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Humor as subterfuge: is culture discipling the hearts & minds of our children?

Updated: May 30

I was listening to a podcast called "The Briefing" the other day which included a discussion about Norman Lear, the famous TV screenwriter and producer who recently passed away. He was the master of television sitcoms, responsible for writing or creating over 100 shows in his lifetime. To the chagrin of most Christians, he was also responsible for feeding the American public large doses of moral relativism.

A very astute observation was made in the podcast—one that conspicuously explains why secular culture can easily take up residence in our own homes without our even noticing that we opened the front door and welcomed it in. The statement was not particularly deep or philosophical, but it spoke a definitive moral truth: “When we begin to laugh at something, we become more comfortable with it.” Let that sink in for a moment.

Humor in and of itself is fantastic—wry humor, sarcasm, jokes, comedy sketches. Laughter is healthy, good, and a gift from God. But somewhere along the line humor became a cudgel used by cultural progressives to wreak havoc on standards and principles that had previously been honored and considered an integral part of polite society.

making sin something normal

When you see it you can’t un-see it. How many television shows, movies, and commercials can you think of where the mom is smarter than the dad? She rolls her eyes as he bumbles his way along and can’t quite catch up with what she instantly figured out in her awesome feminized brain. The kids laugh at “good old dad” and go to mom with the important issues or problems.

Sitcoms pitch serial immorality as this funny, quirky dating journey that everyone goes through on their way to finding someone that maybe they can commit to after too many one-night stands. Drag queens make people laugh with their catchy nicknames and outlandish hair, makeup and outfits. Without that humor is there any chance your average parent would want men dressed up as women reading books to their toddlers or dancing provocatively in front of high school students? And don’t forget the gay couple in that one sitcom…oh gosh, they are so funny and nice and they’re great dads, and it all seems to work well for them, so maybe gay marriage isn’t really that big of a deal after all, right?

I hope we realize by now that secular culture is not neutral.  2 Corinthians 4:4 teaches that Satan is the “god of this age.” That doesn’t mean he has any control over us as Christians, but it does mean he works to influence the ideas, philosophies and agendas of a fallen society.  Introducing sin as something quite normal is just one scheme he devises in order to catch most Christians and their families off guard. The second part of verse 4 tells us he has literally “blinded the minds of unbelievers” so that they miss the glory of Christ. Culture warriors have been coming for our kids for years now, but the minimum age has dropped significantly and God is not amused. It can be hard to draw a line when television shows or movies have some genuinely innocent humor mixed in with scenes that are planting thoughts and ideas in our kids’ minds from the youngest ages.

what can we do?

How do we live in the world with our kids but not immerse them in its ideas?

First, be discerning, be vigilant, and do not trust those who churn out content for kids. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” If you’re at rest, I can assure you Satan is not. Those nice people you used to trust to deliver fun entertainment for your kids to watch are now actively working to undermine the work you’ve been doing to train your kids in the Lord. Arthur, Blue’s Clues, Clifford the Big Red Dog, My Little Pony—these are among the 250+ children’s cartoons with confirmed LGBTQ+ characters. If you’re doubtful, do a search for “lgbtq characters in cartoons'' and you’ll be shocked. Or maybe you won’t. Some will reason that the characters are written into the shows just to fulfill a quota, but that’s naïve. They’re there for a purpose and we need to be actively engaged in what we’re letting our little ones consume. It’s hard work but it’s going to get even harder the older they get.

Next, the best defense is offense. When your kids are very young you have the opportunity to begin training them in righteousness by using the Word of God. Children have this innate knowledge and curiosity about their Creator, from whom they come. Encourage that and teach them to see God in every part of life around them. Most importantly, since “faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17) you should be immersing them in Scripture on a daily basis, praying with them, and cultivating in them a love for Jesus. The resources available to parents today are never-ending, as is the advice of parents who have already raised children who are faithful in the Lord. Don’t overlook the wisdom right in your own church or eldership.

As your kids get older (late elementary into junior high), teach them how to think through the entertainment choices they make. Rather than just saying “no”, model for them how to ask questions about what they want to watch. Get advice about having regular formative conversations around culture and entertainment.

What are the themes or messages in this movie? Are there objectionable scenes or does it glorify certain unholy lifestyles? Do you think this show will build up or tear down your faith? What is it about this movie that makes you want to see it so badly? Then figure out if saying “yes” is possible, being prepared to have a good discussion about it afterwards. If “no” needs to be the answer, be willing to stand your ground and explain why you made the decision. The older kids get the more they need to see that it’s your love for them and for God that drives your decisions. They may hate it at the time, but they’ll be in no doubt about your reasoning.

model the life of a disciple

Finally, as Paul urged his young protégé Timothy, you need to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). What are you watching, reading, or listening to? You will naturally talk to your family about what you’re consuming or learning, so make sure it’s profitable to you and to them. Do your kids see you showing hospitality, participating in Bible studies, and sharing with others the love of Christ?  Or are sports, theater productions, and other activities allowed to interfere with church, youth group, or midweek meetings?

The spiritual disciplines and habits you form as a family will set the stage for their own disciplines and habits. 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” There are a million things waiting to distract us and vie for our affection. Our kids know what we love, what we value, and what we will or won’t allow into our lives.

If you need more inspiration to solidify your convictions, look no further than Deuteronomy 6. The commands laid forth to the Israelites are both an encouragement and a warning to us.  In the end, our own faith needs to drive all we do, allowing us to naturally engage our families in spiritual conversations that promote a Christian worldview. 

If you or your church needs help with this, Daren and Karla Overstreet offer a parenting workshop designed to help parents understand the kinds of issues and realities their children are facing today. It provides updated language, strategies and tools that can offer confidence to parenting in today’s complex world. For more information CLICK HERE. Feel free to contact us for more information.

As a fellow parent, I pray all of us who are shepherding our children today take our calling as parents seriously, and that we work hard to understand the many ways society is discipling the hearts and minds of our children. 

Above all, let’s not give in to fear, but trust God and his infallible Word to offer us wisdom in our fallen world, no matter what cultural forces press in on us. The Word has proven to spiritually renew any generation and will never fail to transform our lives.

Erin Howe

San Diego CA

Erin lives in San Diego and has been married to her husband Chris for nearly 30 years, and is a member of the SD.Church  Together they have 4 grown children. She loves reading books, doing pilates, volunteering at a local pregnancy center, showing hospitality, and eating Mexican food


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