Consider for a moment what might happen if someone you knew who died in the 1950s or '60s, perhaps your mother or grandmother, suddenly came to life and sat down with you to watch some of today's evening television shows. What would she see? What would she think?
Imagine letting her take your favorite chair and handle the remote control. Since you probably receive TV programming from a cable or satellite company, listen to her shocked disbelief as she hears the profanity and crudity spew forth. Notice her face as she hears the actors and actresses blurt out vulgarities with an ease and indifference the likes of which she would have never heard only a few decades earlier.
You might well find yourself on the defensive, trying to explain why modern television programming so openly promotes casual sexual encounters, gratuitous violence and foul language. She might question why you would voluntarily allow such crudeness to enter the sanctity of your home. She might ask why you feel no sense of alarm at the filth and vulgarity you allow into your children's minds. She might urge you to "turn that trash off"-and she'd be right on the mark.
Spiral to depravity
Steve Allen, the longtime actor, comedian and songwriter who died in 2000, wrote thoughtfully and perceptively about the depraved vortex of television programming in his book Vulgarians at the Gate: Trash TV and Raunch Radio.
"There has always been a market for vulgarity and licentiousness," he observed, "but at present it is undeniable that motion pictures, theater, television, radio, the recording industry, and, to a lesser degree, journalism are enthusiastic participants in the general collapse of standards and behavior.
"Some people may find it hard to believe that television was a morally admirable medium as recently as the 1950s. With a few exceptions it was largely administered by gentlemen and ladies, and although it was, from the first, apparent that inferior cultural merchandise was likely to become quite popular, given the notorious imperfections of human nature itself, television programming in general at least consisted of fare that could be watched by the entire family . . . It is clear that the medium has changed . . . Corporate America, granting exceptions, has not only largely given up its former admirable participation in the maintenance of society's general sanity but has joined those who would undermine it . . ." (2001, pp. 32-34, emphasis added).
For those who believe in character and high moral standards, some obvious questions come to mind: Where have we gone wrong? Why have we gone wrong? What, if anything, can be done about our self-initiated spiral into media-induced depravity?
What messages are those who spoon-feed us through the media presuming to tell us? What do they want us to think?
Today's mass media-radio, television, movies, audio and video recordings, books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet-shape our perception of reality. But how accurate is that perception? Is it true? Sometimes media moguls would like us to believe that our perception-a perception they carefully craft and provide-is reality.
But it's important for us to differentiate between viewpoints that arise from standards that are healthy for us and based on a moral foundation and those that are rooted in amoral thinking. As the Bible cautions us in Proverbs 4:23: "Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts" (Today's English Version).
News slanted to tell you what to think
The New York Times, with the largest weekly circulation in the country, is the most influential newspaper in the United States if not the world. But more than just a newspaper it is also a news organization. It owns more than 20 regional newspapers and even network-television affiliate stations across the country. Each issue of the International Herald Tribune (the international newspaper published primarily for American travelers and expatriates) is published in conjunction with The New York Times and The Washington Post, including a selection of articles and editorials from both of those papers.
The Times'reach, however, is far more vast and influential than even these facts would indicate. The New York Times Syndicate and its news service, which distribute the paper's opinion pieces and news articles, reaches more than 2,000 other media clients in 50 countries on five continents. No matter where you are in the world, glance through your local or regional newspaper and odds are you'll find articles, editorials and opinions generated by the staff of The New York Times.
That wouldn't be a problem if the Times-and other newspapers and news organizations, for that matter-did their job of simply reporting the news. The danger is when they selectively report the news or slant it to promote their social agenda (see "Why This Death Didn't Count," page 6).
Journalist William Proctor wrote an illuminating book titled The Gospel According to The New York Times. Mr. Proctor examines the profound effects the paper has on America and the world, playing a major role in shaping our thinking and values.
The New York Times, he writes, is a welldesigned belief system that touches every aspect of your life. "In effect, you are being exposed to a gospel, but one that is a far cry from the traditional good news of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Rather, this gospel is rooted in a kind of secular theology that purports to convey infallible social, moral, and political truth-a truth that the paper fervently promotes with all the zeal of the fieriest proselytizer" (2000, pp. 11-12, emphasis added).
