Article

Moral Junk Food

Jelly Beans for the Soul
Courtesy Jelly Belly (Public Domain - not used with permission)

I want to talk about junk food. You know, the candy bar that tastes really good but does absolutely nothing for your body's nutritional needs. The thing that makes the candy bar bad is not what it has - it's not the fat or the salt or the sugar or the calories. What makes junk food bad is what it doesn't have. Junk food lacks essential ingredients that our bodies require in order to be healthy, strong, fit, and eventually even to just survive. A person eating a diet consisting entirely of junk food would eventually starve to death (the technical term is malnutrition).

So today I'd like to filibuster on the topic of moral junk food. There have been plenty of media scares about television or computers rotting the brains of our children - and there are plenty of those children who have advanced degrees and are running nations today (well - there might be a correlation between brain rotting and politics - more on that another day). I'm not going to tell you to avoid modern media. But I am going to attempt to define a standard by which we can measure the moral value of the activities we enjoy.

Humans are more than just our physical bodies. We are our minds, our hearts and emotions, our personalities, our thoughts and feelings - we can call this the "soul" for lack of a more comprehensive term, or our "character" - the sum total of thoughts, feelings, or traits that make up an individual. Without proper nourishment, our souls will waste away. Moral junk food is an activity that, like a jelly bean, tastes and feels good but which provides no lasting benefit to our souls beyond its ability to occupy our time. Moral junk food advances no intellectual ability, inspires no curiosity about the world, invokes no critical thinking or profound introspection, evokes no powerful emotions, and teaches no important principles. It does not build character.

I'm a Mormon and, yes, I did do that whole "Mormon Mission Thing". (I was 26 when I left - you might call me a late bloomer.) One of the guidelines for LDS missionaries is to avoid music or media that "merely entertains". This got me thinking about what the "higher law" was that should guide a person's consumption of all the myriad forms of entertainment and media and distraction that surround us. When we decide what movie to watch or what music to listen to or what video game to play or what book to read, how do we weed out the good from the bad? Or the better from the good? I have decided that "mere entertainment" is not sufficient reason to participate in an activity. Moral junk food is a movie or video game or book that merely entertains.

Some examples of the junk food in our lives that we might want to take a look at:

  • Adrenaline addiction
  • Pure comedy
  • Pure action
  • Daydreaming
  • Social media
  • Pornography

So here is a question you can ask when you're deciding whether to play that new game, download that new album, or what movie to watch when your friends come over.
Will this make me a better human being?
If the answer isn't a resounding "YES" then I suggest you think real hard before continuing with it. I'm sure you can find something else to do that is equally as entertaining but which also builds character.

Now the disclaimer: I love to laugh. I enjoy rock climbing. I daydream almost constantly. And social media keeps me close to friends and family when they're really far away. Life is about eating a balanced diet - partaking in activities that edify but also taste good. Our activities should have depth, inspiration, meaning. Moral junk food is not junk because of what it contains - comedy or adrenaline or wistfulness. It's junk because of what it lacks.

Now go eat nutritious video games.

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