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Television Addiction 

There appears a review of a new book in The Christian News which may also be of interest and concern to us. The book, Telegarbage, written by Gregg Lewis, published by Thomas Nelson, Inc., $2.95, presents some serious objections to television programs presented today. In the review of the book, some sobering thoughts are presented. Perhaps we do well to consider these—and also the question whether we also are failing in our responsibilities to remain properly separate from this world.

“If this book does nothing else but make the Christian more aware of what his children are viewing on television and what he himself is viewing—the ugly, sordid, denigrating garbage—then a big step has been taken in the right direction.” 

Author Lewis takes that one step with timely certainty, cataloging example after example of how television is running—and in some ways ruining—our lives. In the average American home the tube blares for more than six hours a day. Teenagers log 15,000 slack-jawed, eyeball-searing hours in front of the set by the time they graduate from high school—3,000 more hours then they spend in the classroom. Engineers design city water supply systems to allow for pressure drops caused by toilet-flushing during commercials. 

Of course, far worse things result from too much viewing. Violence is so prevalent that, at best, we become insensitive to it and, at worst, we imitate criminal behavior. One maximum security inmate claims that TV actually teaches prisoners how to steal cars, rob stores and roll drunks. Network programmers insist that violence is true to life and that, anyway, that’s what audiences crave; therefore, little or no attempt is made to delete the blood and death. 

Sex plays a more explicit television role than ever before. In the long ago of the fifties, married partners slept in separate beds and wore pajamas. In the heated seventies, Mary Hartman grapples with the problems of impotence, venereal disease, and open marriage. 

Lewis seeks to jolt apathetic Christian viewers with the realization that networks produce shows for the sole purpose of selling advertising time. Copywriters push the gospel of materialism: the more you have, the happier you’ll be, which is contrary to the Christian philosophy. 

Even though many viewers insist they can’t remember who sponsored a program they watched 15 minutes ago, nevertheless a thought, a sentence, or a word has been subtly planted in the subconscious mind, i.e. “Have it your way,” “Things go better with Coke,” “Grab all the gusto you can get.” The J. Walter Thompson Company, one of the country’s largest advertising agencies, predicts that future TV spots will be a rapid-fire three seconds long—possible because home audiences are being conditioned to accept images at a faster and faster rate.

The reviewer continues by reminding of the recommendation of the author to join protest groups and write many letters to sponsors and networks or their stations. Perhaps some of this is effective. But for us, Christians by profession and presumably by walk, there ought to be a careful review of our own position toward television and its viewing. That the invention is not itself wrong has been repeated correctly many times. But what is it doing to our homes? Let each family list the number of hours that TV is viewed during one week by each member of the family. How many hours are spent there by children who are too “busy” to finish catechism lessons or school work? How much time is spent there by parents who are too “busy” to attend societies? How much time is spent watching TV on Sunday—God’s day of rest? What is being watched? Do we condone certain violent programs—because it is simply a report of “police files”? Do we condone swearing, sex, stealing—because this is “realism”—and we can read the same things in books? Are we growing hardened and insensitive to sin because of its constant portrayal on TV? And do we wonder why our children oftentimes do things and say things which shock us? Or, why is there such a growing emphasis on materialism in our own lives? The book, which I have not yet obtained, is surely very accurate at least in its title: Telegarbage. 

Children’s “Rights” 

Much has been made in recent years of one’s “rights.” An editorial in the Presbyterian Journal of Nov. 2, 1977 warns how far this has already gone in our country with respect to the control of government over our children.

Over a long period of time and in almost imperceptible stages, the trend in modern thinking has turned away from the traditional view that parents have some sort of inalienable right to the last word in the discipline, control, nurture and education of their children. 

Parental control over the education of their children disappeared long ago. Today the state not only tells parents how much education their children must have and what kind of education it must be, the state has even begun to tell parents where their children must be educated. 

