You will only thrive if you protect your mind from bad influences, but it’s harder than it sounds. I’ve tried the path of blindly accepting moral culture’s opinion of what’s bad, and that didn’t work at all. You just end up watching things like Tiger King, Harry Potter, or the Bachelor in secret. Admitting to an Ozark binge usually comes apologetically.1 Cutting out everything Christians claim as “bad” isn’t fun, and you miss out on a lot of great storytelling. You also might miss out on videos like this video of a monkey on a little motorcycle trying to kidnap a toddler.2 But doing whatever you want, however you want, doesn’t work either. The key to success is thinking more critically by developing some discernment.
Those who follow Jesus should care deeply about the impact the world has on our brains. Jesus’ brother, James, called protecting ourselves from the pollution of the world “religion that is pure and faultless.” (James 1:27) But, in his coaching to the early churches, the Apostle Paul warned them about taking on a one-size-fits-all approach to many things that were deemed bad by the moral authorities of the day. He instead told followers of Jesus to be very intentional about their choices—way more intentional than the “ban it all” crowd is.
This is a concept that I’ve wrestled with a lot over the years. I don’t really have a problem with violent or mature content, but there are some things I do have a problem with that I have had to make the hard choice to exile from my life (even if it’s only for a season.)
Here are a handful of examples of how different media affected me and how I’m intentional with my media choices.
HGTV made me feel bad and spend money. How could a good Christian possibly censor Chip and Jo, the Jay-Z and Beyonce of white evangelicalism? Yes, for about two years, I removed HGTV from our TV favorites. Why? Because every time we watched, it caused us to hate our home, feel like we were failing, covet other people’s stuff, and want to spend hundreds of dollars at Target. HGTV is back now because we are in a different place with house stuff, but that was a season where we had to protect our minds from shiplap. It was much better for us to watch Game of Thrones.
The news is designed to make me fearful, and it’s effective. I used to work in local politics, so friends and colleagues just assume I care deeply about the news. They usually don’t believe me when I say I’ve spent more time in the last decade writing this article than watching presidential debates. I refuse to watch or read most news. Why? Because I fear those whose profit motive is fear. I don’t think the majority of media members or government officials are nefarious, but I do think they all profit from fear. That’s always been the case, but there used to be societal boundaries of ethics, morals, and manners that tempered the call to fear but are now so eroded that they are powerless to do so. So, the more news I watch (from either side), and the more politicians I listen to (from either side), the more fearful I get because that’s how they get paid. So I don’t. But how do I know what’s going on? You quickly learn that it’s impossible to avoid. It’s always there. I just don’t let it get me worked up anymore because I don’t watch it. And it feels like freedom.
Twitter made me anxious. About three months ago, Twitter was my go-to platform, primarily because it was my source for breaking Cleveland Browns news (it’s a sickness I was born into). But when COVID-19 hit, I soon noticed that me scrolling the nuance-less, “have a take” culture of Twitter was making me anxious. Everyone either believed all was fine or we were all going to die, and they aggressively shamed those who felt the other way. So, I moved Twitter off my home screen, and I only looked at it during the NFL draft. It hurt for about a day, but now I’m happier for it. It’ll probably come back post-pandemic, but for now, it’s gone.
Instagram once made me dislike my friends. This is one that was exiled from my life for years but is recently back. Seeing the carefully curated highlight reels of people’s lives on Instagram was making me miserable. I had to get rid of it. So I did, and I instantly liked myself better. I’ve since gotten over that because of #5, so Instagram is now back, but it was a healthy break that allowed me to stop focusing on other people’s wins and focus on getting some of my own.
Some friends/acquaintances can make me miserable with their posts. Just because I consider someone a friend, who I’d happily have a beer with, doesn’t mean me viewing their posts is healthy. Unfollowing certain people in my life, despite liking them as humans, has served me well. For some, I just couldn’t deal with the self-promotion, the carefully constructed image designed to make it look like they were winning life (and we were losing), or their need to consistently get me worked up over whatever they were worked up about. So I learned the skill of unfollowing certain people. On Facebook, you can even unsubscribe so you don’t see their crap, yet they think you still do. It’s great. It’s brought me peace of mind. And choosing to unfollow can be a key step in protecting your mind. It doesn’t mean you hate people. It’s just you recognizing that we are all broken in our own way, and in the right context, certain people’s brokenness can bring out your own.
Believing everything that’s “mature” is bad by default is the cheap way out, and it’s not true.
The much more truthful way of dealing with ANY MEDIA is to do the hard work of understanding your vulnerabilities and then avoiding those things that hit them, no matter what form they take. Violence, sex, greed, pride, consumerism, rejection, loneliness, “smoking” (according to Netflix’s mature content labels), and on and on. Sometimes those trigger points are found in the mature stuff (and sometimes they’re not.) But sometimes those trigger points are found in the “good” stuff that even the moralists deem as fine.
It’s fine for many people to go to a bar and enjoy a drink. But alcoholics, almost-alcoholics, or those hanging out with alcoholics, shouldn’t. Will watching a story that has adult content cause you to masturbate or cheat on your wife? Then don’t freakin watch it. But if watching it doesn’t get in the way of a healthy relationship with your wife, then don’t freak out about it.* It all depends on what’s inside of us and how we and those we are with might react.
*This is never porn. The research clearly shows that porn destroys minds. Read this article about not licking the knife from Brian Tome.
If you want to protect your mind, you have to ask tough questions and be willing to tune out, turn off, and unfollow. What is each piece of media doing to you? Not your neighbor. Not your mentor. You. So go ahead and enjoy Peaky Blinders (maybe), but be careful of This is Us or your friend Carl.
1I’ll claim it. I loved Ozark.
2I still can’t decide what is crazier, the fact that someone made a motorcycle for a monkey, the fact that someone knew to film it, or the fact that the mother seems completely unfazed by the whole thing.