Purifying the Mind

Our federal government is fond of putting mandated warning labels on a host of products that we use.  We see warning labels on tobacco, alcohol, music, medication, cars, and anything the government deems dangerous.  Yet, curiously enough the government has not placed a warning label on one thing that is quite possibly one of the most dangerous inventions to date, our televisions.  Why do we need to put warning labels on our televisions?  Isn’t the television simply another mode of communicating information?  Are there not a cornucopia of beneficial uses for television like news reporting, educational programs, family entertainment, and of course religious broadcasting?  Let’s take these questions and answer them one at a time.  By the end of this article, we will see why we need warning labels on our televisions.  Let’s look at the first question.

Isn’t television simply another mode of communicating information?  The answer to this question isn’t as simple as it might seem.  Yes, television communicates information, but no, television cannot effectively communicate anything of any serious substance.  Stated in other words, television is not a source of good information but it is a source of entertainment.  Neil Postman observes in his book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, that the picture-heavy nature of television is easily quantifiable.  Postman notes that the picture on a television changes on an average of once every 4.5 seconds.  In addition to this, the average middle-aged adult has seen over one million commercials.  This means that the average person has seen as many as 13 million different commercial images by the time they reach forty.  Now, here is the test, How much out of these 1 million commercials and 13 million images can a person remember?  Chances are, little to nothing.  So the answer to our first question is: No, television is not simply another mode of communicating information.  Let’s turn to our second question.

Are there not a cornucopia of beneficial uses for television like news reporting, educational programs, family entertainment, and of course religious broadcasting?  The answer to this question is also, No.  Because television is so visually based, it is not useful for communicating important information.  Postman uses the example of a news broadcast to make this point.  Think about your average news program.  Do you ever wonder why they play music?  What does music have to do with reporting the news?  Think about the format of a news broadcast.  Many news shows boast they can take us around the world in minutes.  Do we seriously think the information we will receive in a mere eleven minutes does serious justice to wars, deaths, disasters, politics, local events?  Think about the disconnected nature of the news; one minute the reporter will take us to an air disaster where hundreds have died and the next moment we watch a commercial for Burger King.  Postman argues that what we end up with the propagation of shallow and disconnected information.  Postman writes: “I should go so far as to say that embedded in the surrealistic frame of a television news show is a theory of anti-communication, featuring a type of discourse that abandons logic, reason, sequence and rules of contradiction.  In aesthetics, I believe the name given to this theory is Dadaism; in philosophy, nihilism; in psychiatry, schizophrenia.  In the parlance of the theater, it is known as vaudeville” (p. 105).  Postman’s point is quite clear, television is form of entertainment, not a medium for serious information.  To illustrate this point further, imagine the following scenario, What is a preacher to do if he needs to preach beyond his allotted broadcast time slot?  He has no choice, the network will simply move on, the Spirit will be quenched for the television audience, and the next commercial will come on.  A person could be in the throes confessing his lust and the next moment watching a commercial for Hooters Bar n Grill.

As we can imagine, there are a host of implications of the effects of television upon the church.  Think about the effects upon our children who might spend countless hours before the television.  With close to a thousand images per hour flashing before their eyes, what is this doing to their attention span?  We are training our children to focus on something for only 4.5 seconds and then to expect something new.  Plus, we condition a child’s attention span to last ten minutes, the time between commercials.  Now, take this child into the classroom, the Sunday School class, or the worship service.  Is it any wonder that their attention span is nil and they can’t sit still for more than ten minutes at a time?  Could ADD simply be the product of countless hours of television?  What about adults?  The effects of television are not simply harmful to children alone, adults can suffer the same harmful effects.  How many homes do you enter and find a sizable library?  We might find a library but we will, without a doubt, find a television.  Television has largely displaced books.

All of these facts can have a damaging effect upon the Church, especially our covenant children.  We should think, when picto-graphic forms of communication abounded in the ancient world, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, why did God give His people a book?  Moreover, not only did God give His people a book, but He also prohibited them from making any visual images of Him.  So what does this mean?  Should we burn our televisions in the church parking lot in protest?  No.  We should, however, recognize what television is: a medium of entertainment.  Postman goes farther and says it is a medium of “junk-entertainment.”  It is not a medium for communicating information of any importance.  Moreover, we should, as with all things, watch television in moderation.  Just as drinking too much alcohol can bad for your health, so can watching too much television be disastrous to our spiritual health.  Lastly, let’s ask ourselves, How much television have I watched and how much study of Scripture have I done?  This should challenge us, as people of the Book, to turn off the television, pick up our Bibles, and read the Word.  We can read the Word to our children and instill it in them.  We can purify and honor God with our minds instead of mindlessly vegetating in front of the television.  So, though the government has not put a warning label on our televisions, perhaps we should: Warning!  Watching too much television can be hazardous to your spiritual health!