While I was growing up, we were in a community of spiritual fellowship which taught that we should not watch TV. It was backed by a popular saying often cited by pastors in their preaching that “TV is an idiot box”. This could mean that if you watch TV, you are an idiot, or only idiots would watch TV. And although we had a TV at home, it was strictly monitored by my parents. TV was turned on only twice a day for a short period of time—in the morning and in the evening, only for news. Any other form of entertainment apart from news obviously had no space for us, it was strictly discouraged.
There was a sense of taboo with respect to entertainment in my family at that point of time. The strong perception that had heavily left an imprint on my parents is that “all that we watch on TV would reflect in our thoughts and behaviour”. Apparently, movie songs or any content of that sort were not meant for us to watch. Although there is some truth in the above, it is a very narrow way of looking at technology and creativity. The field of entertainment and media has evolved so much over the years and now it has access to almost all homes in our country. Since this is a common topic in conversations for any age groups, it would be helpful to revisit it and see it from the missional lenses. Why is this subject a taboo among a section of Christians? Should we not have a fresh approach to watching movies/consuming media content as Christians? What parameters should a person have?
There are two extreme approaches with respect to watching movies – (1) we need to shun all types of movies/media content at all costs since most of them are controlled by unbelievers. They largely carry values that are contrary to the scripture, and often violence, filthy language and nudity are part of them. It corrupts our character and thought, and spirituality has no place in it. So why watch it then? (2) the exact opposite approach to the former is that we should consume all sorts of content and there is nothing wrong in them. Movies serve only the purpose of entertainment, and they have no impact on our lives whatsoever. We need to connect with people, understand their thoughts, culture, and practices, and movies are our best companion to achieve them. In addition, an interesting thought that floats among the so-called movie sympathizers is that we do a lot of missional disservice when we refrain ourselves from watching movies, that’s how we isolate ourselves from people that we wish to reach for God.
Well, both the above approaches are extremely hazardous and do not stand true to the scripture. We neither should shun watching movies altogether nor embrace all sorts of movies but rather we should engage with them meaningfully and contribute gospel-centered content or discussion for the world. Movies and media are a huge platform for missions. There are staggering statistics regarding the use of media content. India is the largest movie-producing nation—we produce one-third of movies of the whole world, and the Bollywood industry makes around 1,000 feature films every year. YouTube—the popular video platform—has got the highest number of users from India, an estimated 225+ million users! This platform is growing bigger and bigger, and it is home to all sorts of knowledge beyond just entertainment.
We all have witnessed that pandemic has shrunk the use of print media, but it has speeded up the usage of digital media content because of frequent lockdowns and the need for social distancing among people. People are consuming media content now more than ever for education, business, and to avoid their boredom and isolation. This shift has created opportunities for OTT platforms to bring in all relevant content for people. Film critics do recognize that many issues of social and political relevance have got their due space, which was earlier not possible on the big screen, they are now being appreciated and accepted.
And therefore, we must have a paradigm shift in our thoughts—we should start viewing movies as a platform—they are a means and not an end in themselves. It is perhaps the best and most powerful platform to share our story at this point in history. We now have the opportunity to reach millions with our gospel message and gospel-centred issues. There is a large audience waiting to consume such gospel-centred content, and we must seize the divine moment.
However, the issue at stake is that we need to be vigilant on this path because entertainment has become a huge giant that rules our society. People are seeking pleasure now than ever before in all digital places and, at times, that does not exclude even the news. Content is being created everywhere to satiate the unfulfilled pleasure thirst, and the aim is to keep people glued to content anytime and anywhere wherein entertainment becomes their very lifestyle. There is a constant war in news debates, TV shows, and movies to control our thoughts. But let’s be mindful that the platform is not the threat but the type of content that takes space in our minds. This platform is like a knife, and a lot depends on how one uses it. A surgeon would use it to save lives while a thief to rob and kill. We, the children of God, should be people who think through the issues and engage with them. It would be unfair to shut our doors to movies because they have inappropriate content. It is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It is apparent that in the field of entertainment, not all is evil, but that it has lost its original glory and purpose. One of the important mandates for each of us that falls on our shoulders after we have believed in the gospel is that we need to redeem which is lost because of the Fall. We are in the business of redeeming the lost, and art is certainly not outside that list