A Year without Television, Part III: The Benefits

This is part 3 of 5 in the series A Year Without Television

Well, having taken to heart the paternal warnings of the Church Fathers, and having preached against the folly of the screen, it remained for me to see exactly what life without television would be like. I had some misgivings, not the least of which were the niggling speculations about the addictive cliff-hangers from which I had abruptly walked away. “What happens to the characters?”

The first thing I noticed about life without television was that my evenings were less predictable, which I did not like. It had become habit to do a few set chores, then sit down and watch a couple episodes of a show. I found myself doing the few set chores, and then, not knowing what else to do, continuing on with chores until it was time to go to bed.

During the day wasn’t much better. The children were quite upset with the change. They never watched more than an hour of TV each day (unless we had a family movie night), usually less than an hour, and sometimes none. Yet after we cut out television they wouldn’t stop begging, “Can we watch TV? Will you put this or that show on?” For as little TV as they watched before, I hadn’t realized how addicted they were to the screen!

Between the hectic evenings and the whining children, I wondered if this had been a good move or not. “Yes, it’s a good thing,” I kept telling myself. “It might be hard, but it is good for our family, and it will become normal soon enough.” And sure enough, it did.

It took a couple of weeks before my wife and I realized that our leisure time in the evening had turned into a flurry of housework. Our home certainly wasn’t hurting because of it, though we missed sitting down and enjoying a story.

And so we turned to reading: I read aloud, and my wife worked on some of her hobbies. We quickly read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There were some other books, and then Paradise Lost. Here were good stories: stories that didn’t rely on catering to the passions or manipulating the emotions or sucking us in with overly-contrived suspense; stories of substance, with good and evil, and right and wrong (according to the right standard of right and wrong!).

We also amped up reading together as a family. I had already begun the practice of reading a good book out loud after supper. We started spending more time on that, and also took to reading at other times: a fairy tale here, a fable or two there, and many, many storybooks from the library.

It took about two months for the children to stop asking to watch TV, though even four or five months after we had stopped they would occasionally ask. One day my wife came up with a brilliant response. One of my daughters asked, “When can we watch TV?” and my wife said, in a silly voice and with a sweeping gesture, “NEVER!” The children thought that was a riot. For a while afterwards they kept asking that question, “When can we watch TV?” not because they wanted to watch TV, but because they wanted to hear and see Mommy’s humorous response. Eventually they stopped asking entirely.

With the difficulties thus being overcome, then came full enjoyment of all the benefits. The chief benefit of giving up television has been an overwhelming clarity: clarity of thought and expression, clarity about what is good and true. I’ll take these two in turn.

First, clarity of thought and expression. There is a certain way the world talks and reasons, an idiotic idiom that it employs, a snicker and a connotation to everything, and a general abuse and misuse of the English language. I had not realized how watching and listening to such things acts like a shroud on the mind!

Now certainly, replacing television with good literature will give clarity to thought and expression. But even before I had replaced television with anything but chores the fog began to lift. Scoffers tell us that religion is the opiate of the masses. That’s simply not true. Television is the opiate of the masses.

Second, ceasing to watch television led to a clarity about what is good and true. This one, I suppose, is no wonder. TV is the world’s catechism. Daily partaking of two diametrically opposed catechisms does not lead to clarity, but confusion. It’s not that I assented to the tenets of worldliness. It’s that my emotions had been programmed to sympathize with the wrong things.

This deserves further explanation. Television is not a catechism like Luther’s Small Catechism. It does not ask questions verbally and call for the “proper” verbal response. Television does not catechize the reason nearly as well as it catechizes the emotions.

For instance, I do not condone cohabitation before marriage. God’s Word is clear that such a thing is not pleasing in the sight of God, and is a violation of the Sixth Commandment. Why, then, was my heart glad when two characters, who had long been dancing around each other with romantic interest, finally confessed their love and then moved in together without so much as a thought of marriage? I should have cringed at such behavior! Or why was my heart sad when one of them left the house in a rage, saying it’s all over? Was it not their lot to come to an unhappy end for violating God’s Law? So why was I sympathizing? And why was my heart comforted when they made up later with implied fornication?

Television catechizes the emotions much more than the reason, and it’s easy to let our guard down. It’s easy to say, “I know that’s wrong; that’s not what I believe,” while at the same time feeling joy at sin and sadness at sin’s punishment. And this leads to grievous consequences in Christian life. Why don’t Christian parents confront their children with their sins? Why aren’t we Christians as bold in our confession as we ought to be? Why do we always feel the need to begin denunciation of sin with a winding, “understanding” prologue? In part because everyone’s emotions have been programmed to react in reverse of what they should! We can “know” the right answer, and say it over and over again by rote. But as long as we sympathize with the wrong things, as long as our emotions are the world’s emotions and not the Church’s emotions, we’re going to be living double lives.

Let me tell you, abstaining from the world’s catechism has led to immense clarity about what is good and true. And I’ll add that the liturgy does an amazing job of catechizing the emotions properly, when it doesn’t have something like television competing with it. Emotional catechesis is important. Our emotions are just as fallen as the rest of us, and must be taught how they should feel. Sending our emotions down the tube’s dark tunnels is only going to further disorder them, whereas the liturgy rightly orders the emotions. Much more could be said about this, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

Besides the chief benefit of clarity, there’s also the obvious benefit of having more time on your hands. Instead of television, I’ve read many of the classics: the Iliad and Odyssey, Herodotus’ Histories, plays by Sophocles and Euripides and Shakespeare, plus a good amount of poetry. After reading Paradise Lost out loud I started writing poetry. I’ve been brushing up on Greek, and I learned Latin. I’ve been translating quite a bit, and also writing more than I ever had before. Nor is any of this tiresome. It was more tiresome sitting in front of the television!

I never found out how the cliff-hangers of the old TV shows resolved. I stopped caring a while ago.

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