I was “pwned” by a professional Catholic apologist today, but let’s start at the beginning…
My wife and I tried to watch the first episode of Downton Abbey the other week, thinking we’d preview one episode before we considered watching the show as a family. Everyone’s raving about it, and people I love and/or respect highly present it as a family-friendly masterpiece that is not to be missed. The family-friendly review sites give it high marks. The Catholic blogosphere and twitterverse is full of adulation for the show. Clearly a “must see.”
We got this far…
And that’s where it sat in our Netflix queue, and burned into my retinas, until we finally logged in to remove it from the queue entirely.
I’m the sort of guy who tries to figure out where the lines should be in an unmarked parking lot. As much as I’d like all parking lots to have clearly delineated spaces, they just don’t. God, in his mercy, allows enough gray in the universe that we can remain blissfully ignorant at best, or at the very least excuse ourselves, and thereby avoid the absolute despair of seeing clearly our abject unworthiness until such time that we value his love more highly than our own illusion of worthiness. But that’s another post about great saints and their bizarre insistence that they are, in fact, among the greatest sinners. In light of all this, I try to refrain from jumping to conclusions or making hasty judgments.
Anyway, I shelved my disquiet about Downton Abbey. It isn’t for me, or for my house, but perhaps our standards are too rigorous. Perhaps I just need to lighten up.
But it kept coming back.
This is a show that presents, for our entertainment, typical soap-opera delights such as theft, lying, blackmail, class warfare, and unchastity. The unchastity comes in your typical soap-opera flavors: hetrosexual or homosexual? between peers, or exploiting age and authority differences? consensual or coerced? While some elements may have given scandal fifty years ago, they’re common fare in modern times.
That is exactly the problem.
We’re not scandalized.
This is family-friendly entertainment.
This is the type of show that we don’t hurry to change if our pastor drops by.
This is what we tweet and status-update about.
There are so many reasons not to watch this show, and yet we do. For those struggling with homosexuality, or who have a loved one who is struggling with homosexuality, the show vilifies and demonizes homosexuals; they are caricature “bad guys” and generally rotten people. For those who mourn the degradation of our culture and the destruction of the family, we present a smorgasbord of unwholesomeness and depravity. We claim to “love the sinner and hate the sin,” but justify consuming the unwholesome material with the consolation that at least we’re holding “those people” up as examples of “badness.” That is the very opposite of our aim:
We love (to watch) the sin, but we justify ourselves by hating the sinner.
I hate it. I see it in myself too, but I hate it the more for that.
But what you really want to know is how I got pwned, right?
So… After another DA endorsement, I sent a private message to a couple of public personages I used to follow on Twitter, hoping to present a challenge that might elicit an enlightening response. After all, if their endorsement of the profane lead me to “unfollow” them, perhaps it has done the same to others. These are good men doing a good work, and perhaps a private word in season will go somewhere…
@_nameWithheld_ So disappointed that you would promote a show that presents homosexuality and fornication for your amusement. #unfollowing
Enlightening response? Not so much… One of them replied:
@EricHybner So happy that you are not following me anymore. Thank you for that. #misguided
Ouch. One of us was just a complete jerk.
I’ve met this guy, listened to him at conferences, read his books, and appreciate much of what he has to say. He even played a role in my being received into the church. I am hesitant to dismiss him offhand. That, taken to its logical conclusion, implies that I am misguided. And probably a jerk.
I can’t do much about the jerk part. Perhaps I’ll grow out of it.
What about being misguided? Perhaps we can go somewhere with this.
Here’s where I am taking my guidance, in a nutshell:
We are to be like David, who knew he couldn’t entirely avoid unclean things, but resolved not to choose to set them before his eyes (Psalm 103).
We are called to strive (imperfectly, requiring mercy) to become like the righteous:
Whoever walks righteously and speaks honestly,
who spurns what is gained by oppression,
Who waves off contact with a bribe,
who stops his ears so as not to hear of bloodshed,
who closes his eyes so as not to look on evil –
That one shall dwell on the heights,
with fortresses of rock for stronghold,
food and drink in steady supply.
We are to heed the words of the Church in modern times (emphasis mine):
7. Finally, the narration, description or portrayal of moral evil, even through the media of social communication, can indeed serve to bring about a deeper knowledge and study of humanity and, with the aid of appropriately heightened dramatic effects, can reveal and glorify the grand dimensions of truth and goodness. Nevertheless, such presentations ought always to be subject to moral restraint, lest they work to the harm rather than the benefit of souls, particularly when there is question of treating matters which deserve reverent handling or which, given the baneful effect of original sin in men, could quite readily arouse base desires in them.
8. Since public opinion exercises the greatest power and authority today in every sphere of life, both private and public, every member of society must fulfill the demands of justice and charity in this area. As a result, all must strive, through these media as well, to form and spread sound public opinion.
9. All who, of their own free choice, make use of these media of communications as readers, viewers or listeners have special obligations. For a proper choice demands that they fully favor those presentations that are outstanding for their moral goodness, their knowledge and their artistic or technical merit. They ought, however, to void those that may be a cause or occasion of spiritual harm to themselves, or that can lead others into danger through base example, or that hinder desirable presentations and promote those that are evil. To patronize such presentations, in most instances, would merely reward those who use these media only for profit.
Above all, we are to be like our Lord who said “neither do I condemn thee…“, and listen to St. Jude’s exhortation
But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit.
Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life…
Here’s your chance, my friends, or even total strangers who can express themselves without being hateful. I submit to you the same response I sent the anonymous professional apologist:
Despite your snarky reply, I’m open to being educated. You’re the apologist, can you offer a compelling defense, or perhaps even a brief explanation of how I am “#misguided” in this matter?
I don’t understand how it is acceptable to watch, much less promote, a show that graphically portrays sexual immorality as a plot device, thereby either making light of the plight of those struggling with chastity, glorifying their behavior, or demonizing them as “bad guys” and sexual predators. I’d love to understand your justification for promoting this entertainment to your followers, as I rather enjoyed the show until that critical moment in episode one. What am I missing here? How can we simultaneously encourage one another to gaze upon our Lord in adoration, and to also feast upon… that?
Teach me how I am misguided.
Post with an alias. I won’t even look up your IP to figure out who you are, and if I know you. Please, I am begging you, have mercy on me. This has been bugging me for three weeks. Help me to see this aright.
I don’t think you can, of course, but that’s why I’m misguided, and why you’re performing a spiritual act of mercy to forgive me for being a jerk and set me straight.
- A Day in the Life of Holy Family Homeschool
- They know we are Christians by our love…