In cases where a leisure, entertainment, play activity is questioned for its morality, the moral analysis tends to hinge on at least one evil aspect of the activity—one that either glorifies an evil (e.g., violence in video games) or is evil in and of itself (e.g., pornography or stealing lunch money from sissies).

However, if we agree that evil is an absence of good, and if we agree that leisure, games, and entertainment in general are not evil, we must be able to recognize some inherent good in those activities, or in the active participation thereof, for the activity to be not evil—and therefore good.

For the leisurely challenged, examples of "leisure and play" include things like:

  • Sporting events (either participating or watching)
  • Dancing
  • Video games
  • Board/Table-top games
  • Building unnecessary things out of:
    • Legos
    • Popsicle sticks
    • JavaScript
  • And other activities not done with a practical purpose in mind.

From a Catholic perspective, what is it about these types of activities that is explicitly and specifically good?

Furthermore, should we (and can we) as Catholics be able to attribute some specific good to each particular form of leisure, entertainment, or play? Or, are there an overarching "leisurely good" that applies to any and all activities that are not explicitly evil in some facet?

  • This reads like trying to start a discussion. Isn't the answer "they are pleasurable" enough? Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 21:36
  • @DJClayworth Maybe-ish. But, is pleasure always good? What makes it good? And why should leisure be pleasurable? And why is its particular pleasure good? ... And what Catholic sources support the notion that "all work and no play makes svidgen a dull boy?" ... or whatever.
    – svidgen
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 21:42
  • 1
    @DJClayworth That depends on whether mere pleasure, in itself, is a good that is sufficient to justify the performance of an act. Sex is pleasurable, but that fact isn't enough to justify sex in any and all circumstances (even when it "doesn't hurt anyone", or apparently so). The Catholic Church will have some sort of comment allowing one to decide this matter; it's not purely discussion . Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 21:43
  • @MattGutting Right. In my understanding, pleasure itself is good precisely because pleasurable acts refer to an eternal good. Or something like that.
    – svidgen
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 21:45
  • 1
    Oh, and definitely +1 for building unnecessary things out of Javascript :-D Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 21:45

3 Answers 3


The Magisterium has not specifically addressed any of the O.P.'s specific question, but the Church would indeed affirm the fundamental goodness of play activities.

The need for play and rest is rooted in the natural law itself, and that idea is the basis of Sabbath rest, as expressed in the Third Commandment of the Decalogue:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work [...] For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Ex. 20:8-11).

The parallel passage from Deuteronomy adds,

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, [...] You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt (Deut. 5:13-15).

The Sabbath rest, which for Christians is transferred to the Day of the Resurrection (Sunday), is a fundamental right for all human beings. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

2184. Just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,” human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.

2185. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body....

Regarding the specific activities brought up by the O.P., it should be noted that evil is not just any absence of good; it is the deprivation of a due good. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas:

Malum enim est defectus boni quod natum est et debet haberi.

For evil is a defect of the good that is fitting to a thing’s nature [literally “that is born” with that thing] and ought to be there (Summa theologiae, I. q. 49, a. 1., responsum).

It follows that, absent any evidence to the contrary, we must assume that a given activity (even a play or rest activity) must be good, at least in and of itself. Indeed, as the Biblical texts suggest, rest and play are necessary for man’s happiness.

Hence, in the case of the activities given by the O.P., all of them are good in and of themselves. There are some that pose particular risks (e.g., video games, either due to objectively offensive content, or because of the danger of immoderate use), but in general, the Church has no problem whatsoever with people taking part in them.

Such activities do not need a practical purpose: in fact, they are ends in themselves (as suggested by the priority of the Sabbath rest over work), and it would diminish their goodness if they were attached to practical ends—e.g., if we did them for money.

  • But, what is the common characteristic of - or essentially good action expressed in - play and leisure activities that makes them good?
    – svidgen
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 20:26
  • Sorry for the delayed question clarification, by the way. Clearly losing my sense for how old my questions here are.
    – svidgen
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 20:27
  • Put another way: The Bible says that God says we should rest and have free time (leisure). But, from a Biblical or theological perspective, what is leisure? And from a theological perspective, how does what leisure is connect us to or glorify God?
    – svidgen
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 20:35
  • @svidgen Leisure is a necessary part of human development and happiness. This is an empirical fact that is supported by Scripture (e.g., the Third Commandment). But human happiness, properly understood, gives glory to God. (God does not take pleasure in our misery, but in our happiness. We see this illustrated in many passages. Ezekiel 18:23 comes to mind, although it is in a different context: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”) Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 20:46

The quote that follows may be the only direct reference to games, cards and betting in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2413. Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.

This is true for many of the multitudinous choices the human person makes each day, including recreational activities. (By itself, gardening is not an evil act. But will the harvest go to a food pantry - or used to make poison?)


Most leisure activities are permitted by the Church. In all forms of entertainment, moderation seems to be a golden rule. As in anything we do here in this life, not only is moderation a key point, but also any occasions of sin must be avoided, and such activities must not interfere with keeping holy our Sunday obligations (as is already mentioned in the two previous answers).

Sports in themselves, encourage healthy relationships (sportsmanship),as well as good physical fitness for those involved. In fact, Vatican City has its own national football (soccer) team as of 1972. It one of only nine sovereign states that are not part of FIFA.

The Pontifical Council for Culture (Pontificium Concilium de Cultura) founded in 2010, Mirabile Dictu (International Catholic Film Festival). This Film Festival takes place each year at Rome and the winners are announced in the last half of June annually. Its goal is to promote universal moral values and positive role models.

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