Catholics and the morality of motion pictures
Movies, television and many other forms of motion pictures are highly popular in modern society. Most individuals and families often go to the theatre and many others have and watch movies and shows on demand at home. This is most definitely true with the creation of companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and even just the fact that many TVs have access to many channels as well as internet streaming nowadays. This is true in regards to computers and many tablets and other portable devices that have access to streaming and downloading many movies.
There is a certain danger in all of this. Should many of these movies and shows that we are accustomed to watch be watched? This applies to any form of motion picture in general. Which of these movies, shows, and other videos should we feel free to watch? Which ones should we avoid? This article will address the morality and moral goodness of these motion pictures, as well as what the Church teaches in regards to the nature of motion pictures and on how they should be used and on what ways they should be avoided.
It should be first noted that every movie and show and motion picture in general should all and always be held in moral scrutiny. There are many types of goods in general. For example there are what in philosophy are called “ontological goods,” which simply means that it is good for something to exist. This is a very fundamental aspect of goodness because the essential definition of evil is the lack or absence of a good that should naturally be there. For example there are what are known as physical goods such as a person who has both arms and legs. We could say that a person who is missing either an arm or leg to be suffering from a physical evil, because something that should naturally be there (an arm or leg) is not there. Similarly Pseudo Dionysus a Greek convert to Catholicism stated that if something is to be considered good it needs to be good in every respect. A lack of goodness where goodness should naturally be there is really not good in general.
When we talk about shows and movies or simply about motion pictures as a whole in general, we say that these things need to be morally good. Now a moral evil is the absence of a moral good that should naturally be there. Similarly a moral evil is an act that is willfully committed by an individual, despite the person knowing it to be morally bad. It should be noted that a movie could be artistically good, but morally bad and corrupt at the same time. For example many individuals talk about how good a movie was when in reality it was very immoral and corrupt. What they meant and thought as good was artistic goodness and not moral goodness. If the movie has even just one sin or immorality in it then the movie is naturally morally bad and evil.
There are two types of sins that can be found in movies. Simulated sins and actual sins.
Simulated sins are ones which you simply act out the sin so that the people can see it. Simulated sins are ok provided that there are a couple of things that are kept in mind…. The first is that the simulation of the sin does not cause the average man to be drawn into sin… this is why for example it is worse for sins to have impurity than to have violence, because the average man can look at the violence and turn away and he doesn’t actually will the violence that he sees. Things however that pertain to the sixth and ninth commandment (sexuality), the average man has a difficulty with.1
This quote states that there are some sins found in movies that are called simulated such as violence and sexual acts which are the two greatest examples. In general violence does not make a movie morally bad as long as it doesn’t lead men to seek violence. Similarly violence is ok provided that it is done with context in it such as the Passion of the Christ or a historical movie based on a war. However distorted violence which seeks only to arise men to seek vengeance or a lust for blood does make a movie morally bad. Similarly when it comes to sexual acts including nudity whether fully or partial should never be shown in movies because it triggers the already weak human nature and the passions of both men and women and it conjures lustful thoughts.
There are also some sins that cannot be simulated even if done by an actor. They are real regardless of whether done by an actor. This has to do with things like vulgarity or profanity (blasphemy). If you use the Lord’s name in vain while acting is itself a sin.2
These types of sins are even more evil in nature and every individual should avoid movies with any blasphemy or profanity specifically of religious things like God, Christ, and His Church. Any movie which mocks these things should automatically be avoided.
Now that we know that movies are bound by good morality and that any movie that is morally evil should be avoided it should also be pointed out that the nature of motion pictures has several ends (purposes) to which they should be directed to. Good shows and movies should not only provide recreation and leisure, but they should also be directed to the Glory of God, the formation of a good Christian and moral upbringing and education, and lastly aiding in the salvation of souls.
