236593“Don’t want to be an American idiot. One nation controlled by the media. Information age of hysteria. It’s going out to idiot America.

Welcome to a new kind of tension. All across the idiot nation Everything isn’t meant to be ok. Television dreams of tomorrow. We’re not the ones who’re meant to follow. for that’s enough to argue.” [“American Idiot” Green Day]

NB. Ditto Malaysian idiots, Singaporean idiots, etc.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in him.” [Psalm 34:8 TNIV]

I finished Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” in three sittings over two days. It’s been a long time since I was so entranced by a novel. Compelling plot, intriguing characters, metaphysical humour and mind blowing ideas (with the usual unfortunate modern garnishings of sex and profanity), gives “American Gods” its well deserved reputation as superior fantasy literature.

And like all good fantasy, it helps us see reality in new ways. Here is a dialogue between the hero of the story and the god of television:

‘Who are you?’ asked Shadow.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘Good question. I’m the idiot box. I’m the TV. I’m the all-seeing eye and the world of the cathode ray. I’m the boob tube. I’m the little shrine the family gathers to adore.’

‘You’re the television? Or someone in the television?’

‘The TV’s the altar. I’m what people are sacrificing to.’

‘What do they sacrifice?’ asked Shadow.

‘Their time, mostly,’ said Lucy (speaking as the god of television). ‘Sometimes each other.’

The most important sacrifice we bring to the altar of television is our time.

So much of the debate over television has focused on its content. And rightly so. I think it is spiritual suicide to watch television with your spiritual discernment turned off. Hello, just take a long hard look at the values underlying most of the shows. ( I think the most dangerous are the comedies.) Most of them are out right dehumanizing and trivializes things good and holy.

Most of the news is pitched to titillate, emotional fast food that numbs the mind and leads to passivity. And the ads that makes the TV world run tells you what you need and makes you want them. Like I said, spiritual suicide to watch TV with your spiritual discernment off.

But Gaiman is right. Speaking through his “god of television” character, he reminds us that the greatest danger of television may not be what we see on the tube. It is more insidious than that. The most dangerous aspect of television is the actual amount of time we spend watching it. I am always intrigued by the fact that many who complain that they have too little time for what is important, spend many hours a day watching TV.

The advent of the internet has complicated the figures somewhat but it seems that when more time is spent online that time tends to be taken from family time and not from TV time.

TV is hypnotic. Everything is done in a way that keeps you hooked. Television god promises to relax, entertain, educate, and inform us. It does some of that. But like all false gods it promises much more than it delivers.

I know because I watch a fair amount of TV. We got cable late. Now we have many more channels with nothing worth watching. Many a evening I am surfing the channels and finding nothing worth watching. This happens all the time and I wonder why I am still surprised.

But once in awhile I realize with great relief that I am not hopelessly hooked. Last night the final two hour episode of CSI was screened in Malaysia and Singapore. This was the episode directed by Quentin Tarantino. It was also the only evening we had to host some good friends for dinner. One of the couples I get to see only once a year, when they are home from the US on summer vacation.

Good friends verses favourite TV show. No contest. Well at least not much. Greater love has no man than this: to sacrifice one’s favourite TV show to spend time with good friends.

Last night was special. Good food, a little wine, and very good friends. And soul enriching, life sustaining conversations. I was sorry when the evening came to an end. Good friends fill the heart. TV is at best soul candy that gives you a little lift, and then leaves you empty. Good friends and good food are a foretaste of heaven.

So maybe choose to spend a little less time worshipping at the TV altar. (Some have stopped watching all together.) Read a book. Invite a few good friends over for dinner. Welcome to the real world. Pray with your kids. Play with your kids.

Worship the real God only. He never short changes you.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan