Tag Archives: Television

Reality, Utopia, and Christ

Well, in my last post I mentioned an email that a friend of mine sent out to several people mentioning an article he came across on the movie “Avatar” actually resulting in depression for several viewers.  He asked some good questions: What strikes your mind as you read it? What does it say to you about Christianity (the religion) as we know it, the current level of Kingdom influence in our world, and about what we should be doing?

Well, I have given everyone who comes by to visit my site a few days to respond, and since neither of you did, I’ll go ahead and post my own response to these questions my friend asked…

I have not seen the movie, but I think it is a sad indictment that culturally we have moved so far away from the REALITY of God’s Word that a movie about a virtual world and the possibilities within *that* place, stir us to greater heights and depths of emotion than what is taking place not just here in the *real* world, but also in the heavenly realm which is our real home.  We were not made to be permanent residents of this world, but rather we are warned not to fall in love with this world, not to be dragged away by passions that can only be satisfied by it, and to live here as aliens… as *sojourners*.  This brings us into a conflict that affects all of us–believers and unbelievers alike.  We cannot find our satisfaction here.

I think it is important, though, to remember who we ARE as a result of the Fall.  In the book of Romans, Paul lays it out pretty clearly and we can see this image of man reflected back through everything we see on television and in the movies.  Collectively speaking, this is who we are:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

It is little wonder that someone who is confronting this *reality* (whether it is a result of seeing a movie, reading their Bible, or dealing with the recognition of their own depravity) would become depressed.  It is depressing news.  Any time we begin to really see the impact of man’s fallen nature and the effects of our sin on God’s creation (whether it is our own personal corruption or the collective corruption of mankind), it is overwhelmingly depressing.

For the believer, though, we have a blessed hope.  We are the “called-out” ones.  But paradoxically, we are not called *out* of this world when we hear His voice.  We are called *into* it.  We are given a savage mission: to live IN this world as aliens and strangers, to *suffer*, and to work as unto the Lord.  And He has given us a task: to glorify Him, to be a witness for Him to the ends of the earth.  He has promised us joy in this, but He has also promised us suffering on His behalf.  We will toil, we will suffer, but we will not lose heart.  We have a blessed hope, a Rock, a Refuge, and an eternal home.

For the one without hope in Christ and who wants even a temporary escape, nothing provides like technology.  In fact, I think it is this desire to “escape reality” that has driven most of the major advances in technology over the last hundred or so years, and truth be told it isn’t just unbelievers who are guilty of falling victim to it.  It throws an appealing lure, and it is natural for us to take the bait.

“Real life” is hard.  It demands sacrifice and serving others.  “Real life” does not always work out the way we would like it to.  We are not in control of it.  It includes wayward children, strained marriages, death and disease, addictions and abuse.  It places demands on us we do not always want to meet, requires more from us than we often want to give, and also tends to grant us far less than we would like to have.  It can be painful, difficult, and full of trial.  No wonder, people want to check out and look for some way—ANY way—of escape.  If you look with eyes that can see, most of the way people use technology in their daily life is “escape”… a way of staying distracted (i.e. “entertained”) so that they can forget about “real life” for a while.

Some find their escape in sports, others in movies… or some other visual form of entertainment (TV, game systems, computer games, pornography, etc.). For some, it is cell phones, texting, Facebook, shopping, collecting, or whatever else brings some pleasure for a time.  But it is always and only for a time.  That’s because for the believer and unbeliever alike, there is no real and lasting satisfaction to be had in this world.  The grass withers, and the flower falls… moth and rust destroy… thieves break in and steal.  We were not created to be satisfied in a fallen world tainted by the corruption of sin and death.  For the one who has no real, eternal hope in Christ, they find their “best life now”–finding some small joy in trinkets and distractions, though only for a little while.  BUT GOD

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Don’t run past that last sentence too quickly.  We are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (we are a NEW creation in Him) for good works.  We are not saved by good works, but for them.  Now, if this is true, then as I said earlier we are not saved OUT of this world, but INTO it.  We are called to be salt and light, and instruments for His glory.  We are not our own, but have been bought with a price and are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).

And we can find our encouragement and our greatest example in Christ, who did not look for any way of escape, and who would not be distracted from His eternal purpose, but for the JOY set before Him endured the suffering…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

BE OF GOOD COURAGE! Listen one more time to the words of the Apostle Paul.  Do not be depressed or discouraged—be it by a movie or by a man.  The Apostle who suffered countless beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and death itself for His love of Christ could experience all those things with JOY because His eyes were right.  He wrote to encourage the church in Corinth:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Devotions, Scripture

Is TV Really So Bad (Joel Beeke)

Is TV Really So Bad?

by Dr Joel R. Beeke

We are living in a sin-sick, morally degenerate, and pleasure-mad world. Our society continually demands entertainment, amusements, and pastimes at an ever-increasing level.

What is the goal of this “continual-entertainment” spirit? To keep modern man happily busy.

In a certain sense, entertainment does succeed in its goal. It keeps thousands and millions busy.

The very words themselves reveal this fact. The word amusement comes originally from the French and literally means “to stare at fixedly so as to prevent musing or thinking.”  The word pastime speaks for itself. It means to kill or use up time as a thing of little value; to pass time away. The root of the word entertainment means to divert. Thus it implies something which takes us away or diverts us from the normal, real world of everyday life.

