To access television shows, you no longer need a clunky box on the dresser or a gigantic dish on the roof. A password for Netflix, Hulu, Roku, or Amazon Prime will do.
There was a time in my life when I regularly consumed Netflix. Ditching it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Here’s 6 reasons why I encourage every Christian to do the same.
1. There’s Too Much Quality
If I was only concerned with the quality of the screenplays, I would have to admit that the shows on Netflix are (let’s be real) pretty amazing. We live in the Golden Age of television. The historical dramas alone are breathtaking. But we shouldn’t assume that’s a good thing.
For Christians, it just means that TV-watching is a greater temptation. And once you’re in, you’re hooked. The appeal of Netflix is magnetic. Brett McCracken writes, “My problem with Netflix is not that there is nothing quality to be found; it’s that there is too much quality to be found. It’s overwhelming and can be desensitizing.”
Most of the really good shows are also highly questionable. Season 1 may seem pretty clean, but as nudity becomes an expected hallmark of every new release, the casual watcher is often surprised by what creeps into Season 3 or Season 5. Because the shows are so alluring, it’s easy to get sucked in and compromise one’s convictions.
2. Sex and Nudity is the Norm
Just a few minutes ago, I tried an experiment. I googled “trending shows in Netflix” and searched the top ten results on IMDb’s Parents Guide. Here are a few highlights from each of the current top ten shows on Netflix:
- Sex & Nudity: 16 cases
- Sex & Nudity: 9 cases, including “torture involving nudity”
- No parental information available
- Sex & Nudity: 6 cases, including 3 sex scenes
- Sex & Nudity: 7 cases, rated “Severe,” including “porn scenes”
- Sex & Nudity: 29 cases, including “sexual intercourse (one night stand)” and “human-animal, or different-animal intimacy”
- Sex & Nudity: 17 cases, with “a lot of sex scenes” and “graphic nudity throughout”
- Sex & Nudity: rated “Severe,”; “every episode and season has sex and nudity in it”
- Sex & Nudity: “heavy to moderate sexual congress throughout including heterosexual, homosexual, group”
- Sex & Nudity: “long sex scene with full nudity in focus”
That’s just the Sex & Nudity section. I had to stop reading the descriptions (in the parent’s guide!) because they are so explicit and perverse. Not to mention the drug use, violence, gore, and profanity (according to one description, “constant, pervasive use”).
My little experiment turned out to be more disturbing than I expected. And that’s just the top 10 trending shows. Kevin DeYoung, in an article “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones,” asks:
Does anyone really think that when Jesus warned against looking at a woman lustfully (Matt. 5:27), or when Paul told us to avoid every hint of sexual immorality and not even to speak of the things the world does in secret (Eph. 5:3-12), that somehow this meant, go ahead and watch naked men and women have (or pretend to have) sex?
The answer is, of course, no. If you have Netflix, gripping trailers for these off-limits shows will bombard your dashboard every time you log in. When social media is abuzz with the latest plot development, the chances are high that you’ll click “Watch Now.” Even if you’re highly disciplined, the implications of embracing a streaming service with such a sinister Top Ten are troubling at best.
3. The Format is Highly Addictive
Even if you are able to resist the plethora of godless shows, the Netflix format is dangerously habit-forming. Chris Brantner notes, “Netflix drops an entire season at a time and autoplays episodes after one finishes. It’s a recipe for time-sucking addiction.”
When I used to watch Netflix, I rarely streamed one episode. Sometimes I watched an entire season in one sitting. I suspect I was not much less disciplined than the average viewer. Ten episodes in, I was often surprised by what I was watching.
Because the shows are so appealing, it’s easy to get sucked in and compromise one’s convictions.
In this way, Netflix is often a parent sin. Binge-watching usually involves binge-snacking (gluttony) and ends late at night when the temptation to watch pornography is highest (lust). Hours in front of flashing images result in sore eyes, a pounding head, and an irritable attitude (anger).
For the Apostle Paul, this would have never been an option; he knew that the stakes of self-discipline are too high: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27).
4. There Are Better Things to Do With Your Time
In an article “Against Pop Culture,” Brad East writes, “The truth is that, for every hour that you do not spend watching Netflix, your life will be improved, and you will have the opportunity to do something better with that time.” He goes on:
Reading, cooking, gardening, playing a board game, building something with your hands, chatting with a neighbor, grabbing coffee with a friend, serving in a food pantry, learning a language, cleaning, sleeping, journaling, praying, sitting on your porch, resting, catching up with your spouse or housemate: every one of these things would be a qualitative improvement on streaming a show or movie (much less scrolling infinitely on Instagram or Twitter).
