September/October, 1997 Volume XII Number 8

TV - Don't trade one idol for another
by Rick Livingston

Just when parents, taking their Biblical assignment seriously from Proverbs 22:6 to train up their children, help them to drop one idol, such as questionable peer influences, another one often sneaks up on them, right in the middle of the living room cathedral, called the TV. The "one-eyed monster" has as much ability to pollute the young mind and send it off into mediocrity (at best) as the worst of outside associations. As the child or youth gazes upon the colorful interplay of explosive cartoons, sarcastic sitcoms, titillating talk shows, preposterous action plots, and even "wholesome" hours of "family-oriented" entertainment, siblings are ignored, service fails to occur, pictures go uncolored, books are not read, the body does not exercise itself, opportunities close, and the heart is captivated by the false images of man rather than the unblemished truth of God. The only thing left is for rigor mortis to set in.
For some personal history, I grew up in a secular home on the 1950s and 1960s when television became enshrined in the middle of our home, as well as in many others. I received the usual fare of cheap thrills and passive innuendoes. Then, in the 1970s and most of the 1980s, as young Christian parents, my wife and I created "TV free zones" wherever we lived, actually finding other things to do to occupy our time, deprived of Sesame Street and Bart Simpson, not to mention Dallas and Donahue.
Amazingly, we survived rather well without the technological wonder. Instead we initiated regular family nights, Bible Study, family projects and recreation, time for creativity, enjoying each other's company, and reading. Speaking of reading, I would challenge any Christian television enthusiast to ask himself how much time he spends in the Word compared to the time spent watching the football, E.R., and other programming.
Television, indeed, has overtaken the American home and has far surpassed parents as the primary instructor of children. According to William Bennett in the Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, in an average week teens spend .6 hours alone with dad, 1.8 hours reading, 2.3 hours alone with mom, and 21.0 hours watching television. In addition, the average preschool child watches 27 hours per week, or almost four hours per day.
The TV bill of fare for the average American is no wholesome meal. The average American views 14,000 references to sex per year on television. The average child views 8,000 TV murders and 100,000 acts of violence by the end of grade school.
The September, 1991 issue of The Biblical Counselor lists the bad effects of TV as the following: glamorized anti-heroes, banishing childhood, desensitizing people to violence, setting up "copy-cat" crime, promoting pleasant fantasy over unpleasant reality, promoting a feeling oriented approach to living, and preaching materialism as happiness.
Television is well displayed as an idol by a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where the character pays homage to his television as follows: "Oh, greatest of mass media, thank you for elevating emotion, reducing thought, and stifling imagination. Thank you for the artificiality of quick solutions and for the insidious manipulation of human desires for commercial purposes. This bowl of lukewarm tapioca represents my brain. I offer it in humble sacrifice. Bestow thy flickering light forever."
By this point the comic character is laying down prostrate with his tapioca pudding before the television, whereupon he then disappears.
Is it possible, then, to own a TV without it owning you? Let's look at some general guidelines from Scripture as a starting place. Obviously, television is not mentioned directly in the Bible as Old and New Testament families were blessed not to have such technology in their day. However, Psalm 1:1-2 indicates that the "blessed" man avoided bad company. He "delight(ed)" in God's Word and spent his time in it. To the point, the psalmist asked God to "turn away (his) eyes from beholding vanity" (Psalm 119:37). Further, Proverbs 2:10-15; 4:14-15; and 24:1 warn us to discriminate in our associations. Proverbs 4:14-15 drives this point home particularly well, noting that we should "enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not into the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away." In other words, in most cases, turn off your sets.
The effect of most modern television programming is summarized with Paul's wake up call, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33). Much of the hyperactivity, "A.D.D.," and disrespectful behavior of our day can be traced to the rhythm and role models of the average program or commercial. Even the overuse of "good" TV or video viewing violates the standards of good stewardship as cited in Psalm 90:12, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, and particularly in Ephesians 5:15-16 when Paul calls upon the believers to "see then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil."
A three hour-a-day teenage TV junkie should beware of the danger of the fruitful Christian life being "choked" out by the "pleasures of life" (Luke 8:14). Finally, before watching any television or video program, you may want to apply the 1 Corinthians 10:31 Test. "Does it glorify God?"
As a marriage and family counselor, I have developed three "programs" for TV control. The first one I call Mind the Meddler Minutely. It is designed for the family that, for some stubborn, unknown reason, insists upon a weekly dose of "boob-tubing". They certainly need some time and content constraints. Therefore, they should set a reasonable limit in advance on how much programming they will view during the week. Then, done as a family, specific shows are preselected from the TV program list. No random "channel surfing." TV alternatives should be in operation during the week also, activities such as games, discussion, reading, work and devotions, so that the meddler (TV) does not dominate the family domain.
As a family, we have adopted in the last few years the second program for TV control which I call Lock Up the Beast. Instead of proudly restraining the beast, the intrusive machine is humbly relegated to the unobtrusive confines of the closet. It is locked under the "double key," that is, program viewing must meet the agreement of both parents without coercion from anyone. The TV is brought out of the closet for a planned time of going to the movies. There are a number of edifying old classics worth the viewing and they are affordable. We have generally rented two to three movies once every month or so.
In order not to just "zone out" on the flicks, we use an evaluation sheet for discussion and rating after viewing the movie. We analyze the movie on five critical points: (1) Taste, (2) Plot, (3) Characterization, (4) Effects, and (5) Message. This way our children have learned to avoid absorbing foolishness, to develop their critical thinking skills, and to be sensitive to God's view point in human matters. Then we assign a score for the movie on a one to one hundred scale. Any movie that begins to insult our sensibilities or to grieve the Spirit, we "deep-six".
This TV control program has enriched our experience as a family, though we would have probably done just fine, too, if we had continued without a TV as we had before.
Which brings me to the third program for TV control, called Throw the Bum Out. In other words, join the two per cent. Go cold turkey. Flee the addiction. If the addiction cannot be controlled, it should be eliminated. Television disposal is an honorable activity. Be ye transformed. Discover your interests. Find your family and/or friends. Get a life.
It's hard to imagine what our family life would have been like if we had watched the average allotment of television per week. I am sure our love for the Word of God, our ability to be creative, and our fellowship as a family would have suffered greatly. Besides wasting our time, network programming and your average fare of cable and movies are ill mannered at best and vain and blasphemous at worst. Television joins the ranks of the socialized instructors and peers of our culture as the blind guides of our day.

© 1998 Advocates for Life Ministries