When I am in my office, I am only about 45 miles north of the heart of the entertainment industry in Hollywood, California. The drive takes an hour . . . or two or three, if there’s traffic.
Increasingly, I am called to speak around the world in far away places such as Poland, Ukraine, India, Japan, or the border of Laos. When I step on the plane, I find Hollywood movies and television programs. When I go into the jungle of the highlands of Thailand, Hollywood is still very close nearby—there are satellite dishes run by generators connected by exposed wires, which bring Hollywood entertainment into the flimsy grass huts of the people. The children in these villages try to dress like the Hollywood stars they idolize and try to mimic their lives—right down to the smoking, drinking and sexual promiscuity. Hollywood is not just a geographic place anymore, but a huge entertainment industry that reaches the world, for good or ill. Aided increasingly by foreign investments, it is the United States of America’s voice to people everywhere, especially the youth. As Jesus told the leading spokespeople of His day, “It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matt. 15:11, CSB). All too often, what comes out of the mouth of our entertainment-oriented culture are movies such as Hostel, Kill Bill, Sex and the City,and Saw IV.
Countless scientific studies of different kinds, including longitudinal studies of the effects of the media, have clearly shown the powerful influence that the entertainment media has on people’s cognitive development and behavior, especially children, teenagers and young people, who represent the biggest audience for entertainment programming from the mass media, including Hollywood. In fact, according to media consumption statistics from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), by the time he is 17-years-old, the average child will have spent up to 63,835 hours watching movies, videos and TV programs, playing video games, or listening to music. In comparison, by the time he is 17-years-old, the average child will have spent only 11,000 hours in school, 2,000 hours with their parents, or 900 hours in church if they regularly go to services. Thus, in one year, the average child might spend about 3,755 hours watching movies and television, listening to music or consuming other media, but only about 52 hours in church (if they attend once a week).
In 2000, the Surgeon General of the United States agreed with four top medical groups, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as countless psychological and neurological experts, that violence in the mass media is contributing to increased violent behavior among children and teenagers (see “Joint Statement on the Impact of Entertainment Violence on Children,” Congressional Public Health Summit, July 26, 2000). Not only that, but many scientific studies from other sources, such as education professor Diane Levin, author of Remote Control Childhood? Combating the Hazards of Media Culture, and psychologists like Dr. Victor Cline, Dr. Stanley Rachman, Dr. Judith Reisman, and Dr. W. Marshall (see pages 87-110 of The Media-Wise Family by Dr. Ted Baehr, Chariot Victor Publioshing, 1998), have found that viewing sexual images in the media has led to increased sexual activity among children and teenagers and increased deviant behavior, including rape. Furthermore, a 2001 Dartmouth Medical School study of New England middle-school students, reported by the National Cancer Institute, found that viewing drug use in movies and TV programs leads to increased drug use among children (press release dated 03/23/01 by the National Cancer Institute).
A long-term study released in 2002 proved, once again, the negative effects of today’s popular visual media on children, teenagers and young adults. Published in the journal Science, the study found that teenagers and young adults who watch more than one hour of television, including videos daily, are more likely to commit violent crimes and other forms of aggressive behavior. The study, led by Dr. Jeffrey G. Johnson of Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, followed children in 707 families in two counties in northern New York state for 17 years. Adolescents and young adults who watched television for more than seven hours per week had an increased likelihood of between 16 and 200 percent of committing an aggressive act, including criminal behavior, in later years. The study found a link between violence and viewing any television, not just violent programming. This study is important not only because of its long-term nature but also because it proved a link between television viewing and violent criminal behavior apart from environmental characteristics such as low family income, living in an unsafe neighborhood and parental neglect (Jeffrey G. Johnson, Patricia Cohen, Elizabeth M. Smailes, Stephanie Kasen, and Judith S. Brook, “Television Viewing and Aggressive Behavior During Adolescence and Adulthood,” Science, Vol. 295, No. 5567, 29 Mar. 2002, pp. 2468-2471).
“The evidence has gotten to the point where it’s overwhelming,” Dr. Johnson says.