In other words, entertainment, amusements, pastimes are things which keep us busy – busy avoiding the realities of life and truth as they are set down in God’s Holy Word. They keep us busy avoiding thinking about eternity, hell, heaven, sin, God, Christ, salvation, our own selves, and especially our need for a new heart.

But if entertainment succeeds in its first goal of making man busy it fails miserably in its second: happily busy. Never has there been so much restlessness, dissatisfaction, and yes, unhappiness – in spite of the millions who immerse themselves in modern-day entertainment. Despite our freedom from poverty, our multiplication of opportunities in nearly every walk and aspect of life, plus our continual drinking in of entertainment – no age has been as unhappy as modern man.

Entertainment can never give enough – it always leaves an empty feeling behind. The more it is practiced and relied on, the emptier it becomes.

It has turned our society into an object of pity, for we are victims of our own system. Society goes full cycle, from being pleasure-hungry to pleasure-mania to pleasure-boredom.

But do you know what is even worse? Not only the world, but also the church has begun sliding down the slippery slope of entertainment which can only end in sin, and disastrous results.

Satan does not stop with liberal churches only. He comes also among us. We who believe that the truth is still preached among us – who know so well that the Word of God says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” who read continually, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” – are also beginning to fall victim to the idolatrous god of entertainment.

Step-by-step some are beginning to look for new things (in the church and outside of the church) with which we entertain and keep ourselves busy. Step-by-step the old-fashioned, plain gospel message with its emphasis on the necessity of conversion, is being increasingly de-emphasised. Less and less time is being spent praying together as a family, reading religious books together with children, talking together in family circles about spiritual matters.

Are we not all guilty? Do we not all fall short in experiencing the reality of the seriousness of life, death, the judgment day, and eternity? Today we have a carefree, laughing society, but you never read in the Bible that Jesus took life lightly. Rather, especially referring to our day, He said: “Watch, and pray, and again I say unto you watch!”

But by nature we don’t watch. By nature our question is, “How far can I go and still not sin?” instead of, “How far can I flee from sin and avoid the very appearance of evil?”

At the very heart and center of our modern entertainment spirit stands TELEVISION. This is an obvious fact. Television sets are in the homes of 97% of Americans today and 91% of all television time is dedicated solely to the purpose of entertainment. Entertainment-addiction and television-addiction cannot be separated from each other.

Our society has become TELE-HOLIC. On a night when wives do not leave home, 95 out of 100 will spend it watching TV and 85% of their husbands will do likewise. Among teenagers, 80% will follow their parents’ example, and 75% of children will also spend their evening drinking in the sin shown on TV.

There are people, however, who do not believe that television becomes an object of slavery in the home, and for that reason we have to consider the power of it in the homes where it is allowed. I shall seek to show you from plain facts that a television owner usually becomes addicted to TV with respect to (A) TIME, (B) SIN, and (C) CONTROL.

(A) TIME. The average TV viewer spends 5½ hours per day watching TV. By the time an average American youth becomes sixty-five years old, he will have spent fourteen years of his life watching TV (compared to one year spent in church, Sunday School, and catechism if he comes faithfully to all). In the U.S.A. children three to five years old spend fifty-four hours every week watching TV, which is 64% of their time awake. When the average graduate from high school receives his diploma at seventeen years of age, he will have spent 11,000 hours of his life in school, but 22,000 hours watching TV. Every time an adult sits down to watch TV, he/she averages 3½ hours of watching time before turning the TV off. Children are glued to TV for an average of 2½ hours per sitting. With the exception of sleeping, the average American will spend more time in his life watching TV than anything else – yes even more than working. Do we not have a tele-holic society with respect to our precious, God-given time?

(B) SIN. TV is a flood of sin. It numbs its watchers against all ten commandments.

First commandment:  Anything we put above God becomes an idol. Modern man has become addicted to putting TV before God.

Second commandment:   If not in reality, in practice TV has become a graven image in the hearts of most of its watchers.

Third commandment:  TV causes its hearers to become addicted to hearing the name of the Lord used in vain. Profanity is used so often that it becomes an inoffensive thing. Few TV watchers realize that every time they willingly watch and hear such things, all those sins are reckoned to them on account of their willing participation.

Fourth commandment:  Even the Sabbath Day is not holy enough for TV watchers to keep it turned off, or, if a small percentage may still do so for conscience’s sake, desire and craving for it usually remains even on the Lord’s Day.

Fifth commandment:  TV does anything but honor father and mother. It continually degrades fatherhood and motherhood, and even frequently glorifies the disobedience of children. Family life, respect for authority, and obedience to government are repeatedly violated on program after program.

Sixth commandment:  Instead of “thou shalt not kill,” one study reached the conclusion that by the time a child is fourteen at least 18,000 violent assaults and murders take place before his eyes. Another study confirmed that the average child between five and thirteen years of age soaks in 1,300 murders each year, so that violence, assaults, and murders no longer speak the message of sin or its consequences. Murders, hatred, violent actions and words assume  the role of normal behavior. The average child’s program contains thirty-eight acts of violence per hour (adult program: twenty). A New York City judge who spent his life in courts judging juvenile delinquents and teenage criminals has plainly said that those who investigated the situation know that TV is a prime cause of crime. Another judge said: “Parents, one hour of TV can teach your children more crime, rebellion, smart-aleck freshness, and sex than you can counteract in months if you work at it.”

