On the one hand, yes. Theoretically, of course it matters. ‘Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think upon such things..yadayadayada.’ Yep, got it. A mental smorgasbord of puppies, Little House on the Prairie and Power Ballads Volume Three*. *All product placement requests happily endorsed for a small fee or extra starbucks points
In practice however, I reckon I’m immune to the mice and moths that nibble away at other people’s mental closets. This operates along the same principle which enables me to potter alone down Ripper Road at midnight, but provokes an aneurism when my sister tries to use the outside loo in the dark. Sure, my body lets me down in a hundred different ways that I can’t control. But my mind – well, that’s been remarkably unaffected by the Fall, actually. There’s not much that boggles the Scriv. And such a useful vantage point from which to diagnose and proffer advice on other people’s problems. It’s just amazing how clear their neuroses are to my enormous brain. Not to mention the hole in the ozone layer, world debt and the Northern Ireland question, none of which would be problems with my enormous cranium in charge.
It’s amazing how our minds deceive us. Midway through starving myself to death, I was researching The Definitive Guide to the causes and treatment of eating disorders. (The recovery chapter was brief, but you can’t have it all). Like a lot of people who struggle in this area (and with other mental health issues), I was ferociously well-informed on the subject. Aforementioned Subject being Me. After all, what could be more fascinating and rewarding than a plunge into the complicated depths of Lake Emma? (These turned out to be more of a puddle, which is just as well).
Incidentally, intellectual pride may also be part of the reason why we can be so resistant to treatment – especially with eating disorders. Like me, sufferers may feel that they know more than the experts, and in terms of factual information, that may even be true. Few patients are as charming as the righteous skeleton who doesn’t want help and already knows the answers. Indeed, such great wisdom is evidenced not just in attempts to thwart intervention, but in the speed and efficiency with which you can propel yourself into the grave. I’ll certainly have made my point when I’m 6 feet under.
Of course mental hygiene isn’t just an issue for those with specific disorders or the religious heavies. The media is currently debating government proposals to protect children by blocking internet pornography. Under current proposals, parents will have to opt in, rather than opt out of sexually explicit websites. Whatever your views on the proposed changes, what’s interesting is how it is no longer being defended as a matter of individual morality. As Miranda Suit, cofounder of charity Safermedia argues;
‘In the past, internet porn was regarded as a moral issue or matter of taste. Now it has become a mental health issue because we now know the damage it is causing. We are seeing perverse sexual behaviour among children. Legislation is both justifiable and feasible’.
Sunday Times, 19 Dec, 2010.
For many of us this is hardly news. However it does bear out the biblical injunction to watch what you put in your head. But that’s surely self-evident. Christian or not – mental hygiene probably means cutting out the mindless violence (thoughtful violence is just fine). Equally, no porn (unless of course it’s tastefully done in which case, knock yourself out. I’m joking of course, but there is a school of thought that argues for masturbation if, instead of lustful thoughts you think of a brick. Quite apart from the ethics of self-love, this is surely just Very Silly). And finally, no exploding eyeballs and monkey brains (unless it’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That rocks. Hours of material for all-age services. ‘Jesus is a bit like Harrison Ford because…’).
Just a hunch, but slasher movies are probably also a no-no. Knife-wielding axe-men (they left the axe in the car) don’t fall into the category of ‘lovely’. And that’s a toughie, because I used to love horror films. I stopped watching them because there was a slight disjunct between telling the kids in Sunday school that Buffy might be a bit dark, and then listing Texas Chainsaw Massacre as one of my top picks. Funnily enough, in recent years I can’t watch so much as a papercut, but back in the day, I found them addictive – the bloodier the better. (Actually, I’d love to get your views on why they’re so appealing. Is it like fairytales – a way of exorcising our subconscious fears? Putting a face to the nameless terrors that emerge at 3am in the light of the clock radio? A twisted comfort to see the worst-case scenario played out on someone else? (Especially nubile teens called Kimberly who not only look good in a white jumpsuits, but display them in all their glory by repeatedly ‘stumbling’ across the sprinkler system. Not that I’m bitter but for pity’s sake, if you’re going to go out with wet hair and investigate blood-curdling screams from the cellar without so much as a torch, you deserve all that’s coming to you).
Again, this is hardly rocket science. Think Disney, rather than Dawn of the Dead. But here’s where the issue becomes a little more complicated. Take for example, our friend Shrek, the green ogre loved by children and families across the globe. The film seems to be saying that what matters is not how you look, but who you are. A great message for all, Christian or not, right? However, for the partnership between this ugly ogre and the beautiful princess to actually work, she can’t stay as she is. Instead, she has to become an ogre like him. As David Baddiel argues in ‘Psychologies’ (November 2010), the message is not so much ‘it doesn’t matter what you look like, you can always find love,’ but rather, ‘what you look like will determine exactly who you can find love with’. Similarly, as modern day morality tales go, it’s almost impossible to beat Disney – every girl has to earn her prince and good deeds are rewarded with beauty, riches and a forest of singing chipmunks. That’s scarier than ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ if you ask me.
So when it comes to brain food, I’m not really sure what to think. I want an America’s Next Top Model milkshake, but with my frailties it seems I might need something a little more nourishing. The ‘solution’ is not to legislate a viewing schedule, bin the TV or even put a porn-filter on the hard drive (useful though these things might well be). Instead it’s about getting into the gospel, feasting on God’s word – as I read and sing and listen and talk with friends about the things that really matter. What is true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable? It’s more gripping than Songs of Praise and The Waltons. It’s the gospel – the Person of Jesus in all His irresistible beauty and glory.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)