The Empty Ecstasy of Entertainment Escapism
Last weekend, numerous people throughout the country collectively invested $200.3 M into 2 hours and 23 minutes of their time. This investment was the purchase of a movie ticket to escape the world of reality to play in the super-hero fantasy world of The Avengers.
I’ll confess: I tossed a few bucks into the pot myself, after being cajoled and nudged by my friends. Don’t worry, no spoilers in this entry, except for letting you know that you will get exactly what you expect: action, explosions, action, slapstick humor, action, some witty humor, action… and more grandiose, epic scenes of action. Conclusion: as an action-adventure film, it stays true to its genre, but not a whole lot of thinking is required or encouraged by the film. Some might call it a “turn your brain off and enjoy” kind of movie. It’s your $10 ticket to a two and half hour “escape.”
Escape… but, and escape from what?
To be honest, the “empty escapism” of entertainment films has been a reality that has caused my soul to wrestle with the question of “how healthy are such forms of entertainment,” and perhaps more penetratingly “is it appropriate, or even permissible, for a believer to justify such a film as an acceptable and obedience use of their time?” “Is it ever ok for a Christian to watch a movie?”
Before you start throwing your own rotten tomatoes at this “legalistic” film critic, let me do some explaining. But then, I would please, please, please ask that you reflect, and respond…
Once a new creation in Christ, the life of the believer is to be a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, a life transformed by the renewing of one’s mind (Rom 12:1-2). Additionally, there is a sense of urgency about how we should live (Eph 5:15-16), and how we should invest the years, days, even minutes, of our day. Indeed: we have hope that “the world is passing away with its desires, but whoever does the will of the Lord abides forever (1 Jn 2:17), but there is also with that the fact that there is a ticking clock to this side of God’s longsuffering, and to Jesus’ return to this world to bring judgment.
Thus, wisdom seems to dictate that we should seek to value and savor the time we have on earth by investing it in appropriate expressions of worship. Jesus has indeed saved every bit of us, and thus has demand on every minute of our lives. Thus intentionally invest it by first seeking the things of the kingdom (Matt 6:33), constantly praying and communicating with Him (1 Thess 5:17, Eph 6:18), and setting their minds on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5). I don’t think many would disagree that the heart cry of many believers is that we learn to better be aware of the fact, minute by minute, day by day, that we live in a realm where our warfare is spiritual (Eph 6:12). As Bonfhoffer said “The first call which every Christian experiences is the call to abandon the attachments of this world.” Instead, there are suffering saints to be interceded for, lost souls to be won, works of God to be celebrated, and unlimited worship to be offered to our God. And this life, is one of joy! For if God is truly the greatest love of our hearts, we should delight in a daily experience of the reality that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”
So, if all this is true… why would you EVER want to waste your life with a “turn off your brain” movie? To this, I’ll add special emphasis to the word waste. Truly, any minute of our day where we chose to escape the spiritual reality of this world, and to temporarily forget that we are beloved working pieces in the midst of God’s cosmic salvation-historical plan for the cosmos… is a tragedy. And in the case of a “mindless movie,” it’s not as if we are learning to be Gospel conscious as we engineer away at our computers, redeeming the time as we drive in our cars, or exercising the powers of reason and imagination as we read a fictional literary classic. We are choosing to literally throw away our time, time rightfully belonging as an offering of love and obedience to God.
Although the foundational convictions listed above is probably a really sloppy example of comprising a systematic theology of the appropriate utilization of a Christian’s time, I also have felt the empty dissonance that cheap movie escapism creates in my soul.
After walking out of Avengers, chemicals of testosterone and some adrenaline was in my blood. I wish I could go out in my own Iron Man suit and save the world, punish evil… or maybe the desire is really just to blow stuff up. But either way, as I walk out of the movie theatre, I realize that my mind has escaped from the reality that is God’s plan in this world. My mind is affixed on fantasies, not on “the things of the Spirit.” As my eyes adjust to the light in the movie theatre lobby, my soul also makes and adjustment to realizing “wow, these feelings of invigoration, the euphoric escapism that is over my body now… this isn’t real.”The real adventure is that we live in a world where God and His Gospel are forcefully advancing. In India, my brothers and sisters battle shamans, spirits, and other warfare. In Syria, the church lives in the midst of chaos and political upheaval, alongside religious persecution. In my own city, people die each day, not knowing the Lord. I’m not the one who can save all of it… but I am called to the super-hero adventure to participate with him in it.
And when my soul floats back down to the real reality… my heart is saddened. For if the above is true… why did I just chose to escape the real good vs. evil stage, for such a cheap, and empty substitute.
You’ve seen me wrestle through this tension. Now, it’s your turn: please let me know: what are your reactions?