The trouble with violence on TV is that it does not show the real consequences of violence. The guilt that is left behind in the soul of the murderer, the bereaved family, the orphaned children, the filled hospitals, and the solemn graveyards are not shown. Especially in children’s programs violence is often totally unreal. Their heroes are often crushed or blown into pieces and moments later reappear unscathed. TV is artificial violence glorified instead of showing real violence in all of its ugly and terrible long-term consequences. Is it a wonder then that there have been thousands of examples of tragedies nationwide when children have “played TV together”?

Seventh commandment:  How can the TV viewer remain pure with respect to the seventh commandment when seven out of eight references to sexual acts on TV take place between those who are not married? How can he remain pure when the TV viewer sees on an average of three times every hour sexual misconduct between unmarried adults? How can he remain moral when countless circumstances, conversations, immodest dress, actions, and behavior all point to the excitement and acceptability of sinning against the seventh commandment in a false and unrealistic way?

Eighth commandment:  Can an hour be found that goes by when TV actors do not unashamedly steal before their audience? It is not wonder that thousands of thefts in real life have been patterned after TV plots and heroes.

Ninth commandment:  Lying against a neighbor becomes a normal, acceptable, and even expected form of behavior on television shows.

Tenth commandment:  Covet is a desirable word for TV viewers. Constantly they are reminded through advertisements of a stream of unending luxuries which they are told they shall never be happy without. There is always something they must have which they don’t have. The programs themselves are not an exception. For one man to covet another man’s wife (or vice versa) is the main theme of entire shows.

From beginning to end TV glorifies sin. On TV the only thing that is “sin” is morality. TV applauds sin, approves of sin, and forces its watchers to minimise sin through tens of thousands of countless repetitions. Over and over again the traditional family life is despised as old-fashioned: fatherhood is replaced with heroism via pathways of sin; motherhood is rejected as demeaning; obedience from children is laughed at as being too boring to be entertaining.

TV has become a catalogue of sin, and all studies reveal it is getting worse. It has become the devil’s classroom. The devil is smart enough to throw in a little religion too, and occasionally even a little morality, to pacify consciences enough not to throw it out. Does not TV make a tele-holic society with respect to sin when it feeds lust, perverts morals, presents impurity as love, pictures murder as thrilling, exalts nakedness and indecency as beauty, and seeks to legitimize all kinds of sin against every command of God?

(C) CONTROL Here the addiction becomes even more serious. Thousands of family fights take place regularly because no agreement can be reached on which show to indulge in. In American homes 35% of mealtimes are spent in front of the TV set. Nightly thousands of parents realize the programs that will come on are demoralizing and harmful for their children but yet are so hungry themselves to drink in the sin which they contain that they often let their children watch it too, having no power to control it.

People who say they can control TV are usually speaking idealistically, not realistically:

(1) Our natural hearts love sin, our ears listen for sin, our eyes look for sin. That is just the problem with TV. It is not the box itself that is the problem, but it is our hearts. TV shows what the heart of man wants to see. We have enough “TVs” already in our hearts without buying one for our home. It is our “TV hearts” that are inclined to TV sets. We do not stand above a TV watcher – just the opposite. We desire to come so low that we confess we would not trust our own heart with such an instrument.

(2) Who is able to keep sin from flashing before them on the screen at any moment, whether it be through the program being watched or through advertisement?

(3) Is a person who has owned a TV set for some time, and consequently become hardened to many sins, really qualified to know what is necessary to “control”?

Man does not control TV. TV controls him. Only one study of many will prove this point. Approximately four years ago in St. Catharines, Ontario, the newspaper headlines read one day: $500 paid for disposing of TV. The article went on to say that a study was done in Detroit in which the goal was to find out to what degree people are controlled by TV. Two hundred fifty families were scientifically selected from various races and classes to be offered $500 if they would live without their TV set for one month. After thirty days they could take it back in, and receive $500 free. Out of 250, only fifty families agreed to do it. How many families “made it” through this trial of thirty days? Eight! The other forty-two forfeited their $500 sometime during the month – one family took their TV back in on the 29th day. The eight who made it through were interviewed extensively. All said it brought their family closer together without TV. Six fathers said they first learned to know their children. One father said: “The day that I disposed of our TV  was the first day in twenty-five years that no one was killed in our living room, no sirens screamed, no shots rang out, no artificial merriment told us when to laugh, and no one slashed anyone else.” And what was the final result of these eight families of whom seven said their family life was considerably more rewarding without TV? The last line of the article tells us: “All eight families took TV back in.”

Tele-holism. Knowing it does more harm than good, and still keeping it – that is slavery.
Dear friend, I urge you to dispose of TV today on the following grounds:

(1) It is against the word of God. In Psalm 119 the Lord commands us to turn our eyes from vanity. The entire Bible speaks against television because of its unending list of evils.

(2) The sinfulness of television damages your own soul. Every secular and/or religious study has revealed TV’s over-all effects. Since you know that we are fallen children of Adam and Eve, corrupt, and prone to backsliding, why do you unnecessarily feed your own corrupt nature with still more corruption through this instrument of sin?

(3) Studies on television reveal that TV also hinders the God-given treasure of family life and communion. This alone should be reason enough to dispose of TV immediately.

(4) By keeping television you are stepping on and fighting against your own conscience.

(5) You are wasting precious God-given time for which you will have to give an account one day. Would it not be far better that you take the time spent watching TV to read Scripture or good books, or listen to sermon tapes?

