Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4:8).
While it’s great to know the theory (see: Why We Must Form the Imagination of our Children…) behind developing a strong and healthy moral imagination, some practical examples are also helpful. But first let’s share some harmful examples, and then offer some tips or suggestions to remedy the imagination. (I welcome you to include some suggestions in the comments.)
Earlier this year, one of the ISIS torture videos was released during my wife’s pregnancy with our fourth child, and we had a lively debate on whether she should watch it. It was my recommendation that she not watch the video to avoid inducing labor caused by the emotional duress of the graphic images. And, in reality, those images of very real actions are not much different than the horrific, recently-released Planned Parenthood videos. I tread lightly in drawing a moral equivalence between those and pornography, or even the “50 Shades of Grey” movie released earlier this year, but I think there are great similarities.
Why do I lump all of these together? Certainly, some of my pro-life friends will argue that the Planned Parenthood videos have some value, and I agree: but not to me. I don’t need to see the horrific act of abortion and “fetal tissue research” in order to know it’s wrong. Perhaps someone might need to; just like some military officials might need to see the ISIS videos to analyze the ruthless and barbaric tactics and search for intra-video clues. However, for the average civilian, these ISIS videos cause more harm than good. Pornography, on the other hand, always causes harm and should always be avoided. (I think this #PornKillsLove initiative is a good one, as well as what Matt Fradd has to say.)
It might even be somewhat strange to pose the question: what should we watch instead? John Senior, in his book The Restoration of Christian Culture, suggests throwing away your television, which is – at best – a passive form of entertainment, rather than reading books or playing/talking with family and friends. However, it is possible to find movies on the saints or other virtuous heroes, or even some good documentaries. A principle we use at our home is this:
- Does the movie/show confuse the moral order?
- Does good conquer evil?
- And, if sin and evil is portrayed, is it ugly and non-desirable?
I rely on Steven Greydanus’ website www.DecentFilms.com for reviews. And, let’s not forget the value of the fine arts, our local theatre, which has symphonies and orchestras which are beautiful visual representations, and are often classics.
In the realm of music, our modern culture has taken ‘artistic license’ to uncharted waters. Symmetry, order, and harmony – traditional characteristics which contribute to the definition of “beauty” – are severely lacking in most modern music. Rediscovering the beauty of classical or Celtic music has been helpful to our family. We even enjoy listening to and singing along with Gregorian chant (such as the Monks of Norcia new album, Benedicta: Marian Chant from Norcia). And, have you ever tuned into Catholic Radio: do you have a station near you?
I had mentioned earlier about the value of reading great literature. Obviously, the anthologies compiled by Bennett and Guroian are solid for children (and for some adults!), but even some saint books are good: check out this children’s book, written by a Benedictine monk about the life of his holy patron.
And what about male adults? Well, some friends and I formed a male equivalent to the Well-Read Mom; we call it the “Well-Read Gentleman”. The idea is to introduce men to the wonders of great literature, but also to foster “friendships of the good”, building up one another in virtue. And, since it’s a Catholic men’s book club, it exists to put our hands to the plow in the great work of the Church: instaurare omnia in Christo, to restore all things to Christ (cf. Eph 1:10).
While works by Scott Hahn, Patrick Madrid, or Matthew Kelly are more apologetic and practical in nature, the books we select are considered classics, stories that have stood the test of time and have a transcendent quality. In the words of Flannery O’Connor: “a story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way…you tell a story because a statement would be inadequate” (O’Connor, Mystery and Manners, 96).
Need some ideas and direction for a reading list? Catholic author, Joseph Pearce, penned Catholic Literary Giants, and we’ve read several titles from the authors listed. But, we’ve also read books from this list (scroll down to “Literary Classics”) and this list (“scroll down to “Great Christian Literature”). So far this year, we’ve read Atticus by Ron Hansen, “The Merchant of Venice” by Shakespeare, and A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr, which was just quoted here.
A final word about two topics: the internet and sports. I intentionally left out the mention of the internet because I was trying to use principles which can also pertain to the internet. However, the ubiquity of the internet is especially dangerous, not only for pornography (see above), but also because of its addictive nature (such as gaming and online gambling). Set guidelines: don’t use internet after 10pm, only use computer in the presence of others, install anti-pornography software, etc. Often our spouses and spiritual directors are very helpful in setting up parameters. And, in general, the internet probably isn’t the best place to foster and build up our moral imagination – and yes, I do realize the irony in that last sentence, given that this article appears exclusively on the internet!
Next, sports. Many men love sports, some to a fault, insofar as it becomes an obstacle to familial relationships. The beauty of sports is the disciple, exercise, and being physically active with others. However, there is some value in watching it: either at the game or on a screen. The principle which our family tries to (!) employ is to watch sports as a family, or at least together in the same room. Maybe the kids are playing on the floor or doing a puzzle, while my wife and I watch a game; or perhaps we invite friends over to watch a game with us. Be sure to keep the remote close at hand, to censor the inappropriate conversation, commercials, or occasional cheerleader shot. Nevertheless, by making it a family activity, it brings people together (rather than isolating) and there’s a sense of camaraderie and fraternity. Of course, in the wise words of St. Benedict: “all things in moderation” (Rule of St. Benedict, 31 & 48).