Q: Dear Father John, Is watching a show like the “Medium” against our Catholic faith? The show is from what I have heard is calling on spirits who have passed on from this life and supposedly can be reached through a medium.
A: We have to answer this question on two levels, general and specific. The general question is: How should we make decisions about the kind of entertainment we consume – what criteria should we use to make those decisions? The specific question is: Where does the show “Medium” stand as regards those criteria?
Human Beings Love Art and Entertainment
Art and entertainment are meant to serve a noble, useful, and lovely purpose for us human beings. History is eloquent on this point. Ever since there have been human communities, there has been entertainment. Epic stories, transmitted orally long before they were written down, are already in existence at the very dawn of civilization. The dramatic arts, the performance arts, and the plastic arts emerged even before civilization, in conjunction with religious rituals and beliefs. Athletic contests, another form of entertainment, were already highly developed by the time the city of Rome was founded, in 753 B.C. So we can safely conclude that the delight we experience through enjoying works of art and entertainment touches something near to the core of human nature.
What is the purpose of that delight? Why did God give us sensitivity, a capacity to enjoy these pastimes? This is the most important question. If we can identify the purpose of entertainment, from God’s perspective, we can then determine which products, which kinds of entertainment, we should choose to enjoy.
The Power and Purpose of Entertainment
Art and entertainment move the heart. They give us an experience of beauty and truth that touches every part of our human soul: our intelligence (they engage our mind), our emotional world (they stimulate powerful feelings), and our will (they stir up or reinforce certain desires). Take the story of Cinderella, for example. As we read/watch/listen to that story, our minds resound with the truth of justice – the evil stepsisters tried to imprison Cinderella, but the prince set her free; our emotions vibrate with sadness at Cinderella’s plight, with hope when the fairy godmother appears, with fear when the clock strikes midnight, with utter joy when the prince sets out with courage and determination to find the foot that fits the glass slipper; and our wills then find themselves desiring to promote justice, to continue hoping, to be courageous and determined. At the end of the story, then, we have been instructed, reminded, nourished – the values embodied in the story are strengthened in our hearts. This is the power of art and entertainment!
A work of art or entertainment that is pleasing and attractive, then, is kind of like a Trojan horse: it causes that values contained within it to enter into and echo within our own hearts. When we swallow the pleasure, we also swallow, at least a little bit, the world view.
As a result, if we allow ourselves to be repeatedly entertained by songs/stories/images that are pleasing to consume, but that contain anti-values, or anti-Christian values, on the inside, we are putting our souls in danger. Junk food is okay every once in a while, because it tastes good. But if we make ice cream and potato chips into staples of our diet, our health is going to suffer; those foods are pleasing to eat, but they contain more trans-fats than vitamins.
St. Paul presents this principle clearly and beautifully in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
In our next post on this topic, we will talk about how some entertainment can be evil and immoral along with a few practical examples. Other works of art and entertainment may not be Catholic or Christian, but may present authentic values.