The idea or notion that children and young people, in general, must have fun and be amused and entertained is far from new. The problem we raise is not new; neither is the proposed solution. The mere fact, however, that the question must again be raised and the answer reiterated is cause for shame and embarrassment. It seems as if previous words of warning have fallen on deaf ears and determined minds. We present here not new questions and new answers but new experiences.
It is argued by many not only in the sphere of the world but also in the sphere of the church that it is not only natural but also necessary and becoming for people, especially young people, to desire fun and entertainment. This idea had, in fact, so crept into the minds of “church people” by the early 1900’s that the Christian Reformed Synod of 1928 had to include the question in its agenda. The question as it faced this synod can be easily resolved into a basic conflict of interest in the world vs. interest in the church. The world was seen to offer its pleasure and diversions, its amusements in the form of movies, card playing, and dancing. It was to these amusements that many young church people succumbed. Hence, the problem. The church could evidently and obviously see that these worldly pleasures were basically wrong. But, reasoned the church, outright condemnation of these evils would not do. There must be something offered to fill the vacuum left by these worldly amusements. But what of this discussion and judgment? It is evident immediately that the church failed to face the question squarely. In fact, the church failed to face the basic question at all. The church ceded at once that children must have fun. This remained an undisputed fact. The only remaining questions, then, are where and how. The basic question, the question of why children must have fun remains unanswered. The fundamental question has been circumscribed for an easier one of method and manner. We reap the fruits of such thought and attitude yet today. Possibly most and evident and most pertinent to us, as was pointed out as recently as the last issue of Beacon Lights, is the predicament of our own Protestant Reformed young people’s conventions. Conventions in the past have been characterized by an emphasis; seemingly not planned or deliberate, on the social aspect of these gathering. The social aspect has been given priority, oddly enough, without any urging or bally-hoo from anyone. Perhaps young people are just following their natural inclinations, an inclination described by the epithet “Kids will be kids.” Perhaps, the convention provides not only an opportunity for fun with parental approval and oftentimes glee because of the common religious denominator but also an opportunity for fun with the awful eye of the church being ever present, thus giving this fun an odd sort of sanctity.
The problem, then, is very real for us even today. It is not simply an academic question which applied only to 1928ers. In fact, the problem is more real and closer to us than it ever was in 1928. We no longer have to offer amusements to fill a supposed vacuum. We no longer have to say to our children “Beware of the theater and the dance hall.” All we have to do is point to our very own homes and say: “There it is after all. The amusements which the synod of ’28 had said to exist in the world have not been imported into our very own homes, into our very own living rooms.” But such nonsense, you say, simply preposterous. What a blatant accusation. What gall to say that these worldly amusements now exist in our homes, in the place where our heart is. An ingenious idea, no doubt, to have these amusements centralized in a box with pictures and sounds, but come now, what harm is there in “Daniel Boone” and “Popeye”? It can’t be as bad as all that. What harm is there for our children to absorb themselves for a few minutes each day with seemingly harmless tales?
This seemingly innocent absorption by seemingly innocent youngsters, however, has produced its effect and, not a good one. It has produced a problem. This problem became increasingly aware to me in my position as a teacher, not as a common ordinary teacher, mind you, but as a Protestant Reformed Christian school teacher at that. The interest of Protestant Reformed students in fun and amusement was not shocking in itself. I have been associated with children long enough, I believe, at least I hope, to realize that children need fun and excitement. It is, however, when this interest turns into preoccupation and preoccupation turns into necessity that one is shocked beyond belief. It is when seemingly innocent stories and fables are taken as fact and truth that one is horrified. One is not afraid of a television set. It is the fascination with and the subsequent devouring of the products of the television that shocks one’s soul. The result is stupefying. It is common, although there are exceptions and there ought to be, for students to remember point by point, gunshot by gunshot, trauma by trauma the actions and events of television “stories.” Transferred, however, into a classroom situation, the same child draws a complete blank. Mystifying? Not really. Horrifying? Understandably so.
A survey recently conducted by the undersigned (or the above whichever is the case) heightened the severity of the problem. It was found that Protestant Reformed students knew more facts and figures about television and its productions than about God and His production, His Holy Word. Ten year olds, for example, were able to fill two walls of blackboards with names of television programs but only one soul knew what the grace of God and His salvation were. Kindergarteners, too, have views and opinions. One young man also in a Protestant Reformed school was asked to draw a house. Included were, of course, the frame, a door, a chimney, and last, but not least, a television antenna. It certainly is not odd that these young people develop these ideas. Look around yourself. Count the houses in your block and see how many are conspicuous by the absence of an antenna. Then, look again. Look through windows and doors for the “Reformed antennas,” the less conspicuous rabbit ears. Take a poll and survey for yourself. But most importantly, survey and poll your own home. Where is the run that is most worn? Where is the softest chair? What do your children talk about? What do you talk about?
Such is the problem. The solution? The solution is most easily seen if we correctly view the question. Ultimately, of course, the question is one of value. It is a problem of putting first things first, of devoting our time and effort to that which is lasting and profitable over against that which is trivial and mundane. It appears that we have satisfied the Synod of ’28 all right. We have succeeded in filling the vacuum left by the absence of worldly amusements. But we, too, have missed the point of the whole problem. We, too, have missed the entire thrust of the question. We, too, have failed to answer the question of the why. Why must children have fun and amusement? Do they have need of it? Do they deteriorate spiritually from the lack of it? Do they know what is supposed to be known and consequently can spend their energies on something else? Are they too young for the serious matters of life? Are they too young to spend time finding out who God is and why we serve him? Are we satisfied with our state and with the state of our children? Such can hardly be the case. Try to make out a case for amusements in face of the command “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Try to make out a case for entertainment in the face of the mandate to “God out into all the world and preach the gospel.” The solution to our problem? Does it need repeating?
We have filled the vacuum all right. We have filled it so well that now this once harmless vacuum is turned into a mighty sucking force which sucks into itself all kinds of dirt and trash. It is time we face up to the question. I cannot govern your house or your den; neither do I care to. But my point is, seriously consider, seriously reflect upon such questions: Do we need amusement? Do we need diversions and pleasures? What about that Word? Do we know it? Do we believe it? Do we live it?