A few weeks ago, Susan left a comment after I linked to this article: To Raise Baby Einsteins, TLC Will Suffice. She said:
This is an interesting comment because it dovetails with something else that I read on your blog the other day, and that I have been thinking about non-stop since then. When you were talking about the football game that you recently watched, you mentioned how you had to drag the TV set out of the closet, find the antena, set it up, etc, etc. Boy, that comment has had me thinking ever since. We have 5 children, from teenagers down to infant, and this TV thing has been a pretty constant source of struggle for our family. We’ve never had a problem, so far, with WHAT the kids watch, but we have had problems with how much they want to watch. And for the most part, it’s all pretty good stuff… they love to watch the History Channel, one son (who loves history and political science) loves to watch the political talk shows, etc. But I have struggled all summer with whether or not we should get rid of the TV completely, or just try and control it. I’d love it if you’d do a post on this topic. I am very curious as to why you and your husband are apparently not regualr TV watchers. Were you at one time? And if so, do you miss it now? One of my teen sons is affected a lot by the images and advertising he sees on some of the channels. We homeschool, but were he in public school, he is the one I think I’d have the most trouble with as far as peer pressure and wanting to fit in. At least, that’s what I think based on the way TV seems to influence him. Anyway, hope this sparks your interest enough to do a post on it!!
So here is my TV post as promised to Susan.
First off, I know how loaded a topic this is. If you even mention to some people that you don’t watch TV or have cable or what have you, they immediately become defensive. So I want to make it clear that I’m not writing this as prescriptive theology. I’m writing this as an overview of our practices, personal convictions, and preferences. I’m also going to be really frank about how strongly I feel about some of these things. If you disagree and don’t have the same convictions, that’s between you and God. Nobody who reads here answers to me. Each of us answers to God. But I am going to be direct about what I think.
We watch almost no network TV. Once in a blue moon we will watch a sporting event and that’s about it. We had only basic cable until April 2006 (I think) and we’ve had nothing since except an inexpensive antenna. Even with that we live in a river valley and get the worst reception of anywhere in the West Michigan area. So even if we do turn on the TV, it isn’t all that great to watch. We both have always watched TV regularly so this was a major change for us, although one that happened gradually.
We do have a VCR and DVD player. We also have a small inexpensive TV and DVD player in the basement that I use when I walk. So while I almost never watch TV, I do regularly watch DVDs while I walk on the treadmill. We have a small collection of favorite TV shows and movies that we enjoy watching over and over again.
So that’s where we are.
Our TV is in the closet for a couple of reasons. One, I hate the way most living spaces in homes are centered on and focus on the television, almost like it is some kind of altar. In many ways the TV has replaced the fireplace of old. People used to gather around the hearth to keep warm and enjoy each other’s company. Now they all sit like zombies and stare at an unreal and often profane world. Our goal is to have our rooms focus around fellowship and relationship, not “worshiping at the passive altar of entertainment” (as Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes called it).
The other reason the TV is in the closet is because like St. Augustine I understand this: “To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” When the TV is out, it is too easy to flip in on and surf aimlessly to see what is on. I know what is on. Nothing. At least nothing that is more important or more edifying than other things in my life.
Which leads me to my next point. There are so many thing I would like to have time to do. This was true even before we had Caroline and now it is true times a thousand. Without even thinking I could come up with a list of more than twenty things I would like to have time to do. Most of them are far more edifying and creative than watching TV.
I know some people really like the home and garden shows, decorating shows, the cooking shows, etc. There is nothing necessarily wrong with them (unless they lead you to be dissatisfied with your own life). But I think it makes far more sense to actually DO something creative than spend time watching someone else being creative. I have enough creative material in my home (office, kitchen, etc.) to keep me busy for YEARS without needing to watch a show for more ideas.
Another reason we don’t watch television is I honestly have a hard time believing that Christ would spend much time watching it. The whole WWJD thing has been completely overdone and overcommercialized, but honestly… What would Jesus do? Would he watch CSI? Would He watch the absolutely graphic, gruesome and p*rn*gr*ph*c stuff that is on evening network TV? Twenty or thirty years ago this stuff would have been clearly rated R (or worse) for the theater. Now it is on network television every night and people think nothing of it. Where do you draw the line in terms of what is acceptable and what isn’t? I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of network TV has to cross the acceptable line for most, if not all, Christians.
Which leads me to my next reason: I don’t want to be desensitized. Several years ago, when we were first married, we didn’t watch any television for several months. This was before DVDs and we had very few VHS tapes so we didn’t watch anything at all. When we did turn it on or saw it other places, it literally made me queasy to watch it because of the speed and visual overload. I was no longer desensitized to it and it was literally overwhelming to watch it. Now because I do watch DVDs, I am not in the same place as I was when it comes to watching TV. The motion doesn’t get to me like it did at that time.
BUT I am still very sensitive to the content. Honestly, when we turn on the TV to watch a sporting event or some big news story (like Hurricane Katrina), just watching the commercials embarrasses, sickens, and/or horrifies me. Shows are no longer just about catching the bad guys. It is about titillation and voyeurism and just about every form of perversion known to man. I don’t want that stuff in my mind, even if it is just being exposed to the commercials.
Which is another reason: commercials. I don’t need to be reminded every day of what I don’t have or what someone thinks I need to have. The more TV I watch, the less satisfied I am with my own life and the material goods with which God has blessed me. Less TV = greater contentment.
And the last reason that comes to mind right now is that I want to set a good example for Caroline. She has zero, zilch, nada reason to watch TV. She does see glimpses of it at times and she has been in the room while we’ve had a DVD in or had a Tiger baseball game on. But that is very rare. We just don’t watch it while she is around. She does’t need to become attracted to it and there is no reason whatsoever she needs to watch “educational” shows. She’s got a daddy and a mama all day, a huge basket full of books, all kinds of creative toys, and a mother who is a former teacher who can’t wait to get going on the fun stuff with her! TV would be a poor and inferior replacement to all she can gain elsewhere with us.
One closing thought about spouses being on different pages regarding this issue. David and I were not on the same page about this in the beginning. I was ready to put the TV in the closet LONG before David was. At times it was a source of frustration for me, but this is his home too and my desire to pack it away didn’t necessarily trump his desire to keep it out. I don’t even remember when his perspective changed, but I do remember praying about it at times. We are on the same page now, but we weren’t at the beginning. So if you desire to make a change and your spouse doesn’t, I would suggest praying about it and doing whatever you can for yourself to make a change. But preaching about it and becoming contentious is not going to get you very far. I don’t have any words of wisdom for those who have older children and a spouse with different views. Perhaps someone else can share their experiences. But I do know that real change only comes through the conviction of the Holy Spirit so I would start on my knees whether it is for yourself or for your spouse.
I can honestly say that only a few times in the many months since we got rid of cable have I wished we’d had it. And I think in every case it was because I wished I could turn on a particular sporting event only available on expanded cable. Then when the event was over, it just didn’t matter any longer. Just as very few people will get to the end of their lives and wish they had spent more time at the office, I think very few people will wish they had spent more time watching TV. Life is just too full of wonderful opportunities to waste it.
And if those aren’t reasons enough, consider these:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.