The Media: What Effect is it Having on our Minds?


The contemporary world is one absolutely saturated with media.  If you are reading this article then you are in fact currently consuming public media.  It seems that in almost every pocket, living room, bedroom, bar, and classroom in the modern world there is a piece of technology that connects us to the media.  By “the media” I mean simply the public broadcast of rhetorical or entertaining material.

There is really no historical precedent for this level of media saturation.  Historical peoples have had circuses, gladiators, theater, the opera.  But these pastimes were not available 24/7, on demand, on private devices.  More recent generations had the newspaper, then then the awe-inspiring radio.  But even these were not attended to for hours each day, in living color, or produced as part of an enormous, multi-billion dollar industry.

I’d like to give a scientific, a philosophical, and a Biblical principle to help us understand how to feel about these strange times.

Science: Mirror Neurons

Mirror neurons were not discovered until the early 1990’s, but they have incredible implications concerning our social behavior.  Scientists have discovered that when we observe behavior performed by someone else, our own brain activity mirrors that of the actual participant.

This is what can make video-based media so engrossing.  When we see someone smile, our own brains behave as though we were smiling.  When we see someone using a hammer, our own brains behave as though we were using a hammer.

When we see television or movie characters performing sexual acts…  You guessed it, our brains behave as though we were having sex.  When we see acts of graphic violence and revenge, the same principle applies.

Now couple this principle with the fact that our brains go into a low alpha brain wave state when we stare at a screen.  This means that we become considerably more suggestible because the parts of our brains that evaluate and criticize are being turned off.

What you get is a superhighway of ideas that pour into your brain and effect it as though it were having real experiences of… whatever you choose to watch, be it pornography, graphic violence, etc.

In light of these principles, recent mass-murder sprees and their correlation with the technology saturated world, are not surprising.

If you wouldn’t do it, think twice before you watch it.

Philosophy: Distortion of Perspective

Søren Kierkegaard lived in a time before television, but his analysis of the media was very telling:

“On the whole the evil in the daily press consists in its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is. But all moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary.”

Malcom Muggeridge put it this way:

“Now can this really be, as the media continually insists, what life is about–this worldwide soap opera going on from century to century, from era to era, whose old discarded sets litter the world?”

Both men are pointing out a basic principle.  The media tells us what to view as important.  It tells us that everyone else, “the public,” is very concerned or interested or entertained by exhibit A, and that we should be, too.

In this way, it inflates the importance of subjects that only distract us from our own personal talents, responsibilities, and the great themes of human existence that aren’t directly involved with the violent shooting last night, the latest celebrity gossip, etc.

Bible: Intentions of the Heart

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  

Jesus is pointing out for us that something as simple as visual stimuli is capable of opening the door to very damaging mental processes.

He goes on to tell us later in the sermon that “the eye is the lamp of the body.”  Jesus knew what contemporary psychology and neuroscience is telling us, that what we see has a profound impact on us.

I urge Christian readers, consider the motives behind your consumption of media.  Consider the effects that television and movies may be having on your values.  And I urge us all to meditate on great themes and do great things in this world.  Do not sacrifice your mind to the media.


What Makes Christianity Special?

Cross of Jesus Christ

Poet and journalist Steve Turner satirically remarks in his poem “Creed:”

“We believe that all religions are basically the same; at least the ones we read were. They all believe in love and goodness.  They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”

Indeed, to claim that “all religions are basically one” or that “all religions lead to the same god” is logically inconsistent.  If you’re not convinced, this article should make my reasoning clear.

The Christian faith, as revealed in the Bible itself, has amazing, beautiful, transforming power in it.  It is is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  It pierces deep into our hearts, enabling it to judge the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).

I would like to define some of what separates Christianity from other worldviews, and the power that it has.

1) Christianity gives ultimate meaning and purpose to life.

In this respect Christianity is separated from atheism.  The Bible gives us a view of a cosmic, beautiful, incredibly important story unfolding.  It is a war between good and evil, between love and lawlessness.  It gives us a reason to live and it shapes our lives.

Of course an atheist can live with a personal sense of existentially constructed meaning.  But that meaning lacks the authority to empower his actions in his moments of greatest need.  It is essentially utilitarian.  It is a personally constructed illusion that he needs to survive, and thus he doesn’t actually believe in it.  It is a product of random chance that happened by sheer luck to serve him for a time, and he is well aware of it.  Death will rob him of it entirely.

2) Christianity motivates us to do the right thing.

Once again, this separates us from atheism.

Can an atheist be moral?  Of course!  But behind closed doors, or when things get tough, he truly has no incentive to seek the common good over his own preservation and fulfillment.  His morality, like his meaning and purpose, is utilitarian and thus extremely flimsy.  He can live by rules, but He has no reason not to abandon them if it seems favorable to him to do so.

3) Christianity does justice to the importance of the heart.

This separates us from Islam.  Christianity is not a legalistic religion.  It is not chiefly about rule following.  A muslim is justified when his good deeds outweigh his bad ones.

In a legalistic religion, rituals become compulsive.  The heart is not addressed because the actions are considered sufficient.

Christianity, on the other hand, emphasizes the heart first, and actions follow naturally.  Consider Jesus’ brilliant “Sermon on the Mount” that begins in Matthew 5 for examples.

4) Christianity is ambitious.

This separates us from Buddhism.  A central goal of Buddhism is to become free from all desire.  Desire is understood to cause pain, and eliminating desire eliminates pain and brings us to enlightenment.  There is no distinction between desires for right or wrong ends.  All desire is to be eliminated.

Christianity exalts the desire for that which is right, while rejecting that which is wrong.  It is ambitious enough to expect something more wonderful to be accomplished than an escape from all ambition.

5) Christianity speaks seriously of our sins, but does not deprive us of our dignity.

The Bible goes so far as to say that we are all wicked.  Not one of us is good.  It holds no delusions about the nature of man (Romans 3:10).

It also indicates that we were made for great things, made just a little lower than the angels (Psalm  8:3-9), and that with the power and renewal that comes only from God we can be righteous (John 3).

6) Christianity teaches us how to forgive others and ourselves.

In this way I believe that Christianity outshines any other worldview.  The Bible teaches that God is Love.  Love is willing to suffer for the good of others.  Thus Jesus Christ came to the cross to suffer for our sakes, so that He might forgive us.

Any time you forgive someone, you are absorbing the evil that they have done rather than compounding it.  The incredible teaching of Christianity, which no other religion dares to suggest, is that God Himself, our Creator, is willing to suffer in order to absorb our evil.  In this way the relationship between us and Him is held together.

It follows that we have no right to withhold forgiveness from others.  We are not justified in withholding mercy when we are so clearly in need of it (Matthew 18:21-35).

In conclusion: No worldview meets mankind where he is like Christianity.  Its meaning, purpose, and morals are universal and objective, giving them the necessary weight to serve us in our most difficult hours.  It emphasizes the transformation of our hearts, not simply of our actions.  It gives us an ambitious outlook on the outcome of this amazing battle that we see around us.  It gently but firmly insists that we accept the wickedness of our own hearts, and then proceeds to flood them with the grace and hope necessary to become something more.  And most importantly, it teaches us the truth about love, the only force strong enough to hold us together.