At the risk of sounding like a crotchety conservative old fart, I’m going to talk like one. To make matters worse, I’m going to speak from personal experience. I think that putting pagan stuff in your mind is bad discipleship. My argument is simple.
P1. Whatever you put into your mind affects how you think.
Even stuff that you think you’re ignoring (whether deliberately or not) is getting in there. Your mind is an incredible sponge: it just absorbs things! Think about how you learned your first language. Your little baby self wasn’t trying to learn it. You just passively soaked in all those words, until you started repeating them and then making sentences. If your baby brain was bombarded with English, you started thinking in English. If you’ve learned a second language, you probably noticed when you started thinking in that language, probably by living somewhere it’s spoken.
When I started listening to rap in middle school, the lyrics started penetrating into my consciousness. I would randomly think of a line or start singing to myself. The short-term and long-term effects on my attitude can only be described as stank: self-pity, resentment, disregard for others. Suddenly, no one really understood me except Eminem and Immortal Technique. Hating stuff was cool. So was misogyny.
I bet you’ve also experienced something like this. Ten bucks says you know all the lyrics to at least one pop song from your teen years; maybe it’s Green Day or Kanye. If you’re like me, you could sing at least part of hundreds of songs. I’d be curious how many of them you’d let your five-year-old listen to.
I also know a lot of people who literally learned everything they know about sex from TV, movies, and later, porn. Personally, porn has poisoned and distorted my whole way of thinking about sex. (By the way, that’s a major reason why I don’t watch Game of Thrones. Just saying.)
The same is true of everything else. I’m no social psychologist, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that we’re all deeply shaped by our family and social culture. We absorb and imitate behaviors and habits of mind that we’re exposed to.
P2. As Christians, we are called to be disciples of the mind.
You are not just your thoughts. You have the power to determine what you think about. That’s why Paul can tell you to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2) and to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2). Jesus seems pretty concerned with the thoughts and meditations of our hearts (e.g., Mt 5, cf. Ps 19:14). That’s because he wants us to put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after his image (Col 3:10).
C. Putting pagan stuff in your mind is bad discipleship.
I’m not saying that you should only listen to Christian music and watch Veggie Tales (although seriously, who doesn’t like Veggie Tales?). I’m saying you should use some discernment. There’s a whole spectrum of content out there: most of it is pretty cool, some of it is spiritually moldy, and all of it will get inside you, for better or worse.
“But wait,” you say, “Aren’t we supposed to be ‘in the world, but not of it’? We can’t just withdraw from the culture.” Quite so! But being part of this world and connecting with its people is one thing. Binge-watching Scandal is something else. Why be captivated by muggle media, my son? You’re only doing yourself a disservice. Instead, keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life (Prov 4:23).
Nathan Otey usually thinks about philosophy whenever he concentrates. He sleeps in Pforzheimer House.