Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Giving Up Social Currency For Something Better

People often like to flatter themselves, or be flattered by others, with the notion that they have less free time than they actually have. Advertisers and politicians, for example, often flatter people in an attempt to get their money or their vote. People want to think of themselves as hard workers, even if they aren't. And claiming to be busy is a common excuse for ignorance of the Bible, ignorance of politics, and other forms of negligence. Supposedly, people don't know more about the Bible, pray more, follow election campaigns more closely, or know more about current events, for example, because they don't have the time for it.

I've written on this subject in the past. People have more free time than they let on. A recent study found that the average American spends more than five hours a day watching television. The New York Times article I just linked concludes:

When subjects in the study were asked to recall their behaviors, “people underestimated the amount of time they spent with TV by a substantial amount,” about 25 percent on average, Mr. Wakshlag said. The same people tended to overestimate their use of other media.

For some people, there is a “social stigma” attached to high levels of TV watching, Mr. Bloxham said. When some people are asked to estimate their TV viewing, he said, some of them may not “want to tell you five or six hours, because that may slip into the couch potato category,” he said. For others, he said, “there is no stigma because being able to talk about last night’s reality show or last night’s ball game is social currency.”

But knowledge of some other subjects isn't so valuable as social currency. Most Americans don't read the Bible much. They don't know much about the Bible. They place more of an emphasis on being an American than being a Christian. In summary:

The Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy. How else can you describe matters when most church-going adults reject the accuracy of the Bible, reject the existence of Satan, claim that Jesus sinned, see no need to evangelize, believe that good works are one of the keys to persuading God to forgive their sins, and describe their commitment to Christianity as moderate or even less firm?

The New York Times article cited above refers to watching television as something that provides social currency. I think an excessive desire for social currency is one of the reasons why so many professing Christians spend an inordinate amount of time with popular television programs, movies, music, sports, etc. If you spend your time responsibly, you'll pay a high social price for it. Are you paying that sort of price for your time management? If you go into work this morning without being able to name the four gospels, without knowing who the vice president of the nation is, or without knowing how to defend your view of abortion, you probably won't pay much of a social price for it. But if you didn't watch American Idol or Monday Night Football, you'll most likely be left out of a lot of discussions. The world won't reward you for your knowledge of theology, church history, or ethics as much as it will reward you for your knowledge of trivial and vulgar television programs, music, and sports.

There's nothing inherently wrong with something like watching television or playing a video game. But the degree to which Americans are involved in such activity, while neglecting things that are far more important, is grossly wrong.

But apart from what's wrong, what's wise? If a Christian is free to watch a television program, in the sense that there's nothing about the program that makes watching it unacceptable in most or all contexts, it doesn't follow that he ought to do so in the current context.

One of the reasons why I oppose the sort of large government role in healthcare that's currently being proposed by many Democrats is that we can't afford it as a nation. We're out of money. We've already put our children and grandchildren into deep debt.

And we don't just have a financial debt. We also have a debt of time. We can't afford to spend time on things like sports and video games the way we might have in the past. In a time of war, you make sacrifices that you wouldn't make at other times. The less your surrounding culture is teaching you about the Bible, for example, the more time you'll have to spend to learn about it without your culture's help. The less other people in your society know about the Bible, the more time you'll have to spend trying to educate them. You have to spend more time educating your children yourself. More time analyzing television programs and books, for example, before allowing them into your life or your home. More time trying to learn how to interact with a culture that's more ignorant of and hostile toward your worldview. Etc. The same is true of politics, ethics, and other subjects when a society neglects them.

I'm not suggesting that everything is getting worse. It's a mixed bag. On some issues, such as racism and abortion, there's been some improvement over time. But I think the general trend has been negative. (Societal acceptance of pornography and homosexuality are a couple of examples, and see the recent Barna data on views of the Bible here, for instance.) And even if things were getting better, or were the same, we would still be far from where we ought to be.

Scripture often encourages us to consider future generations and make sacrifices for their benefit, "that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord" (Psalm 102:18). You don't have to avoid things like sports and video games altogether. But why not give them up, or at least decrease your time spent on them, anyway? Many people of previous generations did so, to your benefit. A Christian ought to be enthralled by "the unfathomable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). He should be risking and sacrificing (responsibly), trying to achieve great things, involved in something that's "more wonderful than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams". That's difficult to do when your mind is immersed in baseball, American Idol, and the latest popular music and movies.


  1. In the providence of God, I was thinking only last night, that I don't have time to do what I need to do, while at the same time lamenting that when I do have time, I don't often chose to do what I ought.

    Specifically, Bible reading and study...

    So this post made fairly direct contact with that portion of my face located between my eyes.

    Thank you.

  2. As a part of a Pastoral company of men who have lived and worked together for over thirty years now, I have to say, when things begin looking the way you describe, those of us called as overseerers of others, with a charge for their soul, we must have grown blind and shallow and dense not wanting what we were called to want and receive with gladness and joy, the fruits of repentance and fervor among God's Chosen Elect!

    I was struck with these Words this morning as I was pondering them, the Scriptures I had just read:

    Luk 3:2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

    Now for the effect of that portion "....the word of God came to...." one need only understand the condition most if not all of the world was in then, the darkness that was overshadowing the souls of these people and their seeming inability to rise above it.

    If it was that way then, how much more will this gross darkness be as it overshadows us in our day with so much more media available to distract us away from God and His Word?

    Much has changed with the advent of wise industrial complication and high technologies so much around the world these days. What hasn't changed, though, is human nature and the need for the Savior's help:::>

    Luk 3:16 John answered them all, saying, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
    Luk 3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
    Luk 3:18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

    Well, I guess it is to the giving of "many more exhortations" then, keeping on keeping on, preaching good news to the people who have been given ears to hear!

    Here is a warning that strikes hard my soul:::>

    2Pe 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
    2Pe 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

    At times I have seen just how easy it has been for me to lose my own stability in the midst of the lawless errors of a lot of people!

    Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.