On various occasions and in different ways, I and others have had the opportunity to say somewhat concerning television. Bear with me in that I am constrained to do this once more.
The occasion for this article is two-fold. First, I am reminded of the fact that Scripture speaks of Christ as the Light of the world. He comes from the Father and gives witness to His people. He reveals the Father to us. He does so through His Word and directly while here on this earth. His people could see and hear of the wonder-work of our God. But over against Him, there is the world with its devilish imitation of revelation. The world seeks to produce a substitute “light” or “revelation” which will the rather please man. Certainly his modern inventions, and especially television, become the means whereby the man of this world seeks to influence and direct the course of history. It is the “eye” through which the observer can behold the world. Through this “eye” may be seen many amazing things: events which are taking place the very moment one beholds in his home. Through this “eye” one can behold frightful things: the corruptions of the world about us. But this must be noticed: there is here the “light” which the world uses to make an impression upon all who see.
Secondly, I have read recently again a number of articles which call attention to the awful content of television programming and its effect upon the viewer. Though some of these articles are written from a Christian perspective, many are written by those who do not care about the Word of God. Yet these latter recognize great dangers which result from the programming of television today. If the world itself is concerned, then what ought our position to be who have infinitely higher standards?
Our churches have consistently, to the present date, condemned movie attendance. We have pointed out that such attendance is inconsistent and incompatible with church membership. We are opposed not to movies themselves, but particularly the dramatization presented on the screen. In some cases, members have been disciplined because of their unrepented sin of movie attendance. Upon the young people especially we try to impress the wrongness of attendance of these movies.
But these same young people come up with an objection which is difficult to refute: if movie attendance is wrong, how can so many of our people watch essentially the same thing on television? Mothers become addicts to the soap-box sagas each week-day afternoon. Families are glued to the TV in the evening to see there one story after another. Sometimes it is argued that one watches only the “true” stories, but one watches nevertheless. Young people, and especially evening baby-sitters, watch the late movies on television. Plus, of course, there are the many other presentations on television designed to arouse greed and envy. And young people want to know: what kind of hypocrisy is this which condemns theatre attendance but allows all sorts of television viewing?
And we must be honest. Anyone who can and does watch the dramatizations on television has lost the right to condemn others who attend the theatre.
But what must be said of the dramatizations of television (and, of course, the movie as well)? It is of interest that television programming has not only come under the scrutiny of many intelligent people of the world, but much of it has even been condemned by them.
An article which many of you may have read, appeared in the July issue of the Reader’s Digest, entitled, “WhatYou Can Do About TV Violence”. The thrust of the first part of this article is to suggest that the violence presented on TV is oftentimes imitated by unstable people. Instances of this are presented. Details of TV murders were copied by others. The article states positively and emphatically: “The evidence is overwhelming that televised violence inspires imitation.” And again: “Dozens of studies by behavioral scientists reiterate the harmful effects of television violence. In March 1972, the Surgeon General reviewed findings of a panel of social scientists and declared: ‘The casual relationship between televised violence and antisocial behavior is sufficient to warrant immediate and remedial action.'”
This article points out further the great amount of violence portrayed on TV:
Television, as we have allowed it to develop, constitutes a massive stream of violence pumped daily into our homes. Approximately 97 percent of U.S. households have television sets, and the average receiver is on six hours and 14 minutes daily. Every day, television reaches an estimated three fourths of our 60 million youngsters.
For eight years, the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communications has charted the violence broadcast by the three networks. Defining violence as “overt physical force intended to hurt or kill,” they find that it prevails steadily in four out of every five hours of evening prime time and weekend morning drama. In the average hour, eight violent episodes occur. Moreover, the Annenberg researchers found that heavy viewers of television (more than four hours daily) develop an unreal view of the world. They significantly overestimate the frequency of violent crimes and also the likelihood of their being involved in violence . . . .