A study by the Rand Corp. in 2001 and 2002 of American children aged 12 to 17, reported by the Associated Press, found that those children who watch a lot of television with sexual content are about twice as likely to start having unmarried intercourse during the subsequent years as those with little such exposure. “Exposure to TV that included only talk about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to TV depicting sexual behavior,” the Rand. Corp. said (Associated Press and Seattle Times, 09/08/04). A more recent study led by Dr. Jane Brown of the University of North Carolina of children aged 12 to 17 had similar findings that exposure to media sex leads to increased sexual promiscuity among teenagers. “The media are also important sources of sexual norms for youth,” this study reported (Reuters, 04/03/06).
All of these studies about the negative effects of the media are incredibly disturbing. This is especially true in light of studies by the Parents Television Council in 2006 and by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in 2005 showing that the amount of violence and sexual content on television has doubled since 1998 and a 2005 study by the think tank Third Way that the number of pornographic pages on the Internet has risen more than 3,000 percent since 1998 (Parents Television Council, 2006; Los Angeles Times, 11/10/05; and, Associated Press, 07/27/05)!
When I drive to Hollywood to preview a movie at a screening, I visit studio executives to help them understand this influence they are having on the children and grandchildren of the United States and the world. The good news is that many of them are listening. The type of entertainment being produced is gradually moving away from salacious, ultra-violent R-rated movies to family films with faith—movies such as Amazing Grace, Prince Caspian, The Nativity Story, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Even Rocky Balboa has found faith in Jesus Christ. Now, every studio is pursuing the Christian faith-based audience.
Even so, there remains a large residue of movies with rotten values in the bloodstream of the culture, and the entertainment industry is still producing a significant number of rotten movies and television programs are still being produced. So while so much contributes to establishing society’s mores, Hollywood no doubt has a secure foothold as the epicenter of what is popular and what is not. Clearly, what happens in Hollywood does not stay in Hollywood. What Lindsay Lohan wears, Justin Timberlake sings and George Clooney says will ripple its way not only to the heartland of America but well beyond. Indeed, the culture clash thrives from Kansas to Kiev.
READY TO COLLIDE
Sometimes, the influence of the mass media of entertainment on far away places helps us to reflect on our own problems and vulnerabilities as well as our influence on the culture of the world. For two years in a row recently, I spoke in Kiev, a city in Ukraine that’s emerging from totalitarian suppression. The pastor of the church where I preached told me that his father had been tortured for his outspoken faith in Jesus Christ in the very hotel where I was staying. Now this pastor has a megachurch of over 1,000 and a growing group of almost 200 churches. The mayor of Kiev is his Spirit-filled Christian friend. The president, whose wife is from America, is a thoughtful Christian. Business is booming.
Yet on the other hand, Ukraine has the highest rate of AIDS/HIV, prostitutes and women sold into white slavery in Europe, and at night the streets are filled with empty alcohol bottles. In 1994, there were only 183 registered cases of HIV, but by 2004 that number had grown to more than 68,000 (“Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2004,” UNAIDS, 2004, no. 52). “Ukraine . . . has replaced Thailand and the Philippines as the epicenter of the global business in trafficking women,” an article from the New York Times noted (Michael Specter, “Traffickers’ New Cargo: Naïve Slavic Women,” The New York Times, January 11, 1998). While sin was no stranger when communism reigned in Ukraine, one cannot help but notice how consumerism has adversely affected the nation’s youth.
So it is the best of times and the worst of times for the people of Kiev. They asked me to teach them media wisdom to navigate the treacherous rapids of the changing culture—a culture that seems to be at war with itself. The communist oppressor of the East has left in disgrace and the materialistic pornography of Hollywood has blatantly and seductively taken its place. Two great rivers of conflicting cultural values have converged into a raging torrent of cultural confusion. A churning flood threatens to sweep aside a bright future for the precious next generation.
How do people navigate the cultural rapids? In Japan, a home-school conference has grown phenomenally in the past few years as families consider taking their children out of schools where materialism is so rapacious that young girls are selling themselves to buy iPods. These Japanese flocked to listen to my talks on cultural wisdom in search of guidance.
What is happening, why is it happening, and how do the messages of the mass media of entertainment influence us, our children, each society and the world as a whole? Is there any hope? Can we navigate a safe passage to reach the still waters and green pastures of Christ’s kingdom?
THE DECLINE OF NATIONS
Observant pundits on all sides of the political spectrum have correctly noted a steady decline in the last century in the quality of culture. There has been a weakening of faith, an abandonment of values and an eroding of civility in our culture. The work of shaping our culture requires God’s wisdom to use the right tools so that He will be glorified.
