I’ve been watching Vietnam War documentaries off and on for the last few years. What started as book research became a personal drive to understand this war that took my uncle’s life and sometimes seems un-understandable. It’s gut-wrenching, yet fascinating.
Viewing dozens of hours of war footage (sometimes through squinted eyes to blur the images) has been an interesting psychological experiment. I am my own case study on desensitization.
As you might expect, I was much more shocked by certain scenes several years ago when I first began this Vietnam War journey than I am now.
Then: That field is completely strewn with bodies, and that village just got burned to the ground. How completely tragic. *wipes a tear*
Now: Another field is strewn with bodies. Another village got burned to the ground. Tragic, sure, but yep—as expected.
In the beginning, I viewed the brutal war footage with much more emotion than I do now, but eventually realized I’d never get through it if I continued feeling all the things. And so, I learned to shut out some of the emotion.
(Side note: I can only imagine being a soldier in the real situation. Becoming numb to death would certainly be a necessary survival tactic, and I have massive respect and appreciation for all who serve or have served in our military.)
Anyway, noticing this desensitization in myself has got me thinking.
Last week, my 11-year-old daughter came downstairs after bedtime. She’d been reading a kids book about France, and it had a couple pages about D-Day. Though not nearly as graphic as it could have been, there were a couple photos of bodies on the ground after the battle, and it bothered her. My husband and I are careful about what goes into our children’s eyes and ears (they have the whole rest of their lives to deal with the horrors of this world, right?), and it was her first sweeping glimpse at death.
The images in her book were “tame,” as far as war goes. But her sweet little mind is entirely unaccustomed to war and death, and I needed to meet her where she was, which I was happy to do. It was a big deal to her, as it should be.
God’s plan was never for our hearts to be forced to “toughen up.” He intended us to live in beautiful perfection. The way I see it, my daughter’s sensitivity to violence is closer to where God meant for us all to be. Growing up in this world naturally involves acquiring layers of mental armor so we can deal with difficulties without constantly feeling hurt, but this wasn’t God’s original intent. In case you haven’t noticed, this world is a far cry from the Garden of Eden, which is the paradise God designed us for. No violence, no death. Just beautiful, peaceful communion with God.
Today, violence is everywhere. Video games, online, the news, TV and movies, commercials. Graphic images have become so normalized that even some Christians consume them as if it’s no big deal.
As Christians, we all have to find the line between living in this world and keeping our eyes on Jesus. And everyone seems to draw their lines in a slightly different place.
The war footage I watch is for research and education purposes. I very much enjoy learning, but I’ll never enjoy the brutalities and death that is part of the package deal. Death is not fun. Death is not a game. And even if I’m a bit desensitized to death when it comes to documentaries, I’m positive I would not have the same blasé attitude toward a slasher film where death and violence are meant to entertain. In this day and age, not everyone who reads this will agree, but horror films seem like a pretty obvious opposite of fixing our eyes on Jesus.
I believe that when death is celebrated and embraced as entertainment, it makes us more and more comfortable with evil and opens doors to mold our minds to look more like the world. And since the Bible says that this world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), I say a big fat No thank you to things that are so clearly of this world but not of God’s.
Philippians 4:8 tells us to: “. . . Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy.” Scary entertainment choices fill people with anxiety and fear. (For those who argue that they don’t, studies I found during an internet search show that there is a physiological fear response to horror films even if not a mental one.) I would much rather listen to the wisdom of Philippians 4:8 and live with the peace of the Holy Spirit instead.
Sure, desensitization is necessary to some degree in order to survive our modern world. But I believe we get enough desensitization through daily life and education. When given a choice, shouldn’t we endeavor to think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy? Shouldn’t we aim for the goal that God intended for us all along . . . eternal goodness and glory?
And when in doubt (or to keep us from doubt), we should simply let the Holy Spirit guide us. He is faithful to lead, and we can hand him the reins to our lives and our choices with confidence and trust his voice. But it’s up to us to listen.
I know some will take issue with some of these thoughts, so if that’s the case for you, let me know what you think in the comments. Respectful disagreement is always welcome. I’d love to hear your thoughts either way!