With Lent beginning today, many Christians see the season as a time to give up some food or guilty pleasure. This isn’t a bad practice, but it’s only partially what the discipline is about.
The story of Jesus and the Rich Man is a good guide. When the rich man asked Jesus what he must do, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Three things constitute the desire for perfection: (1) Give something up; (2) Give it to someone who needs it; (3) follow Christ. So, for example, if someone wanted to give up a meal during Lent, he’d take the money he saved from that meal and give it to alms or some charity, then commit himself to some daily devotional, like observing a daily matins or cespers prayer service.
Of course no one could approximate the perfection Christ demands. Only Christ can fulfill it. But the beauty of liturgical piety is how it formalizes and therefore externalizes perfect faith, keeping it always real and present—in our lives and on our lips—while yet being something to strive for and attain.
No one is ever fully 100 percent into the Our Father, but the Our Father is always 100 percent in the believer, because the Our Father is something eternally uttered by the Holy Spirit through the Son, and the Son, being human, imparts his status to us, and the realization of this is the church’s liturgical life as she prays, for instance, “Our Father.” The Christian lives ever in this tension between the “now” of faith’s fulfillment in Christ, and the “not yet” of life in a fallen world. In the liturgy this tension disappears.
So the Lenten discipline of giving something up fits in this liturgical dynamic. No one gives up everything as Christ did, gives everything away, and follows the Lord’s call perfectly. But still the formal teaching of Christ to the rich man remains, and Lenten discipline formalizes it in a way different Christians can apply relative to different stages of faith’s growth. As Jesus said, “With God nothing is impossible.” By his Holy Spirit faith can be disciplined to heed Christ’s word, even if it is “in part,” as St. Paul said.
With that primer out of the way, Christians should consider giving up something that would truly fit the spirit of the Lenten discipline: media. By media I mean any sort of entertainment or information which can be transmitted on a mass scale through electronic means. That includes radio, TV, movies, gaming, and of course the Internet.
Of course, like giving up a food, you still have to eat. In today’s world, there are uses of the media that simply can’t be avoided, like reading e-mail. That being said, anyone could try the media fast to various degrees, from giving up all media—radio, TV, movies, social media, gaming, and the Internet—to one or two of those.
Here are five reasons why this would be a great Lenten fast.
1. It Would Give Your Loved Ones the Gift of Time
Using Christ’s pattern to the rich man, you give something up so you can give something to someone who needs it. What are we giving away by giving up on media? Time. Consider the amount of time we spend on electronic media. I could throw out horrific stats, but everyone knows them, because we see it everywhere. The gaming, texting, Facebooking, surfing, binge watching, and zoning out on our favorite news program consumes mass amounts of time.
The culture war has been lost because a series of small battles were lost. Those small battles happened in that zone between teen children’s minds and whatever media they happened to be plugging into, or in the lack of attention from parents plugged into their own media. For too long Christian parents were content to see the cultural war on a macro level, trying to win politically or at the cultural level, while forgetting that the battle is waged by dad going into his son’s room, turning the video game off, and saying, “Let’s go play basketball.”
The prophet Isaiah warns us lest we “hide yourself from [our] own flesh.” Media puts us into our own little zones where that’s exactly what happens. It hides us from our flesh, eroding the family bond.
2. It Can Give Your Nation the Gift of Time
The gift of time is not only a gift to family, but to our nation as well. Imagine if our teen boys spent a third of the time developing their skills that they do gaming. I hate to be the one to point out the obvious, but have you noticed the decreasing level of native-born Americans, particularly boys, engaged in scientific occupations? This isn’t a racist thing because (a) this includes native-born whites and blacks, and (b) if Indians or Chinese students want to settle here and take up all the doctor positions, more power to them.
But this is more a cultural observation It is the Christian’s calling to develop his gifts or skills to better his neighbor. It’s hard to develop anything when you spend every spare moment zoned out gaming or keeping up on the latest gossip on the chat board. This harms your neighbor if you have the potential to develop the next generation of safer air bags, but you didn’t because you were absorbed in “World of Warcraft.”
Again, forget lame excuses about the system not encouraging boys or how culture has been feminized. Liberals whine about systems. Conservatives live in the real world, and the reality is media is sapping the potential of the American labor force. We don’t need a government program to turn off the TV. We need parents with guts.
