Reference has already been made to the insidious intrusion of the innocent-looking television cabinet into the home. Because there are occasional programs which meet the Bible test of truth, purity, etc., it is easy to succumb to the argument that the set will be used as an educational tool for the family. Solemn resolutions are usually made concerning the high quality of program that will be approved for viewing. But let's be honest and truthful. For how long do those restrictive regulations continue to govern the television set? Policing becomes almost impossible because of the borderline nature of many programs. Uncertainty over where to draw a line, whether a few words of profanity disqualify an hour-long documentary, and other equally perplexing decisions soon become too tedious to tolerate. The door is opened wider and wider, and the discriminative senses accommodate to the increasing flow of below-standard pictures and scenes. It is easy to justify a little more loose language because of the scattered use of expletives by popular network news reporters. Many of the advertising commercials are also laced with innuendoes which belittle the Christian moral standards.
It is becoming more difficult to believe that even the most careful selective viewing will not also produce a spiritual desensitivity. Snatches and phrases of gutter talk creep into some of the most highly-touted educational shows. Many argue that we must learn to live with this kind of language because it surrounds us all the time. It is true that we often overhear the vulgarities of the world around us, but should we deliberately expose ourselves to that which we could avoid?
The truth is that most of us face severe struggles in turning away from the enticing scenes of evil that we cannot avoid while walking down the street. There is enough temptation to occupy all of our time and effort without bringing a deliberate source of temptation right into the living room.
What many fail to understand is that there can be sin in a look. If someone had come up behind Mother Eve in the Garden and asked her what she was doing in front of the forbidden tree, she probably would have answered, "I'm just looking." But those looks of Eve led into all the multiplied sorrows and eventual deaths of billions of human beings over six tragic millenniums.
King David awoke from an afternoon nap and, quite by chance, saw his neighbour's beautiful wife taking a bath on her Mediterranean roof-garden. It is more than likely, if someone had asked David what he was doing, he would have answered, "Just looking." But those looks led to adultery and murder, sins which influenced a nation to forget God. The results of his immorality with Bathsheba so marked the family of David that four of his own children were taken from him by tragedy or apostasy. How bitterly he later lamented the scarring consequences of his innocent "looking."
The indelible influence of mental patterns cannot be overemphasised. By beholding we become changed. Thoughts are produced by what a person sees. "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." Proverbs 23:7. This brings us to one of the most awesome reasons that television can be detrimental to the Christian life. It is based upon the principle of vicarious or mental participation in sin. Jesus declared: "Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." Matthew 5:27, 28.
Please take note that the mind is capable of creating such realistic mental pictures that people actually become involved in the imaginary scenes. The participation is so real that Jesus said we are held accountable for what we permit our minds to dwell upon, just as though we were going through the physical a6t itself. Since the brain is the decision centre for the body, every act performed must first be conceived in the mind before it can be translated into action. The brain, through the vast nerve communication system, sends the message for hands, feet or other physical organs to go into action. This, by the way, is the precise point of the strongest temptation. Harbouring the mental picture until it transmits the order for the body to act is so presumptuous and so debilitating to the will that few people are able to mm back from obeying the order.
The Christian's only sure protection from sin is to reject the thought or imagination of evil which Satan seeks to impose on the mind. Once the evil deed has been harboured and pondered, even though only as a thought, the incredible intimate relationship of mind and body begins to produce physical reactions. With the speed of electricity the brain sends out the message alerting the entire body to the contemplated action. Now the mind and body unite in bringing pressure for the person to perform the act.
But let us suppose that it is impossible for the person to carry out the physical indulgence prompted by the mind. Perhaps a lustful attitude has been produced in the thoughts, but there is no one with whom to participate in the act of sin. Or if the person is a Christian, he might have such strong inhibitions against the contemplated act that he will resist carrying out the impulses of the mind. In this case the sin exists only in the imagination. But such is the power of thought that, in God's sight, the vicarious mental performance of the sin is counted as serious as the physical indulgence itself.
Now let us apply this principle to the watching of TV. Nowhere do we see a more vivid demonstration of vicarious participation. Even though the viewer may be mature enough to know that the scene is only a fabricated, pretend-situation, yet he becomes as emotionally involved in the picture as if he were actually living out the experience. The heart pounds with fright, the eyes fill with tears, and the viewer is mentally projecting himself into the scene. Whether fighting and shooting his way out of a desperate situation, suffering the trauma of incurable disease, or yielding to the excitement of a provocative bedroom scene, the viewer is caught up in the plot, taking part by proxy in the adventures of the hero or heroine. Jesus said that this kind of participation is just as wrong as the actual physical involvement.
