Escapism in Entertainment and Religion

by MW Cook

        Ever notice how similar religion and entertainment can be? I bet if you thought about it, you could come up with a list.

        I think about the religion I was raised in; fundamentalist evangelicalism. Nice people, more or less. All my life I heard stories about how much our human society sucked and how great it was going to be when Jesus burned everyone else up and took us away to live happily ever after. The gospel was like one of those escape route maps you find in the back pocket of the seats on airplanes. Go from A to B then C to avoid burnination.

        Alas, during my formative years, I never really heard about any of the amazing things I could do to make the world a better place. The entire focus was on abandoning ship. My religious education never encouraged me to take an interest in politics (except for being sure not to vote for people who supported gay marriage). I was rarely encouraged to care for the environment or social justice. Instead of trying to fix and redeem the world, we were content to sit back and let it burn as we wore our asbestos suits and neckties.

        Not that this is a problem specific to fundamentalism. Every religion I’ve had relationships with leans this way.

        But I’m optimistic. I think that our religious climate is starting to look at the human experience in a much more holistic way. Yay for that.

        But I fear that this obsession with escapism has trickled down into how we view our entertainment.

        Why do you read books? Why do you watch TV? Most people will say, ‘To get away for a while.’ To unplug. To let go. To escape.

        Let it never be!

        A human being, carved from dirt into the image of the divine, has poured their creative energy, inherited from God, onto a page or a screen or a canvas. They have, in their own weak and fledgling way, become a creator of worlds and stories and lives and people. With ten fingers tapping they have called something from nearly nothing. And you want to use their world as a place to escape?


        Stories are not a place for you to escape the real world. They are images of the real world. They are not idealized life, but elevated life. Through stories we see our own world ever more clearly. And through their invented wonders we more clearly see the wonders of our own world and characters and societies. Stories ‘make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water (G.K. Chesterton).’

        I beg you, friends, do not escape! Do not run away. Not to religion and not to stories. Because both of them are such mind-bogglingly powerful things that to use them only for escape seems as trite as using a jackhammer to kill a butterfly. Not only is it a supreme waste of energy, it begs the question as to why you want to kill something so beautiful as a butterfly in the first place.