There is something about physical harm and pain that reminds us to look before we… leap. Why? Because we leaped one too many times without looking and our brain has trained us not to do that again. That’s the way our brains work. And our brains work well. That is, at least, for a lot of things. However, our brains may work against us when it comes to others things.
We sit down and watch a cute, funny dog video on YouTube and that’s fine; no pain. Actually, we quite enjoy it. Our brains do not tell us: Look before you… watch. So, we don’t. We don’t consider what we watch or how often we watch because, after all, we like it.
What is “entertainment”? What does that word mean? It has been defined in this way: “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” So, entertainment gives us pleasure, enjoyment, and diversion; especially by a performance of some kind. For instance, I was entertained at NitroCircus when Travis Pastrana did a double backflip on a dirt bike.
To quote someone from a different arena, it would have been fitting for Pastrana to scream out:
“Are you not entertained?! Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!”
There is a danger that people will die in entertaining us but is there also a danger for us as we are endlessly entertained?
Neil Postman wrote in 1985 about the danger of, as his book title says, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and that was before public internet, let alone social media and the smart phone. It is not an understatement to say that we are likely to amuse ourselves to death. There are serious health risks for us when all we care about is entertainment. There is the further danger that we’re not living and loving as we should. We’re liable to amuse ourselves until death, and never do anything worthwhile with the time we’ve been given.
Towards a Biblical View of Entertainment
What does the Bible say about entertainment? In one sense, not a lot. The term “entertainment” is of course not in the Bible and even the concept is difficult to find. How should we think about entertainment and the place it should have in our lives?
Here are some categories for us to consider as we approach the question of our enjoyment of entertainment.
Feast and Fellowship
Feasting and fellowship are very important in Scripture. And it is actually a form of entertainment. Hospitality and conversation are forms of entertainment as well. The Bible certainly celebrates and calls us to those forms of entertainment (of course, indiscriminate, foolish, and dishonoring talk is not acceptable).
We also see in various places in Scripture that art is important. We see this all over through the composition of Scripture (the best seller of all time and beautiful literature) and specifically in the construction of the Temple in the Old Testament.
In Scripture, we also see that we are to accept the many good things God has given us with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5). This is no less true with entertainment. We are taught in whatever we do to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31); this includes the entertainment that we experience.
Love of Neighbor
If we are always focused on being entertained we cannot enter into peoples lives. At least, real, flesh and blood people. We cannot love them. We cannot hug them. Eat with them. Actually “like” them in reality. Yet, we are clearly called to love our neighbors (Lk. 10:27).
We are not to live for ourselves and our entertainment, but for Christ and others (2 Cor. 5).
We must consider the telos. That is, we must ask what is the point of the movie. Why was the movie made and why should we watch it?
In our brief exploration of entertainment, there are some preliminary things to consider. What “take aways” do we have? First, let’s answer the two questions that were asked at the beginning: no and no. Entertainment is not everything and therefore it shouldn’t be everything. However, I fear that we live as though it is everything (again, look at the statistics).
Second, let’s consider these questions regarding entertainment:
- Does our entertainment fit into the category of feast and fellowship? Does it entail calibration with friends?
- Is our entertainment art? Or is it senseless? (Obviously, this is difficult to define. Work with me here…)
- Is the entertainment we are indulging in a form of entertainment we can and are giving thanks to God for or is it dishonoring to God?
- Does our entertainment express love for neighbor or are we in a cloistered shell?
- What is the telos, end, or goal of the movie and does it align with the end for which we exist? That is, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever?
As I said, these are some preliminary things to consider; there is a lot more. However, it is very important that we do not fritter away all sorts of time on entertainment with out even considering entertainment and how we should interact with it. As Socrates reportedly said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
 At least, that’s what the statics are telling us. Here’s a sampling: “A typical young gamer will rack up ten thousand hours of gaming by the age of twenty-one, only twenty hours less than they would spend in middle or high school if they had a full attendance record” (Turner, Popcultured, 184). “Studies estimate American teenagers spend an average of nine hours a day using screens” (“Q+A: The Secret Lives of Teens Online”). “The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day… In a 65-year life, that person will have spent 9 years glued to the tube” (See http://www.csun.edu/science/health’docs/ tv&health.html accessed on June 15th 2010). “Today, 8-18-year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week)” (Quoted in Borgman, Foundations for Youth Ministry, 219). I can only think that the challenges will increase with the advent of such things as virtual reality.
 “No generation has yet lived from the cradle to grace with digital expertise, and no description of the possibilities and perils of a digital world is complete” (Dean Borgman, Foundations for Youth Ministry, 216). Read Mercer Schuchardt has said, “As the first generation to be born into the Digital Age, college students today face a particular constellation of challenges that stem from spending more time in the virtual world than in the real world. In the face of these real dangers, learning to grapple consciously with spiritual and intellectual effects of mass media and crafting a response that protects and nourishes embodied life in a world suffering from its absence become the most serious and vital work young Christians can engage in” (Read Mercer Schuchardt, “Social Media and the Loss of Embodied Communication,” in Liberal Arts for the Christian Life, 243).
 We could also consider prophets that put on theatrical spectacles to relay their message (of course, what they were doing was much more than entertainment but for many, it was likely not less).
 “It is tough to build a life around viral videos and memes. They are a welcome respite—a celebration of the weird wonder of God’s creation and a quick laugh amid daunting days—but if we are to go the distance, we need more enduring wisdom than… “’Charlie bit my finger’” (Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives, 5).
 Loving people and caring about their rights to be and do whatever they see fit to do is all the rage. I’m glad about that. However, too often, I fear, it is not embodied. It comes through an avatar.
 “We are still called to be present to those in need. Not just via Facebook, but via hugs and kisses and meals and meetings” (Detweiler, iGods, 165). He goes on to say, “How much depth can we pack into a comment? Presence is not possible. True friendship is more than a post. It extends beyond a ‘like.’ Friends get in the car, board the plane, and deliver dinner” (Ibid., 150-51.).
 This is an important question to ask because, as Steven Turner wisely points out, “The culture we consume just for fun, with no thought of grappling with heavyweight theses, has the most effect on us” (Turner, Popcultured, 15). Stories and forms of entertainment are important. Important beyond what we normally realize. “Stories can dehumanize, demonize and erase” (Sunny Singh, “Why the lack of Indian and African faces in Dunkirk matters” in theguardian.com). “Stories” can “pave the way for physical and material violence against those we learn to hate. But stories are also the only means of humanizing those deemed inhuman; to create pity, compassion, sympathy, even love for those who are strange and strangers” (Ibid.). Stories and the entertainment they come through are teachers and shapers even if unrecognizable or sold as something else (and this is true of video games and music as well). See further “The Forming Affects of Film.”