Better choice than TV, film, entertainment?

Posted 13 Feb 2015

Throwing out TV – black & white

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Woke up about 6am. Thinking about entertainment, which has been on my mind for a while. We seem to live a large proportion of our lives in the entertainment world, especially the worlds of TV, film (cinema, DVD), books, computer games, etc. I am questioning the suitability of doing that, & wondering if there is a BETTER WAY to live.

When we sit alone or with someone else & watch a TV programme or DVD film, etc, our attention is all on the screen. Rarely do we engage with each other. Is that a good idea?

Don’t worry, I’m not a Christian who is about to suggest we all throw out our TV’s, DVD’s & games consoles away! But on the other hand, I am wondering if there is an EVEN BETTER way to live life, so much so that the attraction of TV, computer games & our other entertainments actually pale into insipid insignificance. Now wouldn’t that be something! Can you imagine something that could be EVEN MORE engaging & fulfilling than all the films, TV programmes & other things we fill up our lives with?! What could that possibly be? Does such a thing exist?

I like TV & film; it appeals to me personally. So I’m wondering all this about myself, as well as about us all. My introvert, creative & imaginative nature enjoys TV & film. These things seem good to me, so this questioning could make me quite uncomfortable! The fantasy worlds of TV & DVD are nice, safe, entertaining & exciting, in fact, they are SO engaging these days (with brilliant special effects) that it can seem as if we ARE engaged in the adventures portrayed there. At the very least they engage us & keep our attention for hours on end. But we aren’t ACTUALLY living the adventure; it isn’t OUR adventure, it is the film-makers, or writers, or artists’ world, created for us to engage with. So, even though modern TV & film has wonderful effects & great story-telling power, our involvement is still only a passive, vicarious involvement: second hand adventures, devoid of any real involvement on our part, & especially any investment of ourselves.
It is “safe” to us, to be thrilled by car chases, political intrigues, westerns, Sci-fi space adventures, etc, etc. Yes, it is “safe”, but our involvement in these entertainments aren’t actually free: they cost us more than we think; they cost us TIME. The only thing we are using up when we engage with entertainment is our INCREDIBLY SHORT & ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS & IRREPLACEABLE LIFE’S TIME!

Hence my question: is watching TV, film or engaging in whatever entertainment you care to mention, which tends towards isolating us & insulating us from each other, & which is for entertainment’s own sake, the BEST use of our time? Is there something even better we could devote our precious, & limited life time towards?

From my Christian perspective, I’m wondering if God is happy with our choice of entertainments? But more than that, I am wondering if the amount of time we spend on our own entertainment is really a good idea or not.
As with all things, it is A MATTER OF DEGREES. The occasional “down time” of dipping into a TV programme or DVD, or whatever, probably isn’t a problem. After a hard day’s work (engaged with all those pesky relational & people problems!) it may not be too much of an issue to watch TV or see a movie. The issue begins to move towards a potential problem when we find ourselves spending more & more time involved in our own entertainment. If most or every night involves curling up on the sofa & “vegging out” in front of the TV, then surely something is wrong. Surely our involvement in entertaining ourselves has become too important; too isolating. We’ve gone from occasional involvement in our own entertainment, as a means of relaxation & “recharging our batteries” (no problem with that) to an EXCESSIVE ENGROSSMENT & DEPENDENCY on our own entertainment. A life so skewed can’t be right, or good for us, or wholesome, or actually what we REALLY desire for ourselves either. This kind of life-time-eating entertainment can sneak up on us too! What we enjoy we tend to try to do more of: that’s true for most things in life. But we are meant to be the masters of ourselves & our activities.

Here’s a test for you & me: can you imagine going without your entertainment for a day, a week, a month? If not, & the very idea breaks you out in a cold sweat, then I wonder who is the real master here: you, or your entertainment?!

