Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, November 29, 2008

All Movies/Books/TV/Or Any Non-Church Activity is Evil

by Sariah S. Wilson

This has been a hectic week.

First, the day before Thanksgiving, my husband lost his job. Unlike the fortunately well-prepared Jeff, we don't have things paid off or any money in savings or any money coming in anytime soon. Things are...not good. Christmas is pretty much kaput this year (and if you knew the deep and abiding love I have for the season, you would know how this seemingly unimportant detail deeply depresses me). I've been feeling extremely panicked the last few days, compounded by the fact that we received our COBRA information that to continue our health insurance will quite literally cost more than our mortgage payment. I have to have the insurance for the baby, but we can't begin to imagine how we'll be able to make that payment. So if anyone has any extra room in their prayers, the Wilson family could use them right about now.

Full on panic aside, I wanted to write today about something I've seen growing up in the LDS community and recently had the opportunity to hear about it again.

A seminary teacher asked one of his students a question, and the student didn't know the answer. The teacher then went on a rant about how the student might have known the answer if he didn't waste so much time watching movies.

The teacher then elocuted on the inherent evils of movie watching. That such time could be and should be better spent in learning the Gospel and studying. This evil movie watching apparently also extends to fiction reading and television viewing.

So, immediately my hackles rise. 1) I write fiction (does that make what I do even more of a waste of time?). 2) I read fiction. A lot. 3) I like me some movies. 4) I like me some television too.

I started listing off in my head all the reasons why this was wrong (because I do so enjoy rationalizing when I think I'm right). First, I thought of the fact that there are times that things are taught/represented in a visual way that has more of an impact on us emotionally and spiritually than any bone-dry recitation of scripture. When I think of an example of faith, I can try to comprehend the faith Ether had, but there is definitely something to be said for watching Indiana Jones step out into that deep, vast chasm, to hope that when he placed his foot into nothingness by leaping from the lion's mouth that he wouldn't fall and die.

Taking a Church-sponsored video, at the end of "Testaments" when Christ calls Helam's name, the look on his face is priceless and touches me so deeply every time I see it that I am still, multiple viewings later, unable to watch that scene without crying. Multimedia allows us to experience things in an entirely different way.

By speaking to a common human experience, by using fiction to illustrate truth, we are taught.

The Savior spoke in parables, in stories that would be easy to remember and would carry important divine truths.

If we stopped being able to quote works of fiction in our talks, as Rob has pointed out before, half of President Monson's talks would be gone.

I don't think people should get a testimony from fiction or TV or movies. But there is an ability to teach there that I think shouldn't be dismissed. For example, we have often talked to our oldest son about not cheating. He's ultra-competitive (a fault I take full genetic credit for) to the point that he sees nothing wrong with cheating as long as he wins. This is something we talk to him over and over about.

The biggest improvement I've seen in his behavior was when he watched the movie "Cars." At the end the bad guy cheats to win. And while he's celebrating his hollow victory, no one else cares. No one celebrates with him. He doesn't get the big endorsement deal. My son could see what happened to someone who only cared about winning and that caring about other people mattered more. Something that examples and lectures hadn't managed to convey.

I also think that there is room in our life for entertainment. Perhaps that makes me a heathen, but I'm pretty sure that when I came to this planet I wanted to live a righteous life and be close to my Savior, but that I wanted to experience what it meant to be human. That doesn't mean I think we have carte blanche to do whatever we want or feel like doing, but I also don't necessarily think that we're all supposed to live monastic lifestyles. Life is meant to be enjoyed and lived.

When Brigham Young started settling Salt Lake City, wasn't building the playhouse one of the first things he set up? And not for religious plays (although I'm sure that did happen). It was meant to be entertainment. They had dances and parties and games and activities just to have fun.

I think in all things there has to be balance. I think sometimes it's hard to find that balance and we can spend too much time on things that don't have any great eternal merit, but I don't think the Lord expects us to devote every waking moment to the scriptures.

