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Praying about television

IN recent months television has been much in the news. Stories of network mergers, takeover bids, and government deregulation have caused many people to worry about who owns the media--and who sets the tone for the programs they are watching. A series of Monitor articles last week raised some deeper questions about American television. What effects does television have on the family? on children? on politics and journalism? on the future? The effects are complex. Viewers may find themselves confused. What should they think? Is television a good or a bad thing? Should they embrace it as the wave of the future? Or should they feel guilty about watching it at all? Prayer can cut through such confusion with clear answers. Why? Because prayer helps us recognize a profoundly precious fact: that God is never confused and never causes the slightest confusion within His creation. Following the Bible, Christian Science teaches that God is divine Mind, the only source of genuine intelligence, coherence, and insight. This Mind is perfectly focused and lucid, never befuddled or uncertain. And since, as the Bible explains, man is made ``in the image of God,'' 1 man possesses that same clarity. As we acknowledge these facts in prayer, realize them to be the truth of our being, confusion evaporates. One deep-seated worry about television is that it may subtly manipulate thought--it may influence viewers to do, say, think, like, hate, buy, things they ordinarily would not. Some observers even describe television as mesmeric and hypnotic. While many researchers do not go that far, most agree that television is an exceptionally powerful communications medium, one that tends to influence most those who are least aware of its power. Should we be afraid of these ``downside effects''? Must we refuse to watch any television because some of it is pernicious? Not if we are girded by prayer. In proportion as our thought is aligned with God through prayer, no evil can touch us. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, knew the importance of this kind of prayerful defense of one's thinking. She counseled her followers to face up to evil, and face it down with full faith in God, with the deeply serene trust that since God is All, evil has no place, no power. Recalling the Bible account of Moses' staff turning into a serpent (see Ex. 4:1-5), she calls attention to the fact that Moses--who at first ran away from the poisonous beast--was told by God to return and pick it up. When he did so, the serpent again became a strong and useful staff. ``The illusion of Moses lost its power to alarm him,'' Mrs. Eddy writes, ``when he discovered that what he apparently saw was really but a phase of mortal belief.'' 2 Like Moses, we, too, need to make this discovery. Whether or not we are watchers of television, we should be aware that each ``phase of mortal belief'' is picked up, amplified, and communicated around the world by television. So our prayers need to be specific. For example, we might find it helpful to pray for a deeper understanding of the last part of television's name: vision. Television, after all, depends on visual imagery--on ``visions'' of life that are sometimes uplifting but often debased. Bright, moving, compelling, these images are often alluring in their immediacy and superficial charm. The need is to distinguish between true and false visions. We do this, however, not by turning away from and discarding all visions, but by learning the difference between those that point to the true image of God (the real man) and the false images of idolatry, sensualism, and materialism. Christ Jesus was keenly alert to this distinction. Mrs. Eddy writes of him, ``Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals.'' 3 Jesus' teachings, in the Gospels, provide exceptionally clear insights, telling us again and again how to discern between the false and the true image. And the second commandment--which begins ``Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image . . .'' 4--when understood and obeyed, helps us cut right through the allure of false images. The subtle temptation to drift idly along with television--to use it as a welcome distraction from serious thought or to let its schedule set our agenda--dissipates as we vigorously pray for an understanding of true vision. As we pray--as we thank God for the presence of His love brightening our own vision--we'll find ourselves guided, both in what to watch and how to think about it. 1 Genesis 1:27. 2 Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 321. 3 Ibid., pp. 476-477. 4 Exodus 20:4.

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