In their CD The Decline of Nations, Dr. Ken Boa, a highly respected theologian and philosophy scholar, and Bible teacher Bill Ibsen point out three symptoms of decline: (1) social decay—the crisis of lawlessness, the loss of economic discipline and, finally, growing bureaucracy; (2) cultural decay—the decline of education, the weakening of cultural foundations, the increasing loss of respect for tradition, and the increase in materialism; and (3) moral decay—the rise in immorality, the decay of religious belief and the devaluation of human life (Dr. Ken Boa and Bill Ibsen, The Decline of Nations (Atlanta, GA: Reflections Ministries, 2005).
Dr. Ken Boa and Bill Ibsen state that “symptoms of decline synergistically rot a nation from the inside out, making it vulnerable to attack from a variety of enemies.” Then they ask the critical question: What objective measures of social and cultural health can be used to determine how America is doing? To answer this question, they cite a report published in 1993 by William J. Bennett, the former U.S. Secretary of Education, who notes that between the 1960s and the 1990s there was:
• A 966 percent increase in the rate of cohabitation
• A 523 percent increase in out-of-wedlock births
• A 370 percent increase in violent crime
• A 270 percent increase in children on welfare
• A 215 percent increase in single-parent families
• A 210 percent increase in teenage suicide
• A 200 percent increase in the crime rate
• A 130 percent increase in the divorce rate
• A 75 point decrease in the average SAT score
“Improvements were made in the violent crime rate, welfare and teenage suicide in the 1990s,” Boa and Ibsen state. “However, the breakdown of the family remains of particular concern. Indicators point to nurturing relationships as a key factor to maintaining a stable society, while mass media entertainment often fills the voids left by family breakdown” (Dr. Ken Boa and Bill Ibsen, The Decline of Nations (Atlanta, GA: Reflections Ministries, 2005)).
SUCH A TIME AS THIS
All too often, the prosperity of God flows into fruitless endeavors as succeeding generations begin to disregard the root of their wealth. America’s ancestors planted the seed of God’s blessing and left a rich inheritance in this land. But God has no grandchildren. He has only first-generation descendents who yield to His Spirit, live in His grace and enter His kingdom. If those children become selfish, indolent or corrupt, they eventually stew in their own sin. As God warned the Israelites:
Be careful that you don’t forget the Lord your God by failing to keep His command—the ordinances and statutes—I am giving you today. When you eat and are full, and build beautiful houses to live in, and your herds and flocks grow large, and your silver and gold multiply, and everything else you have increases, [be careful] that your heart doesn’t become proud and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery (Deut. 8:7-18, CSB).
It is true that God’s kingdom will never end and that it is advancing into the far reaches of the world. But many cultures that once embraced the values of Christianity have turned away from the Word of God as the cornerstone of their civilization. When this happens—when people forget to love God and follow after the false gods of selfish desire—they fall from His blessing. Those familiar with the Word of God know that at the end of human history there is great news. In the meantime, we will face trials and tribulations as Christian civilization ebbs and flows to all areas of the globe.
Yet in the midst of such cultural collapse, it is important to remember that God has called His people to go on His adventure into the entire world. He has called them to preach the good news that will redirect the tidal wave of conflicting cultures. His people constitute His Body, the Church, which has braved paganism and persecution to build hospitals, schools, orphanages and loving homes that have civilized societies. The Church is here for such a time as this.
In Kiev, the church where I preached conducts street ministries to reach the unsaved, youth ministries to rescue the rebellious, and schools to lead the children out of darkness. Other ministries at the church reach orphans and vagrants and bring the good news to performing artists. This is the grand old story of Christian faith. In the midst of cacophony, the people of God proclaim good news and restore lost souls. Where the gospel takes root, faith and peace replace animosity. Where God’s grace is lifted up, war-torn lands become green pastures where children and families can flourish.
To quote from a paper titled “Ethics in Communications” from the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, “Viewed in the light of faith, the history of human communication can be seen as a long journey from Babel, site and symbol of communication’s collapse (cf. Gen. 11:4-8), to Pentecost and the gift of tongues (cf. Acts 2:5-11)—communication restored by the power of the Spirit sent by the Son. Sent forth into the world to announce the good news (cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15), the Church has the mission of proclaiming the Gospel until the end of time. Today, she knows, that requires using media” (Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Vatican City, June 4, 2000, World Communications Day (cf. Vatican Council II, Inter Mirifica, 3; Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 45; Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 37; Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Communio et Progressio, 126-134, Aetatis Novae, 11)).
