Genesis 1:27-28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Psalm 139:1-4
One of the great fads of television these days is “Reality T.V.” And it comes from a long line of development, including soap operas—which pretend to portray everyday life—to viewing bits of home movies—which some people may consider funny and others tragic.
Now it seems to me that there is a formula that these shows usually follow. And that is: That a group of people—about a dozen, who have never met each other before—are taken out of their usual environment. They are then placed in situations which are quite different to what they are used to, and they are expected to behave accordingly. And the viewer is then encouraged to sit back and watch how they behave. The contestants are like lab rats. There’s little or no privacy, and everything—every action and word—is open to public scrutiny.
And the point of the exercise, from the contestants’ point of view, is that they are competing for a prize. And they can only win by the other contestants being eliminated one by one. Furthermore, the contestants have to be prepared to do anything. After all, they don’t know in advance who they will be mixing with; they don’t know what they are going to be asked to do, from one minute to the next; and they don’t know what’s going to be put on tape, to be broadcast to the world.
Reality T.V. Is it good or bad? And what lessons are in it for us as Christians trying to live in the real world?
B. THREE OBSERVATIONS
Well, today, I’d like to make three observations regarding Reality T.V. And each time I want draw some conclusions which may help us on our own spiritual journey.
1. Artificial Environment
a) Our Version of Reality
And the first observation I’d like to consider, is the environment in which the contestants are placed.
Because in Reality T.V. it could be about surviving on a desert island, the Australian Outback, or living day by day in a communal house, unable to get away. As a consequence, many, might suggest that these are situations are not “real” at all. Rather they are “unreal.” For they are situations in which people would not normally find themselves in. And in a sense, they’re right, the situations are artificial . . . But in a sense isn’t that the way that many people live their lives?
Indeed, some people lock themselves up with their work, while others consume themselves with their leisure interests or families. All quite healthy pastimes in themselves. But if used to the exclusion of all else, they are quite unhealthy.
On another level, as a society, we’ve made many social mistakes. And putting poor people into social enclaves, like housing department areas, is a case in point. It is a recipe for disaster that is well documented. Because it creates an artificial environment, not only for those who live under such conditions but for those who no longer have such people living around them.
Furthermore, as a nation, we have modified our environment—and continue to do so. We change the landscape and we manipulate the wildlife, simply to meet our wants and desires. And in doing so we create an artificial environment—one to suit ourselves. But at some cost to ourselves and the creation around us.
And, then there’s the ultimate . . . For God is often left on the shelf, ignored and forgotten. Because people do not have much time for him either.
Yes Reality T.V. is about creating artificial realities and seeing how people behave. But isn’t that a reflection of what happens in real life too?
b). God’s Version of Reality
And yet, as Christians, we know that reality—the real world—is supposed to be quite different. Because when God made mankind, according to Genesis: “God created mankind in his image; he created them in the image of God. He created them male and female. God blessed them and told them, “Be fruitful, multiply in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Govern over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, and every living thing that crawls along the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28).
As a consequence, reality should be about God’s people being God’s people. It should be about acknowledging God’s place in his creation, and taking an active role in the care, nurture, and preservation of creation itself.
It should not be about people who create their own little realities. It should be about people who are stewards of God’s creation. People who do not exploit or waste it. But use it for the full service of God and man.
2. Acceptable Behaviour
a) Our Standard of Behaviour
Now the second observation I would like to consider is of people’s behaviour. Because in Reality T.V. there is an increasing amount of bad language and questionable behaviour.
Furthermore, the competitive nature of Reality T.V. puts an emphasis on the need to eliminate all opponents; to remove all who pose a threat; and to remove all who don’t conform or fit in. Of course some of this may be done in a light-hearted manner. But the question remains: “How real is the behaviour? And does it reflect what’s happening in the world at large?”
Well, I’m sorry to say that from where I sit, that is very descriptive of the world that I see. Indeed, it’s not unusual to hear bad language—in fact it has become the norm. It’s also not unusual to see behaviour that is far from appropriate:
From boasting of losing a driving licence for drink driving (and maybe not for the first time), to pride in beating the system. From tax fraud and social security fraud, to a bit of back stabbing. Or simply a lack of concern of how one person’s behaviour affects someone else.
