By Wendell Cantrell
A topic you will hear addressed frequently by Culture Watch is the persistent call for every believer to renew their mind and learn to think Christianly. Our theme passage is Romans 12:2; “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….” The Phillips translation uses a particularly convicting phrase; “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold….” Our losing the ability to think like our forefathers is a major aspect of the “mold of this world.” We are to be thinking people. We are to possess a “Christian mind.” How do you think we are doing?
In this issue, we will explore how television is one of the chief causes of our mindlessness. Would it mean anything to you if I suggested we as a culture have been “vannatized”? This is a term coined by Ted Koppel of ABC’s Nightline news program years ago at a Duke University Graduation program. He was referring to Vanna White, the beautiful letter revealer on the television game show, Wheel of Fortune. Koppel was intrigued by the popularity of this woman who seldom, if ever spoke a word, yet was the subject of numerous books, and frequently was high on the list of the most admired people in America. His concern is that this woman’s appeal is the very essence of the way of shallow thinking. We have a medium that seldom presents anything in enough depth to cause us to think. Instead, we get brief flashes of events and images offered (like Vanna) to which we can then attach our own vague feelings. Koppel, as a secular speaker, was pointing out the intellectual and social challenges of TV. I would add that it is a serious spiritual problem as well.
Neil Postman wrote a classic on the impact of television on our culture.1 Postman frequently addresses a novel called Brave New World by Aldoux Huxley that gives an ominous vision of the future, where people literally have come to love their oppression by these technologies that strip away their ability to think. The author, Huxley, feared that our culture faced a sea of irrelevance brought on by our technology that could drown the truth and reduce mankind to a mindless sense of passivity, and at peace with endless diversions.
Postman speaks of the transition in the late 20th century from the “the age of typography,” to the television age which he also calls “the age of show business.” Typography refers to the old fashioned means of communication of ideas using words in print: newspapers, pamphlets, and books. This means was analytic and rational, as written words were meant to be. Ideas were weighed and classified. Assertions were compared and generalizations were connected. Sadly, we have said goodbye to that age where reading printed material was as natural as eating or drinking.2 Postman also clearly illustrates the strength of this lost age by the public attention given to the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates prior to the Civil War, where people would listen for up to seven hours. Contrast that today, the age of images and soundbites, where the speaker better have a winsome appearance and be able to make his or her case in a matter of minutes.
Postman has a whole chapter on how disconnected TV news is. He entitles it “Now…This,” implying there is no connection or rational thought needed. This means you are about to see a 45 second feature totally unrelated to segments before or after. He makes the case that, “television gives us news without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness; that is to say, news is pure entertainment.” In other words, it is not only mindless, it is teaching us to be mindless, to the point at which we even suppose that our ignorance is great knowledge.
After hearing from these two really smart guys, Koppel and Postman, what would you say are some ways that TV and other technologies can be a stumbling block to the believer seeking to obey Romans 12:2? Feel free to add to my list, as it certainly isn’t exhaustive:
- Time wasted on trivia instead of truth.
- At peace with diversions.
- Total role reversals. Remember “Father Knows Best”? How are fathers portrayed today?
- Acceptance of immodesty and sexual innuendoes.
Al Mohler3 makes the case that this mindlessness we have been speaking of is a failure of discipleship. He gives this reminder: “We are called to love God with our minds. We cannot follow Christ faithfully without first thinking as Christians. Furthermore, believers are not to be isolated thinkers who bear this responsibility alone.” We are called to be faithful learners within the church, and by God’s grace; we have that opportunity weekly at Denton Bible. Mohler closes his column with these encouraging words: “By God’s grace, we are allowed to love God with our minds in order that we may serve him with our lives. Christian faithfulness requires the conscious development of a worldview that begins and ends with God at its center. We are only able to think as Christians because we belong to Christ; and the Christian worldview is, in the end, nothing more than seeking to think as Christ would have us to think, in order to be who Christ would call us to be.”
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- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
- Culture Watch, July 2014, Bye Bye Books
- Al Mohler, Jan. 21, 2014, Intellectual Discipleship- Faithful Thinking for Faithful Living