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October 8, 2013 / thatsarahdean

Kill your television…?

First appeared in Third Way magazine, January 2013. Covering for regular columnist.

I found myself agreeing when a friend recently tweeted “Quite surprised BBC News 24 doesn’t have anything about the Zeuthen case.” Typical BBC, I thought indignantly, I know he’s Danish, but this is the kidnapping of the daughter of one of the world’s richest men.  It then dawned on me that I was forgetting one vital fact, Robert Zeuthen is not only one of the world’s richest men, but he is also entirely fictional. Curse you brilliant Danish screenwriters! The Killing is so flipping compelling that some of us are so absorbed that we can’t stop thinking about it to the exclusion of real life.

When I was a teenage zealot, preachers at the youth rallies, beach missions and hymn-athons that I willingly attended were always going on about the dangers of television for young Christians. However whilst they spoke in no uncertain terms about how television was spiritually harmful and should be avoided, they didn’t once warn of the dangers of looking like a complete berk due to being unable to tell the difference between real life and excellent Nordic fiction.

Watching TV was pretty high on the list of don’ts for young Christians when I was growing up, along with not wearing strappy tops (‘Are teenage boys are driven wild by shoulders then?’ My friends and I wondered) and not buying things with ying-yang symbols on them. That throw my housemate bought for the sofa in our shared uni house was pretty much the equivalent of covering our knackered futon with Satan’s own vomit apparently.

I always felt frustrated that these preachers were advocating complete abstinence from television (and pretty much everything-else too. Cue a whole other kind of frustration, cough). This meant that either I was a terrible Christian because I loved watching telly or these preachers weren’t being very discerning about what programmes they were watching. In our house the television wasn’t showing the continuous depravity and sin that they seemed to suggest was the norm, round ours it was mostly Delia Smith boiling eggs, Anneka Rice jumping out of helicopters and Bill Cosby as Dr Huxtable wearing an array of excellent jumpers. My brother and I did try watching Mary Whitehouse’s favourite The Singing Detective, but it seems you have to sit through an awful lot of horrific skin disease and weird dream sequences to get to all the bums, so we gave up and went to bed. Apathy had kept us pure.

I was reminded of the well-meaning but prohibitive Biblical teaching of my youth whilst reading Rachel Held-Evans’ fascinating book The Year of Biblical Womanhood. The writer spent a year of her life trying to follow every teaching and direct instruction for women in the Bible. Whilst I’m not about to copy Held-Evan’s experiment I, like many of her readers have been inspired to re-engage with the Bible. I mean it is one thing to think the preaching I heard twenty years ago was too extreme, but another to be so liberal in my old age that I no longer actually read the Bible regularly.

The verses that were always bandied about instructing Christians not to watch TV are Philippians 4 where Paul advises believers to only fill their heads with whatever is true, whatever is honourable, just, pure and lovely.  Revisiting these verses I take them to mean you shouldn’t watch bad television. Don’t watch stuff that is badly written, makes you feel bad about yourself or bad towards other people. And twenty years on Iplayer, Netflix and DVD box sets mean there are definitely no excuses for watching mindless crap.  So now all I have got to do is get a grip on fact and fiction and keep in check the covetousness and lust I harbour towards Sara Lund’s jumpers. Pray for me.

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