Journalism to reshape
Mr. Proctor shows how the Times carefully communicates, as its slogan puts it, "all the news that's fit to print."What Times editors feel is right for Americans will wind up as stories on the front page. Yet they are careful not to be too overt in their secular religious fervor. For example, they might place a story on the front page and then support it in the op-ed (opinioneditorial) pages. This practice can repeat itself on alternate days.
There is also the problem of skewing stories to fit the editors' personal beliefs and agendas. Mr. Proctor continues: "It's reasonable to assume that a decidedly slanted or partisan report about a new pill that induces abortions, coupled with proabortion editorials and op-ed columns, represents a journalistic package designed to nudge the reader into changing social policy positions and personal beliefs" (p. 36).
Citing examples, his book documents many of the ways journalists slant their reporting to subtly change the way readers think. To be fair, the Times is not the only media outlet that tries to reshape our values and morals. Still, its influence reaches farther than most (see "The Media's Alternative Gospel," page 7).
Mr. Proctor quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah to indict modern media distortions: "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20).
Naturalism usurps morality
What is the basis for so much of the media's upside-down thinking? A pseudoscience known as naturalism forms part of it.
Phillip Johnson, author and law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has written several revealing books on the uncritical acceptance of evolution in modern society, replacing creationism and belief in the Bible (among them Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education, 1998, and The Wedge of Truth, 2000). As Dr. Johnson puts it, naturalism is a philosophy that substitutes unintelligent nature for an intelligent God.
His analysis of naturalism is straightforward: "This philosophy assumes that in the beginning were the fundamental particles that compose matter, energy and the impersonal laws of physics. To put it negatively, there was no personal God who created the cosmos and governs it as an act of free will. If God exists at all, he acts only through inviolable laws of nature and adds nothing to them.
"This philosophy controls academic work not only in science but in all fields, including law, literature and psychology. It is promulgated throughout the educational system and the mainstream media, and government backs it" (The Wedge of Truth, pp. 13-14, emphasis added).
The media live by this no-God doctrine -if not deliberately, certainly by effect. This is one reason that science reporting in the mass media is overwhelmingly proevolution in its fundamental premises.
What happens when a society progressively abandons its belief in God? Can it self-destruct? The words of Abraham Lincoln in 1837, before his becoming American president, warn of the danger we have brought on ourselves: "If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide" (emphasis added).
Although astonishingly farsighted, even the reputable Abraham Lincoln likely could not have foreseen the enormous stakes behind the self-absorption, hedonism and self-destruction that are outgrowths of naturalism and the modern media.
Behind the scenes
Who-or what-is ultimately behind these circumstances and trends in our mass media? Who is trying to tell you-and your family-what to think?
The Bible reveals the reality of an enormously powerful presence hard at work behind the scenes trying to influence every man, woman and child on earth to a different way of thinking-a way of thinking built on a foundation of lies.
The apostle Paul calls this unseen force "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4). Other verses refer to him as "the dragon, that serpent of old, . . . the Devil and Satan" (Revelation 20:2).
The apostle John tells us how successful Satan the devil has been in his manipulative, deceptive work. He writes that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" and that this evil being "deceives the whole world" (1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9, emphasis added throughout).
Of course, Satan doesn't present his ways as they really are-harmful and destructive. (This is spelled out in greater detail in our free booklets Why Does God Allow Suffering? and Is There Really a Devil?) Instead, the devil "transforms himself into an angel [messenger] of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14).
In other words, Satan presents his ways as enlightened and wise when in truth they are the opposite. He cleverly appeals to our human nature, which is hostile to God (Romans 8:7) and, for the most part, concerned only with itself (Galatians 5:19).
In reality, Satan wants to permanently shipwreck the future God has planned for you. This is a fact. When you come to know the big picture of the spiritual forces at work on earth, such knowledge will sober you. Mankind stands in Satan's way. By virtue of the fact that we are alive, we threaten his position and power.
Satan was once an "anointed cherub," a kind of superangel serving at the very throne of God (Ezekiel 28:14). But he rebelled, and God cast him down to earth. When the devil realized he could not overthrow God and take over the universe, he became "Apollyon," meaning "the destroyer" (Revelation 9:11)-the enemy of God and all God's creation, especially humanity (1 Peter 5:8).
