The first question Chuck Colson asked someone interviewing for a job was: “So, what books are you reading these days?” He knew the answer would speak volumes. I’ll explain, next on BreakPoint.
I hope you heard Eric Metaxas on Tuesday’s BreakPoint broadcast on how important it is for Christians to tell great stories. He said Christians have a responsibility to join the artists and storytellers of culture, and can uniquely point culture to our good, true, and beautiful God. If you missed it, go to BreakPoint.org; you’ll find it under “Commentaries.”
Eric is spot-on, as usual. But, I want to “see” his call for story telling and “raise” him with a call for story hearing.
Here’s what I mean. Yes, Christians should be among the producers of great stories, art, books, TV shows, etc. But the fact of the matter is that few of us produce these cultural artifacts, but all of us consume them. Most of us aren’t movie producers, but movie watchers. Not authors, but readers.
And the books, songs, movies and media most Americans, including Christians, choose to consume these days are downright depressing. As Eric mentioned yesterday, the number one and two movies at the box office are ridiculously, almost pornographically, violent movies. And it’s not just violence and sex. It’s also the silliness that wastes enormous amounts of our time and our brains.
I first understood this after reading Neil Postman’s incredible book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” In it, he contrasts the futurist visions in George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”
At first glance their visions were similar; but Postman suggests otherwise. “What Orwell feared,” Postman wrote, “were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, because there would be no one who wanted to read one . . . Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture … In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”
Any objective look at American culture, in which we evangelicals often seem intent on imitating and embracing, will tell you that Postman and Huxley were right.
So yes, Christians should produce great art and great stories, but we also have the responsibility to cultivate our taste so we prefer great art and great stories to the trivial, the senselessly violent, and the vulgar.
In his essay “Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures . . . like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Let me paraphrase Lewis. "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with reality TV, cheesy romance novels, and decorating our homes with trinkets—when we could watch great films, read great books, old and new, that accurately describe the human condition and cause us to examine our lives; and feast our eyes on works of art that point to a greater beauty and Truth."
Here are some small steps toward ennobling our tastes: Parents, read to your young children. Unplug the various screens in your home for a significant period of time each day. Encourage teens to read good books, including fiction. Read those yourself. Watch films together, especially as families, and discuss afterward. And pastors, don’t seek to entertain on Sundays, but to challenge. Aim for depth and worship, not mere emotional stimulation.
At BreakPoint.org, we’ve compiled a list of suggestions for great literature for young and old, great films, and even resources for pastors. Just click on this commentary to find them.And remember: while we’re trying to shape the culture, the culture can also be shaping us.
Light A Candle Against Violence: See You at the Theater
Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | January 9, 2013
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Neil Postman | Penguin Books | December 2005