For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings (Prov. 5:21)
According to LDS theology, human beings have the potential to become (through God’s grace) like God Himself. Mormons take it quite literally when the Bible proclaims that “he that overcometh shall inherit all things” (Rev. 21:7) and be “joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). They also believe that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36) and that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:36). Understandably, knowledge is a high commodity among the LDS people. The Mormon prophet Brigham Young went so far as to say “our religion is simply the truth … it embraces all truth, wherever found.”1
A couple of months ago, I got into a debate on Facebook concerning whether or not the LDS Church has prohibited its adult members from watching R-rated movies. I paraphrased much of the debate in a series of posts to my blog (see here, here, and here). All three of these blog posts provided an exegesis of various quotations from general authorities of the LDS Church, while the most recent post went further and examined what it means for something to be an official policy of the Church. I feel these posts—particularly the latter—adequately demonstrate that the Church has not prohibited the viewing of R-rated movies among its adult population. Even so, I want now to consider a very different take on why the viewing of R-rated movies may be acceptable. Although my current approach is quite different from what it was previously, I think it has merit.
To begin, I need to present a couple of facts:
(1) God watches R-rated movies.
(2) God loves us.
These facts are related. More specifically, fact (1) is a direct consequence of fact (2). God wants to be involved in our lives, and He wants to understand us. His omniscience allows Him to do this. If He weren’t all-knowing, He would not be God. If He weren’t all-knowing, He could not love us completely and perfectly. Thus, God is in a situation where watching R-rated movies is a must. He cannot avoid R-rated movies and remain God. His glory and power would be diminished were He not to watch R-rated movies.
I’ll stop here to preempt an obvious objection. God does not “watch” movies in the way that you and I watch movies. When you and I watch a movie, we must devote the majority of our cognitive capacities to it. If we pay adequate attention, watching the movie becomes a prolonged, isolated, mind-usurping endeavor. Often, we watch the movie with the foremost purpose of being entertained. It is doubtful that our experience of watching a movie is anything like God’s. To say God “watches” the movie may imply that He is temporally bound and/or cognitively restricted in the manner that we are. Clearly, I do not mean to suggest these things. However, it remains true that God is aware of every detail of every movie that has or ever will be made. On a traditional Judeo-Christian view of God, God is also pristinely aware of our experiences as we watch the movie. Nothing that enters into our experience is lost on God. Because any detail pertaining to the watching of any R-rated movie is encapsulated by God’s omniscience, I will continue to speak of God “watching” R-rated movies. I trust my message will remain clear, rhetorical license notwithstanding.
Now, let us suppose that God does indeed want us to become like Him. Two essential components of God’s character are His perfect love for humankind and His omniscience. As mentioned, God could accomplish neither of these things if He (per impossible) avoided R-rated movies. Does it yet make sense to suppose that God wishes for us to refrain from watching R-rated movies? The difficulty in answering this question has much to do with the differences between God and us. In our mortal condition, we humans will never become omniscient or perfectly loving of each other, no matter how many movies we watch. But if we take the teachings of the LDS Church seriously, the majesty of God’s plan will not be realized until each and every one of us knows R-rated movies just as well as He does. In that respect, watching R-rated movies in this lifetime can be an investment in one’s eternal progression. After all, our fullest potentials will not be reached until we learn everything: “for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).
Something must be said about the attitude with which we watch R-rated movies. As I have suggested in a previous post, R-rated material may be detrimental if a person isn’t adequately prepared (emotionally, psychologically, and otherwise) to handle it. And so, let us once more consider God’s approach. One of God’s primary purposes in watching R-rated movies is to understand and know His children. This is because He loves us. Likewise, we can watch R-rated movies with a desire to understand and know God’s children. It may sound presumptuous, but I truly believe that this is often part of my motive when I watch movies. In the first place, we often learn something about life, the world, and the people in the world when we watch movies. They can unite us, increase our understanding of each other, heighten our sympathies, etc. In the second place, most movies are the product of many people coming together to produce something that they want to share with others. I consider it a loving thing to acknowledge their efforts, to welcome their art, and to find whatever beauty in it that I can. Granted, some movies are produced with base and selfish intentions and probably aren’t worth our mortal time and attention. But I find it absolutely sad to think that because a certain word gets uttered a few times onscreen, certain moviegoers will dismiss everything else a film has to offer. I can’t help thinking that, if we were more Christlike, we could look past the human frailties and embrace whatever good there is.
I actually started writing this post nearly two months ago. It has since sat dormant until today. I’ll tell you why I decided to return to it and post it, even though it could undoubtedly be polished up and developed a bit more than I have done. Last weekend, Melanie and I went to see Argo, a recently-released film about the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. The film is one of the best I’ve seen in recent years. But it is not just an excellent film. I’d say it is an important one. Coincidentally, it is also rated R due to a handful of instances of strong language. While watching the movie, I found myself thinking what a travesty it is that some people will not see the film because of its rating. I found it upsetting to think that someone would consider avoiding a half dozen mutterings of the f-word to be more important than learning about and sympathizing with one’s fellow human beings. And yet that really seems to be the point, doesn’t it? What other basis could a person have for avoiding a movie that is R-rated but otherwise an incredibly moving film? I was reminded of a woman who recently asked me, “Would you watch that R-rated movie if Jesus were sitting right next to you?” Watching Argo, I found myself answering that question with an enthusiastic “yes!” Jesus didn’t shun people who weren’t perfect. Why, then, should I feel a need to shun movies that feature imperfect people? Speaking boldly, I believe that unconditionally avoiding movies that are R-rated is equivalent to shunning people who aren’t perfect. It’s that simple.