The Harmful Effects of the Television
by Fr. Eric Flood, FSSP – Disctrict Superior
Our Lord said to His Apostles, “blessed are the eyes that see the things which you see” ( Luke 10:23 ). The Apostles must have woken each morning with great anticipation, knowing that they would spend the rest of the day with Christ, learning from Him with their ears and looking upon Him with their eyes. No other image would satisfy the eyes as much as Our Lord and no sound would be more pleasant to hear than the voice of Our Lord. Indeed they were blessed to see the things they saw and to hear the things they heard.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that nothing enters the soul by means of the intellect which does not first enter one of our senses. In other words, the things we permit our ears to hear and our eyes to see will have an influence upon our soul. The actual light waves and sound waves do not enter our soul, but all external stimuli will have an influence upon our memory, imagination, and common sense which in turn have an influence upon the soul. If we allow good things to enter our senses, there can be a corresponding positive influence upon the soul, but if we allow bad things to enter our senses, then they can have harmful effects upon the soul.
The souls of the Apostles were blessed because they filled their ears with the words of Christ, giving us the example to have due diligence upon our senses so that our souls will be illuminated by the good we allow our senses to entertain. As the vacationing months of summer are upon us and school has been out for some time, the heat may drive us to spend more time in air-conditioned comfort. But being indoors often results in increased time watching television and movies. We know that television in itself is not evil, but the dangerous ways of the world can quickly be learned by watching the wrong shows. Consequently, the great effort we put forth to protect our children can be undermined by what movies are telling them.
We carry the images and sounds from television in our memory. If they are not good images, then the body carries this burden until it is able to forget them. In turn, the soul can be weighed down by the body, and this extra baggage can produce a sluggishness in the soul which results in a laxity in our spiritual life. One of the outcomes of becoming wrapped up in the things of the world is that our spiritual life decays. Over time, we slowly give God a lower priority, and our soul tries to make up for what it is lacking by turning even more towards the world. Some may turn to alcohol, others to possessions, and some find their creature comforts by watching more and more television. But when we tune into the world, it is easy to tune God out of our life, and the television offers so many options to feed our ears and eyes. Its influence is great and the more we watch it, the less we think of God, since our senses are being satiated by worldly images and sounds.
Television is not a true relief.
Some people find a relief in television because their troubles or pain are quickly forgotten while lying on a sofa, allowing the imagination to run wild and in any direction the television wants to take it. Soon the annoyances of life are forgotten for a time as the flickering images of the television flash the mind into thoughtlessness. For television allows a person to enter a fantasy world, an unreal world, for a short time in which objective truth is often laid aside. A great danger surfaces when the television is turned off, for the person’s imagination may remain in its fantasy world for some time or may regress back into it at a later time.
Today’s average American sits in front of a television more than three hours a day and uses the Internet more than an hour a day. With so many images available for our mind to consume, we need to have a great diligence over modern media if we are going to be “blessed to hear the things we hear and to see the things we see.” If inappropriate images fill our senses, it is only a matter of time before we will want to do what the imagination has been saturated with. Too much television often results in diminished clarity of mind to make decisions and a lack of control of our thoughts and emotions. When useless images fill our memory, our human limitation prevents our intellect from thinking upon other than what is consuming its memory. In turn, our imagination becomes fixated upon worldly ideas and suggestions.
Another negative effect, and perhaps the most damaging for the soul, is that we become like the things we watch on television. Studies show that those who watch violent shows will develop a violent temper and those who watch impure movies will do impure things. Since we usually do not do things without thinking of them first, if our mind is crowded with corrupt thoughts from television, we will easily do what our mind is thinking about. We can think of the good a Holy Hour in front of the Tabernacle does for our soul, and the opposite occurs if we spend unholy hours in front of the television watching inappropriate shows which promote worldly ideas and people as our idols.
Perhaps we can recall the first time we saw something outrageous or sinful on television and the subsequent shock it produced. If the same thing is watched again and again, the shock disappears as we become numb to the idea, and even worse, some try to seek a greater shock in future shows. Since the influence of television can alter what we think is morally acceptable, we occasionally have to ask ourselves if we are comfortable watching television that illustrates frequent violations against God’s Commandments.
Parents be wary
Parents, then, have the duty to monitor the television whenever it is turned on, as the life of our children’s souls depend upon it. Just as a parent would not give a child a bad magazine to read, so too they cannot give them a bad television show to watch. The Catholic Bishops, noting the harmful effects of the content of some movies, publish a rating system which classifies the movies for adults, adolescents, children, or no one. As movies rated higher than “children only” will have objectionable material in them, these ratings are the minimum for us to follow. Some movies may even be rated as permissible, but really, the movie ought to be viewed by no one. For example, if a movie is granted the rating “adults and adolescents,” then there will be inappropriate material in the movie. The rating is saying that a Catholic adolescent should be able to watch the movie and not imitate the evil in it. It is not saying that the movie is good to view. In order to make an well-rounded decision on the appropriateness of a movie, there are also web sites such as www.kidsinmind.com which give insights into a movie. Furthermore, there is a DVD player available at www.clearplay.com which filters most of the objectionable content from movies on DVD.
Another effect of watching television is that the person’s entire attention is fixed on the images and sounds entering their senses. The person is passive, both internally and externally. And if the mind is not required to work at its normal capacity, it can languish in its judgment. Eventually, when the mind becomes accustomed to the absorption of ideas without much thinking— this inactivity can be likened to the athlete who quits practicing— there results a shriveling of the faculty of thinking. In the end, the thinking process is atrophied so that in the future the person requires more effort to concentrate.
When God endowed the first man and woman with an eternal soul, He expected us to grow in sanctifying grace and to use the capabilities of our intellect and will to attain eternal life. To assist us, God grants us actual grace to enlighten the intellect and strengthen the soul, and we have a duty not to place any hindrance upon the mind and soul working towards Heaven. As television can produce a passivity in our thinking and judging process, we must be careful that excessive watching of the television does not produce a hindrance or laziness to think, judge, and act. In order to fortify this process, we need to do those things which require us to think, to reach conclusions, and to act upon our decisions. For children, such activity would include reading, playing interactive games, and being given responsibilities and duties around the home.
This is why prayer, especially meditative prayer, is so beneficial: We are to think about Heavenly things while we pray. Meditating upon the Truths of our Faith strengthens the intellect, and when we pray the Rosary, our mind dwells upon the topic it always wants to think about: God. Besides prayer, acts of supernatural virtue strengthen us. In particular, faith strengthens the intellect, hope strengthens the memory, and charity strengthens the will. Likewise, prudence aids the intellect, justice aids the will, and both fortitude and temperance help control the emotions.
We need, frequently, to engage in activities which require the use of our mind, of our thinking process, and of our judging. The relaxation and enjoyments in our daily life can give our minds the needed rest before it undertakes new tasks, but we have to ensure that we do not engage in inappropriate rest or extended relaxation which causes the mind to fall into disuse. It is by prayer and the practice of virtue that our soul becomes stronger and gives strength to our mind to make clearer, quicker, and more precise decisions. For blessed are the ears and eyes used for good purposes.
This article originally appeared the July 2008 Fraternity Newsletter.