Try to imagine the fantastic strategy of Satan in his use of the television media. It staggers the mind even to think about it. Here is a situation in which the devil inspires one act of simulated sin; for example, an artificial, make-believe portrayal of adultery. But through his manipulation of the emotions, Satan can mm that one acted-out sin into a million real sins of adultery, because a million people will project themselves into the picture. And in their minds it is not make-believe. It is so real that even their bodies react. The emotions of lust and fear so fully obsess the beholder that even though they can't take part physically in the sin, their minds and wills are affected in exactly the same way as if they were taking part. And more serious still, God holds them just as guilty as if they had done it personally.
What a clever, diabolical way to turn people into thieves, murderers, and adulterers! Satan only has to work with the scriptwriters and actors to produce the most al>pealing, realistic and emotional plots. From that point the natural laws of the mind take over, and the viewers become emotional captives of whatever they allow themselves to look at. One day they may be living out the experience of shoplifting, the next day of murder, and later of fornication or adultery. To the actors on the screen it is preposterous pretence, but to the viewers*it is, momentarily at least, an opportunity to do all the exciting things that God and society forbid, without having to face the consequences of doing them. But do we have to face the consequences? Not physically perhaps, but the moral responsibility for those vicarious deeds every person will have to face in the judgement. For those who have not confessed and forsaken those sins, what a terrible account must be rendered for the prostitution of the sacred powers of mind and will.
Surely this principle of sin by substitution explains why the Bible speaks so strongly on the subject of the five senses. Jesus made it clear that no effort should be spared in safeguarding the avenues of the mind. Immediately after His comment about looking on a woman in lust, He said, "And if thy fight eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." Matthew 5:29.
This text has been often misconstrued. Jesus was not talking about the physical eye. A person could lose one eye and still be evil and perverse. He was talking about the things on which the eye focuses. If the eye is looking at something which is liable to lead the mind to harbour sin, Jesus was saying that the most drastic action should be taken to put those scenes out of view. In other words, "Don't continue to look at something which is spiritually offensive and provocative." Doing so could lead into sin and cause the person to be "cast into hell."
What a dramatic example of the dangers of "just looking" at wrong pictures. Translated into a modern setting Christ was saying that if we have a television set in the home which we cannot control, it is better to cast it out of the house onto the junk pile than to be led into sin by its influence. Better to lead a so-called one-eyed existence without television than to lose our soul by defiling, sinful thoughts created by television.
The command of Christ was to "pluck it out," to turn away from what the eye is looking at. The choice is ours to make. The only way to be pure-minded is to look at, listen to, and speak only the things that are pure. Paul said, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever, things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8. The secret of being pure, honest, and virtuous is to think that way, and the way we think is determined by what we see, hear and speak. David said, "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes." Psalm 101:3.
To these spiritual factors we could add pages of shocking statistics on the effect of TV violence upon the mind and morals, upon crime incitation, and scholastic achievement. These are well known and off-repeated. No one will ever know exactly how many blueprints for crime have been carefully detailed in a TV story, and later put into operation by an assortment of muggers, thieves, and rapists.
Society today is in the grip of a growing complacency toward violence and human suffering. Constant television exposure to cruelty and inhumanity has created a climate of amazing indifference to our fellow man. People do not want to get involved. Usually they pass heedlessly by the victim of attack. Public reaction to natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods, or famine is almost ho-hum. The 6:00 p.m. newscast pictures of thousands dying in South America or Turkey make even less impression than last night's late-movie scenes. The animated, bizarre portrayals which have been commercially prepared to impress have far greater response than the actual stories of suffering and death. The fine sensibilities of compassion have been blunted and almost destroyed by the continuous bombardment of the emotions by Hollywood "thrill and horror" specialists.
The impact of death is diminished by the constant overexposure. Even newscast-picture reports of assassination and murder are viewed repeatedly on successive programs. It is almost as though the murdered person springs to life only to be killed and resurrected over and over again. The prolonged screening of Lee Harvey Oswald's murder is an example of such televiolence. The mind finally almost rejects the reality of what is being viewed.
