Perhaps you are one of the 9.6 million new subscribers to Netflix this year, or maybe you have been enjoying the video streaming service for years. Maybe you have never heard of Netflix, Amazon Prime or Disney+, but still enjoy television through traditional channel surfing. However you consume your content, consuming it we are, and in record numbers! In normal circumstances, we watch our usual shows, but in this time of social famine we seem to be more adventurous, perhaps out of boredom, desperation, or maybe in the hopes that time would hurry up and get moving so we can all get out of our homes again. We are incredibly blessed with the range of entertainment available to us, but we might end up letting our guard down as we drink deeper from the streaming services available.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to interview Brian Godawa, a Christian American screenwriter and author, to discover his use of storytelling and how Christians navigate through media. As a Hollywood screenwriter, he was keen to tell me that although Christians are careful with the superficial issues in media (such as nudity, bad language and gore) they can still end up swallowing narratives that flagrantly attack the Christian worldview. In his opinion, usually, there is ironically more Christian content in many horror films than many of the popular ‘clean’ dramas, romcoms and thrillers people enjoy; aside from the obvious issues, horror films often make room for the supernatural, for God, angels and demons, as well genuine good and evil. In contrast, the charming Disney film ‘Pocahontas’ (1995) casually rewrites history, ignoring the heroine’s conversion to Christianity, and instead seeks to portray John Smith as sympathetic to Animism. Or take the charming Netflix series ‘The Good Place’ (2016-2020) in which the audience is taken on a hilarious journey through the afterlife, which includes both judgement and redemption, only to be told after four seasons that there is no God, and there isn’t enough meaning in life to put off the inevitable desire to end it all.
In this truly non-Christian media world, it is easy to avoid the blatantly offensive and yet drink from a stream poisoned with more subtle arguments against God. The risk isn’t as immediate as nudity and gore can be, but over time the toxins can build up and pose real challenges for our faith. I don’t think the answer is to pull the plug but rather to carefully consider the messages we’re watching, and, as always, find a healthy balance. Spiritual awareness is the key to avoid conforming to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2).