Pope Pius XI states
It is, in fact, urgently necessary to make provision that in this field also the progress of the arts, of the sciences, and of human technique and industry, since they are all true gifts of God, may be ordained to His glory and to the salvation of souls and may be made to serve in a practical way to promote the extension of the Kingdom of God upon earth. Thus, as the Church bids us pray, we may all profit by them but in such a manner as not to lose the goods eternal3
Pope Pius XI is telling us that the nature of motion pictures in general just as any other part is a natural gift from God and that it should for this reason be used to glorify God and to help save souls by upbringing them and education them through sound morality both naturally and supernaturally. However as Pope Pius states in the last sentence many movies are made which are meant to completely be opposed to this reality.
Especially is this true of impious and immoral books, often diabolically circulated at low prices; of the cinema, which multiplies every kind of exhibition; and now also of the radio, which facilitates every kind of communications. These most powerful means of publicity, which can be of great utility for instruction and education when directed by sound principles, are only too often used as an incentive to evil passions and greed for gain. St. Augustine deplored the passion for the shows of the circus which possessed even some Christians of his time, and he dramatically narrates the infatuation for them, fortunately only temporary, of his disciple and friend Alipius. How often today must parents and educators bewail the corruption of youth brought about by the modern theater and the vile book!4
So as Pope Pius stats again movies and shows and anything else which corresponds to motion pictures including radio and I would say now even video games are often used specifically to corrupt morals, mock God and the Divine and natural laws of God in general.
There is a reason why such bad motion pictures should be avoided. The very nature of motion pictures gives them a very large sphere of influence in our lives. Sadly because of this many of us have seen morally bad motion pictures and it is therefore easy for us to be corrupted. Here are a few quotes by pope Pius XI on why motion pictures hold such as high sphere of influence in our lives in many ways.
There does not exist today a means of influencing the masses more potent than the cinema. The reason for this is to be sought for in the very nature of the pictures projected upon the screen, in the popularity of motion picture plays, and in the circumstances which accompany them.
The power of the motion picture consists in this, that it speaks by means of vivid and concrete imagery which the mind takes in with enjoyment and without fatigue. Even the crudest and most primitive minds which have neither the capacity nor the desire to make the efforts necessary for abstraction or deductive reasoning are captivated by the cinema. In place of the effort which reading or listening demands, there is the continued pleasure of a succession of concrete and, so to speak, living pictures.
Moreover, stories and actions are presented, through the cinema, by men and women whose natural gifts are increased by training and embellished by every known art, in a manner which may possibly become an additional source of corruption, especially to the young. Further, the motion picture has enlisted in its service luxurious appointments, pleasing music, the vigour of realism, every form of whim and fancy. For this very reason, it attracts and fascinates particularly the young, the adolescent, and even the child. Thus at the very age when the moral sense is being formed and when the notions and sentiments of justice and rectitude, of duty and obligation and of ideals of life are being developed, the motion picture with its direct propaganda assumes a position of commanding influence.5
For these reasons listed in this article is that as Catholics we need to practice extraordinary virtue when it comes to seeing movies, shows and any other motion picture. Specifically when it comes to movies and shows the sad reality is that many of these movies and shows need to be avoided. Many of these modern motion pictures are morally bad. This is not just true of movies like 50 Shades of Grey or even movies like American Pie but any movie that contains eve just 1 immoral sexual sin or nudity, as well as those which contain distorted violence which is simply meant to arouse the feelings of anger and vengeance, as well as any movie which contains blasphemy and profanity such as those which use the name of the Lord in vain, as well as movies which disrespect God, Christ or His Church should all be avoided.
- Fr Chad Ripperger “Movies”
- Pius XI, Pope. “Vigilanti Cura: On Motion Pictures.” Vigilanti Cura. Papal Encyclicals Online, 29 June 1936. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.
- Pius XI, Pope. “Divini Illius Magistri (December 31, 1929) | PIUS XI.” Divini Illius Magistri (December 31, 1929) | PIUS XI. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 21 Dec. 1929. Web. 27 Aug. 2015.
- Op. cit., Pius XI “Vigilanti Cura”