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What Your Television Says About You

May 3, 2008

At the founding of our nation, if someone had told America’s forefathers that in the future, a significant part of an American’s day would be spent staring at a box in the living room, I feel fairly certain that he would have been dismissed out of hand.  Somehow, it is hard to imagine that men like Franklin, Madison, Adams, or Washington would have the ability to fathom such a cultural phenomenon.  Let alone imagine the possibility of it.

And no, I am not simply referring to the invention of miniature projectors of animated images.  Certainly, there are many inventions of the modern era (e.g., automobiles, telephones, i-pods, and tennis shoes) that would have baffled them.  I am referring, not to the invention, but to the activity of television viewing.  Considering the amount of time spent on this activity, we would have had one confounded Founding Father.Â

Yet here we are, right smack-dab at the start of the Twenty-first century, where Television has replaced baseball as America’s favorite pastime.  To borrow a line from Neal Postman’s delightful little book, we twenty-first century Americans are consumed with amusing ourselves to death.Â

One might say that this new pastime of ours has had an impact on our culture.  That would be irrefutable.  And yet, one gets the vague feeling that such a statement somehow gets off the train a few stops short of reality.  Television has had more than a mere impact on culture.  Television has become our culture.  Other cultures were farming cultures, were reading cultures, were fighting cultures.  We are a television-watching culture.  They planted, they debated, they worked.  We watch television.  Television defines us.  It defines our culture.  It defines our nation.  To the rest of the world, America is the place where they make TV shows.Â

At another time, we will discuss what television says about our culture.  For right now though, we want to make it a bit more personal.  After all, talking about them is easy.  We need to talk about you for right now.  What does your television say about you?

No doubt some will immediately pop up with the old stand-by: we shouldn’t have a television to begin with.  This pastor finds little to disagree with that approach to television.  Before my wife and I married, we decided that we would not own a television.  We had several reasons for this, but ultimately we felt that our children and our household would be better off without one.  However, in American culture, television is inescapable.  Not having a television says something about you… we’ll get to that in a minute.  But we do not escape television by not having one.  Our family does not own a television, but my children have seen plenty of television.  Right now, we are enjoying the Utah/Houston playoff series.  Both my boys are becoming true-blue fans of the Utah Jazz, especially as they advance in the playoffs (we’ll see how that goes).  Their father has followed the Washington Redskins since boyhood.  So, when we get the chance, we will take the time to watch the Redskins play (or not) on TV.  When we visit in other homes, or in the nursing home, or go to a store, we can’t help but notice the televisions.  The fact is that whenever our children see a television, they are glued.Â

I say all of that simply to point out that we cannot escape television by not having one.  In fact, if we don’t have a television, we have an even greater task ahead of us in preparing our children to face a TV culture.  Ignoring television in no way prepares us to confront our culture, and I for one do not think that this is a viable option for the Christian home.

So, what does your television say about you?  First, we should again note that having an empty spot where the television belongs still says something about you.  As one who in fact has this empty spot in the TV place, I (of course) want people to think that not having a television says that you are holy, that you care about the things of God, that you value other things (like reading, family time, etc.).  Of course, I want that to be the statement, because I want to be all of those things, and I want you to think all those things about me.Â

But the truth is that the absence of a TV has no better chance of making you holy than the presence of a Bible does.  Shocking as it is, people can still sin while carrying a Bible.  And I have observed that people still sin even when they don’t own a television.  My wife, of course, more so than myself.

Not owning a television can mean that you have other goals for your family.  It can mean that you are exercising diligent stewardship and faithful headship in your home.  It can also mean that you are taking the easy way out, that you prefer to avoid any sort of faithful stewardship and diligent teaching in your home.  So, you take the easy way out — say “it’s bad,” and go on.  This is not meant as a reflection on anyone who does not have a TV, or who says that we should not have a TV.  But the reader must answer the question honestly before the Lord.  “By not having a TV, am I trying to teach my children diligently, or am I trying to escape my parental responsibility?”  You see, the fact that you don’t have a television certainly gives the appearance of godliness.  But this appearance can be even more dangerous to your family than the alternative.Â

Of course, none of this should be viewed as an argument for changing your position.  To say, “I got rid of my TV for the wrong reason, so I am bringing TV back into my home” would be a bad idea.  Abdication is not corrected by more abdication.  A family that got rid of the television on a whim probably should not go get themselves a television on a whim.

That being said, I have no doubt that a percentage of our “viewing audience” owns a television or three.  And, your television(s) say something about you.  I want to consider several areas where your television tells a story about life inside your home.  Consider first…

The Place of Television in Your Home

I suppose that I could spend some time on “place” as “priority” here.  I’ll reserve that for another discussion.  Right now, we should consider the literal meaning of “place.”  As in, where do you put your television?  And yes, I’m talking location here.  Because the location of your television in your home makes a statement about your home.  In most homes, the television occupies the central focal point of the living room.  The couches, chairs, and TV trays are placed appropriately for television viewing.  And this makes a statement about you, and about your home.