The benefits of doing.
Some people like watching sports, perhaps following a football club or similar favourite team, surely there’s nothing “wrong” in that. But would it be even better to get involved in DOING sports? Watching is OK, but there is more benefit in doing. There is the benefit to our health, but even more than that, I wonder about the social improvement to our lives. Participation (rather than mere observation or passive spectator involvement) in sport builds a community of like-minded & dedicated individuals into a team, with common goals & shared visions. That community is worth something. being invested in the outcome of competition yourself has got to be better than merely following the action from the sidelines, hasn’t it?

We think we’re involved with our favourite team, cheering them on from the side-lines; shouting at the referee; shouting at the manager, etc! We’re surrounded by like-minded people who also support our team. We have rivals & potential conflict in the OTHER team & their fans! It all sounds like we ARE invested & involved. But that is a pale imitation of actually playing the sport: being physically involved ourselves. What a different LEVEL of engagement & investment that is.

I suppose you could take this one stage further & include our hobbies. If we are engaged in some activity that tends to lead us away from interaction with other people, for long periods of time, is THAT healthy for us? Wow, that’s a problem question for me: I spend hours on my own drawing these Bible Cartoons!

Is there a better way?
I hope I’ve wet your appetite for the “something better” alternative to passively watching the “goggle box” (TV)! So what is the better alternative to our over-pursuit of our own entertainment?

What does God want us to do with our life time?
Has God got a better life & lifestyle which we could live out?

The short answer is: I don’t know!

I’m only asking these questions (of myself as much as you!) now. I have been an avid TV watcher ever since my early childhood, so the prospect of switching off the TV & going to do something else instead (anyone remember “Why Don’t You” TV show from the 1970’s-1990’s! *1) is quite counter-intuitive to me! One things for certain, if I was to make that radical lifestyle change, I’d have to be pretty sure that the alternative was even more engaging (& in its own way entertaining!) as the TV had been!

I suppose my anxiety is based on the question, are we short-changing ourselves by being so involved in our entertaining ourselves for so much of our time? Would we be happier, more fulfilled, better off if we engaged in some other activities?

Many Christians have discovered the unexpected benefits (to themselves) of serving other people. When we “take our eyes” off ourselves & focus on someone else’s needs, we often discover the sort of life that really 1) benefits the other person & 2) benefits us as well, as a sort of spiritual by-product.

Are we short-changing God?!
As a Christian I am also wondering if we are not only living much duller & more passive lives (if we spend much of our life time’s in entertainment), but we could also be SEVERELY SHORT-CHANGING GOD. An increasingly urgent question (at least in my mind, & especially for us Christians) is this: are we living the sort of lives that really honour our Lord Jesus? Specifically, does our 10, 20, 30+, etc hrs per week, spent on our own entertainment, really represent a life given over to (devoted to) doing what God wants?

Are we self-serving when we pursue our own entertainment, or are we God-serving? I think that the more time we devote each week to our own entertainment, the greater case we might have for thinking that the answer is actually the former!

Don’t go all crazy on me here! I’m not suggesting we get rid of all our entertainment(s) & try to live lives of monastic severity & austerity! That would be going too far the other way! All I’m wondering is, have we got the BALANCE right between serving our own interests (ie our own entertainment) & serving our Lord & Saviour Jesus the Christ? As I wrote earlier, there is probably nothing wrong with the occasional TV programme or other hobby/entertainment. That might be justifiable if we have been engaged all day long in our people-focussed work or ministry. It is the EXCESSIVE pursuit of our own entertainment which I am questioning.

The question of content.
Not a lot of the entertainment we watch (I’m thinking of TV & film here) is really all that helpful. Just monitor your own viewing habits for a while & you’ll begin to notice that a lot of the content that we expose our minds to is about action & adventure, which tends to centre on conflict. In many of the programmes we see anger, self-promoting, selfishness, arrogance, etc at much in evidence. Conflict is, of course, needed in almost every storyline we see. Conflict between people excites us, it is gripping stuff! The resolution of conflict is a timeless concern for us. The Bible is all about the conflict between us humans & Satan & his army of fallen angels. Ultimately it is a story with a happy ending, when God will totally defeat & judge those daemons.
We don’t mind viewing conflict (for entertainments sake!) provided it doesn’t actually INVOLVE us! Then we don’t tend to like it – it’s “too close for comfort” But we love a good story about conflict between OTHER people!