Do yourself a favor: for the Word of God’s sake, the church’s sake, your own soul’s sake, your family’s sake, your conscience’s sake, dispose of your television today. Do it permanently before you become its lifelong slave.

Finally, may it become the prayer of all of us with David: “I will set no evil thing before my eyes. Turn Thou my eyes from beholding vanity.”
(Pilgrim’s Gate; Condensed)

(This article from Fair Dinkum, Free Autralian Magazine, issue 52. All statistics are taken from studies conducted between 1979 and 1999.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Television

Necrophilia and Narcissism

Two terms that evoke strong reactions.  One speaks of the disgusting “love” of the dead.  The other speaks of the disgusting “love” of the self.

Necrophilia. . .

Cigarettes.  Alcohol.  Sugar.  Artificial sweeteners.  Coffee.  Soda.  Gossip.  Pornography.  Adultery.  Anger.  Sex.  Violence.  Television.

Why are we so drawn to death?  So much of what we really desire, what we are motivated to obtain and to “enjoy”–that is, what we feed on to satisfy whatever it is we must be hungering for since that is what we consume–is not only unhealthy (or perhaps our appetite for it is not), but our voracious consumption of it only works to bring about death.  Death.  How much time and money do we spend feeding our bodies, our minds, and our souls that which produces no life, but in fact quite the opposite?  Who wants to answer this question honestly?

How much of what we feed our bodies, our minds, and our souls produces and sustains life?  Do we long for healthy foods to feed our bodies, or pursue vigorous activities and exercise?  Or do we prefer junk food, candy, fast food, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs?  Instead of dumb bells or a pair of hiking boots, do we prefer a TV remote or a video game controller?

Do we feed our minds good books, Scripture, seek quiet time for meditating and reflecting on what we’re learning?  Do we seek opportunities to put what we know to use, to teach others, and to benefit those around us with what we have learned or been gifted with?  Or do we prefer to entertain ourselves with constant, mindless noise–whether it be music or television or video games?  Do we spend our time putting useful things into our mind, or do we just fill it with so much junk?

And do we spend time daily on our knees in prayer, bringing our needs before the Lord, seeking His provision in our life?  Do we read the Scriptures as if they are the very words of life, wrestling with them and begging God for understanding. . . or if understanding, begging for help with application?  Are we thanking God for all the things He is bringing about in our life, even the trials that strengthen our faith, and the afflictions that destroy our foolish pride?  Do we spend time helping others, ministering to them and meeting their needs?  And do we practice forgiveness when the Lord challenges us to live and to love as He did, sacrificially?  Or do we give ourselves to anger and a vengeful spirit?  Or to gossip, seeking the sin in others?  Or perhaps entertain lustful thoughts, hiding the adulterous hearts that beat within our breast?  Do we put unclean things before our eyes, and erect idols where only God should live?

And lest you think yourself somehow elevated because some of the most obvious entrees above are not a vice to you, then consider the second option. . .

Naricissism.

Maybe you think well of yourself because you have healthier appetites, and so you esteem yourself as being somehow better than those whose appetites seem to lead toward destruction.  Maybe in your own secret and subtle way, you pray quietly to yourself like that Pharisee, “Lord I thank you that you have not made me like these other men. . . even like this tax collector.”  Maybe you have deceived yourself, forgetting your unworthiness before the King.  Perhaps you have fallen asleep and forgotten that neither you nor your appetites are healthy, and that you are a sinner still in need of grace.  For our Lord said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Be careful you are not thanking Him that you are not like the Necrophiliac.

I don’t know if the old American Puritan Thomas Sheperd wrote these words or if Alexander Whyte penned them in his appreciation for Shepard, but I thought they reveal much of the human heart:

‘There is no difference. I am as you are, and you are as I am. Just try the thing yourselves. Just begin to love God with all your heart, and you will soon see that the more you try to do that the less will you feel satisfied that you succeed. And, in like manner, when you begin to love your neighbour as yourself you will begin to get a lesson with a vengeance in the spiritual life. Just try to rejoice in all your neighbour’s well-being as much as you rejoice in your own. Just try to relish and enjoy all other men’s praises of your neighbour as you relish and enjoy all other men’s praises of yourself. Just try to take delight in all your neighbour’s rewards, promotions, prosperities as you take delight in your own. And go on trying to do that toward all men around you, friend and foe, and you will get a lesson in the infinite and exquisite holiness and spirituality of God’s law of love, and at the same time a lesson in the abominable and unspeakable corruptions of your own heart that will make you wiser in all these matters than all your teachers.’

Necrophiliac.  Narcissist.  It is tempting to say that most of us are one or the other, but I do not think that is true.  I think there is a danger that most of us are both, although we may have certain tendencies to lean more toward one or the other.  Both are self-consuming.  And though means and motives may differ, both are self-absorbed and leave very little by way of fruit to offer others.

Christ was raised up from the dead.  He did not remain in the grave; He was raised up and is at the right hand of the Father.  If you are a Christian, you do not worship a dead man.  Therefore, if we love Him we must leave our Necrophilia.  At the same time, “By this we know love, that He laid His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  We must not be so in love with our own lives that we hold on to them and value them more than we value the lives of others.  We must also come to Him understanding that our own lives are worthless, and that He is the true life.  Therefore, if we love Him, we must reject our Narcissism.  In Christ, we are called to love sacrificially, to give our lives for the sake of another without loving those things that bring about death.

