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  • Writer's pictureGCI Auckland

Is TV bad for Faith?

For most of us television forms a significant part of our lives outside of work. We tune into the daily news, the weather, sporting events, and then there are the TV shows and movies. An audio-visual feast that we are encouraged to watch on ever bigger screens, with automated features, and surround sound. We can even watch it on our phones, tablets and computers.

Whether we realise it or not, television is influencing our lives. It is affecting our values and shaping our view of the world. On demand and easily available to most households, the shows that screen often portray lives outside our own experience or locale, in compressed bites, with drama, humour, or tension that tugs us back to watch week after week.

Advertisements, endorsements and visual candy of enticing images, play a role in our selection of material goods and when we buy them. The newest car features, the special deals, the perfect food or latest fashion, can cause impulse buying or, at the least, the temptation to acquire and a sense of loss when it is out of reach.

Materialism, social values, relationships, knowledge of world events and history, assessment of truth, political views, consumer behaviour, cultural or gender issues, language, emotions, physical fitness, attention span, are just some of the things that are impacted by our modern day habit of watching television. It is an integral part of Western culture.

It should not therefore come as any surprise that television might influence religious views, or views of religion, or even religion itself.

A question: How do you think that TV might influence religion, or might influence belief?

You might have some idea that religious programming is good, and is helping to educate people about churches, about God, and about goodness and hope. You might have some idea that the same religious programming is turning people off. You might have some idea that films and TV programmes tend to show stereotypes of religious people. You might have some idea that news reports of various cults, or of acts of violence done by various religions, influences people to think badly about religion. You might have some idea that religion is caught up in commercialism with holidays such as Christmas, and even Halloween shown on TV, making people think more about partying, drinking, and spending money than going to church. You might have some idea that TV programming rarely shows religion in a good light, or that it doesn't show as featuring much at all in people's day to day lives. You might have some idea that religious people shown in programmes are narrow-minded and hypocritical, and that this does in fact reflect the people you have come across.

All of these ideas are probably true to some degree. Is it a question then about what we choose to watch? Or is it how much we watch that matters? Is it a mixture of both?

Perhaps one of the most pervasive things about media such as television, is that we let it do our thinking for us. Potentially we let it frame our minds, as well as fill our minds with it in our spare time. We let it take up a chunk of space in our lives. Too tired after work? Unwind in front of television. Too stressed? Watch someone else's problems. Sick in bed? Cheer up with a bit of TV. Relationship problems or broken hearted? Get out the tissues and watch TV. We lose ourselves in the lives and times of others.

Are we turning to television in times when we would otherwise have turned to God? Are we turning to television instead of working on our emotional problems, our relationship problems, our work problems? Has watching TV become our default setting when we are at home?

Harvard professor Robert Putnam, author of several books on civic life, has concluded that television and pop culture encourage lethargy, passivity, and materialistic values that are in tension with a vibrant religious life. He also notes the impact of money, sex and divorce on active engagement in church life.

In a recent Washington Post article, W. Bradford Wilcox writes:

What Putnam largely overlooked in the “Bowling Alone” discussion of TV, however, was the class angle: Television viewing was (and is) dramatically higher among working-class and poor Americans. The growing presence and power of TV, then, could have taken a large toll on churches serving less-affluent Americans.

Those who have to work two or three jobs have little opportunity to go to church. Parents with large families find they struggle to feed the family, to take them to school and sport, and are left with little time for themselves. It can be difficult to travel to a place of worship when there may be only one car, no petrol, or they are relying on public transport. They can however spend what few hours they have at home relaxing in front of TV, escaping their neverending responsibilities. It may be that television then is not the main driver affecting church involvement, but time and opportunity.

Another question: Is the research in America relevant to communities in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific?

At present there does not appear to be publicly available research on the effect of pop culture on religion "Down Under", let alone data on television watching and its effects on civic engagement. Perhaps you could draw on your own observations of the community around you? What is your view on the influence of television, movies, fashion and popular music? Are those less well-off less likely to attend church? Is the church going to the people rather than the people going to church? Is "pop culture" affecting the social attitudes of those around you? Is it affecting you?

Romans 12:2 says: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (NIV)

"So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you." (Romans12 verses 1-2)

So, what do you think? Do you think TV is a hindrance to faith?

If watching TV is stopping you from renewing your mind and being transformed by God, what do you intend to do about it?


The links for the books below go to their summary page on Amazon, however you will find subsantial excerpts from the books online at Google Books. This list does not constitute an endorsement of the conclusions and views of the authors, but may provide a starting point to investigate the topic further.

by W. Bradford Wilcox

By Robert D. Putnam (2001)

Publisher: Touchstone Books by Simon & Schuster (August 7, 2001)

By Robert D. Putnam & David E. Campbell (2012)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 21, 2012)

Edited by Wendy N Wyatt & Kristie Brunton (2012)

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (April 26, 2012)

By Jennifer L. Pozner (2010)

Publisher: Seal Press (October 19, 2010)

CREDITS: Feature image from Wikimedia Commons; quote graphic from

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