“Ask a Priest: Can Music and Videos Become Idols in My Life?”

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Q: I would just like to know when something of a hobby or interest becomes an idol. For instance, music, by listening to my favorite song over again, or movie clips or other videos, by watching a certain type of video for too long. What is the urgency of this issue? Should it have high priority in my life by virtue of it concerning idolatry or is it something that I can work on without having to stress over? I feel like my overall concept of idolatry might be misconstrued, and so I ask for your guidance. – N.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The fact that you are asking this question might — might — be a sign that the Holy Spirit is nudging you to rethink how much time you devote to music or videos.

Perhaps it would help to put together a weekly calendar, hour by hour, on a grid. Fill in what you do at each hour of the week.

Once you deduct for sleep and eating, figure out what percentage of your waking hours are devoted to music and videos and movies, etc.

Then, project that use of time over, say, the next 40 or 50 years of your life.

With a bit of math, you could figure out how many weeks, months, even years you spend listening to music or watching videos. The results can be eye-opening.

Then consider this: At the end of our lives, we will have to give an account to God of how we used one of our most valuable resources in this world — our time.

Folks who spent 10 or more years glued to the tube by age 65 (not unusual) will have to answer for that use of time. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much” (Luke 12:48).

And this, of course, doesn’t even take into account the content of what people are listening to or watching.

The upshot is yes, too much time and attention on entertainment media can be a form of idolatry. We can give the media more weight than God himself.

Every minute in front of a screen or plugged into earphones is one less minute for serious reading, works of charity, and prayer.

Resources that help us bring balance to our media consumption could include the U.S. bishops’ conference Family Guide for Using Media and books such as Taming the Media Monster. A National Catholic Register posting might be helpful for perspective on the use of social media.

So, it might be good to take some of this to prayer and weigh whether you are using your brief time on this earth is a good way.

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4 Comments
  1. Hi there,
    God created Music 🙂

    Do you listen to a song over and over again more times than most people would do?
    And do you watch a video clip once or do you watch it over and over?
    If say you listen to the same song every day once or more times it could be a sign of autism etc and autism etc is just another way of thinking, there is nothing wrong with being autistic or neuro-typical or anything in between. And that music to you is maybe comforting this is maybe part of “Stimming.” which is an autistc trait. If you are not autistic and you find you are obsessing over music it could be a way of dealing with stress.
    Do you have any other repetitive things like repetitive movements or thoughts? (could be autism)
    The priest gives good advice here, and even though it might be hard to get out of these habits as a lot of autistic people do follow music more intensely than non-autistic people getting out of the loop might help you. If you listen to the same song 10 times a day cut it down to 9, then 8 and get it down to 1. Be careful what music you listen too, are the lyrics something that might be disapproved of by God? if so it is best to let that song go.

    If you are autistic and music helps calm you why not turn towards Catholic hymns, and sing and even learn to play along on the keyboard to them. The words are meaningful and each time you sing you will be praying. You might be able to put those music skill you learn to good use, for example accompanying people on piano/keyboard to sing hymns etc.

    And saying at least a decade of the Rosary helps each day too, you can build up to the whole Rosary when you can.

    So by adding prayer and hymns you will find that you will have less time for other music and that your habits might even fade. Also helping others in any way that you are able to do so is good too. Join the church choir, if you are not the best of singers do not worry you can still sing in the choir as every voice is important if you are shy then still sing from where you normally sit it is just as important and helps to encourage those around you to sing too. You can learn hymns off by heart and get to sing them well. Hymns are a lovely way to be able to still have music in your life rather than too much secular music.
    So put prayer and hymn first then you will most likely start dropping the old habits and building more positive ones that will be welcomed by God.

    Your question was a good one, and it might even help others to read it who might be in the same position as you.

  2. Hi, Sarah, Father MciLmail, N.C.,

    I would like to point out several things from my own experience.

    First, Father’s advice is good advice.

    Second, it is true that worshipping God, prayer, Scripture, and acts of love and charity are honorable, worthwhile, and necessary for Christians. However, I would also say, borrowing a few words from Deacon Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films, that God does not require or wish us to spend all our time doing holy things like praying, reading Scripture, worshipping God, and doing acts of love and charity. He also created us for healthy and holy amounts of leisure, recreation, play, and amusement.

    Engaging in leisure, play time, leisure and amusement in moderation glorifies God, too.

    Third, I have high functioning autism and I listen to a balanced mix of Christian music and secular music. The secular music I listen to is mostly movie soundtracks like Disney, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars and the soundtracks of musicals. All I Ask of You from The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite songs ecause it is very beautiful and positive secular song. It is a very pure and beautiful romantic song. Although I am autistic, I only listen to songs twice on repeat.

    As Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin pointed out on his blog, it is OK to enjoy things that are non-religious, including music, in moderation.

    When we create good things, including non-religious things, and enjoy them in moderation, we glorify God by doing so.

  3. Hi Susana, and Hello! that is good that you have made times for hymns, hymns are wonderful prayers.

    I like All I Ask of You too, the music is lovely. Yes, it is fine to listen in moderation but not to let it become like an idol. You make some good points. And that you have a balance in life. And having some music in the background when tidying etc is nice to have as it gives a nice atmosphere or listening more closely when you want to just listen.

    I think that some pop music though some lyrics may be about things that are not appropriate and are against God’s wishes so I steer clear of those songs.

    Putting God and his word first is the main thing.
    🌸🌺🌼

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