Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why I Don't Do TV...

I just read John Piper's article Why I Don't Have a Television and Rarely Go to Movies, which arrived in my inbox this evening.

He is, as always, bold and direct:

... I suspect that Mark and I would not agree on the degree to which the average pastor needs to be movie-savvy in order to be relevant, and the degree to which we should expose ourselves to the world’s entertainment.

I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.

If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.

There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually-explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them.

I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.

I’ll put it bluntly. The only nude female body a guy should ever lay his eyes on is his wife’s. The few exceptions include doctors, morticians, and fathers changing diapers. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). What the eyes see really matters. “Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Better to gouge your eye than go to hell (verse 29).

Brothers, that is serious. Really serious. Jesus is violent about this. What we do with our eyes can damn us. One reason is that it is virtually impossible to transition from being entertained by nudity to an act of “beholding the glory of the Lord.” But this means the entire Christian life is threatened by the deadening effects of sexual titillation.

All Christ-exalting transformation comes from “beholding the glory of Christ.” “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Whatever dulls the eyes of our mind from seeing Christ powerfully and purely is destroying us. There is not one man in a thousand whose spiritual eyes are more readily moved by the beauty of Christ because he has just seen a bare breast with his buddies.

But leave sex aside (as if that were possible for fifteen minutes on TV). It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ.

One more smaller concern with TV (besides its addictive tendencies, trivialization of life, and deadening effects): It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. "Don’t waste your life" is not a catchphrase for me; it’s a cliff I walk beside every day with trembling.

TV consumes more and more time for those who get used to watching it. You start to feel like it belongs. You wonder how you could get along without it. I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television...

Thought-provoking stuff.

Although we do love a good movie (especially as a springboard for great follow-up conversation, which is the way I like to do it), we also avoid the kinds of sexual content he refers to... and we haven't watched television for ten or fifteen years now.

I can't remember exactly when we stopped, but it was somewhere around the time that we realized (1) we were rather irresponsibly addicted (we would pass on invitations and miss opportunities for fellowship in order to stay home and watch the shows), (2) it was taking an awful lot of our time - one night turned to two, as Thursday night's line-up got split onto Tuesday as well... if you're as old as I am, you likely remember the shows... Mad About You, Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier, ER... (3) we started having kids, and really needed the sleep, (4) sitcoms went from fun, isolated, individual shows-you-could-take-or-leave on a given week, and took on all the drama and obsessive nature of daytime soap operas (which I'd had the sense to avoid like the plague since I'd realized their addictive power over me when I was in high school and my first year of college... but here I was again, spending way too much time wondering about things like whether Ross and Rachel would ever "get together"), (5) the cute, fun shows we were filling our brains with every week were turning more and more perverse as time went on (illicit sex, crass and crude humor, attempts to normalize homosexuality with likeable homosexual characters and "loving homosexual marriages"...)

I could go on, but you get the picture. I'm sure I would die at what is on television these days, if I ever actually watched it. Occasionally someone will be staying at our home, or we will be staying somewhere else, and those other folks will have made a choice to turn on some television show. It is always shocking and appalling to me what parades across the screen... obviously people have become de-sensitized to what filth is present in just about every single television show they choose to watch.

We know this makes us rather freakish in most peoples' eyes... most people watch a lot of television...

And no, we don't have a hard time staying "culturally-relevant" by knowing "what's out there," because most of the time, that's a major part of what people want to talk about... I've learned all about peoples' obsession with particular shows over the years second-hand, by overhearing about them in conversations. (This is how I found out about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire... Survivor... Lost... American Idol... Sex in the City... 24... Desperate Housewives... and the "cleaner and more wholesome" shows -not always, mind you - which folks watch, too, like What Not to Wear, or Jon and Kate Plus 8, or American Idol.)

Just the other night, my own mother spent about fifteen minutes at our dinner table discussing - in front of my daughter - the "hilarious" show she had watched the night before. I had never heard of it (of course), but she described in blow-by-blow detail the go-out-and-get-laid antics of some group of four nerdy guys... from one's going back into the house to take off his cartoon underwear in case he "got lucky" to a description of one's waking up in the arms of some fat stranger he'd just casually slept with... I sat silently and uncomfortably until, mercifully, my father called my daughter into the other room, and I was able to excuse myself to clear dishes. No disrespect meant to my mother, but she is a prime example of how desensitized we have become... I am grieved by what most folks are regularly filling their minds with.

And I happen to believe it is part of the grand political agenda... shaping public thought through nightly television shows... Hollywood films... pop culture... public education...

How about you?

1 comment:

Laurie said...

UPDATE I just saw this video clip from Alex & Brett Harris regarding this very post by John Piper: