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Wheaton Kosher Part 2: “Wheaton Appropriate”

September 22, 2012

Ever since Adam and Eve donned some fig leaf Fruit of the Loom, people have been looking for ways to make the bad things they do less bad. The way that people do this is often quite ingenious. Gossip and rudeness becomes “telling the truth,” anger and malice become “frustration,” whining becomes “voicing your concerns,” fornication becomes “living for the moment,” and intellectual pharisee-ism becomes “integrating faith and learning.” It is a universal human impulse to make yourself and your actions not look as bad as they are. The undisguised human heart is pretty disgusting.

This often becomes apparent in the way people describe their artistic pursuits. Things that in an earlier generation would have been described as sinful or immoral become “awkward” or “sketchy.” Example: in days of yore we would have described something like American Pie (which is probably babyishly tame by today’s standards) as “trashy”; now it’s simply “awkward,” as if the only stigma to watching a sex comedy was a slight uncomfortableness. We like to portray our Christian predecessors as being prudish and legalistic, but at least they were making an attempt at holiness, however misguided it was. Today’s generation (of which I am a part) simply consumes whatever is thrown at them without any regard for morals, and uses Christian liberty as an excuse. Francis Schaeffer was groundbreaking when he analysed the worldviews in the lyrics of Led Zeppelin. Today, Schaeffer’s descendants take the Led Zeppelin and leave out the worldview analysis.

This evidences itself in an annoying phrase which crops up in the circles which I run in– the phrase “Wheaton Appropriate,” as in “That music video wasn’t Wheaton Appropriate.” The phrase is annoying in a variety of ways. First, it elevates the person who says it, as if there was something that makes you superior if you listen to music with more curse-words than most Christians would countenance. Secondly and more importantly, it makes the focus go from whether the piece of art is moral or immoral to whether it violates a set of man-made conventions. For a Christian, the standards of any particular institution should not be a concern. Whether something is culturally frowned upon is not as important as whether it is glorifying God.

The phrase “Wheaton appropriate” becomes a shield behind which people can hide from any criticism of their lifestyle choices. If pressed, they might admit that it wasn’t really the best idea to watch that movie, listen to that song, go to that party, etc. But if they say that it wasn’t “Wheaton appropriate,” they manage to dodge any moral questions while making themselves seem superior to everyone around them. I’m not suggesting that there should be some sort of absolute standard for any entertainment ever watched–certainly I’ve partaken in some artistic endeavors that I would describe as being for mature audiences (in the sense of audiences who are actually mature.) But someone should always be ready to make an argument as to why they feel warranted in watching or listening to this particular piece despite its surface immorality. Instead of doing this, though, so many of us just scream out “don’t judge me,” whenever someone suggests that maybe what they are doing isn’t the best idea. Perhaps when we tell others not to judge us, we are afraid of being weighed in the balance and found wanting.

To be continued…

Current Listenings: The Reckoning, NEEDTOBREATHE.

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