What amusements are lawful to people who wish to live a holy life?

(R.W. Dale, "AMUSEMENTS" 1895)

What amusements are lawful to people who wish to live a holy life
— is one of the questions by which many godly people are sorely perplexed. Many yield to the current customs of the times — but yield with hesitation, discomfort, and apprehension.

At first sight, some of the distinctions which have been drawn between amusements which are permitted, and amusements which are forbidden, appear to be altogether arbitrary. They seem to originate in no moral or spiritual principle. Why should card-playing stamp a man as "worldly" and chess be perfectly consistent with devoutness? Why should people take their children to a circus — who would be horrified at their going to a theater? The things allowed are so like the things forbidden, that the distinction which has been drawn between them will probably be pronounced by many people to be altogether irrational.

Many of the broad moral distinctions which evangelical Christians make between amusements which are very much alike, receive an easy explanation when we consider the very different accessories with which, either in our own days or in former days, they have been associated. There can be no more harm in playing with pieces of colored cardboard, than with pieces of carved ivory; but cards have been always associated with gambling, and chess has not.

The traditions of what is allowable, and what is forbidden, which have come down to us are explicable; and if we are people of sense, we shall ask whether the same circumstances which made certain amusements objectionable a hundred years ago, or fifty years ago — make them objectionable now.

Profanity, impurity, and cruelty are always evil — whether connected with our amusements or with the common business and habits of life. Whatever tends to these things is evil too. If any recreation, however pleasant, involves a clear breach of moral laws — then it must be bad for all men and under all circumstances. Or if, though harmless in itself, immorality has become inseparably connected with it, every good man will avoid and condemn that particular amusement.

Prize-fighting, cock-fighting, and bull-baiting are plainly barbaric sports. It is utterly disgusting that men should be able to find any pleasure in them; and the right feeling of English society has made them all utterly disreputable.

But there are amusements which cannot be called immoral either in themselves or their accessories, about which a good man will have serious doubts.

The object of all recreation is to increase our capacity for work, to keep the bodily health strong, and the brain bright, and the temper kindly and sweet. If any recreation exhausts our strength instead of restoring it, or so absorbs our time as to interfere with the graver duties of life — then it must be condemned. Amusements are objectionable which interfere with regular and orderly habits of life, and which, instead of increasing health and vigor, produce weariness and exhaustion.

The common reason alleged for condemning certain amusements in which no moral evil can be shown to exist, is that they are "worldly." But there is no word in our language which is more abused than this. The sin of worldliness is a very grave one; but thousands and tens of thousands of people are guilty of it, who are most vigorous in maintaining the narrowest moral standards. One would imagine, from the habits of speech common in some sections of religious society, that worldliness has to do only with our pleasures, while in truth it has to do with the whole spirit and temper of our life.

To be "worldly" is to permit our transcendent relation to Jesus our Lord — to be overborne by inferior interests. There is a worldliness of the counting-house as fatal to the true health and energy of the soul — as the worldliness of the ball-room; and there are more people whose loyalty to Christ is ruined by covetousness — than by love of pleasure.

There is a worldliness in the conduct of ecclesiastical affairs, quite as likely to extinguish the divine fire which should burn in the church — as the worldliness which reveals itself in the frivolity of those unhappy people whose existence is spent in one ceaseless round of gaiety.

Let no man think that he ceases to be worldly — ceases, that is, to belong to that darker and inferior region of life from which Christ came to deliver us — merely by abstaining from half a dozen of his old recreations. Not thus easily, is the great victory won which is possible only to a vigorous and invincible faith. Not thus artificial, are the boundaries between the heavenly commonwealth of which the Christian man is a citizen — and the kingdom of evil from which he has escaped.