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Could watching certain TV shows be against our Catholic faith? – Part III of III

March 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Entertainment, Fr. Bartunek

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.

In our first and second posts in this three part series, we reflected on as humans how we love art and entertainment. What is the power and purpose of entertainment. How to avoid immorality and how to be realistic in the entertainment we choose to enjoy.

Should I Watch “Medium”?

Now, I hope, we are ready to frame the specific question about the show “Medium” (or any show that someone may have a doubt about). Certainly, the show does not present an explicitly Christian view of the afterlife. It never mentions God, angels, devils, sin and salvation; it never shows Allison praying for guidance; it never raises the issue of purgatory, heaven, and hell… (At least, that’s my impression from reading about it.) Rather, it presents the world of ghosts as a kind of extension of this material world. Allison’s capacity to speak with dead people and to witness past and future events in her dreams is presented as a special gift, without any reference to God or the devil. She uses no rituals to call up dead spirits – no appeal to demons or unnamed spiritual forces. It’s just something she does, a capacity she has, through no fault or effort of her own. By getting involved in murder mysteries, this uncanny ability contributes to making dramatic situations that are, without a doubt, entertaining – if they weren’t entertaining, the show wouldn’t have endured seven seasons.

This materialistic view of the spirit world is reminiscent of the ancient pagan afterlife. As a result, repeatedly watching this show could easily, though subtly, make a Christian start thinking of the afterlife in pagan terms. That would be dangerous, because the pagan view of the afterlife obscures the reality of spiritual warfare that our Christian faith makes so clear to us. On the other hand, the show itself doesn’t promote real occult practices (at least, as far as I can tell from reading about it), which would definitely make it objectionable. And so, if the human drama is depicted in a way which promotes authentic virtues (courage, wisdom, prudence, justice, fidelity, purity…) – in other words, if the protagonists succeed because of those virtues – I can see how someone would consider watching “Medium” no less offensive than reading ancient Greek dramas like Medea or Antigone. (Please note: I am NOT saying that “Medium” is of the same literary quality as those plays.)

Drawing the Line

So then the question becomes something like this: When I am honest with myself, do I see my view of the afterlife being “paganized” a little bit by watching this show? If the answer to that question is yes, then I would say you should probably find another favorite show. But then, your reflection can continue: I have a few hours each week that I can spend enjoying some entertainment. I know that the purpose of entertainment is to help me relax, and at the same time to inspire and edify me – if I get some relaxation, inspiration, and edification every week, I am better able to keep “fighting the good fight” of my faith (1 Timothy 6:12). So, does “Medium” provide me with enough relaxation, inspiration, and edification to be worthy of my giving over an hour of my entertainment time to it? Would there be something else that may be a better investment?

I hope this long answer to a short question didn’t cause more confusion for you! But even if it did, I am sure that our other readers will have some valuable thoughts to share on this issue. God bless you!

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently resides in his Order’s General Directorate in Rome, where he is continuing his writing apostolate. His blog contains questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. His online retreats are available at www.RCSpirituality.org.

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  • Lisa

    Thank you Father for such a clear way of explaining how to explain the discernment of viewing !

  • Becky313

    Thank you, Fr. John, for your perseverance in answering this question.  It is something we all face, and until it is brought to our attention that a specific show might not be good for us to watch, we often don’t think about it.

    I appreciate your taking time to address the different aspects of the question…..the devil loves those “gray” areas and we need to steer clear of them.

  • Sojrnr

    I would suggest reading Josef Pieper’s great book Leisure as the Basis of Culture. Pieper explains that leisure is given to man to allow him to reflect upon, and to choose, virtue and high knowledge. Leisure, says Pieper, is not just entertainment, although there is nothing wrong with that; is necessary for us to unwind. But we should spend much of our leisure time exploring the universe as God created it and, as everyone on this site does, spend much time with God in prayer.

    • danburke

      You an Ave Maria student? Good recommendation.

      • Sojrnr

         No. I’m old (55). I did graduate from Carroll College in Helena, Montana with a degree in philosophy. Then, I hope the judgment will not be to heavy, I became a lawyer. Now I am retired. I love books and Pieper is one of my favorite authors. I think his Faith, Hope, Love is one of the great books of the 20th Century, maybe of all time. I wonder if someone plans to submit his cause for Canonization?

