The television set

June 8, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 12
Will Braun |

According to a tract produced by a Holdeman group, television is “rocking people to sleep morally and spiritually.” I agree with our Anabaptist cousins—however outdated they sound—although I still love TV.

As a child I did not share my parents’ view that there were better things to do than watch TV. I felt miserably oppressed by the one-hour daily quota they imposed. Later in life, when an out-of-town job came with a fully furnished house trailer and free cable, my Holdeman sympathies gave way to World Cup yearnings. The TV came out of storage for the soccer spectacle and it dominated my morally drowsy evenings until I moved.

The allure of TV is strong. Although other gadgets have come along, TV holds its place. It is easy, titillating and distracting. Just sit, click and enjoy. It can also be educational—as addicts love to point out—but those are not the reasons I like it.

Nor do I find those defences as persuasive as the indictments in the Holdeman tract. “A steady diet of brutal crime and violence, sponsored by ungodly men, is fed to millions not having the moral will to resist,” reads the tract, which is entitled “The Television Set.” That’s not exactly how I would state it, but I can’t argue. Wisdom from Ephesians follows: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” The point is simple and true: “Much valuable time is wasted in front of the TV.”

I recall visiting a Holdeman church in the late 1990s and hearing the minister explain the church’s opposition to TV. Although church regulation of lifestyle is considered unsophisticated in most circles, I found their practice courageous and sensible. I could not imagine crafting an argument to convince them that TV should be church-sanctioned, so I had to admire their stand.

The tract invites readers to embrace “nobler blessings of life” such as “inner contentment” and “peaceful and intimate conversations so essential to family unity.”

Many Amish churches also ban TV. As Amish bishop David Kline told me last year, “If it’s bad for the family, you don’t have it.” TV would fall in that category for him.

Many times I have heard the clichéd defence that there are good things on TV. Of course, there are. But we’re in trouble if we look to Hollywood for spiritual enrichment. We’re in trouble if our edification is interspersed with the naked greed of advertising. We’re in trouble if the easiest way to get Christians together is to have a movie night (and it doesn’t even matter which movie). We’re in trouble if our ethical sophistication is no more nuanced than deeming something good so long as no nudity, swearing or violence passes before us.

TV is not all bad, but the medium itself tends to numb creative capacities, social interaction and home life. Few people or families would benefit from more TV.

Neither my wife nor I have ever owned our own television set. Our four-year-old son barely knows what TV is, although he likes YouTube clips of farm machinery. Tough choices lie ahead. I don’t want to offer my children up to the advertisers. I don’t want them rocked gently into moral ambivalence, nor do I want them to be complete misfits.

What I would like is for them to grow up in a faith community in which people’s lives clearly show that there are better things to do than watch TV.

Will Braun attends Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, Man. He can be reached at wbraun@inbox.com.

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