Mrs. Lubbers is a wife and mother in the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
A good sturdy outside door on our house is important. Because of the increasingly high incidence of burglary in our society, this door functions more as a barricade than an entranceway. The door is usually solid steel; the window, if any, very high so no thug can break the glass and easily unlock the door. Often it features a dead bolt. No easy access with a credit card here. Many doors also have a peephole to ensure that all who enter are friend or family. The alarm system wired to this door is intricate and sensitive because the foe outside is real and deadly. The havoc he wreaks is frightening. We are determined he will not cross our threshold.
Does our door also have a splash of blood on the doorpost? Has the husband/father of our home, in the interest of his family’s welfare, taken hyssop, dipped it in blood, and painted the lintel and two side posts with blood (Ex. 12:22)? Has he indicated hereby that Christ is inside this home and Egypt is outside?
Are we certain that the enemy whom we wish to thwart is outside our home? Or, has Egypt already tracked his filthy feet into our home? Has Egypt even now made himself at ease in our family room? Is it possible that the enemy within our home is more deadly than the enemy without? “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
Way back in the 1930s two authors gave us a dark vision of our future society. Their visions were totally opposite, but similarly hopeless. I remember how the first book, 1984, by George Orwell, frightened me. Orwell predicted a culture under the supervising eye of Big Brother. He envisioned a society held in check by authoritarian repression. Torture, terror, and brain-washing would characterize this period until its members would be psychologically manipulated, their minds controlled by the Party. In this completely bureaucratic society, man would merely be a number (I had just gotten my social security number), never an individual. Of course, it would be necessary to ban the books; knowledge to a freedom-loving people is heady stuff.
I read Orwell’s book in my late teens, and its message seemed all too possible. Russia, the Giant Bear, was pawing its way to the forefront as a political power, threatening the destruction of the Western nations by thermonuclear weapons. At least during one hour in that history, America had stood nose to nose with this ferocious bear. In describing the mind-manipulating which Big Brother would impose, Orwell coined the word “doublethink.” “Double-think means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” (1984, p. 176). Hence, a person no longer has any awareness of the difference between truth and falsehood. Here is a world of the graying of all terms, the fogging of all ethics, morals, and judgments.
Scary reading. But, except for that doublethink, one need not have worried.
Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World, was far more subtle and difficult to understand. It was not nearly as frightening because the book seemed much too farfetched. I read it quickly, and dismissed it summarily. Huxley depicted a culture whose technologies undid its capacity to think and make judgments. In Huxley’s society its members are subjected to mind-altering drugs, subliminal propaganda, and sub-conscious persuasion to control the mind and behavior. In this world, all standards of morality are forgotten. Pleasure reigns supreme. Truth is irrelevant. Ban the books? In Huxley’s society there would be no need for this drastic measure; man would willingly give himself over to mindless pursuits.
I should have been more concerned, but we didn’t even own a television at the time. Nor did most of our family or friends.
For those of you who are interested enough to read and weigh the following quotes, I encourage you, wherever possible, to form groups to discuss and react to the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman, 1985. In this important book, Postman convincingly shows that television is the archenemy of higher order thinking, public discourse, family communication, and moral uprightness. It is pure show business, from switch on to switch off. Television is the fulfillment of Huxley’s envisioned society — drowning oneself in pleasure and entertainment, becoming a culture of inconsequential claptrap. Graphics and fleeting images have usurped the time-honored activity of reading. Postman irrefutably proves that almost every program seen on television from political debates, to church services, to commercials, to news broadcasts, is pure entertainment.
Or, is entertainment the Reformed Christian’s inalienable right?
“Twenty years ago, the question, Does television shape culture or merely reflect it? held considerable interest for many scholars and social critics. The question has largely disappeared as television has gradually become our culture….This, in turn, means that its epistemology goes largely unnoticed. And the peek-a-boo world it has constructed around us no longer seems even strange”
“There is no more disturbing consequence of the electronic and graphic revolution than this: that the world as given to us through television seems natural, not bizarre” (p.79).
“…television’s way of knowing is uncompromisingly hostile to typography’s way of knowing; that television’s conversations promote incoherence and triviality; that the phrase ‘serious television’ is a contradiction in terms; and that television speaks in only one persistent voice — the voice of entertainment” (p. 80).
“The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining …” (p. 87).
“No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to ‘join them tomorrow.’ What for? One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights. We accept the newscasters’ invitation because we know that the news is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say” (p. 87).
“Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore — and this is the critical point — how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails…. Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials. For the message of television as metaphor is not only that all the world is a stage but that the stage is located in Las Vegas, Nevada” (p.93).
“And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?” (p. 107-108).
“Television is, after all, a form of graven imagery far more alluring than a golden calf” (p. 123).
“Television’s strongest point is that it brings personalities into our hearts, not abstractions into our heads. That is why CBS’ programs about the universe were called “Walter Cronkite’s Universe.” One would think that the grandeur of the universe needs no assistance from Walter Cronkite. One would think wrong. CBS knows that Walter Cronkite plays better on television than the Milky Way. And Jimmy Swaggart plays better than God. For God exists only in our minds, whereas Swaggart is there, to be seen, admired, adored. Which is why he is the star of the show. And why Billy Graham is a celebrity, and why Oral Roberts has his own university, and why Robert Schuller has a crystal cathedral all to himself. If I am not mistaken, the word for this is blasphemy” (p. 123).
As Reformed Christians we have said nothing yet about the problem of drama. Or, isn’t drama a problem with us anymore? Are the apostle Paul’s words no longer relevant? “That they all might be damned who … had pleasure in unrighteousness” (II Thes. 2:12). Or, his indicting words to the Romans: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Rom. 1:32).
People whom one wouldn’t allow to step over one’s door sill are already comfortably ensconced in the family room, saving us the uncomfortable decision of refusing them entrance. The village slut, the whoremonger, the adulterer, the homosexual (“let it not be once named among you …” Eph. 5:3) trumpets his iniquity; the violent man, the Sabbath desecrator, the Christ blasphemer, the dishonorer of father, mother, teacher, and every other authority named under heaven exalts his sin; the covetous man boasts of his cupidity; the silly, inane cartoon mesmerizes the toddlers with mindless blather; the commercial celebrating “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” — but not yet, the ad promoting this or that godless life-style, causes even the boldest among us to avert our eyes.
Is there no ruddy young lad in the land who will cry out to this Goliath: “This day I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (I Sam. 17:46)?
“Amusing Ourselves to Death.”
Will this be inscribed on our doorpost?