So, am I wrong? Is there room in our lives for other non-Church things? What would your response be to the teacher who thinks that to watch a movie or TV or read a book is without worth?


At 11/29/2008 10:17 PM, Blogger Windsong said...

It reminds me that we are commanded to read good and uplifting books. There are many books that are not church related, and *gasp* fiction, that teach, inspire, and uplift. The Lord gave us our talents and expects us to use them wisely. I think there's room for playing pretend in there. :)

At 11/30/2008 12:31 AM, Blogger Mark N. said...

we received our COBRA information that to continue our health insurance will quite literally cost more than our mortgage payment

I've been there. I don't know how anyone can afford to continue their medical coverage under COBRA. I feel for you and your husband; I was laid off from my last really well-paying job at the end of 2002, and life has been a struggle ever since. I'm pulling for you guys.

At 11/30/2008 1:40 AM, Blogger Kelsi Rose said...

In defense of the teacher, there are many, many students who spend more time watching movies and television than is needful (I totally disagree with the reading thing, reading totally helps with imagination and vocabulary, which children of today do not have). I do not think that a tirade in seminary is appropriate.

The saint were encouraged to dance and sing after a day of walking across the plains and the chores where done at the end of the day, good entertainment is good in moderation, just not all the time. It really bugs me when parents use the TV as a babysitter all the time, it is so inappropriate.

I have been able to find work since April and I just have me to worry about. That is so hard. I will keep you in my prayers.

At 11/30/2008 1:49 AM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/30/2008 2:14 AM, Blogger David G. Woolley said...


You always have thought provoking questions and ideas. Well done.

I think the seminary teacher was absolutely wrong and absolutely right. He just took out his frustration on the wrong person (poor kid), at the wrong time (seminary class?) and against the wrong link on the media food chain.

There's nothing inherently unrighteous or righteous about fiction, movies, music, dance or other entertainment. They're nothing more than tools for conveying ideas, emotions, and societal norms. They preserve our shared history. They tell stories. They make us laugh and cry. The tools themselves are valueless. They aren't good. They aren't bad. It’s what we build with those tools that determines its goodness or its badness.

What the seminary teacher may have been railing against, but didn't articulate well, was that evil is celebrated, promoted and trafficked through movies, fiction and music. I'm pretty sure you'd agree they're used 24/7 to promote the cause of evil. To entice. To whisper in the ears of men the designs of Satan. To get us to accept His ideas as our own. No wonder conference talks are filled with comments like this: "We recognize that there is much good on the internet, but we warn of the terrible evils that come through the miss-use of that technological wonder." The same could be said for fiction, for movies, and for music.

Joseph Smith once said that the gospel is filled with the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man and the doctrine of the devil. There’s a lot of false doctrine taught in the name of Christ. The same could be said for popular culture, though God has a much smaller stake in that arena than say men or the devil. Popular culture is filled with evil designs, subtle enticements, subtle suggestions, subtle substitutes for truth. There is very little in music, movies or books which is inherently evil. They don't overtly promote satanic ideas, glorify Satan, His plan, or the denial of free agency. Satan gets most of his work done and receives most of his glory through second parties, indirect glorification, and step-by-step removal of free agency until we find ourselves without any.

Most music, movies and fiction fall into the category of Noise. Noise that confuses. Noise that chases away the spirit. Noise that wastes our time. Noise that is not uplifting. Noise that is not ennobling. Noise that does not teach. Spend enough time listening to noise, watching noise, or reading noise and you become numb to the promptings of the spirit. You have contributed little to the building up of the kingdom. You find less and less that is beautiful and more and more that is dull, boring, and unmotivating. You get confused. You have a harder time recognizing truth because you have been over exposed to all the logic that is gray. All the ideas that are popular. All the motivations that monetarily enrich. You lose your desire to learn. Like the reverse polarity of the earth, you lose your attraction toward truth and become more attracted to popular ideas. You lose your will to resist. You hope for acceptance instead of trodding the narrow path. You fear men more than you fear God. And that's how Satan wins you over. One popular culture argument at a time. One equivocation portrayal at a time. One good thing called evil and one evil thing called good. One lie at a time.

