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“Ask a Priest: How to Judge Whether Certain Media Are Helpful or Harmful?”
Q: How can a person go about discerning whether or not it is safe or healthy to watch or read certain media? I’ve been bewildered trying to find out what the controversy is especially with Harry Potter. There seem to be people who think it’s perfectly OK and others who think it’s dangerous. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia both feature magic, good and bad — but somehow they are acceptable? How can I decide what is acceptable and healthy and what is not? For example, I watch a show called Teen Wolf. The theme of the show is that the teenager bitten by the wolf turns into a werewolf. He refuses to give into the killer instinct (as others do). He is a good werewolf whose strength is his character and loyalty to his friends. The show features rituals and occult to some degree (I don’t know if the rituals are real). I wonder if it is wrong to watch a show like this? I ask this because I’m disabled and TV/movies are some of the few things I can enjoy and do. – C.M.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Each person has to discern what will help and what will hinder his spiritual life.
People respond differently to media. What might be harmless entertainment to a mature Christians, could be detrimental or confusing to a child or to someone with little or no formation in the faith.
So, you have to know yourself and what you are comfortable with.
Two observations might be worth mentioning.
First, whatever we watch and read can affect our very way of thinking. Our minds are like sponges.
Over time, the kinds of things we absorb from the media can make a good or bad (and profound) impact on us, sometimes without our even realizing it. One can imagine how racy TV shows and movies have helped lead lots of folks to adopt immodest dress in public.
One rule of thumb is to ask whether you would be comfortable watching something with Jesus or the Blessed Virgin sitting by your side.
Second, you mention this werewolf show. You might ask yourself whether there aren’t better things you can dedicate your time to, such as serious books (including the Bible) and edifying documentaries and online courses. And, of course, there is the option of dedicating more time to prayer.
Remember, the good is the enemy of the best. And ideally, the bad shouldn’t even be allowed in your house.
In any case, if your viewing is stuck at the “Teen Wolf” level, it might be time for a rethink.
For related reading on the Church’s take on the media, see “The Church and the Internet.” Also worth a peek is this list of 100 films hailed by the National Catholic Register as pro-Catholic (but note its warning).
I hope some of this helps.
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