By Laura Melius
From the moment we open our eyes each morning, countless sources of entertainment vie for our attention. We may awake to a favorite song. Our cell phones report how many social media notifications have appeared overnight. News, music or talk fills the background of our morning routines and as we drive to school or work.
A wait at the doctor’s office is an opportunity to catch up on texts or news feeds. A free Saturday afternoon provides uninterrupted hours to conquer a new video game or binge-watch a new TV series. We no longer need to leave our homes to seek out entertainment—it constantly surrounds us.
This is not all bad. When healthy entertainment options are consumed in moderation, the benefits can bring us closer to friends and even improve our mental health. However, if unhealthy entertainment choices are allowed into our lives, or if these distractions take up too much of our time, the opposite can be true.
While so much of this entertainment may seem harmless, passive or mindless, it is crucial that we recognize this truth—all our entertainment choices affect both our bodies and souls in our daily walk with Christ.
Affecting body and soul
Our physical bodies and souls cannot be separated from one another as we engage in this world. FOCUS missionary Chris Tibbetts, parishioner at St. Lambert Parish, explains that the Church’s Catholic anthropology looks at each human person as both body and soul. We are not one or the other; we are a composite of both.
“When it comes to entertainment, the fact that we have a body and soul and that they interact with each other all of the time is a hugely significant factor,” Chris says. “This means that what we do with our bodies, what we consume, has a direct, though not always recognizable, impact on our soul as well.”
Our brains are actually changed by the entertainment we consume, even though we may not realize it at the time. Clinical mental health counselor Katelynn Beldin explains that use of technology creates new neural pathways within the brain that send and receive signals with the brain’s pleasure centers. The sending and receiving of these signals releases serotonin and dopamine, often recognized as “happy hormones.” When these pathways are used regularly, new experiences have to be increasingly stimulating to feel this same release of hormones.
“Thus, we need to continuously be stimulated to feel pleasure, making it difficult to find joy outside of entertainment via technology. This change does not have to be permanent, but it does require action on behalf of each individual to change their behavior. A behavior change results in a pathway change,” she says.
Just as our brain needs to be protected from unhealthy influences, so do our souls. No matter what the entertainment option, we must always guard our souls from sin or the near occasion of sin. Katelynn sites pornography as one source that always results in sin. She notes others, such as social media, can cause sin when we post negative comments or passively allow behaviors to happen without addressing them as sinful.
Sometimes sinful situations may catch us off guard. This is different from actively seeking out inappropriate entertainment.
“All of us have probably been exposed to a movie containing explicit and vulgar content. However, that is radically different than a situation where you and a couple of friends are browsing Netflix and end up choosing to re-watch ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ knowing full well the graphic content of the sin of pornography consumption,” Chris explains.
The power to change
If we realize we have not been consuming the appropriate entertainment, we have the power to change our behavior to make more positive choices in the future.
“Choosing to do better means we make a conscious decision each day, each hour, to do it differently,” Katelynn says. “One way we can do this is by asking, ‘How does this align with my values? Will this bring me closer to Christ? How will I feel after I have completed this activity?’”
Chris adds that it can be helpful to examine how we feel after watching, reading or listening to something. “What is your perception of yourself after having just done so? How did it affect your view of God, the world, or others? What about your thoughts? Are they thoughts you would consider good, true, optimistic or even holy? Did it help you grow more into the person you truly want to become?”
He also suggests asking yourself a simple question, “Would I suggest this content for entertainment if it was just me and Jesus hanging out?”
“The catch, of course, is that He is always with you anyway,” Chris says. “Or, if that is a little too abstract, replace Jesus with your mom or your future child.”
It’s worth paying attention to what entertainment friends are consuming, too, as friends’ actions can affect our opinion of ourselves and alter our own behaviors. If a friend spends too much time on electronics, we might begin to think we should as well. If another is continually scrolling Instagram and is preoccupied with their appearance, we may begin to think we should be more concerned about our appearance, too, Katelynn explained.
If friends invite you to watch or see something you have chosen to avoid, Katelynn suggests being honest with them.
“If a friend engages in an activity or is partaking in entertainment you disagree with, it is crucial to acknowledge this,” Katelynn says. “We can tell our friends that we would like to change the channel, pick a different song, or suggest different activities that entertain something wholesome or healthy.”
Chris admits this honesty may not be easy, but it is necessary in a healthy relationship. The truth often hurts when doing the right thing or when helping another to do so.
“But, if you are actually sharing the truth with someone and doing it in love, and they do indeed feel hurt by it, you can rest assured that it was never you that intended to actually hurt them in the first place—the truth did. Often all that is needed is more time for that truth to set in, and the reconciliation follows. After all, as harsh as it sounds, true friendship cannot actually be formed on the foundation of anything but truth,” Chris says.
Does this mean all entertainment needs to come from Christian sources such as Christian radio stations, apps, movies or only spiritual books? Not at all.
“I think it is about knowing yourself, your relationship with Christ and having the ability to evaluate if this decision will draw you closer to or further away from Christ,” Katelynn believes.
Chris agrees. “There is something to be said about the fact that those who have done significant work in forming their consciences in accordance with the good, the true and beautiful often find themselves gravitating more naturally to these types of outlets than others. At the same time, we don’t need to be perpetually scrupulous about entertainment. Entertainment is still a gift from God and can be used for such great good!”
Entertainment options may be a constant in our lives, but it is our responsibility to make sure what we choose to engage in is healthy for us in both body and soul and is in line with our Catholic values. To fail to take on this responsibility is a sure step away from our walk with Christ.
“As we partake in entertainment or media that does not align with our faith but does result in positive chemical reactions within our brains, we believe that in order to feel that amount of joy, peace or comfort again, we must continue to partake in that form of media,” Katelynn says. “In this cycle, we leave out the Lord and fail to find joy, peace, grace and comfort from having a relationship with Him.”