Let’s be adult about entertainment

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

When did you last turn off the television, or walk out of the cinema, because the presentation on-screen was simply unacceptable?

The Word of God this weekend calls upon each one of us to leave our folly, walking instead in the ways of perception. With the Ephesians, each one of you is invited to “be very careful about the sort of lives you lead, like intelligent and not like senseless people.” The Bible continues: “This may be a wicked age, but you [are invited to] redeem it.”

We could apply this in many ways, but today I’d like us to reflect on our viewing and listening habits. I enjoy a good film; I like to see a good drama or comedy on the television. But our 21st century entertainment leaves little to the imagination. The language and the images we’re offered have become more and more graphic. One of the questions film censors ask themselves is: “Have we already permitted this?” This means that each time new ground is broken on so-called artistic merit, the boundary of what’s officially “acceptable” becomes wider and wider.

One of our bishops has said that nowadays, “the unthinkable has become the acceptable, and the unacceptable has become the norm”.

Did you know that, according to current cinema guidelines –

  • 12-rated film is allowed to use the F-word and to show brief sexual activity?
  • 15-rated film may occasionally use an even more offensive word, and show nudity and sexual activity, the only caveat being “without strong detail”?

When I choose a film, I want to be entertained by excellent storytelling and a decent plot. I don’t want my entertainment spoiled by bare flesh appearing on the screen, or repeated use of foul language. But most consumers don’t object to those things, so that’s what the film producers provide. What can we do?

Some of us may feel called to lobby against what is currently permitted. MediaWatch-UK continues the work of Mrs Mary Whitehouse; there’s also a small lobby group based in Wales with the radical title Catholics Unplug your Televisions, which invites you to do just that.

I don’t think our Catholic faith requires all of us to do that. But our faith does require us to live by God’s standards each day of our lives. It’s by living God’s way that we redeem the world.

If you are planning a trip to the cinema, you might want to check out the American Bishops’ Conference website. They have a film review section, which considers each major new release from the viewpoint of Catholic morals. They’ve also got an archive of older reviews. The site will give you not only a standard review of whether the film is good, but also advice that a parent might value (about what would frighten children). It will say whether the plot turns on ideas that go against Catholic morality, and whether the language, sexual imagery, or violence is offensive. I find these reviews useful, because given what a 15- or even a 12-rated film is now allowed to contain, if I only relied just on the film’s rating to know what to avoid, I’d be stuck with a diet of children’s PG rated films. But thanks to the American bishops, I can make an informed decision.

For a moment, I’d like to speak to the University students among us – those at the University of Glamorgan and those currently at home planning to be at college next month. Each one of you is called to be a witness for Christ in a difficult environment – among young adults willing to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. There will be times when you have to push back the other way.

Perhaps you’ll find yourself with a group of friends who decide to watch something which you find too graphic. In these cases, you are being invited to be a witness for Christ. Politely explain that you don’t consider this acceptable viewing, make your excuses, and leave. Don’t condemn and criticise your friends, but do make it clear that you have standards on which you will not compromise. Your friends may call you a prude, or old-fashioned, or worse. But in today’s Britain, there’s a culture of non-discrimination which allows you to demand respect for your stance: it’s an expression of your Catholic faith. Remember – if you’ve received the sacrament of confirmation, you’ve made a commitment to stand up for Christ in this way, in the face of a world which thinks differently. And remember: Jesus promised special blessings to those willing to stand up for what was right, risking possible persecution.

But don’t be a lone voice. Reach out to other people who share the same values. If your University has a Catholic Society, start there. You’ll find that you have a shared set of moral values with the Christian Union and the Islamic Society; at the University of Glamorgan, you’ll find a programme of events at the on-campus Meeting House. Join together with other believers; perhaps even start your own film club. Part of the way you can redeem the world is by creating a place where Christian values can be accepted, celebrated, and lived out.

Finally, a word to both students and to settled parishioners. I’d like to invite you to reflect on the word we use to describe restricted entertainment. It’s commonly called “adult entertainment”, hinting that there’s something positive, something mature, something fulfilling about it. We need to challenge this! It should rightly be called “adolescent entertainment”, meaning it is chosen by those who want to push the boundaries of acceptability. To be truly adult is to take personal responsibility for choosing your entertainment according to God’s law. Truly mature entertainment is that which explores deep themes without the need for gratuitous sex, violence or offensive language. What the world calls “adult” is adolescent trash.

Friends, this may be a wicked age, but Our Lord invites you to redeem it. Do this not by hanging on a Cross, but by choosing good entertainment, and walking away from what is impure. May He give you strength to choose, and to choose well, until whatever is pure and noble once again becomes the acceptable norm.