Are a Movies, Television, and Books Making us a Numb to Evil?

In my latest piece for Truth and Charity, I explained that we Christians need to be on guard against the banality of evil, where evil acts becomes so everyday that we do not even notice them as evil. We simply accept them as part of life, and are not rightly shocked at the evils being committed in our world. This idea is not new to Christianity. In fact St. Paul also warns against conforming our minds to secular standards:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect. (Romans 12:2)

We have all heard this verse before, this command to guard against the world and renew our minds. One area in which we need to do this is in our recreational time, in our watching, listening, and reading.
The Church warns against becoming numb to evil in the media in the Catechism:

The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences (CCC 2496).

When it is the end of the day and we are tired, just wanting to relax, how do we go about not becoming passive in our watching or reading? How can we be vigilant in our consumption of media? How do we, in a society that does not value virtue and moral lifestyles, find worthwhile entertainment? There is so much available that can pollute our hearts and lead us to become passive in the face of evil. If we become passive to the evil present in the entertainment we choose, we are on the path to becoming numb to evil in the world, and as I argued here, we should not become numb to any evils, great or small.

To live fully Christian lives, we must live purposefully, so as to form virtuous habits. Most of us know that we need to do this to have healthy relationships, to have a regular prayer life, and to accomplish our tasks at work and at home. But we must also be purposeful in what we watch, listen to, and read, or we will accept mediocre content that eats away at our souls. Despite the difficulty of being purposeful in our recreation, we need to do so in order to be able to understand which entertainments are worthwhile. At the very least we should seek to find entertainments that do not devalue humanity.

Many movies, shows, and books do devalue humanity, and  we are worse off after partaking of them. These works of “art” eat away at our awareness of evil, slowly numbing us to the evil acts and attitudes depicted on the screen, in the book, in the lyrics. These are the things we need to avoid, and we need to seek more worthwhile entertainment. Just to be clear, I am not advocating the consumption of moralistic works of art that are created for the sake of presenting a moral or just to be “Christian” but that do not represent humanity realistically. These too can inhibit the formation of our consciences.

Worthwhile artistic entertainments are reflective; in producing them, the artists reflect on humanity, their lives, hardships, sufferings, joys, illnesses, and God. They lead us to reflect on these things as well. While this is clearly present in good works of fiction, it is also present in sports, which allow us to reflect upon great human achievements, and in instructional shows, such as cooking shows that teach viewers skills. These good things do not numb us to evil, but help us live full, examined lives.

Reflection on oneself and the world is something the Christian can never cease in doing, and while at times it is tiresome to always be examining ourselves, it is necessary if we ever want to live a life of virtue. If we look to the examples of the Saints, we see lives of complete self reflection. In our lives too, even in our entertainment choices, we must never cease to examine ourselves and the things that we allow to affect our minds.

Originally at Truth and Charity