Monday, October 16, 2006

More Than One Christian View on TV Viewing

This is a rough transcript of Holly's interview with WBCL radio about her article, "Unearthing Unearthly TV: Should Christians Watch Supernatural-Themed Television Programs?", which appeared in the Sept/Oct 2006 issue of Today's Christian Woman.

This transcript has been edited for clarity. All questions were asked by WBCL's Lynne Ford unless otherwise noted.

Holly, you are either brave or crazy to write an article subtitled "Should Christians Watch Supernatural-Themed Television Programs." Which one is it?

HOLLY: I don't think I'm particularly brave, so it must have been a moment of insanity when I agreed to write the piece.

Tell me why you wanted to write this article.

HOLLY: I love thought-provoking topics: They make some people think deeply, and they just provoke other people. In either case, people are motivated to pop their heads out of their comfortable, complacent shells. And you really can't read the words, "Should Christians Watch Supernatural-Themed Television Shows?" and not feel some sort of reaction.

But you know, it would be absolutely crazy for me to say, "I know definitively what Christians can and can't do." So I would never say that. This article really isn't an answer to that question, but rather, it's a call to individuals to think about the question for themselves.

Why the interest in supernatural-themed shows?

HOLLY: I think humans in general have an inherent curiosity. We want answers. "What happens when we die?"--that's the ultimate question. Supernatural-themed TV shows are about what happens after death, or about creatures like ghosts and vampires that possess the ability to live forever. We're curious about these topics.

Now, for those who are not Christians, there's no reassurance from the Bible about death. Scientists aren't offering any proof or explanations about it, so where can non-believers look for information? They could go to their local Borders bookstore and search the philosophy section for help, but TV is much easier. It's a no-brainer. For someone who isn't a Christian, TV's guesses about death are just as valid as anyone else's.

But Christians, on the other hand, we have the Bible and our faith. So why would any Christian want to watch a supernatural-themed TV show?

Let's talk about that. You write that Christians tend to hold one of two opposing opinions about these kinds of shows. What are the two views, and how are they similar?

HOLLY: Let me offer the two extremes. At one end, a Christian might say, "Nothing on TV meets God's high standards. So I'm just gonna throw my TV out the window." At the other extreme, a Christian might say, "My God is bigger than anything on TV. And he doesn't want me to be afraid of TV. So I can watch anything."

There are problems with both of these views. In the first case, a person might say, "Well, I'm just not going to watch any TV, and I'm going to shut out all of pop culture entirely. That might feel safe, but what happens is we cut ourselves off from the unbelieving world. If every Christian decided to do this, then who's left tell the unsaved about Jesus?

In the second case, a Christian might overestimate the strength of their faith. I think it confuses the strength of our God with our own personal strength and willpower.

In the article, you quote two individuals who have different perspectives. One is Susan Wales, who's a writer and producer--her husband is the one behind the Christy series--and Sheryl Anderson, a woman who wrote for Charmed. Susan's personal choice would be to distance herself from something that has a belief system that's different from hers. Sheryl, on the other hand, says her decision is to watch shows because she's not afraid of those things. After interviewing these very intelligent, very committed believers, where have you come out personally?

HOLLY: There are a lot of people within that spectrum. When I first approached this subject, I figured there had to be a simple yes-or-no answer to this question. The two views you just talked about, I thought they were polar opposites. Problem was, I couldn't come up with an answer to the question--I couldn't figure out whether we should chuck our TVs or embrace them.

Then my pastor challenged me with this question, "What if those two seemingly opposite opinions are actually two ways of expressing the same goal?" That hit me like a TV set being dropped on my head. You see, both opinions consider the power of TV messages. The first says, "There's dangerous stuff in that show. If we don't watch it, then it can't have any power over us." The second says, "There's no real power to this show, so there's no reason for us to avoid it." Both views have the same objective: They want to displace the power of TV messages.

How does a believer determine, "What is the choice for me?"

HOLLY: First, we need to educate ourselves about the real paranormal world. We can do that by reading Scripture on demons, reading about the occult in Christian books and on Christian websites, and asking our pastor questions about the topic.

Second, when we watch TV, we need to actively watch it with an alert mind. Most of us come home at the end of the work day and plop down in front of the TV. And we're tired, so we zone out and we absorb everything the TV launches at us. We're not really thinking about it.

So how do you know if you're actively watching? First, think about TV shows you recently watched. Ask yourself these questions: What was it about? What were some of the best lines from the show? If you can't remember much about the episode, you might be watching too passively.

Most importantly, if you're feeling something in your spirit, if you're feeling uncomfortable watching a show, don't dismiss that feeling. We really need to pray about those feelings because The Holy Spirit might be letting us know the program isn't for us.

Talk about the theology behind these shows.

HOLLY: Most of these shows portray good as winning out over evil. "Good," however, is rarely represented as God, much less Jesus. The good girls and good guys use their brains and their muscles to defeat the forces of darkness.
For women in particular, shows like NBC's Medium can make us feel special. Here's a story about a regular woman who uses her psychic abilities to solve horrific crimes. The show even portrays those psychic powers a lot like women's intuition.

The idea that an average mom and wife could essentially be a superhero--that's attractive to all women. Because we all want our talents recognized. We all want to do good and help others.

Do we need to be concerned about the impact of these shows on teenagers?

HOLLY: The truth is, paranormal shows these days come in kid-friendly packages. They're on the Disney channel, they're animated.