Movies, fiction and music are wonderful tools. The sad thing is that more and more of our Father's most talented children are choosing to use those tools to produce noise.

May we find ourselves this holiday season recommitted to producing works of art that are uplifting, that invite the spirit, that teach, and that clarify truth. May you write, sing, and act with the clarity of the spirit and without any noisy.

We Latter-day Saints will likely never be the main course on this planet, but that isn't our mission. We've been asked (and we've covenanted) to be the salt. May we be very good condiments in this last supper of the earth.

And may we never lose our savor!

At 11/30/2008 2:35 AM, Blogger DEATH said...

Wasn't the inventor of the television a member of the LDS church in Idaho?

At 11/30/2008 7:55 AM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

I'm so sorry about the layoff. It's hard to deal with the change. I've had to work for fractions of what I used to make back in 2004 so I understand. the Cobra thing is very upsetting. it always seemed to me that it should be cheaper not more money. after all, those who need it, need it because they have less money and have just lost their benifits.

I will pray for the Wilsons.

As for the media. I'm with you. I used a scene from Star wars when Obiwon was teaching Luke to reach out and find the force. I likened it to praying for and listening to the spirit. I also used Pinochio to tell my teachers quorum that all they needed to do was give a little whistle and the spirt would be there to help them.
I know there are some who feel I was wrong to use them but it got the attention of my class. Yhey got the message

At 11/30/2008 9:15 AM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

COBRA is so expensive. You may be able to find cheaper coverage on your own. You have 60 days to accept COBRA and it will cover you retroactively to the date of insurance termination.

As for movies, books, television et cetera the point I make to my Sunday school class (Gospel Doctrine, so adults, not teens) is that don't come whining to me that you don't have time to do your home/visiting teaching when you watch 2-3 hours of television every night. If you have time for that, you can fulfill your callings.

Most movies, television and books ARE a waste of time. Some are not. We're reading The Secret Garden to my five year old right now and I can assure you that that is not a waste of time.

At 11/30/2008 2:17 PM, Blogger Marta O. Smith said...

The best illustration I have ever seen of a "leap of faith" was in the Indiana Jones move The Last Crusade. Some people learn best with words on a page. Some learn better by seeing and hearing.

At 11/30/2008 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry, that must be an "Urban Legend". A 21 year old young man named Philo Farnsworth, from San Fransisco, invented and patented the first television system back in 1927. He was known as the genius of Green Street and died in 1971.

I wonder if he was disappointed with how his invention was sometimes misused, and even abused?


At 11/30/2008 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Philo Farnsworth By Mary Bellis

"There's nothing on it worthwhile, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your intellectual diet." - Philo Farnsworth's feelings about watching television.

American engineer, Philo Farnsworth was born on August 19, 1906, on Indian Creek in Beaver County, Utah. His parents expected him to become a concert violinist, but his interests drew him to experiments with electricity. At the age of 12, he built an electric motor and produced the first electric washing machine his family had ever owned.

Philo Farnsworth attended Brigham Young University in Utah, where he researched television picture transmission. While in high school, Philo Farnsworth had already conceived of his ideas for television. In 1926, he cofounded Crocker Research Laboratories, which he later renamed Farnsworth Television, Inc. in 1929 (and as Farnsworth Radio and Television Corporation in 1938.)

In 1927, Philo Farnsworth was the first inventor to transmit a television image comprised of 60 horizontal lines. The image transmitted was a dollar sign. Farnsworth developed the dissector tube, the basis of all current electronic televisions. He filed for his first television patent in 1927 (pat#1,773,980.) Although he won an early patent for his image dissection tube, he lost later patent battles to RCA. Philo Farnsworth went on to invent over 165 different devices including equipment for converting an optical image into an electrical signal, amplifier, cathode-ray, vacuum tubes, electrical scanners, electron multipliers and photoelectric materials.

