Here in Australia the school holidays have arrived again. How will reformed parents keep their children occupied? Will they keep them busy with good healthy past-times such as playing outside, engaging in crafts (colouring-in, drawing, making things), reading good books, doing puzzles, helping around the house? Or—will the young folks be kept occupied by screen entertainment: smart phones, movies, television? Here are a few comments from people about screen entertainment. They apply as much to adults as to children.
In a recent high school newsletter, the principal wrote:
A father came to his 14-year-old son with a box in his hands. “Son”, he said, “here is a box full of magazines with pictures of semi-clad women, others naked and even pictures of women with men. I think you are old enough to handle this responsibly. You need to slip this under your bed, and keep it shut. Don’t open it!” Would any father EVER do that!? You would have to be foolish, naïve and irresponsible even to contemplate the idea. No-one in his right mind would consider such an action appropriate. You’re putting your child in a very dangerous and precarious position. That would be unjustifiable for anyone! But people do it all the time! Give them a mobile phone…
The above was part of our discussion during a staff meeting this week. We were talking about the growing misuse of technologies amongst our student body. Do we as teachers know what is going on? Are we sufficiently prepared to address these matters? What responsibility do we have and are there boundaries for home, church and school? How do we arm our students in this type of warfare? Do we need an explicit curriculum? Are these matters discussed in our Ethics class? Should words such as pornography, sexting, grooming be normalised in our teaching?
Lots of questions! But the big question for today is this: if you are a parent and have given your children that box to slip under their bed, what are you doing to either retrieve it, or ensure it remains shut?[i]
It’s also worth noting what Neil Postman said in the preface to his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He refers to two influential classic novels 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Orwell’s book refers to the danger of being oppressed by rulers or regimes which dictate how we must live; Huxley’s book warns against willingly being governed by entertainment.
Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions’. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.[ii]
Postman believes that Huxley is right; that what we love in the way of entertainment and irrelevancies would ruin us. There’s no doubt that the attitudes and values promoted and inculcated by a godless, worldly entertainment culture are used by Satan in his battle for the hearts and minds of God’s children. Scripture certainly teaches that what we love can ruin us. For example, we are warned in 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
Finally, I pass on some pertinent comments by Dr Joel Beeke:
We are living in a sin-sick, morally degenerate, and pleasure-mad world. Our society continually demands entertainment, amusements, and pastimes at an ever-increasing level.
What is the goal of this “continual-entertainment” spirit? To keep modern man happily busy.
In a certain sense, entertainment does succeed in its goal. It keeps thousands and millions busy.
The very words themselves reveal this fact. The word amusement comes originally from the French and literally means “to stare at fixedly so as to prevent musing or thinking”. The word pastime speaks for itself. It means to kill or use up time as a thing of little value; to pass time away. The root of the word entertainment means to divert. Thus it implies something which takes us away or diverts us from the normal, real world of everyday life.
In other words, entertainment, amusements, pastimes are things which keep us busy – busy avoiding the realities of life and truth as they are set down in God’s Holy Word. They keep us busy avoiding thinking about eternity, hell, heaven, sin, God, Christ, salvation, our own selves, and especially our need for a new heart.
But if entertainment succeeds in its first goal of making man busy it fails miserably in its second: happily busy. Never has there been so much restlessness, dissatisfaction, and yes, unhappiness – in spite of the millions who immerse themselves in modern-day entertainment. Despite our freedom from poverty, our multiplication of opportunities in nearly every walk and aspect of life, plus our continual drinking in of entertainment – no age has been as unhappy as modern man.
Entertainment can never give enough – it always leaves an empty feeling behind. The more it is practiced and relied on, the emptier it becomes.
It has turned our society into an object of pity, for we are victims of our own system. Society goes full cycle, from being pleasure-hungry to pleasure-mania to pleasure-boredom.
But do you know what is even worse? Not only the world, but also the church has begun sliding down the slippery slope of entertainment which can only end in sin, and with disastrous results.
Satan does not stop with liberal churches only. He comes also among us. We who believe that the truth is still preached among us – who know so well that the Word of God says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” who read continually, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” – are also beginning to fall victim to the idolatrous god of entertainment.
Step-by-step some are beginning to look for new things (in the church and outside of the church) with which we entertain and keep ourselves busy. Step-by-step the old-fashioned, plain gospel message with its emphasis on the necessity of conversion, is being increasingly de-emphasised. Less and less time is being spent praying together as a family, reading religious books together with children, talking together in family circles about spiritual matters.
Are we not all guilty? Do we not all fall short in experiencing the reality of the seriousness of life, death, the judgment day, and eternity? Today we have a carefree, laughing society, but you never read in the Bible that Jesus took life lightly. Rather, especially referring to our day, He said: “Watch, and pray, and again I say unto you watch!”
But by nature we don’t watch. By nature our question is, “How far can I go and still not sin?” instead of, “How far can I flee from sin and avoid the very appearance of evil?”[iii]
In our Public Profession of Faith we promised “before God and His holy church” that we would “forsake the world” and “crucify [our] old nature”. And at the baptism of our children we prayed that they “may be nurtured in the Christian faith and in godliness” and grow up to “valiantly fight against and overcome sin, the devil, and his whole dominion”. Let’s not compromise what we promised and prayed by placing worldly stumbling blocks in the way of our children but let us nurture them and ourselves in the Christian faith and in godliness. For, in stark contrast to the terrible end of the godless, a brilliant future is promised to those who walk with God.
[i] M Plug in Calvin’s Chronicle, August 2017.
[ii] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Methuen, London, 1987.
[iii] Dr Joel R. Beeke, “Is TV really so bad?” in Reformed Perspective. Previously in Fair Dinkum, Free Australian Magazine, issue 52.