For a few days, my e-mail box was deluged by reviews from so-called evangelical Christian sources touting a New Age occult movie called Conversations with God. This movie was produced and directed by a man named Stephen Simon, who is a relentless proponent of New Age movies through his organization called the Spiritual Cinema Circle. What is strange is that this movie (to which Movieguide® gave only one star and a minus four) has received much praise from the reviewers of other evangelical movie sites. These reviews raise the question: Has the Evangelical Church gone the way of God’s frozen chosen mainline denominations?
When I was in a mainline seminary in New York in the mid 1970s, the ecumenical Thursday night service was led by Hilda the White Witch, who was introduced by the bishop of New York. The Indian faker Sri Chinmoy, who claimed to be able to levitate, gave the Easter service, and the Lucifer Trust established their headquarters at the cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Most of the frozen chosen were oblivious to this occult takeover of the mainline churches. Those with a modicum of faith came to realize 25 years later (and too late) that these denominations were dead. They began to start splinter groups, which are now reviving the biblical faith.
The sea of e-mails I receive touting Luciferian movies such as Conversations with God is a heartbreaking déjà vu indicating that the Evangelical Church is turning into the Church of “do what you want” of Aleister Crowley. Like Telemachus, all we can say is, “Stop! And, wake up to the Good News and to the deliverance that only comes through Jesus Christ and His holy Word written.”
WHAT CAN WE DO?
One of the primary building blocks of the culture, the mass media, is a tool of communication, entertainment and art. Although anyone may misuse a tool, most people involved in the mass media as creators, regulators and consumers are conscientious individuals who want to do the right thing, as they understand it. However, those who make up these groups often forget that their mass media choices have ethical weight and are subject to moral evaluation. Therefore, to make the right entertainment choices, they need to develop discernment and understanding, especially in light of all the studies indicating the extremely negative effects of the mass media of entertainment, especially on children and teenagers.
Even many of the most astute Christians, however, have become desensitized to cultural degradation. Many do not understand the consequences of different worldviews. They also are ignorant of the persuasive power of the mass media of entertainment, which creates the culture in which we live and move. Consequently, they do not know how to develop the discernment, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to be more than conquerors within the cultural turbulence created by all the forms of mass media. The good news is that there are effective ways for us and our families to learn how to be culture-wise and media-wise.
PILLARS OF MEDIA WISDOM
As the director of the TV Center at City University of New York, I helped develop some of the first media literacy courses in the late 1970s. Since then, years of research have produced a very clear understanding of the best way to teach media literacy. Specifically, there are five pillars of media wisdom that will help build the culture-wise family.
1. Pillar 1: Understand the influence of the media on your children. In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, CBS president Leslie Moonves put it quite bluntly: “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with this is an idiot” (Leslie Moonves interview, Associated Press, May 19, 1999). The major medical associations have concluded that there is absolutely no doubt that those who are heavy viewers of violence demonstrate increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and aggressive behavior. Of course, media is only one part of the problem—a problem that could be summed up with the sage biblical injunction, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’” (1 Cor. 15:33). As the results of thousands of studies on youth violence prove, watching media violence causes violence among children. Bad company corrupts good character—whether that bad company is gangs, peer pressure or violent television programs.
2. Pillar 2: Ascertain your children’s susceptibility at each stage of cognitive development. Not only do children see the media differently at each stage of development, but also different children are susceptible to different stimuli. As the research of the National Institute of Mental Health revealed many years ago, some children want to copy media violence, some are susceptible to other media influences, some become afraid, and many become desensitized. Just as an alcoholic would be inordinately tempted by a beer commercial, so certain types of media may tempt or influence your child at his or her specific stage of development.
3. Pillar 3: Teach your children how the media communicates its message. Just as children spend the first 14 years of their lives learning grammar with respect to the written word, they also need to be taught the grammar of twenty-first-century mass media so that they can think critically about the messages being programmed for them.
