The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: The case for "NO TALKING" at movies!

Tim asks, I have noticed an increasing amount of talking among patrons at my local movie theater. Why do you think this is happening? And what would you say to your community to support the message, ‘Please do not talk during a movie in a theater?’

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“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].


Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Welcome to the age of the smart phone! We are being schooled in ‘the social media imperative.’ What we think, feel, eat, wear, or buy, must instantly be communicated to the world around us. The virtue of becoming reticence and the discipline of discreet silence are both relics of the past. Those who chat away in the local theater are doing what comes naturally to them, what they do everywhere else, all the time.

“Christ’s first requirement for His disciples comes to mind: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself’ (Matt. 16:24).  Self-denial and self-control are needed to show due respect and consideration for the people around you. For Christians, such regard for others is not an option. The apostle Peter enjoins us to ‘be courteous’ (I Pet. 3:8), as one of the duties we owe to our neighbors.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“There is consensus from all sides that we have really slacked off on our adherence to etiquette over the past few decades. The reasons are multiple. The easiest one is simply that it has lost its value to many. Since we see that it’s not just younger people who seem to have forgotten (or never learned) their manners it is clear that the issue in multi-generational.  I would also speculate that due to our multi-media obsessed society the collective attention span has diminished somewhat.  I suspect that if you were to eavesdrop on many of the conversations near you a good percentage of them would be about something other than the film or play, which at that point has lost their interest.

“What I would say to my community is the same thing that is sometimes told them in our temples. Please be mindful of others who are trying to pay attention.  It is my experience that in Hindu temples when a small congregation is gathered everyone is devotional and present for the ceremony being conducted. But on special holy days  when the temple might be packed there is often a tremendous amount of chatter towards the back of the sanctuary, where people are often standing.  It can be very disruptive. Each community is different, of course, and I’ve spoken to  members of temples around the country and  find that others often share my frustration.”

Father Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds:

“I think the increased talking at the movies (and texting and emailing and Snapchatting, etc., etc.) is one more symptom of our modern culture’s emphasis on the individual as the principle level of society. In the past, the household, the clan or the tribe was the main ‘operating level’ of society, but it has clearly become the individual in our day and age. The various ‘revolutions’ of the 1960’s brought us to the ‘Me Generation’ of the 1970’s, which has now been powered by the ‘Digital Revolution’ of the 1980’s up to the present moment. And what do we get for this ‘progress?’ Opening animations that used to be limited to ‘Buy Popcorn and Coke’ and ‘Don’t Litter’ have now been lengthened to include reminders about talking with others, texting, and answering calls. Soon these intro animations may be long enough to qualify as a ‘short feature’ in an upcoming Academy Awards!

“In an attempt to implement the teachings of our Master, Jesus Christ, Orthodox Christianity has always encouraged its adherents to understand who they are in relation to others. We begin by understanding Baptism as the process by which individual persons are joined to the Body of Christ (the Church) and adopted into the Family of God. We partake of Holy Communion as the act showing that we are united to God AND to each other.

“As followers of Christ we do more than encourage respect for the others around us; we identify with the other and see our role as serving them. In a movie theater, this means we care more about the experience of the others sitting near us than we do about our focus on our own.

“How do you express that to the greater community? Sadly, you can’t. Since religion has been removed from the public sphere and sidelined to be a private, individual choice, symptoms of a secular world missing those values will continue to grow—including lots of talking and texting at the movies.”


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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