Of Truth and Television Sets

Think back for a minute. What is the first thing you can remember reasoning out for yourself? Let me make that a little easier. Think of a time early in your life when you can remember hearing a sermon or lecture and thinking to yourself, “No, I’m pretty sure this guy’s off his rocker.”

How is it you came to that conclusion? What previous knowledge did you have that told you with certainty that what you were now being told was without real basis and what is it that made you certain that what you already knew was more true than what you were hearing?

Yes, think about it; it’s a hard question to answer.

What I’m talking about here is a concept that has recently come to be called ” Worldview.” I don’t care much for buzzwords, especially ones that have been beaten beyond recognition by modern evangelicals, but this one somehow seems to ring true regardless of it’s over use in the last decade or so.

The idea is simple and common so I won’t dwell on it long. The basic idea is that how we see the world around us (what is good, bad, right, wrong, immaterial, of immense consequence, funny, sad, tragic, heroic, etc.) is determined by a number of factors and will change from person to person. Our own unique viewpoint and opinion is known as our Worldview.

Now before I get myself in a mess I don’t really want to be in let me state that the validity and correctness of differing worldviews is beyond the scope of this article and the patience of the author at the moment. What I’m here to discuss is how we come to possess our own distinct Worldview and why that’s important.

For those of you unaware, high-schoolers are immensely entertaining. Oh, believe me, they can be the most trying individuals I know but at the end of every day I have to look back and smile at the creative, lazy, shocking, and often downright bizarre ways in which they think.

I find it particularly interesting to see how they process new thoughts of a philosophical nature. Throughout this last school year I have tried to impart numerous nuggets of truth to them both from scripture and life lessons that I have experienced or been fortunate enough to learn from the example of a close friend.

Every time I do so it is met with a mixed reaction. This isn’t strange, it’s what I’ve always expected. Someone in the class will have to agree with me because they can see my logic. Some will agree with me because it’s the same thing they’ve been taught for years and they can’t see life any other way. Some will disagree because it completely contradicts what they see as truth. A select few will even disagree simply because I said it, but such is the life of a teacher.

What each student does with a new thought is send it through their own personal filter. This filter is what we would call a Worldview. Yet, having observed these students, I believe I have an easier way to describe this.

Each student is filtering new information through what they see as normal. There is a way the world should be, there is a way people should act, there is a way that they know is right and good to be, and there are things that they know are abnormal and absurd. This view of what is normal is how teenagers decide what facts to accept and what facts to roll their eyes at , put on the test, and then promptly try to forget.

Here’s my question though: where does that opinion of what is normal come from?

I stumbled across a fantastic quote the other day. In his book The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye states the following:

“The Bible forms the lowest stratum in the teaching of literature. It should be taught so early and so thoroughly that it sinks straight to the bottom of the mind, where everything that comes along later can settle on it”

That’s the description of a biblical worldview if I’ve ever heard one. I love how he uses the phrase “settle on”. Whatever it is that has formed the basis and foundation of our thinking from the beginning of our remembered thought will be what our later information will “settle on”.

Which begs the question, what is our foundation built out of?

Perhaps this is a bit of a pet peeve, but this is why I strongly dislike the television’s prominent placement in most homes. Not because of horrible parents or drastic scenarios, but simply because of convenience, most children spend a nearly equal amount of time in front of a television set as they spend in a classroom, church, or both combined.

Now I’m no Luddite, and I do enjoy a good crime show from time to time, but that method of child raising creates problems. My argument is not against the television as an evil entity. Nor is my argument really against the modern marvel of entertainment at all, really. My argument is in to what extent we’re letting it influence the next generation’s view of what is normal.

Follow along here a minute. A child has been watching television from a young age. Granted, most of it is the harmless lack of substance found on Sesame Street or inside the decidedly over-funded classroom Barney lives in, but unfortunately there tends to be great amounts of time spent in these or similar places.

Fast-forward the very short amount of time it takes for the child to understand the embodiment of western laziness we call the remote and now they’re cooking. Any channel without parental control applied to it is suddenly within reach of the family couch. Again, I’d like to point out that this isn’t inherently negligent parenting. Parents are, after all, concerned with what channels their grade-schoolers have access to and that’s good. The problem is the thought process, not what we can actually see during prime time.

