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Turning On the TV, Tuning Out Life

May I ask you a question? Why do you watch that junk they put on television?

I don’t mean to imply that all television shows are junk. And I think that a certain amount of entertainment is good for us. But the deluge of TV trash is astounding. To increase audience share, TV happily produces increasingly provocative content and well-intentioned people — including well-intentioned Christians — tune in.

“Dancing with the Stars,” for example, has been a success in part because of the dancers. Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay danced. Professional athletes, journalists, actors and singers have also danced, gathering enthusiastic audiences for 13 seasons.

But by nature, entertainment is governed by the law of diminishing returns. If the stunt rider jumps his motorcycle over one school bus today and we all cheer, tomorrow he’ll have to jump over two school buses to even get our attention.

And “Dancing with the Stars” is no different. Its producers need to take the audience to the next level. So, as I mention today on my “Two-Minute Warning,” which I urge you to watch at ColsonCenter.org, this season the show features Chaz Bono, the transgendered child of Sonny and Cher. Why? Merely to draw the curious — like the old-fashioned side-shows at carnivals.

But many of us will watch “Dancing with the Stars” and other such drivel. After all, we’ll tell ourselves, we just need a little distraction.

Media critic and Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin in his book Media Unlimited looks at our need for distraction. “Distraction is one of those terms,” he wrote, “… that requires an object to make sense. The question is, distraction from what? Morality? God? Pain? Subjugation? Changing the world? More than one of the above? …Your answer to the question Distraction from what? reveals what you value.”

It’s true that life today is complicated, exhausting and often heartbreaking. But ducking life through distractions like hours of mind-numbing and morally questionable TV is not the solution.

We need to deal with the root problem, which is the insidious sin of sloth. We shrug our shoulders and mindlessly say, "Whatever." Caring about nothing, we slide through life. Our culture of distractions is the market’s response to a culture of couch potatoes.

Sloth causes us to ignore the opportunities God gives us for growth, service and sacrifice — and even true rest. Rather than interact with our spouse or kids, we watch “The Biggest Loser” or Monday night football.

Rather making time for reading and prayer, we see what’s happening on Facebook. Instead of helping with the dishes, we check our email. After all, what could be more important than email? Instead of interactions we choose distractions.

Which brings me back to my opening question: Why do you watch that junk they put on television? Is it really just an innocent distraction or is it a convenient way to duck out of the demands of life, including God's call upon you for growth, service and sacrifice, for loving Him and caring about others?

Enough honest answers to that question could change the way we approach our family, our faith and our culture. And who knows, it could change the culture itself.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication date: October 5, 2011

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