What parents can do is to be aware and offer their children some guidance. That's true for any television show your child watches. Watch a few episodes with your child. Afterward, discuss how the show differs from reality. Kids might not even notice the supernatural elements in the show. By pointing them out and modeling active watching, kids will learn how to become more discerning viewers.

And even asking kids, "Why do you want to watch this? What is appealing to you?" I know for Char, this is a topic of great interest.

(CHAR BINKLEY) I was interested to note that in her article, she mentions witchcraft is on the rise among high-school girls. One wonders, with all these shows that have been on TV in the last couple years, if there will continue to be an increase.

"Christians who work in Hollywood

are missionaries. We would never say

to a missionary in Africa, 'Why on

earth are you working in that

godforsaken place?'"

(LYNNE) Holly, what did you take away personally?

HOLLY: A lot of it was the understanding Christians are coming from the same perspective. As extreme as our views might sound, we're coming from that same perspective of faith.

It also made me think about how I watch shows, and whether I'm really tuned in. One practice I do personally is to keep track of the number of swear words that are in a show. It really makes me tune in to what's going on.

In Jane Struck's editor's note in the Sept/Oct issue of Today's Christian Woman, she commented that she wonders about her own TV viewing, from the grumpy arguments on Everybody Loves Raymond, to the violence on 24. I thought about how we separate out what's bad, worse, and worser still.

Images have such great power. I've watched movies, then wished later I hadn't. I think saying "no" to ourselves sometimes can be a good thing.

HOLLY: This article is about supernatural-themed TV shows specifically, but I think the takeaway can be for any television show, or any type of film, or even anything we're listening to.

Holly, thank you for this article. I appreciated the scope of people interviewed. You could have focused on the extreme position of "never-ever-ever, this is always wrong," as opposed to saying, "Let's think about this."

And you spoke with believers who are gifted in writing, directing, and producing. They're influencing not only those who watch their creations on screen, but also those they work with in Hollywood. That is as much a part of their ministry as the product they produce.

HOLLY: It was important for me to recognize people who work in Hollywood are missionaries. We would never say to a missionary in Africa, "Why on earth are you working in that godforsaken place?" So we shouldn't do it to our Hollywood missionaries, either. I'd previously looked at some Christians in Hollywood and thought, "How can they work on that show?"

(CHAR) Part of the takeaway was for me to think about how much vegetative viewing I do. I don't always think about how many murders or sex scenes or crude jokes I'm watching. The article challenged me about my lazy viewing.

(LYNNE) When Dan Allender was here last year, he made a comment about the popularity of reality television. He said we're so lazy about our own lives that we live vicariously through others. We waste so much of our time entering into what someone else is doing. We should be using this time to step away and make our own stories because they're just as interesting.

Holly, thank you for joining us for today's Mid-Morning show, and thank you for this wonderful article.

HOLLY: Thank you so much for having me.


Teeriffic said...

Whoo-hoo! Way to go, Holly! This is great. So thoughtful.

Holly said...

Thanks, T! Have I told you lately what a blessing you are to me? :)

Kevin Cushing said...

Hi Holly--

Good job on your interview! I was impressed that you came across as articulately in your verbal presentation as you do when you write. It looks like the Lord honored your prayers to come agross well in the interview.

I was struck by your quote at the end about viewing Christians in Hollywood as missionaries and I've been thinking about it, and I'm not sure I agree for the most part that that's an apt analogy. I was a development executive at Paramount for several years, working mostly with non-Christians. I was fairly outspoken about my faith, and tried to contribute positively to the content I worked on and the lives of my colleagues. But I always felt that Christians in Hollywood were lionized too much by certain evangelicals. The problem is, few have motives as pure as missionaries, and those who do generally lack the sensibility to be successful in a business that rewards compromise, sensuality and a worship of materialism.

I've met pastors in LA who acted towards the entertainment industry like kids with their noses pressed up against the candy store window, getting excited about any little scraps that Hollywood would throw toward the church, and I always felt it betrayed a lack of confidence in who we are as Christians that we were so desperate for advancement or recognition by the secular entertainment industry.

When I was a kid, I used to love the Academy Awards, and my big dream as a good pastor's kid was to accept an Oscar and then give all the glory to Jesus Christ in my acceptance speech. This, I felt, would be the greatest achievement I could offer to God. Of course it didn't hurt to realize that with the honor would come much riches and fame (oh well, the little sacrifices we must make to serve God.)

I'm being a little harsh; I did ultimately enter the entertainment business because I loved theater and film as an art form, and I wanted to use my gifts in the most professional arena possible. But I was always a little wary of some Christians who wanted to impress fellow believers with the fact that they worked in Hollywood, or Christians who were overly impressed with what we did. After all, what kind of missionary zeal does it really take to drink fresh-squeezed orange juice on the patio of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with tuxedo-clad waiters in attendance and crisp white linens on your lap?

I think Christians in Hollywood run the gamut, from honest craftspeople to self-absorbed materialists; I guess the same range you would find in any other field. I just think that the church makes a mistake to be overly impressed by Hollywood or its practitioners, and sometimes we act too desperate to recognize any little Christian involvement in secular entertainment.

But anyhow, that's spoken from the point of view of a disaffected Hollywood expat; I'm still trying to figure out what I really think about all this, and I appreciate the dialogue that you inspire with your articles.