Did you know that the average American watches five hours of television per day? That’s 35 hours of TV per week, and over 140 hours of TV a month. This adds up to about 1,680 hours of television per year. And that’s not including streaming on the computer or time spent watching movies on a DVD player. It’s staggering when you think about it.
It’s so easy to let the TV flow into our lives, but how often do we stop to think about the affect it has us? What about the affect it has on our spiritual lives?
This is something that has been weighing on my heart more than ever before.
See, I’ve always been a TV watcher. (Obviously, I’m in good company because, hello…statistics.) Since I was young I’ve always been into the latest popular TV shows, watching them from beginning to end. You name it, I’ve probably seen it. Watching TV was always the way I passed time, filled the silence, and relaxed. After a while, I started to see how a lot of the shows or movies I was consuming left me feeling gross or dirty after watching them. I started noticing how so many of them were truly dark and immoral in nature, and that they weren’t doing anything to nourish my soul. I started making an effort to weed out the really awful, graphic, and shameful stuff.
Nowadays, most of my TV watching revolves around the HGTV or Food Network channels, but up until a few months ago, I was still watching my favorite reality TV shows when I found the time, and other soap opera-type dramas whenever I was alone. I never really thought much about the shows I was still keeping up with (and making excuses for), until I went to Rome.
On my trip to Rome, I encountered beauty in art like I’d never seen before. While I was there, I was confronted with the impact that art can have on your soul. I learned that true and good art points you somewhere: it makes you think about the higher and finer things in life by illuminating the good. This was one of the most significant things I learned while I was away.
One encounter that stood out to me in particular was my experience in the Vatican Museum. As we made our way to the Sistine Chapel, we entered into Raphael’s Stanze della Segnatura. On the walls in this room are four different murals that tell an important story (which Dr. Edward Sri, our guide, explained to us).
Together, they serve as a visual reminder of the interrelation of philosophy, the sciences, theology, ethics, and the arts. Both faith and reason are vital elements of living a good life. In addition to faith and reason, man must build up virtue (i.e. faith, hope, charity, prudence, fortitude, justice and temperance) to live a truly good and heroic life. Lastly, man’s participation in and consumption of the arts round the other three things out, making life beautiful and whole.
It was in that room that I realized what I take in and digest matters. All of it shapes who I am inside and either pushes me forward towards a better version of myself, or it pulls me downward or causes me to stalemate. Good art rounds me out, and enhances my faith in God and understanding of him. Ultimately, it leads me to be a better person.
Dr. Sri explained to us that when we take in media (of whatever form) that is immoral, objectionable, vapid, or empty, what we are ultimately doing is undermining the true beauty that God wants us to have a share in. We water it down so much that we become desensitized to the beauty that surrounds us and that Christ wants to relate to our hearts. This means that–no matter how hard I am working on my developing my intellect, faith, and ethical life–if I am filling myself with stuff that is a cheap counterfeit of good art and entertainment, what I am really doing is undercutting all that I am working so hard to build up.
That really struck me to the core.
When it comes to strengthening faith and love for God, it’s important to realize that the things we allow into our eyes and mind greatly affect our ability to dive into his great and mysterious depths.
Now I am not saying that all TV and media should be cut out, because there are some really great movies and shows out there that by nature are graphic and mature. What I am saying is that we should all be more aware of the reason why we tune into certain shows, because some of them are truly empty, void, and can even cause us to stumble. For instance, reality TV doesn’t promote charity, it draws the heart to be critical of others, and can even elicit materialistic and vain thoughts; smutty shows and movies don’t move the heart to be better, but, more often than not, enslave it to the chains of lustfulness; unnecessary violence and gore don’t promote Christian values (such as mercy and meekness), but rather desensitize humanity to the dignity of human life.
If we continue allowing ourselves to sit at the feet of such things for hours on end, how will we ever be able to sit and listen to the still and small voice of God in our hearts directing us in a different direction?
I encourage you to look at the things you are consuming, and examine how those things are feeding your vices. Then, when you notice it, contemplate how God is calling you to respond and take action from there. Maybe it means cutting back, or maybe it means cutting certain shows out altogether. Either way, what you’ll be getting is an opportunity to sacrifice for God and for your spiritual life, and in that way, you will grow. Not to mention, you’ll gain loads of free time which you can put to better use (like reading, or developing your prayer life).
I have to be honest, I know—for a while at least—this is going to continue to be a struggle for me. I find myself drawn into movies I know are no good because of a certain actor or for a number of other reasons, but when this happens I know that I have two options: keep watching, or turn it off. The right answer is much easier to execute than we all might think.
It just takes a little practice.
What are some of your favorite shows and movies? What are some shows you want to watch less of? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!