Take a look at what happened last February 10, 9 p.m. when ABC aired a two-hour fictionalized dramatization of the 1892 trial of Lizzie Borden, accused of the ax murder of her father and stepmother. The final half-hour portrayed incest, necrophilia, murder and nudity. At 10:30 p.m., according to a Nielsen survey, the audience included 3.3 million 12-to-17 year olds and 1.7 million 6-to-11 year olds.
The above evaluation ought to be both of interest and concern to us. The point of the article was to show the possibility of “cleaning up” television. I think it very questionable whether any degree of such a “clean-up” is possible. But what is of special interest, I think, is the emphasis by worldly authorities that “televised violence inspires imitation.” This statement could also read: “Television inspires imitation.” The imitation ofviolence is of concern to the world. The world does not want people running around pouring gasoline upon others and making bonfires of them—as the article relates. The article was not concerned with other kinds of imitations—but we ought to be. We have an “antidote” to the violence and wickedness portrayed on TV: the law of God. The child of God is aware of the evils of that portrayed—even while he watches those same evils. He knows that this law of God forbids others, and himself, the right to violate any law of God.
Yet this fact of imitation remains. The big “Eye” brings us directly into the world. It has become a powerful tool of the devil. Though one cannot condemn the invention itself, yet one can see how Satan has used this instrument in the service of sin.
But there is the whole matter of imitation. If the devil can persuade us to imitate the world, little by little we will look like that world. There is not only the question of imitating violence. There is the possibility of imitating the morality presented on TV. The “morality” of man has increasingly been in violation of the law of God. Divorce and remarriage, triangle situations, homosexuality, nudity—all these and more are presented as almost acceptable. The world has come to accept many of these as “normal.” The churches have, increasingly, done likewise (consider the present-day stands on remarriage, homosexuality, etc.). Whether we admit it or not, we also have been greatly influenced by this “morality” too. We are not greatly shocked anymore at the suggestion of divorce and remarriage. We have also imitated styles of dress adopted by the world to emphasize the sexual. Ask yourself: How much have you not already imitated the morality of the world?
There is the real danger of imitating the world’s attitudes toward God and His Name. Swearing is commonplace on TV. No one pays much attention to that anymore. Some of us even commonly use certain of the expressions we repeatedly hear on TV. The mockery of the idea of God is also commonplace in the world. We, all too easily, can imitate this evil attitude toward God and His Name.
Or one can imitate the materialism of the world. One’s attention is directed constantly (especially on TV) to those things which are earthly. One is repeatedly told why he ought to have this or that product. A person can hardly help but recognize within himself this inclination to imitate this, which the world advocates.
And children are the biggest imitators of all. These who grow up with television as their “baby-sitter,” can be expected to imitate everything they see. If the world gives so much instruction to children within the church, how else will these grow up but as worldly and filled with all manner of lust?
Yes, television inspires imitation. We have been already greatly affected by this inciter of imitation. Satan has gained easy access into many homes. Even if some succeed in removing the violence from television, all of the other sins of the world will still be presented there for imitation.
For the Christian, it is a time for spiritual evaluation. Face the fact: we can never “clean up” television so as to make its programming all acceptable to children of God.
We may make use of this instrument—which is not itself a sinful thing. But there must be the constant and deliberate turning away from the corruptions which are presented there. Let’s not be hypocritical—condemning something because it appears in the theatre but allowing it in bur living rooms.
There is to be no fellowship between light and darkness. Christ and Belial can not join hands. The Christian may not find his pleasure in the world. And surely there is not a place in the life of the Christian to imitate the world about him. We are in the world but not of it. We are to be imitators of God—not imitators of this world.
We are to be spiritual. One who seeks the Light of the world, can not find pleasure in the “light” of this world. For the Christian, the more he turns his eye from that “Eye” into the world, the more he also will seek that which is heavenly. Be not deceived by the devil. Beware his clever attacks against the child of God. And hold fast to the Word, looking to that which is eternal. God grant that to us.