Any discussion about The Christian Mind needs to focus on the role of the media in the lives of Christian young people. This demands that we examine the role of TV, and of the music our youth listen to — the music which motivates and directs their behavior much more than we may care to acknowledge.
MAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE TO CHRIST
It needs no defense that the Scriptures demand that we bring “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5); that we must be “transformed by the renewal of our mind” (Rom. 12:2); that we are to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16); that we are to “keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). Neither does it require a defense that such things do not come by themselves. We are to train ourselves in godliness. We are to study and work at developing a Christian mind, a Christian understanding of life and the issues of life. And we do well to remember that the Scriptures admonish us — “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Pr. 23:7 RSV).
But thinking is not really “where it’s at” today. Dr. James Boice once said: “We live in mindless times, days in which millions of people are drifting along through life, manipulated by the mass media, particularly television, hardly knowing it.” Did you hear that? People are being manipulated by the mass media as they drift along through life mindlessly—but they hardly know it! I Listen to Dr. Malcolm Muggeridge, editor and author, a man well acquainted with the media. He begins his first lecture in Christ and the Media as follows:
It is a truism to say that the media in general, and TV in particular, and BBC television especially, are incomparably the greatest single influence in our society today, exerted at all social, economic and cultural levels. This influence, I should add, is, in my opinion, largely exerted irresponsibly, arbitrarily, and without reference to any moral or intellectual, still less spiritual gUidelines whatsoever. Furthermore, if it is the case, as I believe, that what we still call Western civilization is fast disintegrating, then the media are playing a major role in the process by carrying out, albeit for the most part unconsciously, a mighty brainwashing operation, whereby all traditional standards and values are being denigrated to the point of disappearing, leaving a moral vacuum in which the very concepts of Good and Evil have ceased to have any validity. Like a building site, which has been cleared, but with nothing erected on it: just a great, empty space, where rubbish is thrown, where children play and quarrel and fight, and layabouts sleep, and the rain collects in puddles. Future historians will surely see us as having created in the media a Frankenstein monster which no one knows how to control or direct, and marvel that we should have so meekly subjected ourselves to its destructive and often malign influence. More particularly, as in the case of the BBC, it is financed out of the public purse. Nor do I see within the various broadcasting agencies any force, actual or potential, capable of delivering us from being totally submerged in the world of fantasy the channels they control project.2
The Christian mind is that discipline where we learn to reflect critically upon the questions, the issues of life. It comes from our commitment to do so from a conscious awareness of a perspective on life that we have struggled to make our own, having studied the Word of the Lord. It focuses on the Word’s meaning in daily living and on its claim upon the obedient surrender of our total being to the Lord of life. The problem we face today is this: our ability to think, and a recognition of the importance and desirability of knowing how to think, is being undermined. This has the disastrous consequence that even the idea of such a thing as “a distinctly Christian mind” now seems not only to be an illusion, but a “notion” not worthy of our attention or concern.3 The Christian mind certainly seems not to playa role when it comes to our entertainment. Who cares about nurturing a Christian mind today, when as a matter of fact, the very idea of nurturing a mind is blase? There are exceptions, but we need to be aware of the anti-mind, anti-thinking phenomena. And we need to fight against it consciously.
Both television and modern music have played a major role in this. I have already referred you to the “mighty brainwashing operation” which the media, according to Malcolm Muggeridge, is “for the most part unconsciously” carrying out. Mr. Neil Postman has given us an amazingly insightful book, Amusing Ourselves To Death. His book has correctly been characterized as “a scathing secular rebuke to the mindlessness of many of the pursuits that consume most of our generation.” Mr. Postman writes:
(But) what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter, but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether. To say it still another way: Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the over-arching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure.4
To illustrate his point, Postman analyzes what television did in the eighty minute “discussion” following the showing of the controversial atomic war movie, The Day After. This is Postman’s summary of what happened:
[There] was no discussion as we normally use the word. Even when the “discussion” period began, there were no arguments or counter-arguments, no scrutiny of assumptions, no explanations, no elaborations, no definitions.
