Over twenty-two years ago, in my neighborhood, a mysterious laboratory sprang into existence to conduct experiments in the unheard of field of television. Today, “television” is not only a household word, even a taken-for-granted household furnishing; but it has become an industry which influences our whole home, church, school, economic and national life. It is not only advantageous, therefore, but necessary, that the matter of television be examined and discussed by the members of the family; by our Christian school teachers; and by our ministers. For, with the debut of this amazing instrument, there have arisen, for the Christian, many complex problems. Some, to reduce the question to a minimum, rush in the defense of “TV” to assure us that it is not in itself sinful, since it is one of the “indifferent things.”
What, however, is meant by this last statement? In the field of medicine the term “indifferent” refers to certain ingredients “which are incapable of doing either harm or good.” We immediately sense that such an understanding of the term cannot be true with respect to television, except, perhaps, abstractly. For television, taken as an abstraction (in and of itself), is incapable of doing either harm or good. The same may be said of a butcher knife. It depends on the use made of the knife. If used to cut meat for God’s poor, that is good. But if used to stab an innocent person, it does harm. In ethics, the term “indifferent” denotes “any practice or form of conduct not included under the essential principles of morality, and which may therefore be left to be determined by custom or individual choice.” In Church History, the term had reference to a part of the Lutherans known as adiaphorists, followers of Melanchthon, who “conceded to the Roman Catholic Church, as being non-essential, certain usages, such as candles, gowns, holidays, etc.” And to this they would now add television. But is there any part of doctrine or life that can be regarded as indifferent? For the Reformed believer there is no borderland of neutrality where he may adopt an attitude of indifference toward the principles of the law of God which apply to all of life!
But it may be conceded that the owning of a television set is, in itself, no more sinful than having a telephone, a car, or a radio. Yet a telephone, for example, can be used very sinfully, as when it is made to convey gossip, the placing of horse-racing bets, and worse. Time was, when the telephone was just a new gadget, a novelty. But before long it became a necessity. In our modern civilization we can scarcely do without one. So with the automobile; it was at first an oddity, then a luxury, now a necessity. The same may be said of the radio. It has become more than a means of recreation or relaxation: (to obtain accurate time, weather reports, storm warnings, travel conditions, advice concerning local catastrophes, national emergencies, etc.). But though undoubtedly the day hastens when possession of the television apparatus will be a necessity, it, nevertheless, to this date, is not so. Therefore no one owns a “TV” set because he needs one. One can, then, easily do without it.
Why, however – since invention is the gift of God – do without it? Is not every creature of God good, and nothing to be refused if it be received with thanksgiving? Why not rather enjoy the many wonderful creations of science the Lord affords man? We are not anabaptistic, to think that all science and modern invention is per se a hindrance to spiritual life, and so must be discouraged! What wrong can there be, then, in having a “TV set”? Let us consider. The minister enters the catechism room where twenty primary age boys assemble. Standing at the lectern, he prepares himself for opening prayer, but discovers the class is not with him. For over the tops of the seats appear some forty little fists clutching cast-iron pistols, plastic ray-guns, a model sub-machine gun or two – all aimed in the general direction of the minister; while chaotic cries leap from small but hearty throats, in realistic imitation of the sound of rifle shots and ricocheting bullets…And Sunday school teachers are regarded as “tame” because they cannot compete with “Superman” or “Hopalong,” No far-fetched description this, as almost any minister or Sunday School teacher can tell you.
The reason for this? May it be traced to the influence of modern television on the home life? Conscientious parents are discovering that they can do almost nothing with the children. Loving commands go unheeded, calls to meals, study and bedtime are hardly heard; so engrossed are they in the protracted viewings. Provoked parents often feel they may as well talk to a stone wall. The children themselves become aware of the hindrances and disruption of “TV,” for they soon realize the interference it creates in their school life and home studies. (Note: The more children in a family, the less reason for having a TV set.) Especially supper is hurried through, with no interest as formerly (normally) for the opportunities thus afforded for family fellowship. Meals must be re-scheduled suitably to the TV time-tables. In fact, so that supper need not interfere with an exciting or favorite feature, the food markets have produced a “solution” (?) in the form of complete “TV dinners,” pre-cooked and sold in aluminum-foil plates. Thus the entire family (with meal on lap) may eat and watch simultaneously “without annoying distractions.” Now, would a Protestant Reformed family hurry through supper, omit the usual Bible reading, in order to view a T.V. film? Or entirely set aside family worship on occasion in order to “catch” a particular “show”?
Thus Bible reading is on the decline, and where few still do cursorily read the Scripture, it is without understanding of its doctrine. For the insatiable craving for amusement results in aversion to study of Holy Writ and a falling away from the church. How to correct this! In the use of radio, e.g., there should be moderation, exercise of Christian judgment, and discrimination. But the writer (formerly a Fundamentalist), knows of no “TV” users in that movement, who make a discriminatory use of TV. One wonders if that is even possible. Fundamentalists, beholding the ruin of worldliness in the churches, have, (strangely) employed the “remedy” of fighting worldliness with worldliness; church entertainments, religious movies, ecclesiastical ventriloquists, converted magicians, Sunday School puppeteers and frenzied efforts are used to maintain a constant flow of amusement to hold the “teen-agers.”
Since television has so many disadvantages; is a profound waste of time; brings the world (the enemy) into the home; displaces family duties; corrupts with a distorted view of life; it is preferable to remove it altogether from the home. But the mere removal, or mere refusal to have television is not enough. Something positive ought to take its place. A modern hi-fidelity record player might be a step in this direction. Fill the home with the enjoyment of the most beautiful classical and Christian music. Aim to create that which TV almost entirely eliminates; viz., cultural attainment, and the development of the art of home which destroys the covenant life, or which excludes Jesus Christ. Emphasize family unity and love. Let all things which God hath given us richly to enjoy, be sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.