Corroding Our Characters

A few years ago on Easter Sunday, I met a prisoner on death row in Mississippi. He had become a Christian and was hard at work studying theology in his cell. We had a wonderful conversation. But as we talked, I noticed that he -- unlike the other inmates -- didn't have a TV in his cell. I asked him if he'd let me buy him one as a gift. "Oh no, sir," he said. "Thank you. You can waste a lot of time with those things." On death row, in a cell twenty-four hours a day, and he was worried about wasting time? That prisoner had learned something many of us never figure out: Too much television keeps us from focusing on higher things. In his book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Ken Myers writes of the serious challenge for Christian of living with popular culture. It's serious, Ken Myers argues, because popular culture can cause a gradual erosion of character that many Christians don't even recognize. "What do you mean, we don't recognize it?" you may ask. "Any Christian can tell you that the level of TV sex and violence keeps growing." True enough, Myers answers, but there's more than content to worry about. There's form. The form of popular culture shapes the way we respond regardless of the message. Consider the music and art of high culture. A classical poem or symphony has a complex structure that takes effort to understand challenges the mind. We have to work to appreciate them. TV rarely requires intellectual discipline. It's easy to understand and offers immediate gratification. If anything, TV avoids making the audience work. Instead it grabs our attention with laugh tracks, loud music, and special effects designed to appeal only to sense and emotion. Over time, this affects us. By focusing on immediate experience, television discourages sustained reflection, and by angling for an emotional response, it discourages the use of our minds to analyze what we see and hear. Now there's no harm in clean television programs, per se, but there's great harm in making it a steady diet. Too much TV ruins our appetite for higher things. This is the principle Paul lays down in 1Corinthians 10: Everything is permissible, he says, but not everything is beneficial. As both the death row prisoner and Ken Myers noted, constant consumption of television encourages simplistic, emotional responses to life instead of disciplined thought and analysis. Well, next week is national TV Turnoff Week. Americans are invited to unplug the tube and help their little couch potatoes find better things to do. To redeem the twenty-eight hours a week an average American spends watching television holds all sorts of possibilities. Let me challenge you to figure out how much time your family spends watching TV every week and then join the 25 million Americans who will be turning off the tube for at least a week. Spend the time you save helping your kids develop a taste for other activities. Read, listen to classical music, visit an art museum, develop a hobby. These things will help your kids to stop wasting time and learn to love the things that feed their minds and souls instead. I predict you'll enjoy life without TV a lot more than you think.   For further reading and information: Learn more about "Turn Off TV Week," April 22-28, by visiting Adbusters and TV Turnoff Network. Ken Myers, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Good News Publishers, 1989). "Cruel and unusual punishment," editorial, The Cincinnati Post, 8 March 2002. The mission of the Parents Television Council is to bring America's demand for positive, family-oriented television programming to the entertainment industry.


Chuck Colson


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