And why not? Postman explains: When a television show is in progress, it is very nearly impermissible to say. “Let me think about that” or “I don’t know” or “What do you mean when you say… 7” or “From what sources does your information come?” This type of discourse not only slows down the tempo of the show but creates the impression of uncertainty or lack of finish. It tends to reveal people in the act of thinking, which is as disconcerting and boring on television as it is on a Las Vegas stage. Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it. It is, in a phrase, not a performing art. But television demands a performing art. and so what the ABC network gave us was a picture of men of sophisticated verbal skills and political understanding being brought to heel by a medium that requires them to fashion performances rather than ideas.5
ROCK AND ROLL AND ROMANTICISM
If it is true that television is a medium which erodes and undermines even our awareness that we must think about and reflect on — yes, argue and debate! — the issues of life so that we may conduct ourselves as obedient children, and not be “tossed about by every wind of doctrine,” then it is surely also true that it is today’s “counter culture” music which not only is destroying all desire to think, but which also advocates and glories in acting on gut impulses. “If it feels good, do it.”
This modern phenomena must not be confused with romanticism. Romanticism is a philosophic idealism which proposed that ultimate truth is the truth of what it is you feel, what you experience deep within your soul. Romanticism said: The path to true knowledge lies along the path of the emotional and the intuitive. It stressed the necessity for fulness of experience and depth of feeling as the pathway to understanding reality Reason. to the romanticist, is artificial and analytical. Thus thinking and “the mind” are inadequate pathways to understanding life and reality. The Romanticist, however, did not despise or disavow the importance of thinking reflectively about what it is one claims “to know” by way of feeling and intuition. The Romanticist did not say, “it is not important to learn to think critically about life and reality.” He would, however, caution that the root and fountain of truth does not lie in that which reason can uncover or explain. Rather, truth is discovered, according to the Romanticist. in what the spirit of man feels and intuits as truth. Only that deserves to be called knowledge.
Romanticism, as a movement in the arts, asserts the primacy of feel ing, imagination and sentiment, as opposed to reason and thought. Romanticism commands the artist to feel freely and deeply, and to express what he has felt with no restraints, either artistic or social. Rock and Roll “artists” and advocates, on the other hand, heartily endorse a “no restraints” ideal. No Romantic poets (Lord Byron for example) despised thought or discouraged thinking. If they had, they could not have written their poetry which demands careful thought and reflection by the reader.
However, this is not what the advocates of “If it feels good, do it!” are promoting. It is not what Rock and Roll in its many and varied expressions (hard rock, punk rock, heavy metal, rap) is all about. This genre of music doesn’t want its listener to think. It wants the listener to act on impulse—regardless of what it is—regardless of how sick or violent or corrupt or demonic that impulse may be.
Put together — a medium, TV, which undermines the ability to think, and a genre of music, Rock and Roll, which advocates the foolishness of knowing how to think — these become a very devastating and frightening phenomenon. People who are captivated by and fall prey to it become like the “irrational animals, (the) creatures of instinct” of whom Peter speaks. “They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime,” says Peter of such people. “They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation, carousing with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children. Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray…” (2 Peter 2:13–15). And Jude says: “These men revile whatever they do not understand, and by those things that they know by instinct as irrational animals do, they are destroyed” (Jude 10).
But people don’t know that anymore; they don’t see it anymore. Once a person believes that thinking is not “where it’s at,” once a person believes that nurturing a mind which is rooted in the sure Word of the Lord, and that being able to give a reasoned analysis of, and response to, the spirits of the age is utter foolishness, once a person believes that the feeling of the moment is all that matters, he will become a drifter. He will no longer be able to stand. He will float along with every wind of doctrine. He will be easy prey for the father of lies, the devil.