Of course, there is an awful lot of conflict recorded in the Bible! That’s the exciting narrative bits! The Flood & Noah’s ark, Joshua & the conquest of the Promised Land, David & Goliath, Jesus & the Pharisees! Yes, there is plenty of conflict (& battles, war, intrigue, rape, murder, etc) in the Bible, but conflict isn’t really the big issue or centerpiece of the books. Actually the Bible is about LOVE; it only narrates stories about conflict! The over-arching arc story of the Bible is the creation of the world (culminating in mankind), the fall of man, & God’s tireless efforts to bring about the ultimate solution to our sin problem. That’s all about LOVE.

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment (see Matthew 22:36-40 *2) his answered was to love God & to love our neighbours (ie our fellow mankind). From this scripture, & from many, many others, it is easy to recognise that the primary, highest purpose of us all is to love well: God & our fellow man.

So it’s really all about love!
It is interesting to note that the theme of love occurs a lot in our various entertainments too. So called “Chick flicks” are mostly about love & there are plenty of them about!

How appropriate that I should write about love, as it’s Valentine’s day tomorrow!

When you stop & think about it, although we might like action & adventure stories, or political thrillers, or historical drama’s, or sci-fi movies, in fact it is the interactions of the characters that often hold the biggest attraction for us. A TV programme or film that is purely about war, conflict &/or death, without anything else, ends up being a pretty unsatisfying story. TV & film-makers have known for ages that a “good” story has to have different elements in it, in order to keep viewer’s interest.

In the end, we all want to see a happy ending too! Doubt that? Then just consider: how unsatisfying is the story which doesn’t have a happy ending? It’s not just that we want the end to be neat & tidy, it’s that we really want good to win out over evil. That conflict is in pretty much every story ever told. We shouldn’t be surprised by that either, since the battle of good against evil is the primary narrative of every story, & the eventual defeat of evil & success of good over evil, is the theme of the greatest story ever played out for real. The Devil (who personifies evil in the Bible) is a created being, who, though very powerful, is not infinitely powerful. The Lord God, on the other hand, is infinitely powerful, which means that, even though we encounter difficulties & conflict (from the world, the flesh & the Devil) on a daily basis here on earth, we are assured that in the end, evil will be defeated, once & for all, & God’s kingdom will be fully manifested.

I think I’ve uncovered the reason for writing all this now!

The highest calling any of us can respond to is love: to love God (in the first instance) & our neighbour (our fellow man, in the second). Jesus Himself tells us that in the Bible.

If I/we engage in hours & hours of avid pursuit of our own entertainment, instead of more actively pursuing love, then we will probably end up in a position of stunted fulfilment & lesser achievement than we might have enjoyed. We want to avoid looking back on our lives & wondering with bitter regret why we spent all that valuable life time watching TV & films, don’t we?

Since I believe that is so, then it follows that our greatest chance of fulfilment & achievement lies in the direction of love. It comes down to what we want really. We can pursue our own entertainment – God isn’t stopping us from doing that – or we can reduce our own entertainment in favour of pursuing the better & bigger goal of love.

The choice is ours to make. What do you want to go after?


Why Don’t You? or “Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?” was a BBC children’s television series broadcast between 20/August/1973 to 21/April/1995.

Matthew 22:36-40 Amplified Bible (AMP)
36 (A Sadducee lawyer asked) “Teacher, which kind of commandment is great and important (the principal kind) in the Law?” [Some commandments are light—which are heavy?]
37 And He (Jesus) replied to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect). 38 This is the great (most important, principal) and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as [you do] yourself. 40 These two commandments [b]sum up and upon them depend all the Law and the Prophets.”


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