Stranger Things is a smash hit, the talk of Twitter and the toast of the town. Its story is captivating, its characters well-formed, its acting first rate, its tributes to the 80’s priceless. With so much buzz and so many friends celebrating it, I figured I’d give it a go. But this isn’t an article about Stranger Things. Not really. It’s an article about being a prude.
I’ve been told I’m a prude when it comes to movies and television. Here’s what that means according to the Cambridge Dictionary: A prude is “a person who is easily shocked by rude things, especially those of a sexual type.” If that’s a prude then I guess the shoe fits because I have a very low tolerance for sex and nudity in movies and television. For that reason I carefully screen them against PluggedIn, Common Sense Media, or IMDB’s parents guides. When I see there will be sex or nudity, I don’t watch it. It’s that simple.
Why am I such a prude? It isn’t because I don’t like to watch movies and shows—I really do. It isn’t because I try to be holier than thou—at least I hope not. I am a prude because when I am exposed to sex and nudity on the screen my conscience immediately sends out signals. Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley say that conscience is an internal early-warning system, “your moral consciousness or your moral awareness turned back on yourself.” Conscience allows me to make moral judgments where I do not have clear revelation from God (“Thou must not watch movies with sex” or “Thou mayest watch movies with sex”) or where I lack the spiritual maturity to properly understand the revelation he has given. In this way conscience is a gift from God given so I can obey him, even in those areas where I don’t have complete clarity.
3 Important Rules
Naselli and Crowley offer three important, biblical rules regarding conscience: Don’t sin against your conscience. Listen to your conscience. Cultivate a good conscience. Those are rules to live by and I’ve attempted to do just that. I have attempted to cultivate a good conscience in the area of entertainment and hope it is consistent with God’s Word. I feel a deep fear of sinning against my conscience—I know that destructive and disqualifying acts of sin inevitably begin with what appear to be the smallest compromises against the warnings of conscience. And so I seek to heed my conscience, to listen for its alarms and to respond appropriately. “God didn’t give you a conscience so that you would disregard it or distrust it.”
I watched Stranger Things through to the end of episode 2. I’ll let IMDB describe what happens just before the credits roll: “A teenage main character is pressured into having sex with her boyfriend. The teen girl is shown undressing to her underwear while her boyfriend watches. Then the scene cuts to them in bed kissing frantically and pressing against each other.” It certainly isn’t the longest or steamiest scene in cinematic history, but it is exactly the kind of scene I have determined I won’t watch, that I shouldn’t watch. I hadn’t seen it coming because I had neglected to consult those sites. I didn’t think to with all the breathless endorsements I had seen in my mostly-Christian Twitter stream. That was my error.
1 Bad Moment
I want to tell you what went through my mind in that moment. My conscience was telling me, “Turn this off. You don’t watch stuff like this, remember?” But at the same time my mind was saying, “But maybe that’s just pride. Plus, that guy watched it. And that guy. And her, too. They all said it was great and they are way smarter and godlier than you. You don’t think you’re better than them, do you? You don’t need to be such a prude!” This internal dialog allowed me to silence the alarm for those few moments. Actually no, that’s not quite true. I didn’t silence my conscience, I ignored it. I ignored it long enough to finish up episode 2 and, later, to turn on episode 3. As it happens, episode 3 begins with that exact same scene. There she is again, there he is again, there they are again. This time my conscience was in full-blown klaxon mode. It wasn’t the explicitness of the scene that set off this alarm but my mere participation in it as the viewer. It was there and I was watching.
There was a potential workaround: Perhaps I could turn my head when those scenes came on or just fast-forward through them. But even here my conscience squawked as I was faced with the reality of what went into creating this production. To create Stranger Things a group of people filmed an actual eighteen-year-old girl actually taking off her shirt and actually simulating losing her virginity to an actual teenaged boy. They did that for our pleasure, for our entertainment, so we could see it. What on this side of hell could justify me, a nearly forty-year-old man, watching a production that involves an eighteen-year-old girl—someone’s daughter, someone’s future wife—disrobing and writhing her way through simulated sex with a manipulative, hormone-driven boyfriend?
1 Necessary Conclusion
I want to watch Stranger Things. It intrigues me. I want to know what happens and how it all resolves. But even more, I want to avoid sin (and do what is right), I want to avoid the very appearance of evil (and find delight in what is good), I want to keep a safe distance from every little compromise that paves the way to a big compromise (and pursue every little virtue that paves the way to godliness). I cannot discount the lingering thought that I am wrapped up in self-righteousness here or that I have messed up my conscience by calibrating it to be too sensitive. I cannot discount the thought that there is freedom of conscience available to me somehow and somewhere. How can’t there be when it seems to be available to so many men and women I love and admire?
But then I had this thought: Maybe God has given me a weak (or is it strong?) conscience here because he knows how prone I am to certain sins and that watching these scenes might provoke interest in them. This could be a special gift to me, and one for which I need to be grateful. And I find that I am grateful. If it is, indeed, God’s gift, it makes it even more important that I accept it, that I listen to my conscience, that I heed it, for in listening to it I am listening to him. Whether watching such scenes is objectively right or wrong, moral or immoral, is beside the point. Whether others can watch such scenes in freedom of conscience is, likewise, beside the point. The point is this: For me it was sin. I sinned when I continued to watch that show even after my conscience accused me. I repented of this. I had to. I repented and received God’s forgiveness.
Naselli and Crowley say “As a general rule, you should assume that your conscience is reliable, even if it isn’t perfect. And since conscience is usually right, the Bible says that we should do what our conscience says until we are convinced from Scripture that it needs adjusting.” Does my conscience need adjusting in this area? Perhaps it does. But until I am convinced from Scripture that I can or should watch such scenes, I have to keep on being a prude. For, as Luther said, “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”