I can remember the time when to say that immorality was running rampant on television immediately labeled you as a narrow-minded Fundamentalist. But that is no longer the case. A broad coalition of people are expressing concern about what we are being exposed to on television today.
I’ve spent the last week paying closer attention, and I want to use this post to join with those who are troubled. For starters, many of the programs are a barrage of violence and murder. Even when the “good guys win,” you have to first wade through stark images of vulgarity and destruction. Screens “run red with blood” and speakers are “blue with profanity” hour after hour.
Within some of those programs, but also separate from them, is an ignoring of moral values—especially celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage. Characters practice promiscuity without even blinking an eye. And all of this is almost entirely without any reference to religion as needing to have any “say” in the shaping of culture. In fact, some religious people are caricatured as weird, perhaps even demented.
Add to that the bombardment we receive from advertisements, which are designed to promote and perpetuate conspicuous consumption, and you are left with about 58 minutes out of every hour that are a contradiction of most of the beliefs and values we hold dear as Christians. Yet, we watch with an alleged belief that “it’s just entertainment.”
But media has never been fully defined as mere entertainment. It has always been viewed as a reflection of the world, as well as shaper of it. In John Wesley’s day, the theater was a reflection of 18th-century English life, in many ways similar to television’s being a reflection of 21st-century life in The United States and elsewhere.
From a spiritual formation standpoint, we must ask why this reality is not discussed as a matter of priority by denominational and parachurch leaders. From a purely institutional standpoint, the church will suffer serious decline in numbers and societal influence as more and more actors on television reflect the views and values of the world at large. If the world were to decide not to eat oranges or drink orange juice, wouldn’t the citrus industry convene some major colloquies to explore this phenomenon and try to overcome it?
I scour the printed and online sites of church-related organizations and leaders, but I almost never see any events that take seriously the fact that “we could be going out of business.” Almost none of the actors on television go to church, read their Bible, pray, or otherwise practice a faith even roughly akin to Christianity—and many of them do not do so in their real life either. If they reflect the world at large, both on screen and off, shouldn’t we be more concerned about this than we appear to be?
But even apart from institutional Christianity, spiritual formation demands that we “see and speak up” regarding the deformative dynamics of television. If we believe that the Christian faith is an authentic way to live, then we cannot watch television passively as it undermines both the religion of Christianity and the ensuing values Christianity seeks to promote in the world.
We are living in “TV World.” This is not good news.