TV often scares me. There are things like movies and sports that I like about TV. But, other than commercials, there are two things I don’t like about TV. One is the attraction it affords to simply wasting time. The other is a sinister brand of mind control it conveys. It could be far more fruitful if I just sat down in a chair, closed my eyes and opened myself to You. Not doing so is an aspect from which I derive guilt feelings about watching TV. But apart from that guilt there is a certain fear of TV that Fr. Henri Nouwen gives voice to: “When it is true that the images you carry in your mind can affect your physical, mental and emotional life, then it becomes a crucial question to which images… we allow ourselves to be exposed.”
Now prayer too creates in us images that affect our lives. So, in a real sense, both prayer and TV vie for the images with which we perceive ourselves and our world. If, as Nouwen says elsewhere, true prayer makes us into what we imagine, consider what would make us into what we would imagine without prayer. TV is probably near the top of that list. TV has the scary potential of intentionally providing us with any number of false identities, identities we gather from the images it presents. It may not even be conscious – and that’s what’s scary!
So often we talk about the potential for good possessed by television. But there is nothing evil that is not first perceived as some kind of good. My imaginings of the subtleness of TV cannot but encourage my perception of it as a powerful tool for Your enemies – maybe the most powerful tool culturally! In the end, of course, the most powerful tool is our own mind. But that mind falls under many influences. TV, like so many other things, is, in itself, a neutral distraction. But the fact that it has the generative power to conjure tempting images may make it something we could do better without.
I’m sure I won’t stop watching movies or sports on TV in spotty “leisure” moments. Yet, at the same time, there is an underlying awareness of something subtly influential in flipping through the channels – and it’s not, in my own mind, always neutral.