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A study conducted by the Culture and Media Institute has confirmed what we already knew: those who describe themselves as heavy watchers of television (four hours or more a day) are less likely to be engaged with or even aware of the culture or community around them. Michael Medved’s analysis of the study concludes that these heavy TV watchers also tend to be more liberal or left-leaning in their political persuasion and attitude. The study found that a quarter (25%) of those interviewed for the poll fell into this “heavy watcher” category. Slightly less than a quarter of the interviewees (22.5%) qualified for the “light watcher” category, which means that they watch one hour or less. While Medved concentrated most of his analysis comparing and contrasting these two groups, I would like to focus on the remaining 52.5% who fall somewhere in the middle, watching more than an hour, but less than four every day.
It is no secret that reading is in decline among Americans. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders, and online giants like Amazon.com and even ChristianBook.com sell an astounding number of books every year. How do we fit these two pieces of data together? Simple. Buying books and reading books are two entirely different activities. This can easily be evidenced by the proliferation of Bibles in American homes (anywhere from 90-95% of American households have at least one copy of the Bible) and the complete ignorance of what it actually says.
Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife…. Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin’s wisdom not biblical; it’s counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans—most American Christians—are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.
McKibben’s perceptive article goes on to ask why it is that a nation that continuously promotes itself as a “Christian nation” is so far from both knowing what the Scriptures teach and actually living it out. His point is well-taken and can be answered quite easily. We don’t know what the Bible says or what it teaches simply because we never bother to read it. As this new television study reveals, we’re watching TV instead. The Bible has 1189 chapters in it. It’s a really big book. Over 75% of us have decided to wait for the movie.
We’re fooling ourselves if we think that passively watching a colorful box of lights for hours every night doesn’t have an effect. Advertisers are just one group that bets big money that it does. When over half of the nation is mindlessly staring at a lighted piece of glass for hours on end each night, how can we be surprised when they start believing what they are watching and hearing? The liberal agenda is everywhere, from Burbank to Hollywood to Madison Avenue. If a message is being pushed on the nightly news and again during prime time and yet again on the 11 o’clock news and reinforced on late-night talk shows, we should expect a nation of TV watchers to believe it.
This study reminded me of the opening pages of Gene Veith’s book, Reading Between the Lines. His words sound eerily prophetic:
The habit of reading is absolutely critical today, particularly for Christians. As television turns our society into an increasingly image-dominated culture, Christians must continue to be people of the Word. When we read, we cultivate a sustained attention span, an active imagination, a capacity for logical analysis and critical thinking, and a rich inner life. Each of these qualities, which have proven themselves essential to a free people, is under assault in our TV-dominated culture. Christians, to maintain their Word-centered perspective in an image-driven world, must become readers.
He wrote those words almost twenty years ago, think of how much further we are along by now. But then again, you don’t have to think. You can just look at the findings from the Culture and Media Institutes’ study. Maybe they’ll even put their research on a DVD so we won’t have to read it.