a few problems, all of which are reactive.
First, it is quite evident that the MPAA’s standard has changed over time. What is now featured in PG and PG-13 movies would have earned an R rating in years past, and would have induced caring mothers to wash their children’s mouths out with soap. By adopting a standard imposed by an always-changing organization of individuals whose morals and judgment we do not know, we allow ourselves to be swept along down the same path. Second, rating systems mean nothing as soon as you step across the border. One country’s rating system is meaningless, for example, to a Latter-day Saint in another country. I believe that this is one reason why, in an international church, recent emphasis has been placed upon the content of the movie itself, not the rating. Even when President Benson counseled the young men in the April 1986 General Priesthood Session to not view rated R movies, he added that we should also not see “vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic.” This latter counsel was implemented in successive For the Strength of Youth pamphlets, where today it reads: “Do not attend, view, or participate in entertainment that is vulgar, immoral, violent, or pornographic in any way. Do not participate in entertainment that in any way presents immorality or violent behavior as acceptable.” Clearly we cannot rely upon others, whose morals and standards differ from our own, to decide what content is appropriate.
A third and related problem with relying upon another group’s judgment is that we fail to do our own due diligence regarding what a movie contains. We tend to think that all PGs are kosher, while perhaps PG-13 movies are okay once children reach a certain age. We squirm with a bit of awkwardness when watching a movie that has a flash of partial nudity, a handful of expletives, or a gruesome scene of violence. This is, again, a reactive stance to media consumption. There are plenty of tools available to help the proactive parent and individual moderate what they view: two notable websites are kids-in-mind.com and screenit.com.
Whatever our methods, it is absolutely necessary that we take a proactive stance for ourselves and our children regarding what media we will view. This applies not only to movies, but to all forms of entertainment we indulge in. Refusing to adhere to a firm moral standard will result in us adopting what President Hinckley referred to as “the slow stain of the world”. Parents shouldn’t count on the MPAA rating system or any other group to do their job for them. No matter what the rating, parental guidance is always required.
In one of his firesides, John Bytheway talks about how we as families work to ensure our physical security by putting padlocks on the doors and purchasing alarm systems, but then at the same time drill a small, 1/4” hole into the wall for a cable that allows the enemy of all righteousness easy access to our spirits. We must be proactive in working towards both our physical and spiritual security.
In addition to the previous statements in this section of the pamphlet on violence, we are also told the following:
Depictions of violence often glamorize vicious behavior. They offend the Spirit and make you less able to respond to others in a sensitive, caring way. They contradict the Savior’s message of love for one another.
Do we believe that? Take a moment to ponder what this statement says: 1) violence offends the Spirit, 2) violence desensitizes us, and 3) violence contradicts the commandment to love one another. Violence is just as prevalent in our media as other forms of immorality, but perhaps is more tolerated and socially acceptable.
In the June 2003 Ensign, Latter-day Saint and psychology professor Brad Bushman noted the following:
Not long ago I decided to conduct an informal survey to find out about Church members’ views on television and movies. When I asked members what makes some movies and TV shows objectionable, the most common response was sexually explicit scenes, followed by profanity. Nobody mentioned violence. . . .
Sex outside of marriage is a serious sin. In fact, Alma taught that it was among the most grievous of sins. But what did Alma rank as the two most serious sins? Denying the Holy Ghost and “shedding … innocent blood,” or committing murder (see Alma 39:5-6). I was puzzled that many Church members did not feel concerned about watching people being murdered on the screen. And many seemed to consider profanity to be more objectionable than violence in movies and TV programs.
If you’ll recall a statistic I shared earlier, the average child will view 200,000 scenes of violence on television alone before they graduate high school. It comes as no surprise, then, that 61 percent of television programs contain some violence, and only four percent of television programs with violent content feature an “antiviolence” theme.
One often overlooked form of media, however, is a major contender in the field of violence, and that is video games. This explosive industry is a powerhouse in the entertainment field: In 2007, video game sales resulted in $18 billion in revenue, a 43% increase over the previous year. A 2001 review of the 70 top-selling video games found 89% contained some kind of violence. Almost half of all games (49%) contained serious violence, while 40% contained comic violence. In 41% of the games, violence was necessary for the protagonists to achieve their goals. In 17% of the games, violence was the primary focus of the game itself.
The counsel in For the Strength of Youth is clear and firm when it states: “Satan uses such entertainment to deceive you by making what is wrong and evil look normal and exciting.” It should also be noted that violence on TV and in movies is a passive activity to be observed, whereas the violence found in video games is of an interactive nature: the participant achieves his/her goals and is rewarded by killing and hurting others. When this pamphlet instructs us that “Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices”, it’s not difficult to see that these video games fail to meet the standard.
Another paragraph in this section of For the Strength of Youth deals directly and bluntly with pornography. It reads as follows:
Pornography in all its forms is especially dangerous and addictive. What may begin as a curious indulgence can become a destructive habit that takes control of your life. It can lead you to sexual transgression and even criminal behavior. Pornography is a poison that weakens your self-control, changes the way you see others, causes you to lose the guidance of the Spirit, and can even affect your ability to have a normal relationship with your future spouse. If you encounter pornography, turn away from it immediately.