REASON FOR ALARM
If it is true that TV is killing our ability to think, and if it is true that the Rock and Roll music scene promotes the lie in all of its deceptive forms, then there is reason for concern, yes for alarm! I believe that many of our youth are idly dancing to the music of our age. They fill their souls with it from morning till night. And I’m afraid that neither they, nor we, their parents and teachers, who are called to nurture them in the fear of the Lord, are aware of the seriousness of the problem (or of its roots) because we are all. more or less, caught in the same boat.
At this point I want to focus on some specifics of what it is Rock and Roll music offers, in order that you may get some appreciation of the fact that here we are entering a field of battle. It has been well said: “Spiritual warfare is raging in the world, and music is one of its battlefields.”6 The purveyors of Rock and Roll themselves declare: “Rock and Roll is royal warfare…the universe is our battleground…the goal (is) the freedom to possess the key of the fifth battalion and release the fierce and stampeding angels of Abaddon (hell).”7 And John Lennon vaingloriously declared: “Christianity will vanish, will shrink and die. We are more popular than Jesus.”
It is important to know what groups such as Kiss, Prince, Twisted Sister, Motley Crew, Scorpion, Black Sabbath, Green Day, Ozzy Osborne, Crash Test Dummies (the list goes on and on) portray. We need to know what it is they are offering: explicit sex, homosexual love, rape, incest, suicide, death, hell. sadomasochism, transvestitism, drug trips, Satan worship, and an utter hatred of the Lord our God. It is important to see their twisting, gyrating bodies, their contorted faces, their eyes that speak of being possessed. Much of this music is utterly corrupt. It encourages gross immorality and antisocial behavior, and it is filled with hatred, corruption and blasphemy.
THE REFRESHMENT OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT
I could go on and on—quoting lyrics that are born of a defiance of and a revolution against the Lord and His anointed—which characterizes so much of the music of our age. But I must close. I recognize that I haven’t really said all that much by way of specific proposals on the question: How can parents and teachers train their children and students to engage in truly Christian, God-pleasing activity when it comes to questions of TV and music. I chose instead to focus on exposing that which captivates our youth. I did that, however. against the background of this central thought: “We must bring every thought captive to obey Christ.” J.S. Bach understood this to mean that “the end of all music should be the glory of God and the refreshment of the human spirit.” And so it should be for us also. Then you may indeed sing of the beauty of God’s creation, and of the wonder of His love, a love you may also experience and express in your life’s relationships as they were ordained to be by the Lord. And that is blessedness.
Ravi Zacharias begins the first chapter of his book, Can Man Live Without God? like this:
“Give me the making of the songs of a nation,” said eighteenth-century Scottish political thinker Andrew Fletcher, “and I care not who writes its laws.” His confident words not only divulge a major cultural access point to our contemporary mindset, but also acknowledge the extraordinary control of song lyrics upon the moods and convictions of the young, who are embattled by the tug of so many allurements.8
Mr. Fletcher wrote this before the advent of TV. We might say today, “Give me the making of the songs of a culture and of the content of the sit-coms and soap operas of a nation and I care not who rules the land.”
I close with the prayer that these comments will encourage you to commit yourself consciously to nurture your mind, as well as the minds of your children and students, in the fear of the Lord. That is the beginning of wisdom! Study and learn the art of living your life for and unto Christ, to whom be praise and glory, now and forever.
Rev. Sikkema is minister of Rehoboth United Reformed Church, Hamilton, Ontario.
1. Attributed to James M. Boice in the Nov. 1995 Outlook. p. 12. “The Christian Mind” by John H. Armstrong.
2. Malcolm Muggeridge, Christ and the Media, (Grand Rapids Eerdmans. 1977). pp. 23–24.
3. See Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind, (London SPCK. 1966)
4. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, (New York: Penguin Books, 1985). p.87.
5. Ibid, pp 90–91
6. Ken Heffner, The Banner, (Oct. 16, 1995)
7. Hell’s Bell’s part 4.
8. Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Life Without Out God? (Dallas Word, 1994). p 3.
Reprinted with adaptations from Clarion, April 3, 1998.