The process continues on the same average scale for several years until we have a high-schooler who is “trusted” to make wise decisions and has free access to the television, and rightly so. This is what they’ve been trained for. The problem isn’t the free access, the problem is the years of conditioning leading up to that access.

What we have by this point is a young adult of fifteen to eighteen years of age who’s opinion of what is normal is largely influenced by that many years of staring at pop culture. Pop culture is pop culture, and I know there’s not much we can do about that, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that what is viewed as normal by pop culture is generally a very different thing than what is considered normal, let alone healthy, from a biblical standpoint.

I know I’m holding the torch rather close to a sacred cow right now, but hear me out. How do we expect these young people to respond when we present them with the counter-cultural reality that is Christ? Even though most of these kids claim to follow Christ, when you boil it down, what that actually means is influenced far more by the culture they’ve grown up in than what they see in scripture. Scripture itself is interpreted through what they see as normal in the culture they’ve grown up watching.

For a basic example, just look at forgiveness.

“And if he (your brother) trespass against the seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee saying, ‘I repent’, thou shalt forgive him.” ~ Luke 17:4

Granted, this isn’t an easy thing to do. I would personally rank it right near the top of the “hardest verses to follow” list. To have trouble living this out is more than understandable, it’s expected. What should also be expected though is that anyone following Christ recognize that this verse should be followed.

Most of my students argue that the concept presented in this verse couldn’t possible be right and ignore it. Why? Because it’s not normal. It’s not a part of how they see the world running. It’s absurd to them and they reject it as untrue because as they see it the world shouldn’t run that way. If someone keeps hurting you, you shouldn’t forgive them, you should protect yourself from them.This is what they’ve been brought up to see as normal.

How so?

Have you ever seen a cop show? How about a mafia movie? Let’s look closer to reality, do you ever watch the news? All of these portray retaliation and tough justice as a commendable or even heroic things. If you’re not protecting yourself you’re weak. If you’re not avenging those you care about you’re a coward. If you’re not pushing to see those who have hurt you punished, you’re asking to have it happen to you again.

The same goes for so many other things. The Bible says that we are to keep ourselves pure; but when the young generation has been told by television for years that unless you are sexually active there’s something wrong with you, do we really expect them to live pure lives? I guess that would depend on what influenced them enough to be considered normal.

The worst of it from where I sit at the back of the classroom is that I teach at a Christian School. These kids, most of them anyway, pay lip service to the concepts of scripture. Yet, when push comes to shove or they enter into a discussion, you can easily see that their view of normal is far closer to that of culture and thus their actual actions come out indistinguishable from the world that raised them.

It’s not just the TV, I know it’s not. The television set is just so obvious and easy to pick on. The reality is that there are hundreds of thing influencing us every day, persuading us to think their way, and so many of them are aimed at children and the younger generation.

This is a hard concept. It’s not one with an easy fix. Removing outside influences won’t do the trick, that just makes it harder when the poor kids finally get outside the home. Becoming legalistic will only drive them farther away from the truth we want to share with them. Preaching at them will only bounce words off their filter, amplifying the problem we already have.

So what’s the bottom line? How do we fix this?

I haven’t got a clue.

That’s right, I don’t know. Honestly, I’m still working through a filter that probably has flaws of its own. The only thing I know to do is take this, apply it to my own life, and beg God to lead me ever closer to Him so that what I see as normal is what God sees as normal.

Maybe that’s the only real fix. As we grow closer to God and let him mold us to be more like Christ our perspective will mold to fit. Maybe that’s what the next generation needs. I would wager though that they won’t have a reason to let God change them until they see that change in us.

Lord, give me the patience to see each student as a work in progress and not a finished product. Help me to ever seek to grow closer to you and let your will and your truth guide my life and what I see as right. Above all, never let me stop growing, striving, and learning where it is I see things wrong.

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2 responses to “Of Truth and Television Sets

  • Katherine

    I really like the quote by Northrop Frye, a world view is formed when someone is small and still learning basics about the world. If that is formed around scripture, that will be the glass they see the rest of life through.

  • Allison

    Our Church has a Christian school that I taught art at for one year, and I saw much of the same things you talked about here. I some times worry about the next generation of young people and how they will influence our society. They just don’t seem to care about anything, spiritual of not, it seems live with no propose in life and I see that creating big problems down the road. But I agree I don’t really know how to help them. We can talk all we want but until they want to listen they won’t. As a missionary once said they aren’t listening with their hearts.

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