4 Comments

Filed under Devotions

John Calvin, Philip Ryken, "Reality TV", and the American Idol

I haven’t had time to write the concluding post that has been developing in my mind and heart the last couple of weeks as I have posted article after article on TV and technology.  John Calvin is often credited with the quote that “the human heart is a perpetual factory of idols.”  The Henry Beveridge translation of The Institutes that includes this quote reads:

In regard to the origin of idols, the statement contained in the Book of Wisdom has been received with almost universal consent—viz. that they originated with those who bestowed this honour on the dead, from a superstitious regard to their memory. I admit that this perverse practice is of very high antiquity, and I deny not that 97 it was a kind of torch by which the infatuated proneness of mankind to idolatry was kindled into a greater blaze. I do not, however, admit that it was the first origin of the practice. That idols were in use before the prevalence of that ambitious consecration of the images of the dead, frequently adverted to by profane writers, is evident from the words of Moses (Gen. 31:19). When he relates that Rachel stole her father’s images, he speaks of the use of idols as a common vice. Hence we may infer, that the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols. There was a kind of renewal of the world at the deluge, but before many years elapse, men are forging gods at will. There is reason to believe, that in the holy Patriarch’s lifetime his grandchildren were given to idolatry: so that he must with his own eyes, not without the deepest grief, have seen the earth polluted with idols—that earth whose iniquities God had lately purged with so fearful a Judgment. For Joshua testifies (Josh. 24:2), that Torah and Nachor, even before the birth of Abraham, were the worshipers of false gods. The progeny of Shem having so speedily revolted, what are we to think of the posterity of Ham, who had been cursed long before in their father? Thus, indeed, it is. The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited, appears from the example of the Israelites: “Up,” said they, “make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wet not what is become of him,” (Exod. 22:1). They knew, indeed, that there was a God whose mighty power they had experienced in so many miracles, but they had no confidence of his being near to them, if they did not with their eyes behold a corporeal symbol of his presence, as an attestation to his actual government. They desired, therefore, to be assured by the image which went before them, that they were journeying under Divine guidance. And daily experience shows, that the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some figment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God. In consequence of this blind passion men have, almost in all ages since the world began, set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.

I italicized portions of the text above in order to emphasize certain points.  I would encourage you to read again what John Calvin has written here, and how what he wrote applies to us today (especially what I italicized).

The really sad thing is that the modern trend is not even to make God into something formed with human hands, but rather to 1) Deny God by human invention; and 2) to attempt to remake man into some sort of false image of what we would like himself to be.  Twisted.

And daily experience shows, that the flesh is always restless until it has obtained some figment like itself, with which it may vainly solace itself as a representation of God. In consequence of this blind passion men have, almost in all ages since the world began, set up signs on which they imagined that God was visibly depicted to their eyes.

With the medium of television–especially in the context of “Reality TV” as Philip Ryken writes in an article from a few years back, we have actually stopped setting up signs and imagining God visibly depicted; instead we have abandoned Him altogether and imagine ourselves in His place, but the depiction is equally delusional.  Oh, little box of great idolatry.  The television is an apt representation of what is really in our hearts.

Luke 11:29-36
29    When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.
30    For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.
31    The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
32    The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

33    “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.
34    Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.
35    Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.
36    If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”

Unreality TV
(by Philip Ryken)

They call it “reality TV,” but I’m really not sure why. To me, the term is an oxymoron, like “jumbo shrimp” or “white chocolate.” But whatever we call it, reality TV is a cultural phenomenon that tells us some significant things about spiritual life in the twenty-first century.

What is reality TV? The best definition I’ve seen comes from the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute in St. Louis. In an article called “Surviving the Real World: Voyeur-Vision and the Quest for Reality,” Michael Gordon describes these shows as “television programs that present ordinary people in ‘scripted unscriptedness’ with sensational circumstances for the purpose of entertainment” [Perspectives, Summer 2002, p. 3]. And the circumstances often encourage some form of immorality, or at least folly.

Reality TV probably started with “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” the show on which a wealthy bachelor had dozens of women competing for his hand in marriage. Then it was “Survivor,” and all its successors, on which adventurers compete to be the last person left in some exotic and dangerous locale. There was “Temptation Island,” on which couples that were dating were tempted to be unfaithful, and “Fear Factor,” on which people were forced to face their fears—the more disgusting the better.

The list goes on and on. The biggest hit was “Joe Millionaire,” on which an eligible young bulldozer driver supposedly inherited 50 million dollars and had his choice of 20 beautiful young women. And just this week we were introduced to “Married by America,” on which the participants didn’t even get to choose: Instead, their partners were chosen by a national television audience. Where will it all end?

Needless to say, these programs are all highly contrived. There is almost nothing real about them. They ask us to believe that, for example, a man climb off his bulldozer, inherit 50 million dollars, move to a French chateau, and have his choice among 20 beautiful young women. That’s not reality; it’s fantasy. And in reality the people who appear on these programs are actors—not professional actors, but actors nonetheless. They are carefully selected on the basis of their looks and personality to play a character in a drama. When they appear on camera, they know that America is watching, and it shows. The situations are artificial; the scenes are staged; the conversations are stilted. Then the program is heavily edited. Hundreds of hours are video are reduced to a few hours of air time and spliced together to tell some kind of coherent story. Reality TV is not real at all. It is casted, scripted, edited, and marketed for the viewing public.

