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Ethics, Morals, Behavior

Death to Television, Death to Isolation
by Ed Vasicek

We just purchased a new TV, our first one with remote control. The picture is brighter and our options greater: we can even mute the sound or switch stations when an obnoxious commercial appears. Our new set is nice, fresh looking, and clean. But the programs are still made of the same old garbage. Have you heard about the Cable TV dinners? Ninety-seven choices, but none of them are any good!

The Kokomo Tribune ran an AP article on February 7th titled "TV Is Getting Hotter, Sex Study Finds." The report found sexual content in 68% of the 1999-2000 shows studied. I don't know about you, but we Vasiceks tend to watch reruns or videos. We have not watched a currently made show—with the exception of Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, HGTV, documentaries, or the like—since Marylu and I have been married.

But it is not merely the content of television shows that is nasty, it is also the quantity of time we watch TV that counts. Robert Putnam, in his book, Bowling Alone (a book you will get tired of hearing me quote) writes, "Television is...the only leisure activity that seems to inhibit participation in other leisure activities. TV watching comes at the expense of nearly every social activity outside the home, especially social gatherings and informal conversations. The major casualties of increased TV viewing, according to time diaries, are religious participation, social visiting, shopping, parties, sports, and organizational participation.... Television viewers are anchored at home, and they recognize that fact themselves: heavy viewers generally agree that, 'I am a homebody.'" (p.237)

In addition to becoming anti-social, heavy television watchers are nearly twice as likely to suffer from headaches, indigestion, and sleeplessness as are light watchers. The cousins of television, namely video games and computers, provide addicts with similar social and physical handicaps. The result: social isolation. The expression, "Get a life!" is tailor made for such as these! Don't let the actors on television live life for you, get your own!

Putman's book talks about how social involvement produces "social capital." In communities with a lot of social capital, SAT scores are high, crime is low, depression is lower, and people are healthier. A smoker who is socially isolated would increase his chances for better health more by becoming socially involved than he would by giving up the cancer sticks! Psychologically, "....the single most common finding from a half-century's research on the correlates of life satisfaction, not only in the United States but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depth of one's social connections." (p. 332). Put simply, if you are involved in church, clubs, neighborhood groups, give blood, volunteer, play cards with friends, and read the community paper, odds are that you will live longer, be happier, and be smarter. And, if others get on that same bandwagon, odds are overwhelming that the community educational results will rise, crime will go down, and your property values will go up.

According to Putnam, some of the most obvious indicators that one is socially connected include daily reading of the newspaper (a strong indicator), moderate amounts of television (with news included and choice of PBS sorts of shows vs. situation comedies or talk shows), attending church regularly, having people over for a visit, playing cards, participation in civic organizations (PTA, etc.), voting, attending a club, serving as an officer (club or church), and developing the attitude that "most people can be trusted."

Regarding the newspaper, Putnam writes, "Compared to demographically identical non-readers, regular newspaper readers belong to more organizations, participate more actively in clubs and civic associations, attend local meetings more frequently, vote more regularly, volunteer to work on community projects more often, and even visit with friends more frequently and trust their neighbors more." (p. 218).

The newspaper statistics are consistent with other statistics regarding social involvement. The oldest generation (born before 1929) experiences a paper-reading rate of 72%. Then, each generation declines, with Baby Boomers at 48% and the youngest adult generation (born after 1960) at 27%. (Note that this statistic does not change as groups age. When the generation now in their seventies were in their 20's, they read the paper at about the same 72% rate!) The same pattern holds for voting, volunteering, entertaining guests, and church or civic involvement: the younger generations keep more to themselves, trust society less, and contribute less to the well-being of others. We are becoming a nation of socially isolated people and that results in more crime, depression, cynicism, extremism (social people tend to be more moderate) and lawsuits (people can no longer work out their own differences because they have no meaningful relationships with others).

Putnam praises church involvement as one of the best environments for building relationships and developing leaders. He writes, "...Regular worshippers...are much more likely than other people to visit friends, to entertain at home, to attend club meetings, and to belong to sports groups, professional and academic societies, school service groups, youth groups, service clubs, hobby or garden clubs, literary, art, discussion, and study groups, school fraternities and sororities, farm organizations, political groups...."

Yet Putnam has a reservation or two. In the past, I have read others who claim that evangelicals are concerned not with justice but "just us."  Does Putnam agree with this charge? It seems he does. "Evangelicals are more likely to be involved in activities within their own religious community but are less likely to be involved in the broader community.... Among evangelicals, church attendance is not correlated with membership in community organizations." Those are interesting thoughts. We do need to seek the Kingdom of God first, and it is right for us to put a priority upon church involvement. But maybe we should also consider getting around in a broader circle. Are we, perhaps, putting a bushel over this little light of ours?

Where do we start? Read the paper, cut down on TV viewing, and talk to your neighbors. Within the church, get involved in a flock group or volunteer for a ministry. As the World War II generation attempts to pass the baton, perhaps the Christian community can become the last segment of society that will be able to show people how to get a life—but only if we learn to enjoy people more than we enjoy the tube.

Pastor Ed

Reprinted from the March 2001 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.

Highland Park Church   516 W. Sycamore St. Kokomo, Indiana, 46901 USA   (765)452-1779    church@highlandpc.com    Main Service: Sun 10:30 a.m.