3. Media Traffics in Unreal Phantasms
Here’s a funny thing. When I watch TV or read politics on the Internet, my impression is that our inner cities are full of angry Black Lives Matter protestors and our campuses are havens of rabbit-hole deconstructionists and special snowflakes. But,I work as a campus pastor, and I’m an urban missionary in a largely black community, and I rarely see any evidence of the stuff I see on TV or read about on the Internet.
Here’s another funny thing. Take just about any Donald Trump resistor, rewind their minds back five months, and let them go ahead completely disconnected from national media and any awareness of federal politics. Is there any doubt their lives would pretty much have gone forward as if nothing had happened? For all the melodrama over Trump’s term so far, the real effects of his presidency has been at most a handful of foreigners having some inconvenience entering our country for a few days.
Media traffics in phantasms generated by the editing pen of some behind-the-scenes demiurge. They craft their own realities, narratives, and archetypes. They suck the third dimension out of the human person, leaving behind two-dimensional beings patterned to whatever archetype the demiurge is operating.
An archetype is like a stereotype, but more pernicious. As an archetype, media’s operators spend years building, say, an “older white male” archetype conforming to the view that “the system” is dominated by the white patriarchy running things for their own sakes. Meanwhile, the “numinous negro” stands by as authentic consciousness. No wonder after decades of this media saturation, a white male is seen, de facto, as incapable of true sympathy or thought, while a minority is endowed with transcendency. Through media saturation, we risk seeing each other not as human beings, but as two-dimensional representations of systemic evil, or purity and light.
It would take a long essay to get into the nuts and bolts of why liberals love media precisely because of its phantasmic nature. (Well, you can read about it here.) It has to do with their eternal rebellion against natural order derived from their gnosticism, and Hermetic need to craft a new architecture of the mind.
But conservatives and Christians in particular are not gnostics. We believe in a Lord who bounded himself in flesh and blood to make God our neighbor. When this is put into effect and we deal with our neighbors in flesh and blood and not through the media, true love happens. Cutting ourselves off from news media for a few months and simply visiting with real people in our real communities would have salutary effect.
4. Media Fosters Our Basest Desires
If porn is dangerous because it presents a phantasm of woman which can never exist in reality, creating problems for a marriage because the poor wife must always compete against an image, Facebook is life porn. It sets up a phantasm of the aggregate of lives of all our friends, setting up an ideal no one can meet. It fosters the base vice of covetousness.
But all media does this on some level, fostering our basest desires. Media doesn’t get “pop,” after all, without appealing to the wider, very often base passions of humanity. Liberals are okay with this because their world view isn’t informed by historic, orthodox Christianity (rather, by heretical, gnostic Christianity, but again, another story). Thus they believe base desires are our true “authentic selves” media such as music in particular can set free, but also movies. They have sacralized desire in their religion of secularism, and media is the chief catechist.
In a real sense, then cutting out media as a Lenten discipline would be in the fine Lenten tradition of tempering vice.
5. It’s a Gateway Drug
On Tuesday I was listening to a blues song (hey, it was Fat Tuesday) that casually talked about the kick you get from cocaine. It reminded me how cocaine was an acceptable drug about a century ago. Only later did society realize its dangerous effects. How many years before our culture deals with the addicting effects of social media, porn, and gaming? It’s clearly a problem already, and scholars like Sherry Turkle can give you the details.
We know how the early inventors of the computer believed it could become a new LSD, having the same effect on the human mind as LSD was believed to, raising consciousness, collectivizing humanity, eroding the boundaries of the natural order. It has had that exact effect. It lifts the soul out of reality into an escapist realm of thrills, light, and pleasure, precisely the utopian world order that continues to drive the progressive imagination.
As it is with progressivism, so it is with escapist media: eventually reality beckons. Eventually you have to take care of your children, deal with parents, take care of the dog, take a shower. Compared to the world of light, it can be grey and depressing. The soul needs ever new highs.
Cutting ourselves off from media for the 40 days in Lent is not impossible. It will drive the soul to his own flesh once again, to a world created by the Creator, as opposed to worlds created by, well, people you probably wouldn’t really trust.