The fantasy can only last for so long. I hope you will not be too disappointed to learn that none of the couples on the reality romance programs are still together. As it turns out, the reality is what happens after the TV, when the couples break up, the recriminations start, and the lying young bachelor gets booed in public. Now that’s reality!

What does the popularity of these shows tell us? One thing it tells us is that nothing is more fascinating than watching human beings and the way they react in various situations. What will they say? What will they do? How will they respond when they are forced to confront their worst fears? How will they act when the only way they can win is by forcing someone else to lose? How will they feel when they get rejected? We love to watch people try to start a relationship. We love to see what they will do when the pressure is on. And frankly, we love to see them squirm when they get caught doing something wrong.

All of this proves there is something special about human beings. What else could possibly absorb our interest and attention in this way? Only people who were made to be like God (see Gen. 1:27), but are now struggling to make things work in a fallen world.

The stunning success of so-called reality TV also tells us that Americans have nothing better to do. What kind of culture produces a television program like “The Bachelorette”? Only a culture that is bored with reality and has lost all sense of purpose. Apparently, our own lives are not interesting enough to hold our interest. We want to put somebody else in an unreal situation and watch what happens. Reality shows never would have appeared in the 1950s. It is only at this late stage of cultural decadence that such programming is even possible.

Reality TV is very different from, say, watching a good film. When someone writes the script for a movie, they are telling a story that shows something about life. If the story is morally ennobling, then rather than merely serving as a form of escape, it enables us to gain deeper understanding into what it means to live in God’s world. Reality TV—or unreality TV doesn’t do that. It just wastes our time. It may amuse us for a while, but it does not equip us to live for God. We end up living in someone else’s fantasy instead of doing what we ought to be doing, which is getting involved with real people and their real problems.

If you enjoy reality TV, you ought to try just plain old reality. Really, you should. The kind of reality I have in mind comes from living an authentic Christian life that is dedicated to helping others grow in grace. “Now we really live,” wrote the apostle Paul, “since you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thess. 3:8). Don’t just sit there watching people do trivial things on television. Go on a short-term missions trip to a place where the church is struggling. Live in community with other Christians or get involved in ministry and then try to love the people you have to live with and work with. Spend time praying with somebody who is trying and sometimes failing to make a relationship work. But whatever you do, get real.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Television

Television: The Medium of Society

Movies and TV – The Medium of Society
By Pastor Rick Rogers

Key Verse: 1 John 2:15-16

Introduction: It was a challenge to name this chapter the “medium of society,” as it seems so trivial. Television, and the movies and programs that are carried through it, form a philosophy, world view, standard and ethic which has a tremendous effect on society. As with music, it teaches a religion. And it is powerful! In television and movies, there is an experience attained through the senses of seeing and hearing, unlike other forms of entertainment such as reading novels or listening to music. Television can actually place you “in the realm” of the setting. Thus, it is a powerful teaching tool! As believers, we must understand the power and purpose of the modern screen, and obey biblical commands and principles concerning it’s use.

I. THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION AND MOVIES

A. Silent films, 1910-1920. Mainly characterized by humor and romance. Charlie Chaplin was a favorite of this era. Charlie Chaplin was barred from the U. S. A. because of his sympathies for Communism and dislike for America.1

B. Classics, 1920-1940. Walt Disney began producing cartoon films such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Dr. Kober, quoting the Encyclopedia Britannica: “In the U. S., the first documentaries were made under the Soviet … influence and reflected the thinking of the extreme left wing … The public, old as well as young, wanted to see how the wealthy lived, dressed and misbehaved, and skillful directors such as Cecil B. DeMille helped educate and entire nation in the boudoirs (bedrooms), lingerie and riotous living. The worship of the stars reached delirious proportions.”2

C. Westerns and Crime films, 1940-1950. Advocated violence, murder, …

D. Sex and scandals, 1950-1960. Hollywood turned more and more to sex and scandal to lure people back to movie houses, as the popularity had decreased.

E. Shock and splatter, 1970-1990. Films about Satanism and witchcraft (the Exorcist, Poltergeist, …) the supernatural (Star Wars), extra-terrestrials (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) blasphemous films (Jesus Christ Superstar) and hard core pornography were the prime movies for our “entertainment.”

F. Science fiction and horror, 1990’s – . Science fiction and horror, often with strong occult and New Age themes, are prevalent. These are often coupled with nudity and other forms of immorality.

Consider: These periods cover a general pattern not a particular rule. For example, “The Robe” was also produced in the 1950-1960 era. Nevertheless, a pattern has accompanied each period with a definite philosophy that impacted the culture. As stated at the outset, this is a powerful teaching tool! Letters E and F can be demonstrated by the increase of interest in the occult over the past two decades, and the intense perversion that has permeated our culture. Homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, couples living together outside of marriage, … all reflect those axioms! The amount of violence has increased, and the brutality is unspeakable, akin to the Inquisition!

