A Good Thing Can Be Made Bad

A Good thing can be made bad
Ellen G. White Made the following Statements about Drama.
Written by Danhugh M. Gordon
Communication Director, South Bahamas Conference 2014


As is so often the case, something that may be effective for good when rightly used can also, if wrongly employed, be effective for evil, even to the point where the rightful use may have to be curtailed. Note in the description of Satan’s work in the world generally that drama is listed first among the “amusements” that Satan uses to destroy souls.{DPSDAI 2.5}

“Many of the amusements popular in the world today, even with those who claim to be Christians, tend to the same end as did those of the heathen. There are indeed few among them that Satan does not turn to account in destroying souls. Through the drama he has worked for ages to excite passion and glorify vice.

The opera, with its fascinating display and bewildering music, the masquerade, the dance, the card table, Satan employs to break down the barriers of principle and open the door to sensual indulgence. In every gathering for pleasure where pride is fostered or appetite indulged, where one is led to forget God and lose sight of eternal interests, there Satan is binding his chains about the soul.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, 459 (1890). {DPSDAI 2.6}

A decade earlier in the Testimonies, sensational dramas were pointed out as preoccupying the minds of men and women and thus hindering their reception of the message of truth:{DPSDAI 3.1}

“The world is teeming with errors and fables. Novelties in the form of sensational dramas are continually arising to engross the mind, and absurd theories abound which are destructive to moral and spiritual advancement.”—Testimonies for the Church 4:415 (1880).{DPSDAI 3.2}

“Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school of morality and virtue, as is so often claimed, it is the very hotbed of immorality.

Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals. Every youth who habitually attends such exhibitions will be corrupted in principle. There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for the tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life than theatrical amusements. The love for these scenes increases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drink strengthens with its use. The only safe course is to shun the theater, the circus, and every other questionable place of amusement.”—Testimonies for the Church 4:652, 653.{DPSDAI 3.4}

It is obvious from the statements and utterances made by Mrs. White, that she not only has great and grave concerns about the practice but she also issues warnings of condemnations against it.

What was really diabolic about theatre and drama as seen by Mrs. White? What is it about attending or participation in such activities that she perceives would put ones soul in peril of eternal damnation? What were the corrupting influences that would destroy the soul? What was happening at the time that made her conclude that it would “deprave the imagination and debase the morals”? What has prompted her to say, “There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for the tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life than theatrical amusements?”

Many are of the view that Education is not necessary to understand the word of God, but on subjects that the bible does not cover such as “Drama in the Church”, here is case in point where education is vital to the understanding of principles relevant to this discussion.

A logical way to understand the meaning of scripture or the Spirit of Prophecy or any writing for that matter, is the contextual approach. Statements must be understood in their right context.

The contextual approach asks the following questions:
1. Why were those statements made? 2. What was happening with the theatre movement and drama in the 1700s and 1800s that prompted those statements? 3. What was the practice at the time? 4. What was the setting?

In an article entitled Christianity and the Romantic Movement written by Christopher Dawson, 1937, the following is noted:
In the seventeen and eighteen hundreds following the French Revolution, the revival that characterized religion spread worldwide. There was a revolt against everything orthodox and traditional, whether it relates to religion or morals. This revolt was in fact a second reformation, but frankly, an anti-religious one. It was a revolt against the established church and whatever it stands for, including belief in God, morality, and mans ability to look within himself to determine his destiny. Philosophy and the ability to reason were taken to extreme. This was the Age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was essentially a declaration of freedom, to be able to think for ones-self, free from the tyranny of politics and religion.

The philosophic rationalism of the eighteenth century was the product of a highly civilized and privileged society. Behind the change in literary taste and aesthetic appreciation there lies a profound change of spiritual attitudes: an attempt to enlarge the kingdom of the human mind by transcending the limits of ordinary consciousness. The existence of God was called into question. Man within himself was thought to have had the power to be his own god.

The Enlightenment period was characterized by a group of radical intellectuals who were known as philosophes. The philosophes were of course highly critical of the church’s ideas as this goes completely against their ideology of man’s ability to think and discover for himself.

Man was seen as having the propensity to understand his own nature and the natural world, to determine his own destiny without help from any dogmatic authority such as institutional religion. Man has the ability to think and discover himself.

This concept manifested itself in the in philosophies such as Libertine and Hedonism which deeply colored the fine arts of Poetry, Music, Painting, Sculpture, Arts, Theater, and Drama.
Among the philosophers of the day were stalwarts like Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Chateaubriand, and others.

These systems of belief gave one the freedom to be devoid of most moral restraints, which are seen as unnecessary or undesirable, and suggests that one should ignore or even spurn accepted morals and forms of behavior sanctified by the larger society. Values are placed on “Sensual” and physical pleasures, meaning those experienced through the senses. Pleasure is seen as the only intrinsic good. In it is the idea that all people have the right to do everything in their power to achieve the greatest amount of pleasure possible to them. Interestingly, words such as “pervert” and “degenerate” are synonymous with the Libertine philosophy.

These are the some of the “absurd theories” and practices that characterized Drama and Theatre that Ellen G. White spoke about in Testimonies for the Church 4:415. “In every gathering for pleasure where pride is fostered or appetite indulged, where one is led to forget God and lose sight of eternal interests, there Satan is binding his chains about the soul.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, 459

Can you now see a better picture? Against this historical backdrop, I invite you to revisit Mrs. White’s statements on this form of entertainment.

She states: “Among the most dangerous resorts for pleasure is the theater. Instead of being a school of morality and virtue, as is so often claimed, it is the very hotbed of immorality”. “Vicious habits and sinful propensities are strengthened and confirmed by these entertainments. Low songs, lewd gestures, expressions and attitudes, deprave the imagination and debase the morals. Testimonies for the Church 4:652, 653”

Having taken a look at all her statements relating to Drama, it is clear that she did not condemn the “simple exercise of participating or attending drama” but as she enumerated the principles involved, she pointed out the grave perils that usually accompany drama as it existed then and still exists today. It is not the form or method (Drama) that she was against, but what the form or method was used to do.

Any good thing can be made bad depending on how it is used. Among the most common causes of death and injury in any country is the motor vehicle. We don’t abandon the use of motor vehicles because of this; rather, we try to find safer ways to use them. The next time you contemplate the value of an unusual mode of communicating the gospel ask yourself these questions:

1.“Will it make those who acted their part in it more spiritually minded? 2. Will it increase their sense of obligation to our heavenly Father who sent His Son into the world at such an infinite sacrifice to save fallen man from utter ruin? 3. Was the mind awakened to grasp God because of His great love wherewith He has loved us?” Manuscript Releases 19:300-303

1. See Article in Logos March 22 by Pastor Paul Scavella or Manuscript Releases 19:300 & 2:236 by EG White

2. Quotations and EG White references were taken from a letter written by the Arthur L. White entitled Dramatic Productions in SDA Institutions: https://egwwritings.org/ ( search for DPSDAI --Dramatic productions in SDA Intuitions)
3. Extracts from Religion and the Romantic Movement by Christopher Dawson, 1937
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertine
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonism
6. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Voltaire
7. http://www.humanities360.com/index.php/essay-voltaire-and-the-enlightenment-3-65523/
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