        • danburke

          Fascinating. This essay was the first assignment for my daughter at Ave Maria

          • Sojrnr

             I’m glad to know that Ave Maria is upholding truth. I got a solid education at Carroll, which is a small diocesan school that is 100 years old or so. Helena has a phenomenal cathedral, St. Helena’s Cathedral. It was built around the turn of the 20th Century largely by workmen from Butte and the surroundings. You should do a search under that name. It is amazing to see so wondrous a church in this area. When I was in school a lot of people wanted it closed because it was not “with the times.” Thankfully smarter heads prevailed.

            I have always thought of the cathedral as a prayer from the workmen who raised up not only their voices, but their tools, the sweat of their brows, and their strength, to praise the glory of God.

          • danburke

            Have we met? I spoke at the Catholic business association in Boseman last year? Regardless, I may be back your way again this year. Would be great to meet if we could swing it.

  • April

    This subject is of great interest to me.  I have done much research on the effects of television and feature film viewing.  However, the data is all around us.  No one needs to read the results of a poll, or look at the crime rates, or the increased interest in occultism and sexual immorality since the 1960′s.  What may be fascinating to look at is the slow, gradual process by which the entertainment industry has made its mark and changed our world view.  The process of desensitization is so remarkably effective that many of us no longer even know what is true, good and beautiful, and what is morally offensive to God.  I once heard a very moral, Catholic Hollywood producer state that if the program is something you can watch with and in the physical presence of the Blessed Mother, and without shame or embarrassment, then by all means watch it!

    Additionally, if we truly surround ourselves with all that is true, good and beautiful, then our very purity is preserved.  Recently, I watched West Side Story with my 13-yr-old.  She has been raised watching upbeat classic films that portray joy and purity, with very  little if any other kind of entertainment.  She strongly disliked West Side Story.  Though it is important to be made aware of and touch upon her emotions, allowing her to see the reality of gang violence, anti-authority attitudes and racism, it made me wonder if what we watch does really shape our very beings.  She claimed that watching it just made her feel depressed, and would rather watch The Sound of Music any day over West Side Story.  Interestingly, Maria’s character in the film makes a statement about “having not yet learned to joke that way.”  By the end, Maria’s innocence is lost, and she “has hate.”  I wondered how much of my daughter’s innocence was lost after watching this seemingly safe film from 1960. 

    It would be a radical and grand idea if all the Christians today could turn off the television, in an effort to “speak loudly” to Hollywood, demanding more joyful, beautiful productions.  Even though they generally have no moral backbones or faith, they still know how to produce moral shows.   In the meantime, we must continue to pray. 

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    Thank you, Father John for this comprehensive response. My view is that we should always be careful what we chose as our entertainment when we need to relax.  If the show we are watching does not have a moral teaching behind it that corresponds with our Faith, it is better to abandon it and find another one which not only educates, but which also inspires and edifies our lives.  Created in the image and likeness of God, our lives should reflect the awareness of this reality and the centrality of God in the world around us.

  • Maria

    So much talk talk here about watching only inspirational and wholesome shows. I don’t disagree with this. Most of my life I’ve only watched stuff like “Road to Avonlea” “Touched by An Angel” etc.
    But sometimes circumstances or even occupations prevent us from being ignorant of the grimmer realities of life which less wholesome shows protray. By no means am I saying that we should watch lewd, violent programs…But what about documentaries and realistic films on social justice issues and the news? I think its still important to be aware of these issues in order to be of service to others. Not to be influenced and tempted but to aware and to see how we can help.