When the television occupies the center of the living room, God’s people should be concerned.  Consider the location again, and the language used to describe it.  Your television occupies the center of the living room.  It is the central focal point of the living room.  What is the purpose of a living room?  What should be central to that “living?”  If your TV occupies the central focal point, has it not then become central in (if not to) the life of your home?  If you could make the case that it is, in fact, not central, you nevertheless make the statement that it is.  You placed it in the center.  You arranged the furniture around it.  Only you know what really happens in your living room.  True.  But regardless of that, I would argue that the location of the television sends a clear and vivid message about the priorities in your home.Â

Consider next…

The Volume of Television in Your Home

Certainly, we could have a discussion of the proper sound level for the Christian home.  We would probably get arguments about how loud it is, or should be.  My experience tells me that wives always think it too loud (unless they are interested), and husbands always think it too quiet (unless their wives are interested).  But I did not really want to center this part of the discussion on decibels.   By volume, I mean… volume.  The sheer amount of television viewing that takes place in your home.  We have all heard preachers make comparisons between the amount of Bible reading you do and the amount of TV watching you do.  I’m not sure that these are legitimate statistics.  I tend to eat often during the day, and I wouldn’t want you to compare my time spent eating to my time spent reading.Â

But there is a legitimate point to be made here, nonetheless.  Television exists for entertainment and amusement.  So, the amount of television watching that one does says something about him, and about his life.  Certainly, entertainment and amusement has its place, and has its place in the home.  But the inordinate amounts of entertainment and amusement that the average home and family indulges is a concern to us.  And the priority placed on it reveals a problem.

When a Christian family, say yours for instance, spends a regular amount of time (even an hour a day) engaged in this kind of activity, it gives one pause to reflect on the priorities of that home.  We are commanded to redeem the time because the days are evil.  But television squanders  our time.  I have always been amazed at how quickly the time passes when I am engaged in TV watching.  It truly consumes the clock, possibly more than any other activity.  The amount of television consumed by the members of your household declares something about you and your home.

Next, consider…

The Content of Television in Your Home

If the location of your television says something about you (and I say it does), and if the volume of TV-watching says something about you, then certainly what you watch also says something about you.  There is a reason why most teaching/preaching on television focuses on the content of TV.  Now, I am not one of those who says that there is nothing to watch on TV anyway.  Give me a remote control, and I will prove you wrong.  I have always enjoyed the irony of those who will make sweeping statements like this, only to admit later on that they in fact own a television (which they watch occasionally).  If there really is nothing on there to watch, then why have one at all?Â

But we should be ashamed for some of the things we allow into our homes via the television.  And even more so, we should be aware of the content that we are allowing into the home, and diligently teaching our children through it.  As a pastor, I am always concerned when someone tells me that they only allow                show and                show to be watched.  What concerns me is that these parents are saying that they only allow their children to watch the safe shows.  And that usually indicates that they allow their children to watch those shows without any guidance.Â

No matter the show, there must always be guidance.  Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series is a truly wonderful set of books for children.  But I won’t allow my children to watch the TV series by themselves.  The television series presents a worldview that is completely contrary to the Christian worldview.  And I would include in this (especially) the approach that is taken towards romance, towards sin, and towards the flesh.  But my main point in saying this is to say that we must never “turn the kids loose” on television.  It is a powerful shaper of minds and morals.

Finally, consider…

The “Television Technique” in Your Home

How you think about your television says a lot about you.  For many Christians today, the television is truly untouchable.  It is the American Idol.  We will allow the preaching to touch many areas of our lives, but nobody touches our TV.  This is wrong, it is rebellious, and it runs counter to a truly Christian worldview.  Christ is the Lord, and He is Lord of everything.  Including the television.

But we must also consider how we watch TV.  How you watch television news, for instance, says something about you.  It says something about your prudence, your understanding, your discernment.  Do you watch the news like Mr. Gullible?  Do you believe what you hear on the news program?  Do you consider their work to be “serious” work?  Do you stop to consider the entertainment priority of network news? Do you take the time to consider the epistemology and ethic of TV news?Â

How you watch television commercials says something about you as well.  Besides their entertainment value (which is a key component of every TV commercial), we must consider commercials as persuasive sales pitches.  We must consider the true nature of their appeals.  Television commercials are about the consumer, not about the product.  And they are written and designed to appeal to you in a worldly fashion.  They appeal universally to the lusts of the flesh and of the eyes, and to the pride of life.  The effect these commercials have on you says something about you.

And how you watch television itself also says something about you.  One of the worst ideas for a fun “family night” is to watch a movie.  Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy a good movie, and have done my best to thoroughly familiarize my kids with John Wayne.  But imagine a family who, on the night designated for “family interaction,” chooses to sit still and silent, staring at the TV screen.  And that brings up one of my biggest pet peeves about TV-watchers in general.  When watching television, we must not be interrupted.  The message is very clear… TV-watching is too important for interruptions, or for kids.  We do, after all, take our televisions very seriously.

I’m not persuaded that what your TV says about you is exactly subliminal or even hidden.  Especially within our homes, the television makes a bold statement, loud and clear.  Perhaps we should unstop our ears, shake ourselves, and come back to reality long enough to notice.

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  1. Cathy
    May 5, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    The problem with the TV is often replced by the internet. A question I pose, “Have you replaced your vice (TV) with the another (internet)?

  2. May 5, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    You make good points about having a TV.

  3. May 5, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    I wouldn’t call television a “vice.” It CAN be a vice, but it is not a vice by nature. The same is true for the internet. It has a right use, and it has a wrong use, and it is a temptation to use it wrongfully. We cannot say that amusement is wrong in and of itself. I would refer you on this to something I wrote about David Brainerd’s approach to these types of things… back when we were talking about culture and worldviews. Essentially, if amusement is the end, then it is wrong. If it is a means to an end (the end being rest and diversion so as to have a sharper edge in God’s work), then it is fine.

    In other words, the Internet must be a servant, not a master. And in that sense, we can say the same for television.

  4. Cathy
    May 5, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Very Good PM

    And you can tell who the servants are often by their usage

  5. May 6, 2008 at 7:24 am

    Great post about this subject. I also think that the first comment on here is well worth looking at! It seems like television and internet have become the twin cities of vice and worldliness.

  6. May 6, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Twin Cities of Vice and Worldliness…

    Sounds like a place in Pilgrim’s Progress!

  7. May 6, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    I suppose it does!

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