Since God will not allow Satan to destroy mankind directly (compare Job 1-2), Satan has concocted devious ways to influence us to destroy ourselves. He inspires men to lead nations into war, hoping to kill off thousands and millions. Short of war, but even more devastating, he has deceived humanity into substituting the false god of science as mankind's savior.
False religions, naturalism, the theory of evolution and related belief systems have kept humanity in darkness for centuries. Satan reasons that, if he can't kill mankind off wholesale, then he will work at keeping mankind deceived. Paul tells us the devil has successfully "blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel" (2 Corinthians 4:4, New International Version).
These are the big stakes in the battle our arch-adversary is desperate to win. He is determined to keep human beings confused, filled with harmful and distorted biases and separated from God, cut off from right knowledge.
Paul elsewhere calls Satan "the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 2:2, New Revised Standard Version). Writing many centuries before the advent of television and radio, Paul showed that the devil transmits what we might call a spiritual broadcast of moods and attitudes to which human minds are tuned.
Of course, as the god of this age, influencing human minds everywhere, he is also the ruler and manipulator at work behind the scenes in the world's electronic broadcasts and other media sources, using them to promote choices and behavior that are directly contrary to our Creator's instructions. But we are not helpless before the devil. With God's help, we can resist these negative spiritual forces (James 4:7).
Right media, right advertising
Because God created us, He knows what makes us tick, how we best learn and what is mentally healthful for us. The world's media outlets aren't inherently good or evil; they are simply means of communicating information. However, the way they are used, and the content they carry, can be helpful and positive, neutral or enormously destructive.
Paul said we should be aware of conditions around us (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8). However, before you accept an important headline or story as gospel truth, question it and reserve judgment-and maybe even take time to research it if it pertains to an issue that is important to you. Compare it with other sources and perspectives on the same subject.
With some digging you may find other media sources, such as better-researched newspaper and magazine articles, that can supply you with a more-accurate perspective on the story. Some Internet sources, such as NewsMax or the Media Research Center, often cover stories ignored by most media outlets and present alternative perspectives on many major stories and situations.
Major TV networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, and major newspapers such as The New York Times, do present many stories that are unbiased. But, when it comes to stories that bear on moral values and ideology-and these are the most important stories-the major networks often present them with a liberal or ungodly spin that does not well serve their audiences. Fox News is currently the only conservativeleaning major television news network.
Of course, your best source for the unbiased truth as it relates to the world we live in is your Bible. It is the source that shapes the perspective of The Good News. This magazine's subtitle, A Magazine of Understanding, is there for good reason. Our primary purpose is to help you see major trends and events through the perspective of the Bible, helping you see them as God views them. It is our goal to make it the most biblically relevant and revealing publication on earth. But we encourage you to check the Bible references-to make sure we accurately present what God has to say.
Who is telling you what to think? It should be God's Word, not shortsighted and misguided human beings motivated by their social or moneymaking agendas. God alone possesses the wisdom we need to give us a clear perspective of what's going on around us in these dangerous times. Jesus, in praying to our heavenly Father, said, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). He also says to us, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (John 8:32).
More and more, modern media direct us away from the truth of God and toward Satan's widespread deceptions. What can you do? You can turn to God in prayer and ask Him to open your eyes to His truth, to set you free from the subtle darkness that envelops "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). God promises to answer those who sincerely set their hearts to find Him (Jeremiah 29:12-13).
You then need to allow God to instruct you-first through your own study of His Word, the Holy Bible. The publishers of The Good News offer biblically based media sources-such as this magazine, our Bible Study Course and booklets on many topics-to help you see and understand things from God's perspective. If you have a computer, we also urge you to become a regular follower of our Bible Reading Program on the Internet so you can learn even more by digging directly into God's Word.
With our individual cooperation, God can teach us what to think and do and how to avoid seduction by the dangerous messages of the modern mainstream media.
As you consider whether to accept the newspapers' or television news programs' gospel truth, or whether to view the violence and vulgarity on television and movie screens, or hear the seductive, suggestive lyrics of many songs, be sure to ask yourself who is telling you what to think- and whether you should listen. GN