I’ve been thinking about Christian media recently. There’s certainly a lot of it about here in America, especially in Texas. Not only are their Christian books and Christian magazines and Christian music, but there are Christian films (like the recent God’s Not Dead) and Christian TV networks.
It’s this last that got me thinking. My kids have recently discovered the children’s programming on one or other of the networks. It barely matters which one; they all seem pretty much alike.
I’m not impressed, to be honest. While there’s nothing in the content that I can find precisely objectionable, nevertheless I always come away with a vaguely guilty sense of “Can’t you watch something good, like Wild Kratts or Rescue Heroes?”
For those of you unfamiliar with the current state of American children’s TV, Rescue Heroes is exactly what it sounds like – a team of people who rescue people in trouble. Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds for the 21st Century, except without the awesomely unrealistic vehicles and with every character having some kind of cheesy name like Rocky Canyon or Jack Hammer.
Wild Kratts is learning about animals and saving rare creatures through the means of what amounts to technologically-driven shamanism. The heroes have these “Creature Power Suits” that allow them to activate the powers of various animals via a “power disk” and a touch of that animal.
And yet, with all the shamanistic associations of its basic premise, I’d rather my kids watch that than Christian TV.
I’m not worried about my kids getting into shamanism from watching Wild Kratts. You have to already know about shamanism to even catch the connection. And it’s far more engaging and likeable than Christian TV.
I feel vaguely guilty, like I ought to like the Christian networks’ children’s TV. It’s safe. It has a positive message. It’s building up their faith, isn’t it?
My kids seem to enjoy it just fine, but then again, they aren’t exactly the most discerning of TV consumers. They object if you mute the advertising. But if there’s nothing in the content itself I can point to and say “you shouldn’t be exposed to this idea yet”, what’s my problem?
Part of it is the same problem I have with a lot of secular children’s TV these days: Sledgehammer Moralising.
Even in the secular children’s TV market, it seems like everything today has to have “educational content” and “promote positive character traits” like honesty and teamwork.
Some of the children’s TV I have fondest memories of, like The Magic Roundabout and Bod, were pure chaos from start to finish. And even when there were obvious moral lessons in the episode, the main character didn’t come on at the end to explain exactly why Being In A Grumpy Mood Will Ruin Your Whole Day, or why Jumping To Conclusions Is A Bad Idea.
We didn’t see a need. We absorbed the lesson by stealth; it would have detracted from that to have someone point out What You Ought To Have Learned From This.
We weren’t that stupid, so why do we assume that kids these days are?
Christian children’s TV doesn’t do quite the same amount of after-the-fact drawing-out of moral lessons, but then, it doesn’t need to. You’d have to be both deaf and blind to miss it in the course of the program itself. It seems like unless it makes the point with a sledgehammer, no Christian network will touch it. The creators are obviously “ashamed of the Gospel”. “Hiding their lamp under a bowl”. “Watering down the truth”.
Jesus didn’t explain his parables to the crowd. We’re only given the one example of the time He explained to His disciples. He trusted them to ponder it through, and let the Holy Spirit do His job of applying the relevant parts.
Apparently we can’t trust the Holy Spirit to know His work any more. We have to lead people by the nose to the conclusion we want them to reach. By all means, we should never let people think for themselves. Who knows where they might end up?
Which leads us neatly into the fact that we want everything safe and predictable.
The title of this post is the tag line of a local Christian radio station. I know what they mean; there are certainly enough radio stations out there that you can’t listen to with kids around, because the presenters can’t keep their language clean and their subject matter family-friendly. But it’s emblematic of a deeper issue.
When were we shown even a real villain and nemesis for the protagonists on a Christian children’s programme? It may of course be the limited amount I’ve watched, but in what I’m seeing so far there aren’t any recurring bad guys who are just plain villainous. Batman and Spiderman had their casts of villains with grandiose plans to take over the world or steal large portions of it. Transformers had the heroic Autobots versus the evil Decepticons. It was Good versus Evil and there were sides to choose. You understood this on a primal level.
The bad guys, too, had all the advantages. They were entrenched, had all the money, all the connections. They were stronger and faster and apparently invulnerable. The hero had to overcome incredible odds to Save The Day. That was the whole point.
Watch Christian children’s TV and it seems like the worst that can happen is getting into trouble by disobeying your parents. The message is not that there’s a great cosmic struggle of Good and Evil, a struggle that needs every power you possess, but Be A Good Boy And Follow All The Rules.
Even adult Christian TV is safe and predictable. When was the last time Christian media asked questions it didn’t give an answer to? When was the last time Christian media challenged our assumptions about our faith? When was the last time Christian media called into question our orthodoxy or pointed a prophetic finger at our own practices?
Jesus was frequently edgy and unsafe. CS Lewis had it completely right in Aslan’s portrayal as “not a tame Lion”. He’s not safe, as the Beaver says. But He’s good.
Jesus didn’t follow the rules like a good boy. Good boys don’t get themselves crucified. He didn’t toe the Pharisees’ political party line. He touched lepers. He did work on the Sabbath. He hung out with prostitutes (Mary Magdalene), revolutionaries (Simon the Zealot) and evil government collaborators (Matthew and Zacchaeus). He was accused of being a drunk. He didn’t pander to the already religious; He appealed to those outside the faith. The religious, those who were “righteous”, hated Him. He didn’t speak their language or toe their party line.
So why is our Christian TV the opposite? Safe, predictable, inoffensive, pandering to the religious rather than appealing to the outsider?
Along with the apparent assumption that we can’t be trusted to think for ourselves, it’s this that I think I have most problem with.