The average Netflix user spends over 10 hours per week watching shows. Time Magazine agrees with these numbers, claiming that the average user spent 1 hour, 33 minutes per day streaming shows in 2015. Does the average Christian spend an hour and a half reading their Bibles and praying each day? No. And it’s not just our spiritual disciplines that are suffering. MarketWatch published an article with a revealing title: “We now spend more time on Netflix than we do bonding with our kids.”
Christians are called to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16). It’s hard to argue that sitting in front of a screen mindlessly watching shows is proper for saints who sing, “Take my moments and my days, Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”
5. It’s Detrimental to Moral and Spiritual Health
You’ve probably heard, “The internet is just as bad as TV! In fact, the internet is worse!” This is a common justification for watching Netflix, and it’s rarely challenged. But it should be. It’s largely false.
Reformed Apologist Douglas Groothuis makes a case against TV by focusing on its role in truth decay. The entire excerpt from his book Truth Decay (InterVarsity Press, 2000) is worth reading. Groothuis explains, “television emphasizes the moving image over written and spoken language. It is image-driven, image-saturated, and image-controlled. … images have their immediate effect on us, but that effect is seldom to cause us to pursue their truth or falsity.”
He goes on to say, “The self becomes ungrounded and fragmented by its experiences of television. … Moral and spiritual anchorage is lost.” Moreover, “television relentlessly displays a pseudo-world of discontinuity and fragmentation. …The images appear and disappear and reappear without a proper rational context. … the very notion of intellectual or moral coherence becomes unsustainable on television.”
It’s hard to imagine someone making the case that Netflix is a positive influence on one’s moral and spiritual health.
Most alarming is Groothuis’ contention that “The overstuffed and overstimulated soul becomes out-of-sync with God, nature, others, and itself. It cannot discern truth; it does not want to.”
Hebrews 2:1 warns, “we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” Tony Reinke remarks, “Attentional negligence marks a gradual drift away from our anchor, Christ, one of the spiritual wars inside the attention economy. Drifting away from Christ may simply look like a bunch of Netflix binging.”
It’s hard to imagine someone making the case that Netflix is a positive influence on one’s moral and spiritual health. It makes one wonder, why do Christians put up with it?
6. It Contributes to the Worldliness of the Church
In an article for Christianity Today, Sam Kim summarizes Os Guinness in observing that
…when we look at evangelicalism today, it is the world and the spirit of the age that are dominant, not the Word and Spirit. The church in the U.S. is strong numerically, but weak because it is worldly. The church in America is in the world and of the world; and as a result, it is in profound cultural captivity.
Worldliness is a problem in the church, and it’s not just old-timey fundamentalists who are saying so. The reasons for our worldliness are many, but who can doubt the influence of television? Brad East recognizes, “Christians like pop culture for the same reasons everyone else does—it’s convenient, undemanding, diverting, entertaining, and socially rewarded.”
The exact impression of Netflix on the church is debatable. But let’s be honest: a church with power is not a church that spends 10 hours per week watching Downton Abbey. We’re comfortable with sin because we watch it glorified on the screen over and over and over again.
Abusus non tollit usum, “abuse does not take away use,” is an important principle for the Christian life. Just because something can be abused does not necessarily mean that it should be discarded altogether. But some things are so culturally damaging and personally dangerous that it’s safe to say that the church should do without them.
If you do not have kids and only watch G-rated cooking shows one hour per week, so be it. But most of us are not so disciplined. If only for the sake of your weaker brothers, or because of its worldly associations, I’d encourage you to ditch Netflix. “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor. 6:12-13). It’s difficult to argue that Netflix is expedient for most serious Christians.
In his blog column, “Quit Netflix,” Matthew Lee Anderson writes, “my decision [to quit Netflix] was made out of desperation to avoid becoming an empty soul, a hollow-chested person who might reach the end of my life having given a full year of it over to television—and in doing so join myself to the barrenness of the society in which we live.”
If you still aren’t convinced, ditch Netflix for 30 days. Spend the extra time alone with the Lord or at home with your spouse. Then decide if you want to resubscribe for $12.99 each month. Anderson testifies, “the decision to quit watching Netflix and movies in my home remains one of the single best, and hardest, choices I have made as an adult.” I suspect you will have the same liberating experience.
After all, the best reason to ditch Netflix is because it does not tend towards your happiness in God. While Netflix may not qualify as “sin’s pleasures that will soon be past,” it is certainly a lesser pleasure. I’ve chosen to invest my Netflix time in the holy joys that always last.