II. THE PHILOSOPHY OF TELEVISION AND MOVIES:

A. A distortion of reality. This is an inherent danger to children and teen-agers!

B. A dispensing of a sinful and worldly philosophy:

  1. a promotion of materialism
  2. a promotion of immorality
  3. a promotion of violence
  4. a promotion of profanity
  5. a promotion of atheism and humanism
  6. a promotion of the occult

C. A domination of personal life. Television dominates many homes, and schedules are built around programs!

D. A destroyer of time. We are called to be good stewards (1 Cor. 4:1-2) and to redeem time (Col. 4:5), not waste it. That is not to say one should NEVER watch ANYTHING on television – there are some good things, such as WVCY TV 30, Christmas specials, …but one must be a faithful steward of time, treasures, talents, mind, … Reading your Bible is infinitely more important, and some good studies about Theology and Christian living are needful for spiritual growth. It is also far better to read some good Christian novels (there are many fine Christian novels that teach biblical values and sound truth) and devotionals to help rather than hinder your walk with the Lord, as entertainment may.

E. A distraction from corporate worship. It is not uncommon for Christians to disregard the worship services of the church to stay home for television.

F. A disturbance of family life. As stated previously, it becomes the family worship center, it detracts from communication and developing relationships, and is all to often the center of attention at meal time rather than family devotions and discussion.

G. A developer of juvenile aggression. What younger children see on television is “real” to them. A Stanford University psychologist, Albert Brandura, lists the following immediate effects of television violence:

  1. It reduces viewer “inhibitions against violent, aggressive behavior.”
  2. It teacher viewers “forms of aggression – that is, giving them information about how to attack someone else when the occasion arises.
  3. The ethical ending, in which the villain gets his desserts, does not antidote the violence that occurred before. It ‘may keep viewers from reproducing villainy’ right away, but it does not make them forget how to do it. The ethical ending is just a suppresser of violence, it does not erase.3

Note the following report from Reader’s Digest:

  1. TV violence produces lasting and serious harm
  2. Those “action” cartoons on children’s programs are decidedly damaging
  3. TV erodes inhibitions
  4. The sheer quantity of TV watching by youngsters increases hurtful behavior and poor academic performance.4

H. A disruption of the learning process. Entertainment replaces learning, as watching replaces reading and thinking.

I. A degrading of morality, as it glorifies sex, violence, … cf. Pt. 2, above

J. A deadening of activity. People, especially teens and children, should be productive. Instead of hours of inactivity in a mentally neutral mode, people should be exercising and disciplining their bodies and minds. They should be learning and developing talents such as playing a musical instrument with which to glorify and serve the Lord.

III. A THEOLOGY FOR TELEVISION AND MOVIES

Consider: On this point, please read the following verses which match letters A – J in pt. II. Either by command, precept or principle, the Bible addresses every issue!

A. 1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4 F. Deut. 6:6-7; Eph. 6:1-4

B. Col. 2:8; James 4:4 G. Pro. 20:11; 22:6; 22:15; 29:15

C. Exo. 20:3; Isaiah 45:18; Eph. 6:4 H. John 5:39; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Peter 3:15

D. Eph. 5:15; Col. 3:8 I. Psalm 101:3; 141:4; 1 Thes. 4:3-4

E. Matt. 6:21, 24 J. Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 4:1-2; 6:19

Conclusion: From this very brief summary, consider the impact of television and movies have had on our culture. Has it been used for the glory of God, or for the decadence of man?

End Notes:
[1] Sumner, Robert, Hollywood Cesspool, Sword of the Lord Publishers, p. 116-117, 120
[2] Griffith, Richard and Stanley William Reed, “Motion Pictures” in Encyclopedia , 1971, pp. 898-918
[3] Kober, quoting Krutza & Di Cocco, Facing the Issues – 4 Contemporary Discussion Series, pp. 75-76
[4] Reader’s Digest, “TV Violence: The Shocking New Evidence,” January 1983.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Television

Amusing Ourselves to Death (Review)

A book review I found from a thoughtful reviewer on Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (I wish I could remember where I came across this, as I have not been able to find it again):

In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that television causes our society great danger. This danger comes in two elements. First, television has displaced the printed word. When we decrease reading, we also decrease our cognitive ability. Second, television as a medium has turned everything like politics, religion, news, education, journalism, and commerce into a form of entertainment and hence it pollutes the contents of serious matters. In order to correct from this danger, Postman suggests the solution is not found in turning off the television because our society is too dependent on television. But we should change our way of watching television. We should talk back to the television through a critical mind. (160) When we analyze information and messages that are sent through television, we demystify the media and gain back control over television. According to Postman, we achieve this skill through education such that we are able to control television and learn how to distance ourselves from the forms of information which are from television. (163)

Postman sees a print-based epistemology is superior than television-based epistemology because printed word encourages use of intellect. Printed word requires coherent thinking and encourages rationality. On the other hand, television puts an end to the age of reason because it promotes triviality and incoherence. In addition, television destroys print-based epistemology by displacing the habit of reading.

Postman believes media are more than technologies and they are not neutral. Instead, they are closely related to the content of our communication. Hence, media eventually create the content of our culture. Just like the invention of clock changes our view of time, television changes our worldview. When information is conveyed through a medium, the character of the media of communication is attached in it. Postman distinguishes television as a technology and television as a medium. As technology, television is merely a machine. As a medium, television is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates. (84) Since television is basically an entertainment medium, anything communicates through television is changed to a form of entertainment. Postman uses news as an example. News is not taken seriously anymore but it is all fun. Since the invention of television, our daily news is stuffed with incoherent information that allows us to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. (68) Comparing to the printed medium, the images that television provides lack context. When our believing is based on seeing but not reading, our understanding of the subject will be shaped by the biases of television. (78) How television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged.