What effect does it finally have upon human conscience and character? No doubt, there is an innate morbid desire to witness violence without guilt. As an innocent bystander the TV watcher is neither the aggressor nor the victim. With nothing to do but watch, and being unable to intervene, he gradually adjusts to a mentality of fascinated inaction. Under constant bombardment, the mind actually blurs to what is fantasy and what is reality. This is why so many are able to stand by and watch brutality and violence in real life without lifting a finger.
A bride recently said, "We are starting out with just the bare necessities of life; a bed, a stove, and a TV set." With 98 percent of American homes owning a set, try your best to visualise the effect of its 6 1/2 hours of operation.
Children spend one third of their waking hours under the artificial, hammering influence of ideas and philosophies which their parents do not originate and often do not even know about. It has been determined that one quarter of the children between 5 and 20 watch over five hours of television every school day. This is even more time than they are under the direct instruction of schoolteachers; more time than they play each day, or eat. Only sleeping time tops television as the greatest time consumer.
What type of message is being literally driven into the open minds of these boys and girls? Of all TV programming, 83 percent contains violence, and 98 percent of cartoons depict violent action. In fact, when your children are watching cartoons, they are treated to an average 30 acts of violence every two minutes. Western and detective dramas are not much better, because 97 percent of them contain violence.
But what about the children who are not old enough to be in school? There are nearly twelve million of them between three and five years of age. According to the Nielsen Television Index, these pre-schoolers sit in front of the tube an average of 54.1 hours each week. Think of the power exerted over the pliable minds and emotions of these near-babies. For 64 percent of their waking hours they absorb the tensions, violence, and nerve-warping inanities of commercial television. Do we wonder why older generations of youth seem to be having difficulty adjusting to real life and people? Dr. Victor B. Cline of the University of Utah has estimated that between kindergarten and age 14 a child witnesses the violent death of over 13,000 human beings on the TV screen. Since the pre-kindergarteners are watching 64 percent of their days, try to imagine how many murders they witness beyond those 13,000. No hard-bitten veteran of daily combat ever came near the horrible mayhem and slaughter of the daily TV fare.
Perhaps the most conclusive study on the subject of TV aggression was documented by Alfred Bandura and Associates, and was published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Their conclusions were drawn from actual observation of normal children, measured by reactions of a control group, when exposed to screen violence. Their emphatic conclusion was that filmed aggression heightened aggressive dispositions in children. They definitely do imitate the violent behaviour which they view on TV programs.
In 1969 the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence gave a report on their exhaustive research. Here is the substance of their conclusions: "The preponderance of available research evidence strongly suggests ... that violence in television programs can and does have adverse effects upon audiences--particularly child audiences."
One of the saddest obvious results of child TV addiction is the tragic breakdown in communication with parents. For those five crucial hours each day there is absolutely no interaction with anyone. Dr. D. M. Azimi, Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pennsylvania, believes that children can "hallucinate" on shows filled with violence, sex and aggression. "Interrupt someone watching TV and notice the deep trance he is in. He'll get annoyed with you for breaking into his drug-like reverie, but if you ask what was just said on the program, he won't be able to tell you.
"Parents become TV 'pushers' to their children. Most kids, at a very early age, would like to have a warm, close relationship with their parents. But the parents tell them, 'Go watch TV. I'm busy.'
"Soon the habit takes hold of them and they begin to sit glassy-eyed, in a stupor, 'hooked' by TV. And once they get the habit, it's as hard to take away from them as drugs would be."
If parents do not protect their own children from the incessant emotional assault of television, who will do it? The industry is not concerned about anybody's children. They are intent on one thing--consumption. It takes no expert to see that their primary appeal is to human vanity, lust, and greed. Market psychologists gear their commercials to the wide-eyed innocents who have no defence. Spectacular, hypocritical claims are soon disproved, however, and the phoniness is revealed. The unfortunate after-effect is a corrosive attitude of cynicism and distrust on the part of the young.
Have you noticed what stereotypes are portrayed on the average TV program? Teachers are generally portrayed as incompetent, vindictive misfits. Happiness comes through as being young and sexy. Marriage is represented as a dull drag, or something to be flaunted by exciting infidelity. Parents are often projected as bumbling, outdated squares with no authority or ability to make sound decisions. The very basics of home and society are subtly undermined by the great majority of TV shows, including some of the most popular ones. It should be no great wonder that our greatest social problem today is how to keep the family from disappearing as the basic unit of society.