  • marye

    Interesting how we except as okay watching something that could be harmful to our spiritual lives, for the sake of entertainment. Like drinking from an unreliable well instead of a reliably safe one nearby (a comparison used in a previous article on this site with regard to not going to Bible studies unless they’re reliably Catholic). Why not steer clear from all entertainment that is potentially harmful to our souls. We can find entertainment other than movies and TV for a while. The entertainment industry may change or not. At least our souls will have been protected and I would expect our Loving God would be pleased with our intentions and help us find more edifying ways of ‘relaxing’. We seem to think there is no way outside of the box in regards to relaxing!
    Also, in reality, people who are dealing in the preternatural (like in Medium) and are not going through Jesus Christ (and the power of the Holy Spirit), are indeed going through the power of Satan and the  evil spirits even if they are not directly calling upon them or aware of it. 
    A show like this and your response can be rather misleading. 

  • Sjohnbosch010

    It was the Church that preserved the work of Homer, even though Homer lived centuries before Christ. I don’t think the Illiad is a concession to our passions or a harmless past-time, rather I think it the work of virtuous pagans. In the Illiad we see the destructive effects of overwhelming pride. A war drags on for nine years, one of the commanders is so sick, meaning he hasn’t gotten the recognition he believes he deserves, that he retreats to his tent and as a result loses his best friend. The gods are capricious supporting and withdrawing support as the mood takes them. 

    • marye

      Yes, but like you said, Homer was written centuries before Christ. Now we
      have Christ and don’t need to create literature or TV shows that can confuse
      people about the spiritual world! Some people don’t realize they are
      entertaining evil spirits when involving themselves with the preternatural that
      isn’t through Christ. People get confused with New Age ideas or think we have
      energies we haven’t tapped into, etc. Anything supernatural that isn’t coming
      through God is from evil spirits and we have to be very cautious in this regard
      so that those who aren’t as spiritually knowledgeable don’t become victims of
      Satan. 

      • Sjohnbosch010

        Please understand me. I realize there is a lot of rubbish around and some of it is even toxic. Let me stay with the Illiad for a moment because it is a great work and Jesus told parables to get his point across. 

        Homer gives us a picture of the human condition which Jesus came to redeem. And he did face evil culminating at Calvary and triumphed over it on Easter.  Knowing this, I believe the artist has a responsibility to reflect this reality; a fallen world that has the means of redemption.

        In good literature we have people in a world that effects them and they effect it. Regarding television, I do find that an audience does accept powerful and true work if they believe they trust the characters: that they are faithful to the human condition and strive to do the right thing. They are tempted to do the wrong.

        Yes there are people who cannot enjoy literature as I can’t participate in athletics. We ought to make sustained efforts to show what’s the difference between a good work and a bad one. 

        • marye

          Maybe I need to clarify more explicitly my comment and reason for it. I too realize good literature has an important place in our Catholic Culture and general society as well. If this show was made to be a pure fantasy and the main character was from another planet (so her having these ‘special gifts’ was clearly explained fictitiously) I could appreciate the good triumphing over evil and then would go on to evaluate it on its literary value. But in this TV show there is no evidence they are given from the Holy Spirit (no mention of it in the script). If supernatural powers are obtained from a source other than the Holy Spirit then they are coming from evil spirits. This concept gets missed in today’s secular world and confuses many. (Many dabble in the occult now without a clue to its harmfulness; fortune tellers at county fairs, seances in peoples homes, etc.) So because of its seriousness in potentially harming people’s spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ (one they already have or could have in their future), I don’t see its literary value as equal to its possible danger. I would steer clear of this kind of show and encourage my loved ones also. 
          I don’t think the Iliad is in the same category as being harmful to anyone’s faith. It is clearly written from the culture of its day (mythological and pre-Christian) and people don’t belief in mythological gods in this day, so its not a danger. However, people do believe in esp, seances, fortune telling etc. in today’s world.By watching this (even if not harmful to your own faith) you are promoting that which can be harmful to others. A more clear example of this would be someone buying Playboy magazine just to read the articles. Maybe their soul wouldn’t be harmed but what about the promotion of that which can be harmful to others. Or you could use the Old Testament passages when the men wouldn’t eat the unclean meat but would rather die than put some weaker souls in jeopardy. Let’s remember Jesus when he said anyone who leads my little ones to sin, better had he not been born.

  • http://twitter.com/MaribelAlina Maribel A. Jurado

    We could just ask Our Lord directly: ”Would you like to watch some T.V.? After all, He is the best T.V. buddy in History :).