Private schools continue acceptable in the eyes of the state—but only if they meet increasingly rigid specifications. Never mind that a child in public school may very well graduate uneducated, if not actually illiterate; parents who try to set educational standards of their own based on religion or other conviction can count on. running afoul of the law in almost every state in the U.S. 

Where a child’s “rights” seem threatened by parental policy or discipline, the state today brusquely intervenes. A 16-year-old girl may have an abortion, according to various court decisions, without her parents’ consent or even their knowledge. 

Nor may parents any longer instill their own religious values into their children beyond a certain age. In North Carolina recently, a court told the parents of a 16-year-old girl that she could select her own friends, and choose her own religion and church over their objections. The court also ruled that the girl should be free to participate in school activities of her choice, including school parties, dances and clubs. 

The fact that the girl’s parents are strict Jehovah’s Witnesses does not alter the importance of the alarming doctrine laid down by the court: Family wishes do not matter if, in the eyes of the state, those wishes impinge upon a minor child’s “freedom.” 

We readily recognize that some parents are unfit, others incompetent. Laws against child abuse, child neglect and child labor belong on the books and should be enforced. 

The trouble is that—as in the case of other areas where the border lines are painted in grey rather than black and white—when government gets a toe in the door, the time comes as certainly as night follows day that government will shoulder its full way into the house and take over, if it can. . . .

Physical Education 

An editor in the Reformed Journal, R. Dirk Jellema, expresses a concern about high school athletics which contains much for serious thought.

In the park down the street the boys (sexual freedom hasn’t gravitated to this level yet) from the local Christian Middle School are playing soccer in the dwindling afternoon. Their vigor and enthusiasm and sincerity are beautiful to watch. Like their coach they are patient and encouraging in their attitudes. 

Those waiting along the sidelines are talking about the team and about soccer. Tomorrow, they say, the coach will put a list on the board naming the ones who will report to Dr. Vander X’s office the following day for physical examinations. Those whose names are not on the list will have been informed, after reading the list twice, that they have been cut from the team.

The team will practice for nearly two hours every night after school, except for catechism on Wednesday, and play perhaps a game each week. Those who do not make the team will play an intramural game once each week, during noon-hour, and many will turn up to cheer their team at its games. 

Although the sport of soccer is new in Christian junior high schools, other things haven’t changed much in the past thirty or forty years. You can’t have forty-five kids on a soccer team, or basketball team, if you want to keep your budget down, if you want to play competitively with Zeeland or Hamilton or whoever.

Something bothers me about this, the system of interschool sports that I approved, even wallowed in when I went through it. I don’t like it. I suppose somewhere there’s a physical educator whose goal is to provide the maximum amount of exercise, training, coordination, team play, and education for the maximum number of kids. A physical educator who believes in physical education, believes in it enough to resist the formidable pressures of parents and students and board members and alumni to field a team. But he’s not here. 

This coach will follow precedent. Kids will be cut from the team, and they will take their cuts with more equanimity than I could have mustered at their age, or even now. And they won’t know why. They’ll assume they weren’t good enough, but whether it’s their competitive spirit that’s lacking, or their speed, or muscle, or dexterity, they just won’t know. It’s as though their teachers would give them failures in their homework but never mark wrong answers, never inform them of their weaknesses in math or history or science. 

I believe in physical education, support it as necessary to the formation of the whole man. And it j strikes me as ridiculous if not sinful to take the best-educated eighth-graders and give them eight or ten hours each week of advanced physical education, while those who need the education worse and worst are limited to a lunch-hour’s worth of intramurals. 

It’s as though a teacher of English composition would tell his forty-five students that only twenty of them are good enough to work with, that the other twenty-five, being less talented, will have to get their education on their own, during lunch hour on Friday. I want to think that physical education is as important to a school’s curriculum as composition, and if that’s true it follows that as composition teachers spend more time helping weaker students, so should physical education teachers. . . .