More Thoughts on Movies, Holiness and Brownies

I received an email from someone regarding my last blog post.  What this person said what generally encouraging and helpful, but at one point, he asked why would one see a movie if a saint would not watch it.  Here is may response.
Thank you for your feed back about defiled brownies.  I agree that most saints would not at all want to see an ugly movie; however, movies, like life, are seldom completely ugly or purely beautiful.  Good movies, like Dickens’ novels or Shakespeare’s plays, can help us see the beauty hidden in ugliness or the ugliness hidden in beauty. This is why I think parents (including saintly parents) should be reading novels, watching movies, reciting poetry, listening to music, etc. with their children talking to them about it and helping them to see what is good and what is evil as it is portrayed in the movie, novel, poem, song, etc, and as it is manifest in their own hearts and in the world around them.  And parents should begin doing this right away, when children are young.  We need to talk to them about what they think and feel about the picture books they read or the Disney films they watch when they are very young (e.g. “do you think it was a nice thing when the Princess ran away from her family?”  “Why do you think she did that?”  “Could she have done something else instead of running away?”). When children grow up thinking about and discussing literature (and movies are the literary genre of our age par excellence), they learn to pay attention to what they see, what they think and what they feel.  
I imagine very holy people (saints) don’t see many movies (or read many novels, see plays, recite poetry or listen to music). But then again, very holy people also eat very little and pray several hours each night.  I think it is a huge spiritual mistake to try to incorporate into our lives one aspect of what we associate with holiness apart from other often more essential aspects of holiness.  For example, I think it is a mistake increase fasting without also increasing prayer.  Similarly, I think it is a mistake to impose on ourselves and on our children external constraints that holy people may impose on themselves when we ourselves do not in our own hearts experience the same holiness.  It may indeed be delusional to say to ourselves something like, “If Saint Seraphim of Sarov wouldn’t have watched this movie, neither should I or my children.”  Saint Seraphim of Sarov also spent a thousand days kneeling on a rock in prayer. What St. Seraphim of Sarov did he did because the holiness in his heart compelled him.  We may be greatly deceived if we think we can or should do in our outer behaviour what the saints have done when our inner life with God is very little like theirs.
But then again, my point in the previous post wasn’t really about movies.  I don’t think people should read books, watch movies, see plays, recite poetry or sing and listen to songs that stir up their passions (I think I have said that as clearly as possible).  My point is that, first, we should not teach our children that anything outside us can defile us (“it is not want goes into a man that defiles him,” Jesus said).  The defilement is already in our hearts, and what we avoid, we avoid because it stirs up the disordered passions in our hearts.  I do not avoid movies that have ugliness or wickedness portrayed in them, I avoid movies that stir up my ugly and wicked passions.  This distinction is essential. And it may be that a movie or novel that one person finds insightful and beautiful, another will have to avoid because some aspects of it stir up particular passions he or she may struggle with. Each person is different. I myself have found that I cannot at all listen to secular music without it causing terrible problems in my inner life, but I can watch a movie that some might consider inappropriate and it provide fodder for prayerful thought and contemplation for many days. 

We each have to find what is appropriate for ourselves, which brings me to my second point. That is, parents must help their children discern their own thoughts. We can teach our children to attend to their hearts and to their thoughts by talking to them about the books they read and the movies they see. But we must begin doing this when our children are young, and we must talk about all sorts of literature with them. If we do not talk to our children about their thoughts and what disturbs them when they are five years old, and reading fairytale picture books, then they will certainly not feel comfortable talking to us about their thoughts and what disturbs them when they are fifteen and being exposed to pornographic and explicitly violent movies and songs.

One comment:

  1. Thank you Fr Michael.
    You wrote:
    "I do not avoid movies that have ugliness or wickedness portrayed in them, I avoid movies that stir up my ugly and wicked passions."

    This was particularly illuminating for me.

    -Mark

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