â€¨ This counsel reaffirms the danger of pornography—something we’ve been told over and over in recent General Conference sessions from God’s chosen prophets, seers, and revelators. Clearly we, as Saints, do not have adequate ears to hear these messages, for if we collectively obeyed, it would cease to be an issue. It seems apparent that the Lord only commands His prophets to preach repentance regarding the sins we are currently committing. If it feels like our leaders are beating the pornography issue to death, it is our fault, not theirs.
Pornography is a widespread problem, both within and without the Church. I will not share any statistics on this issue; suffice it to say that pornography is like a plague. In today’s world it is difficult to remain free from its contagious effects and effortless availability. I need not go into detail about the various ways in which such material can be obtained, whether proactively or reactively. What is important is whether we as parents and individuals have put in place appropriate safeguards that will minimize the opportunity to come across pornography. Have we installed a filter on our computers? Have we made sure that computers and televisions in our homes are placed in open, high traffic areas? Do we place appropriate restrictions on our TVs to prohibit so-called “mature” content? If we do not take the necessary steps to reduce the chances of such things finding their way into our homes, we will be without excuse in assuming some of the blame. There are many ways that we can fight the pornography battle—becoming informed and technologically literate parents is rule number one.
The Appropriate Use of Time
In section 58 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord gives us a commandment regarding the appropriate use of our time:
Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; (D&C 58:27)
Noah Webster, in his 1828 Dictionary, defined “anxious” as “greatly concerned”, “being in painful suspense”, and “very careful”. We might ask ourselves, then, what good causes we are greatly concerned about. To me, this commandment deals with more than lip service and affiliation—we are to be part of something, actively giving of our time, talents, and resources.
How does this relate to entertainment and media? If you’ll remember the beginning of my remarks, I stated that the average American spends one-sixth of their day in front of the TV alone, which does not include other forms of entertainment we indulge in. Think of how much time this adds up to! Are we fulfilling the divine mandate to be anxiously engaged in good causes when so much of our time is devoted to sitting and staring?
This is not to say, of course, that entertainment does not have its place. President Monson himself is known for attending a few Jazz games here and there. But I venture to say that we are wasting our time if we indulge in an excess of entertainment, especially if it is not “virtuous, lovely, or of good report”. Elder Richard G. Scott made the following note:
When things of the world crowd in, all too often the wrong things take highest priority. Then it is easy to forget the fundamental purpose of life. Satan has a powerful tool to use against good people. It is distraction. (Richard G. Scott, “First Things First,” Liahona, Jul 2001, 6-9)
What life opportunities are we missing out on by allowing ourselves to be distracted by an excess of TV, video games, and internet usage? How might we be a better instrument in the Lord’s hands if we freed up some more of our time? I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in Africa on a service trip last year, and the absence of TVs, radios, and computers was a stark contrast to our media-saturated society, where in America the average household has 2.2 televisions. Technology has worked wonders in our world, creating opportunities that were once the subject of unrealistic dreams. But at what expense have we integrated these tools into our daily lives and allowed them so much of our time?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, eloquent as always, offered this stirring question that we would all do well to ponder:
The ways of the world receive constant reinforcement—should not the ways of heaven? (Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, 1988, 133-34)
â€¨The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet states that “Whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you.” Whether it’s worldly or heavenly, the media and entertainment we view leaves an impression upon our soul that, like a set stain, is difficult to remove. The cleansing power of the Atonement can heal us and provide forgiveness for our sins, but the images we view and things we allow into our minds are not easily forgotten.
It is for this reason that we must remember the importance of the following three guidelines. First, we must be proactive in our choice of media. We must, as the 13th Article of Faith says, seek after virtuous things. We must draw a line for ourselves and our children, and take the accountability to moderate what forms of entertainment we will allow. Second, we must ensure that the appropriate safeguards are in place to protect us from unwanted intrusions and accidental mishaps. Filters, restrictions, and logistics are all important tools in proactively planning how we will win the battle against inappropriate media. Third, we must limit the amount of time we spend being “entertained”. There is a great deal of work to be done in the world, and we as Latter-day Saints have a special charge related to serving others and giving of ourselves.
The Lord has given us prophets in our day for a specific reason. We face numerous problems and commit various sins, which necessitate modern revelation. God has spoken through His prophets and given us the counsel contained in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, the scriptures, General Conference addresses, and other sources. If we have ears to hear, we will all take some time to introspectively analyze how we are doing, and make any needed adjustments. The conclusion of this section on entertainment and media says that “You have the gift of the Holy Ghost, which will give you strength and help you make good choices.” I testify that this is true, and that as we commit to implement these teachings, we will be guided and blessed in our efforts, and have an increased measure of the Spirit in our homes. Christ lives, and has provided us the necessary instructions on how to return to His presence. All we need to do is obey. He has provided us a prophet whom we also call a seer, a man who is blessed to know what dangers lay ahead in our path. Our spiritual safety depends upon following his counsels.