Postman believes serious matters are polluted when they are communicated through television. When news is communicated through television, the truthfulness of the news is no longer based on reality but on creditability. Religion is turned into entertainment and television takes symbolic otherworldliness away from a worship experience. In television, politics are no longer based on clarity, honesty and excellence but it turns politics into a beauty contest and an emotional appeal. When education communicates through television, it teaches this generation that fun things are the only things worthy to learn.

When we look at the mega church movement, the trend of contemporary Christian music and children programs like Awana, we see how deep entertainment mentality has penetrated through television into every aspect of Christian ministry. We must be alert and not allow the entertainment mentality creeping into our ministry, otherwise our ministry will be another victim of television.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Culture, Television

J.I. Packer – Technology, Reading, and Biblical Ignorance

I picked this up from a site called The Scholar’s Corner.  I italicized some of Mr. Packer’s comments below :

An Interview With J.I. Packer

Last November the executive officers of SC had the distinguished opportunity for a private interview with the well known lecturer and author, Dr. J.I. Packer. Rev Packer was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1926, educated at Oxford University (degrees in classics and theology; D.Phil. 1954) and ordained in the Church of England. He has held numerous teaching positions and has preached and lectured widely in Great Britain, America and Canada. He is well known by his writings, among which are: Knowing God, 1973; God’s Words, 1982; Hot Tub Religion, 1987; and Rediscovering Holiness, 1992. He is a Senior Editor and Visiting Scholar of Christianity Today and is currently working on a number of books.

SC: As you can see, Dr. Packer, we are concerned about the crisis of Biblical illiteracy in the Church and society today. How would you estimate, or evaluate this condition? Do you see a problem?

Packer: I certainly think there is a problem. In our churches there is little emphasis on the importance of getting to know your Bible. Whatever else people do in between church services, they don’t “soak” themselves in the Bible in order to get to know it well. I think it gets worse year by year; that is people are reading the Bible less and less as each year passes.

SC:. Where would you put the blame for this problem? Is it in the ministry, the seminaries, the congregation?

Packer: I hesitate to allocate the blame specifically on one group alone. But I would start by saying Christian parents simply haven’t stressed to their children the importance of the Bible being their favorite book. That’s where it starts.

Then, in the churches I’d blame pastors who are not stressing the fact that if you are to be a Christian, you should, as I like to say, have the Bible ‘running out of your ears’. Most people only read a certain number of verses for some devotional thoughts, not to know what the book is actually saying.

And then I’d blame modern culture which aggressively distracts the people from becoming really literate in anything, not just the Bible. It is partly due to modern life being filled with so many things, you know, but also the attitude that you can get by in this world with only a smattering of knowledge about anything. As Christians, we are to be different than the world around us. In particular, we are to attain a fuller knowledge of the Word of God, whereas the world around us hasn’t got a fuller knowledge of anything.

SC: It is not difficult for us to diagnose the real problem of Biblical illiteracy in our modern culture. Do you have any recommendations as prescriptions for a cure?

Packer: The idea of a fuller knowledge simply doesn’t register in the minds of a majority of believers. Comprehensive Bible study is difficult to start today. It draws a negative reaction. Yet, it is so very important that all of the books of Scripture, particularly all of the books of New Testament, are meant to be read as units.

The epistles of Paul, for instance, are actual letters written personally to fellow believers about genuine concerns of welfare and spiritual growth. Letters (consider your letters to your friends) are not written simply for someone to pick out single sentences. They are written to be read as units. So let’s see what it is like to read a New Testament letter as a unit.

While I was a student I heard it said that repeated reading of the same scripture is a wonderful way to grasp the real meaning of its content. So, one Sunday, I read Hebrews ten times. Well, Hebrews remains one of the richest books of Scripture to me. The insight that I caught of the sense of the whole truth of the glory of the priesthood of Christ became wonderfully vivid. That wasn’t simply the result of a discipline; that was the Holy Spirit blessing the Word.

Now if I was a pastor, perhaps I would offer my people an experiment. We would spend the first week with a covenant that we would, all of us, read the book ten times. Then come together and ask them to tell what the repeated reading has done for them. I believe a strong interest in all the scriptures would arise out of the impact of such a reading.

SC: We are working hard to present Biblical studies using the latest high-tech tools for Distance Learning. Do you consider the “Information Superhighway” a valuable method of increasing Biblical literacy?

Packer: Well it could be, if people are motivated to use it. The basic problem is motivating people that don’t read much to read more, and motivating people that don’t read at all to start reading. See, I’m a historical theologian. I know very well that in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries there were more people who wanted to learn to read than there were people to teach them. Neither do you have a problem with wanting to read in primitive tribal situations; they beg visiting moderns to teach them to read.

You have enormous problems nowadays with illiteracy in the modern world because so much is done for us by our technology. People find that life is easier, that they can get along without the “sweat” of reading, and so they choose instead to watch the television, read the cartoons. You don’t have to read, except to fill out a form.

The first thing you must do is convince people that it is a wonderful thing to read. Competing with the MTV generation is difficult, if not impossible. Somehow you must make people aware of the benefit of reading, the excitement of reading, the fun of reading — strike whatever note is going to motivate them. Start there.

2 Comments

Filed under Culture, Scripture, Television, Worship