One does not have to be an obsessed fan with pictures of a celebrity on their bedroom walls to be practicing a form of idolatry. Even casual fans, a group that encompasses the majority of western society, are falling into the trap of idolizing celebrities.
Let’s spell it all out in one paragraph before diving deeper into the subject. Most forms of spectator entertainment (watching movies, going to sporting events, reading news about celebrities, etc) are distractions at the least and can be extremely harmful for us spiritually when taken to extremes. Unfortunately, “extremes” in this case are probably not what most would consider to be extreme because fanaticism is so rampant that it has been accepted as part of our society.
Let’s dive into the topic, but first, a confession…
Fighting My Own Challenges
Throughout my life, I’ve allowed myself to fall victim to this on countless occasions. It may seem hypocritical to write about it since I’m fighting my own demons, but there’s a justification. Anyone who talks about fighting sins is technically a hypocrite because we’re all sinners, but that doesn’t make the message any less valid.
I grew up watching television. Lots of television. By the time I was an adult, I was an avid sports fan who followed many teams religiously. I started writing a screenplay with the dream of making it in Hollywood. I watched tons of movies. I studied many of them, reading the scripts and breaking down performances in a way that took it beyond being a hobby.
It’s a struggle to avoid clicking on links about this celebrity event or that actor’s latest follies, but I’m doing everything I can through discipline and prayer to pull away from these distracting aspects of the world.
Now, let’s discuss why it’s important.
Different Scales of Idolatry
The second commandment might seem like something that does not apply as much today as it did in the times of Moses. It speaks of graven images, the creation of which was common back then but that very few in western culture practice today…
… or do we?
Just because we aren’t in the desert melting down our gold earrings to be formed into the image of a calf for worship doesn’t mean that we’re not participating in idolatry.
Let’s look at it in the Bible:
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.Exodus 20:4-6 (KJV)
We can assume that we’re not practicing Biblical idolatry as it pertained to the Jews of the Torah, but that’s not the only place that speaks of idolatry. While we see the second commandment as a binding statement to guide our lives, we must also look to Paul in his letter to the Colossians to gain a better understanding of how idolatry can affect us in modern times.
4 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. Colossians 3:2-7 (KJV)
If there’s one delusion that has overcome nearly all in western society, it’s the delusion that shrouds covetousness. Very few people would admit to it because they’re probably not even aware of it, but the primary reason that we follow our “idols” of movies, television, music, and sports is that we covet what they have. It’s not just the fame and fortune. It’s the skills, talents, attention, lifestyles, and access to things that we do not have in our own lives.
At this point, many of you are shaking your head. You find nothing wrong with watching a movie or following your sports team. How can that be a sin? Nobody’s perfect and God doesn’t care if we’re enjoying ourselves while rooting for our Super Bowl team, right?
Let’s reiterate Paul’s words: “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth.”
Do we spend more of our time watching movies, television, listening to music, or watching sporting events than doing things that honor our Lord? Are our affections focused on things above or things on the earth? Finally, is there a scale when it comes to idolatry? Is wearing our favorite football player’s jersey less idolatrous than praying to a graven image?
The last questions are tougher and definitely up for debate, so let’s look at it from a practical perspective.
Time Well Spent
We can assume that in a world that has its attentions focused on the secular that few will be convinced of the concept that watching movies is a sin. Pointing fingers and declaring something is unholy simply isn’t practical.
I know this because I struggle with it all the time.
The thing that helps to keep me focused is the preciousness of time. I have a family. I run a company. I drink lots of espresso to try to keep up with both. Without distractions of entertainment, I have to make a conscious effort to set aside time for my Lord.
Part of this can be accomplished by inserting a Biblical mindset into everything I do. It’s hard sometimes because there are always things to do that don’t have an easy path for inserting that Biblical mindset, but nobody said this was going to be easy.
What’s the point of all this? Knowing that I want to please my Lord with everything I do acts as a reminder to avoid the distractions of this world. A popular question that many ask (at least they used to ask it) is “What would Jesus do?”
I prefer to look at it by asking the question, “Would Jesus like what I’m doing right now?”
Is it a good use of our time to engage in spectator entertainment? Some would say yes because the time spent relaxing and disengaging with the real world allows us to relieve stress and refresh our minds. My counter argument is that the same thing can be accomplished by reading the Bible, listening to commentaries or sermons, and praying.
In 1987, I watched every single Mets game. All of them. I used to spend Saturdays and Sundays watching football for at least 4 hours each day. Add in Monday Night Football and there’s another three. Until a decade ago, I would watch 2-4 hours of television per day. Until about five years ago, I would watch a minimum of two movies per week. Looking back, I know that every minute of time spent entertaining myself in this manner did nothing to honor my Lord nor expand my spiritual understanding. I had set my affections on things of the earth.
This isn’t meant to condemn any of us for what we’ve done or what we’re doing now. It’s simply meant to make us think about what we’re going to do going forward.