By Jonathon Van Maren
If Ben Shapiro is the gentleman boxer of conservative commentary, his Daily Wire colleague Matt Walsh is definitely a doomsday prophet in sackcloth and ashes. Each new essay-length column fairly drips with depressing details of why, exactly, our culture is broken, our Christianity is shallow, and our countries are tearing themselves apart. Despite this, Walsh has hundreds of thousands of readers, and for the same reason Shapiro is so popular: He’s generally right.
Reading Matt Walsh’s essays often is, as my friend once said about Peter Hitchens’ weekly column, like a thunder-shower on a day when you had plans outdoors. His writing, his social media comments, and even his videos seem to show someone who is deeply burdened about the state of the culture, and his demeanour often appears melancholic. I bumped into Walsh only once, when I was doing an interview for EWTN right after him, and his somber look as he strode out of the studio-area seemed to confirm his online persona.
What I really appreciate about Matt Walsh is that he decides to target topics that he knows will enrage his own readership. He could stick to columns condemning abortion, or prosperity preachers, or even sexual immorality, and his base would largely love it. But Walsh goes after the sacred cow of many churches: Their entertainment. And as he has often said himself, nothing enrages modern Christians more than questioning what they’ve decided to watch or do in their spare time.
Walsh has written columns on why horror movies are repulsive and the morbid fascination with films where human beings are horribly tortured, dismembered, and sliced up in scenes that are often perversely sexually charged. Predictably, there was backlash—because when you read a description of horror movies in black and white on the page, suddenly it seems rather hard to justify. Suddenly the idea of watching people scream and writhe in horrible pain for the purpose of entertainment seems—well, pretty screwed up.
Walsh also went after violent video games, again asking why Christians find it acceptable to spend time simulating the killing of other people, sometimes even through stabbing, hacking, and strangulation. Again, the backlash online was immediate—and far louder and more vicious than if Walsh had penned a column condemning the hypocrisy of the Left. The same happened when Walsh asked why the pagan origins of yoga didn’t bother anyone, and when he demanded to know how Christians could justify the savage sexual violence and openly pornographic nature of the HBO show Game of Thrones, which—believe it or not—many Christians insist is a perfectly acceptable thing to watch.
I thought of Walsh’s work when I read a short blog post recently by the popular Christian blogger Tim Challies, who has also written frequently on the inability of modern church-goers to handle any criticism of their entertainment choices without instant anger and defensiveness. It was titled “Are You Godly Enough to Watch Smut?” and addressed the simple fact that Christians today are willing to defend entertainment that Christians a mere century—or even fifty years ago—would without question find appalling and wicked in the extreme. Challies also noted that the TV show Stranger Things was very popular in his circles—but that when he tried to watch it, he was confronted with scenes his conscience would not allow:
To create Stranger Things a group of people filmed an actual eighteen-year-old girl actually taking off her shirt and actually simulating losing her virginity to an actual teenaged boy. They did that for our pleasure, for our entertainment, so we could see it. What on this side of hell could justify me, a nearly forty-year-old man, watching a production that involves an eighteen-year-old girl—someone’s daughter, someone’s future wife—disrobing and writhing her way through simulated sex with a manipulative, hormone-driven boyfriend?
One of the reasons Walsh and often Challies are so controversial is that they puncture the hypocrisy of a modern Christianity that condemns porn, unless it is in the movies and TV shows that they like. Violence is wrong, but pretending to gruesomely kill people is okay, and kicking back with a bowl of popcorn to watch people get dismembered and horribly tormented is okay, too. And the backlash that these writers receive to columns making these very obvious points is hugely indicative: Modern Christians get angrier about the prospect of giving up their TV shows and their movies than they do about giving up their religious liberty.
This column was first published at LifeSiteNews.com in March of 2018.