Now, of course, this is only one side of reality. However it is one that seems to be increasingly prevalent in our society.
b) God’s Standard of Behaviour
And yet reality—the real world—should be quite different, particularly for the Christian.
Indeed, the Apostle Paul warned the members of the Corinthian Church about immorality: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? He is in you; you received him from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). He also warned the members of the church in Rome to be consistent in their behaviour: “Let us walk appropriately, as in the day. Not in boisterous merrymaking and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lacking moral restraint, not in stride and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).
And Jesus himself set the standard that would be impossible to better: “Return to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and return to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21b). And his behaviour in this world? Well, he spent a lot of time mixing with those in need: Caring for the sick, the poor, the disabled, the downtrodden and the outcasts—those who the world generally gives a raw deal.
A Christian’s behaviour, then, should be quite different. But so too should a Christian’s competitive nature. Because in God’s real world, two things are important:
Firstly we should be actively engaged in increasing the competition, not reducing it. Jesus said: “”Go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved and whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
And secondly, the race we’re supposed to be in, is the race for perfection—the race to become more like Jesus, not a race against each other. And as the writer to the Hebrews states: “Let us run with patient endurance the race that is set before us. Let us fix our eyes on the founder and completer of our faith (Hebrews 12:1c-2a). And that’s a sharp contrast to the kind of competitive behaviour we experience in the world in which we live, and in the world according to Reality TV.
3. Big Father is Watching
a) Big Brother is Watching
And the third and last observation . . . Relates to the issue of being watched.
Now, of course, in Reality TV, dependent upon the show, the cameras could be rolling at any time. The final images are then spliced together, presumably to attract the biggest audience or simply for just shock value.
And a concern for what is being seen may well be in the contestants’ minds . . . well, at least initially. But then, as the show progresses, that seems to matter less and less.
And that is a reflection of the world at large, where there are those who consider it is OK to do things—or try to get away with things—provided they are not being watched. (And there are those who deliberately modify their behaviour when they think they are being watched.) However over time, and as practice becomes a habit, those kinds of niceties can often seem to matter less and less.
b) Big Father is Watching
Which is odd, from a Christian point of view. Because as Christians we know that we are being watched all the time. However, just not in the way that the world often portrays.
Psalm 139 begins: Lord, you have searched me and you know everything. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; you discern my thoughts even from a distance. You distinguish my movements—when I go out and when I lie down; you are well aware of all my ways. Indeed, a word is not even on my tongue, yet you, Lord, know what all my words will be (Psalm 139:1-4).
For a Christian, the reality is that we live in a world in which we can never hide. God sees everything, absolutely everything, and we will be held accountable for everything we do. God is watching every minute, every hour. And consequently we cannot slack off at any time because we think that no-one is watching or because we don’t care that we are being watched anymore.
Now I know I’ve painted a rather negative view of this world, because there are many who do much to make this world a better place. And yet the reality is that there is a huge contrast between this world—the world we have modified to our own liking—and the world which God created for us to live in.
Reality T.V. Is it a good thing? Well . . . yes, if we need a reminder of the kind of world that is reality to so many people. But, no, it’s not a good thing if we want a model to follow.
Because whilst the criticism of the shows is that the situations are unreal, the basic concepts of the show do reflect true life as many people live it. People do live in their own artificial environments. People’s behaviour is often inappropriate. And concern for being watched is very real, even though over time it is often taken with reduced importance.
Now I’m not suggesting that all Christians are perfect (least of all me). But what I am suggesting is that to be a Christian, we need to be aware of the differences between God’s world as he created it and meant it to be, and the world that we have come to live in and may feel comfortable with.
Because we’ve been created by God for a purpose. To respond to him, to be his witnesses, and to take care of his creation. And depending upon our response to that, will depend upon how we live our lives.
No, we can’t divorce ourselves totally from the world as symbolised in Reality T.V., but we can try to instil God’s standards in our lives, and bear witness to others concerning God and his creation.
Posted: 4th July 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
Genesis 1:27-28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Psalm 139:1-4