I am familiar with church communities who decided that the best way to address the immorality that is found on television is to prohibit everyone in the congregation from even owning one. I know, this may seem like an impossibility. Is it even possible to monitor such a thing? No, it was not but there was enough “holy peer pressure” for it to work a little bit. Nevertheless, I do not know that it got to the heart of the problem. Eventually, those pastors who banned television had to do the same with VHS and the DVD. Then the world wide web came into everyone’s home and it became something beyond regulating. Eventually it came to the point where people had television/movies on little devices called the “iPod” that fit in the pocket of one’s pants.
It is a well-known principle that regulating people only creates a desire for more freedom. Therefore the pastor could preach about the dangers of having a television in one’s home–and s/he may be right in what is being said–but it only made hypocrites out of people, not saints. When ecclesiastical leaders attempt to control people’s morality this eventually leads to gross legalism. It is not the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not “holiness” nor “sanctification”.
On the other hand, I have known a few pagans in my day who refused to have a television in their home for reasons that had nothing to do with religion. In fact, it was to prevent brain vegetation. Or it was because they were newly married and it was decided that evenings at home should be spent playing board games, and doing cross-word puzzles, than sitting next to each other without talking while the box entertained them.
So no, it is not because television is the “one-eyed demon” that it is dangerous. In fact, television can be great. There are some wonderful programs and there are many great channels (e.g. ESPN!). There are even some programs that are just worth watching because of the creative storytelling.
I have noticed that we all have our show of vices. I have been snooty about shows like Desperate Houswives, Gossip Girl, and Sex in the City (interestingly enough this may make me less of a moralist and more of a male chauvinist). Yet I have watched dozens of episodes of Rome, The Wire, Six Feet Under, and various programs that portray a world-view that isn’t just kind of scandalous; it is immoral. I have wrestled with whether or not I am simply engaging in a story or doing something that is harmful to my own psyche. Do I accept those things I know as wrong as part of the “story of human existence” which includes infidelity, murder, lies, and so forth? Or do I need to be have more precautions because these shows may be smuggling in values that I would not accept otherwise, yet I become immune to them through the medium of entertainment?
Those who defend the idea that these evils are only avoided by television abstinence quoted Psalm 101:3 from the KJV, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes”. It is beside the point that one can translate דְּֽבַר־בְּלִ֫יָּ֥עַל various ways (e.g. “worthless thing”, NASB; “vile thing”, NIV). It is equally difficult to determine whether or not one should use this text in discussing the merits and demerits of television. I do concede it contains a valuable principle.
As regards the Bible itself it is full of stories that make one blush: Abraham and Hagar, Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba, Solomon and hundreds of women, Hosea and his prostitute-wife. And that is just sexuality! Let us not forget some of the violence of the Bible. Is the only difference between those stories and television stories is that one is not visual?
The question that follows is how does one apply the aforementioned principle? Do we totally avoid watching television? Do we TiVO it so that we can fast-forward through scenes that we find inappropriate? Do we look away when we see some bare back? Do we use one of those programs that turns profanities into lesser words of offense such as “darn”?
I remember reading a principle set forth by John Piper though I do not remember where it is found. He said something to the extent that he can hear television profanity and he can watch television violence because he knows that it is acting and that it is not real, but he avoids television sexuality because that is the real bodies of real humans. Some may find this useful; others may find it useless.
And what vices are alright and what vices are too much? I like Fox’s House. I think he is one of the greatest characters ever thought up in all of television history. Yet he is sexist, racist, anti-social, egotistical, proud, narcissistic, and yes, sexually immoral.
This whole topic comes to a deadlock as far as objective statements are concerned simply because all cultures have a story-telling element and it just so happens that we live in an era and a culture where it become visual. It may put us at greater risk, but it is what it is. I do not want to go as far as to echo the Apostle Paul saying, “let every person be convinced in his own mind” but I do not know of any better answer. We all know what television does for us and we know what it does against us, individually.
All I know is that I am sure of one thing: Greg House is entertaining and at least in this juncture of my life I do not find his vices so unbearable to my conscience that I will refuse to watch that show. This may not be the case for everyone though. So live and let live?