Philo Farnsworth died on March 11, 1971, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

At 11/30/2008 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So he was disappointed. Thought so. But I'm glad he had the vision, just the same or I wouldn't have been able to watch general conference from Yuma at the same time as my 21 year old missionary son from Paraguay.

Great bio, Mary. Much better information than on Google.


At 11/30/2008 5:29 PM, Blogger Just_Me said...

There's a world of difference between watching something that drives the Spirit away and a movie or book that is Good.

You can learn many things from a book that isn't part of the standard works if you're teachable.

My answer to the seminary teacher is simply that he or she is wrong. Part of studying the gospel is applying it to your life, and that means going out and living. The scriptures will never make sense if you only spend your day reading them. You have to ponder and live the gospel principles to actually get it.

At 11/30/2008 8:21 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Been down the Cobra route many times! See if you can find an independent insurance--you can get it for around $400-$500/month with high deductibles. Cobra is great if there is an emergency between the time you are uninsured and the time it takes to get insured (4-6 weeks), so get cranking! If there is an emergency, you can back pay on your premium and the $1300 or whatever will be cheaper than the emergency services.

Also apply for unemployment, that takes a couple of weeks to get going. Even though $300 a week sounds lame, it will cover your mortgage at least.

I know that everyone always touts FOOD STORAGE, but having savings in the bank is just as important. I know exactly what you are going through! Been there several times. Hang in there! You are not alone ;)

At 11/30/2008 8:37 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Thank you everyone for the well wishes and for giving me your thoughts on the movie thing. I'm finding this to be a very interesting discussion.

I may have to contact Evil HR Lady and Heather to see if you guys have any info on where I should start looking for other possible types of insurance.

At 11/30/2008 9:19 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Death and Deb, Death is completely right, Philo T. Farnsworth did indeed invent the first television and his first transmission was one of his wife. He was born in Idaho and was indeed a Mormon. :-)

At 11/30/2008 9:20 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Sariah, all my good thoughts and prayers are coming your way, especially during this Christmas season. I hope your husband finds another job soon. :(

At 11/30/2008 9:36 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...


So sorry to hear about your troubles. This is the highest rate of across the board layoffs I have seen in my lifetime. We are going to get our insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield. You can get rates on-line. Unless you have a lot of preexisting conditiond, it will be much cheaper than COBRA.

As far as movies, I am actually posting about one tomorrow that really got me pumped up about making the best of hard times.

Good luck.

At 11/30/2008 10:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For insurance, what about CHIP (CHildren's Health Insurance Program) That will at least cover your kids. If your husband was laid off, then there should be no waiting period and they should be covered as soon as it is approved. It's based on income and it covers everything medical & dental. See if they have it in your state. It's different in every state.

At 12/01/2008 1:40 PM, Blogger pwells said...

My husband lost his job the week of Thanksgiving 2000, so I know what you are going through with Christmas and Cobra. I have a major pre-existing condition and we could not change to anything else. It was tough - plus our daughter was getting married in De cember, to add to the worries and expenses. It's not easy, but eventually all things work out.
As to the media, it can all be to the good or bad - isn't that what our discretion or agency is for? We are told to seek out of the best books. President Benson was said to have kept a copy of Hugo's "Les Miserables" on his nightstand along with his Book of Mormon.

At 12/01/2008 6:51 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

I feel for you with the lay off. I worry about that very thing every time I clock into work each day. Insurance is a small nightmare.

Oh and I think the teacher was wrong. Is TV a time waster? Sure it is. Is it nice to have a way to unwind and be entertained? Absolutely. And as for reading? Is he out of his mind? Reading is my number one favorite way to find happiness. Sometimes It's god for me to disappear into a book and emerge a better person, or a less stressed person.

At 12/03/2008 2:29 PM, Blogger AnnaleeMG said...

Our prayers are with you on the layoff.

I agree with you about the media/fiction! I had a similar experience in seminary, and came home very confused and hurt. Since then, I have found that there is so many ways to convey a message to my kids. They definately need to do homework and chores first, and then they are limited on time. More parents need to be involved in what their chilren watch/read.


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