4. Pillar 4: Help your children know the fundamentals of Christian faith. Children need to be taught the fundamentals of Christian faith so that they can apply their beliefs and moral values to the culture and to the mass media of entertainment. Of course, parents typically have an easier time than teachers with this pillar because they can freely discuss their personal beliefs. Yet even so, it is interesting to note that cultural and media literacy and values education are two of the fastest growing areas in the academic community—a trend most likely due to the fact that educators are beginning to realize that something is amiss.
5. Pillar 5: Help your children learn how to ask the right questions. When children know the right questions to ask, they can arrive at the right answers to the problems presented by the mass media of entertainment. For instance, if the hero in the movie your child is watching wins by murdering and mutilating his victims, will your children be able to question this hero’s behavior, no matter how likable that character may be?
EDUCATING THE HEART
Theodore Roosevelt said that if we educate a person’s mind but not his heart, we create an educated barbarian. Cultural and media wisdom involves educating the hearts of children and teenagers so that they will make the right decisions throughout their lives.
The truth of the secure hope available only in Jesus Christ is great news that needs to be shouted from the housetops. The people of God have a wonderful opportunity to manifest His grace. However, we first need to ascertain the state of cultural affairs. The work of shaping our culture requires God’s wisdom to use the right tools so that He will be glorified.
In this regard, at the invitation of Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor and Globalization Symposium Coordinator, I gave a keynote speech on cultural and media wisdom at the symposium on Globalization & Its Discontents at the University of San Francisco on August 4, 2007. At one point in the symposium, I had time to discuss with the Muslim participants the difference between Jesus Christ who loved everyone so much that He died to save even His enemies, while Mohammed killed scores of his enemies.
The Muslims in the audience of a panel on “Christian-Muslim Dialogue and Human Rights” agreed that Mohammed killed 3,000 people, but in a time of war. I countered that argument by pointing out that Jesus could have gone to war against His enemies if He had been prideful, vengeful or cruel, but He refused to do so. When the Muslims protested that, according to their religion, Jesus did not die, I showed that this “eccentric” belief contradicts the actual historical record (see The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence For Jesus by Lee Strobel, Zondervan, 1998, and Myth Conceptions: Joseph Campbell and the New Age by Tom Snyder, Baker Books, 1995).
Oskar Gruenwald, Ph.D., JIS Editor and Globalization Symposium Coordinator, emailed me:
“I wanted to thank you for your witness at the Symposium on ‘Globalization & Its Discontents: Modernization, Culture & Religion,’ hosted by the University of San Francisco, 2-5 August 2007, both the Keynote and the discussion during the Saturday afternoon Panel on: ‘Christian-Muslim Dialogue and Human Rights.’ Your witness was more important on Saturday than as originally scheduled for Thursday, and the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth—guided your participation.”
The Christian Film & Television Commission® has the tools to help families and churches defend their Christian faith from other religions, philosophies and worldview like Islam. We can even help families and churches strengthen their own Christian faith. Not only do we have books like The Culture-Wise Family, The Media-Wise Family and Frodo vs. Harry: Understanding Visual Media And Its Impact On Our Lives, we also have excellent articles and teaching materials. Also, my staff and I are willing to come speak at any church, talk to people on the telephone and in person, or write letters and emails to help protect families and their children and grandchildren from toxic cultural messages like Islam and its violent doctrine of Jihad, and to help them defend the Christian faith.
Upholding Christian Values in a Mass Media World
This insightful article is an excerpt from Dr. Ted Baehr and Pat Boone’s new book Culture-Wise Family: Upholding Christian Values in a Mass Media World. It is available in a special section of www.movieguide.org. Entertainment expert Dr. Ted Baehr and legendary musician Pat Boone think it’s time we began paying attention to our mass-media consumption. They urge people to make wise choices for themselves and their families so they can protect their children from toxic messages in the culture. The Culture-Wise Family offers a rich, authoritative analysis of the many perilous trends in a time when parents face challenges that are unprecedented in their intensity and detrimental influences. This book builds on the firm foundation of a biblical worldview and analyzes the implications of other worldviews as they are expressed and promoted in media, entertainment, and public education, the three purveyors of the increasing secularization and pluralization of our times. It will not only help you to protect your children and grandchildren, but also it will help you redeem the times and the culture!
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Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Vatican City, June 4, 2000, World Communications Day (cf. Vatican Council II, Inter Mirifica, 3; Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 45; Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 37; Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Communio et Progressio, 126-134, Aetatis Novae, 11).
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