Rev. K. D. Macleod
A NUMBER of recent killings of schoolchildren in the USA by their schoolmates has focussed attention on violence in American society generally. The rate of aggravated assault, where an attempt is made to kill someone, has increased from around 60 per 100 000 in 1957 to 440 per 100 000 in 1995, a more than seven-fold increase in less than 40 years. And, though the numbers involved in Great Britain are less, the rate of increase is similar. Other countries too have shown significant increases.
Common sense has always indicated that increased violence on TV and in films and videos has been a major cause of escalating violence on the street and in the home. More to the point, Scripture insists that “evil communications corrupt good manners” listening to, and watching, what is evil will have a damaging effect on people’s thinking and behaviour. Yet this has frequently been denied, especially by those who have a vested interest in continuing to put violence on the screen. Recently, however, David Grossman, a former psychologist in the US army, has pointed the finger very firmly, in a cover article in Christianity Today, at the danger of presenting violence as entertainment in television, films and interactive video games.
“I spent almost a quarter of a century”, he tells us, “learning and studying how to enable people to kill. Believe me, we are very good at it. But it does not come naturally; you have to be taught to kill. And just as the army is conditioning people to kill, we are indiscriminatingly doing the same thing to our children, but without the safeguards.” Grossman describes the techniques used by the military to break down the reluctance of recruits to kill their fellow-beings: “This brutalisation is designed to break down your existing mores and norms and to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence and death as a way of life. In the end, you are desensitised to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill in your brutal new world.”
Grossman goes on, “Something very similar to this desensitisation towards violence is happening to our children through violence in the media”. And he emphasises the impossibility of very young children distinguishing clearly between the real world and the world of make-believe. Young children fed on a diet of television violence become hardened to it and are more likely to perpetrate violence themselves when they are older.
Academic research has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which indicates a clear link between increased levels of violence in a society and the introduction of television to that country or region. Grossman comments, “There is an immediate explosion of violence in the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalisation of a three- to five-year-old to reach the prime crime age’. That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalise and desensitise a three-year-old.” It says little for the parents’ sense of responsibility that so many of them will allow their children, and especially very young children, to watch horrifyingly violent programs. The article in the Journal of the American Medical Association came to the conclusion that “the introduction of television in the 1950s caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate; that is, long-term childhood exposure to television is a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides committed in the United States, or approximately 10 000 homicides annually.”
The situation is serious. And one cannot be hopeful. Television violence has become part of our godless culture. Such violence, as well as immorality of every degree of seriousness, is a tremendously powerful influence in the hand of the devil to destroy civilisation as we know it. Too many viewers are hooked on it, and too many influential people are involved in producing such material, for us to expect a speedy turning back to earlier standards – and these were by no means always the standards of Scripture. Only if God will return in power, can we hope for a real improvement in the situation. For too long people have wanted the benefits of a stable civilisation without the restraints of true, spiritual Christianity. In the long term, that is to expect the impossible; we cannot hope to retain the benefits of Western civilisation if we reject the biblical foundations on which it was built.
This is a generation which is departing increasingly from God. In judgement He is leaving the majority to enter into temptation. The sin to which they succumb is attractive to their corrupt hearts, and the result is that, as sinners fall into greater sins, they are more open to sins of an even deeper dye. The slide into sin may be gradual, but it is one which goes continuously downwards.
The evidence provided by academic research only confirms the dangers of portraying violence on television. But all should be awake to these dangers, and to the wider dangers posed by the worldliness that is characteristic of televison output as a whole, especially because this is a medium which is intrinsically attractive – it comes to the viewer through eye-gate as well as ear-gate. In any case, there is no necessity to have a television in the home. Parents especially should do all in their power to prevent their children becoming hooked on television, and particularly what is obviously sinful. Many are the warnings of Scripture about the dangers of a wicked example. For example, “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go; lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul,” Proverbs 22:24,25. These warnings hold true whether we are talking about personal influence, or the example of someone appearing on a television screen.
May the Lord awaken this generation to realise its need of His grace! Then people generally will realise that they have better things to do with their time than waste it on the emptiness of television drama – violent or non-violent – and they will take the same attitude to by far the greater part of television output. Then too we may expect biblical standards to prevail in the media generally. And, just as surely as “evil communications corrupt good manners”, we may expect biblical standards in the media to have a positive effect on thinking and behaviour throughout society.
Nothing can reform society fundamentally except the gospel powerfully applied by the Holy Spirit of God. While society is being largely left to itself, to go on towards eternal destruction, the Lord is allowing the devil to use televison – and television violence in particular – as one of his most effective instruments in blinding the eyes of those who do not believe. Our hope is that the Lord will yet give His Holy Spirit to accompany His Word so that it will have a powerful effect on the multitudes. Then not even the devil’s strongest instruments of doing damage to human souls will keep sinners out of the kingdom of God.