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FIRST-PERSON: Greed or no greed?

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–I don’t watch much television. In fact, if you don’t count the morning news program playing in the background while I am getting dressed and groomed in the morning, then I typically spend less than eight hours a week watching the tube. And if there is not a sporting event I want to watch that week, the number drops to about five hours. We don’t even have cable at the Finn house — we plug the set into the wall, adjust the “rabbit ears” and on a good day pick up about six channels of varied fuzziness.

We do pick up the five major networks, and NBC is typically the clearest of our channels. Right now, one of NBC’s most popular programs is “Deal or No Deal,” hosted by comedian Howie Mandel. The premise of the show is that the contestant picks a suitcase, the contents of which range from $1 to $1,000,000. One by one, the contestant picks other suitcases to be opened, each of which eliminates other dollar amounts from play. At scheduled intervals, a “banker” will call the contestant and make her an offer, say, $119,000 for her suitcase. The contestant can take the “deal” being offered by the banker, or she can say “no deal” and open more cases, in the hopes that her still-unopened suitcase contains one of the high dollar amounts.

I seriously hate this show. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that almost all game shows cater to the greed of their contestants, but “Deal or No Deal” ratchets it up to a higher level.

A contestant will come on the show claiming he needs $80,000 to put little Suzie through college. But then he starts doing well on the show. Before you know it, the show’s statisticians are claiming there is a “66 percent” chance that the unopened suitcase the contestant holds has more than $300,000. The banker is on the phone, and he is offering $191,000 — more than twice as much as the $80,000 the contestant needs. But the contestant might have more than $300,000 in his suitcase — so he takes his chances and plays on. And in the end, he leaves with $24,000, which is not chump change by any means, but is significantly less than the $191,000 that was offered. And it likely won’t put Suzie through college.

Now we can question the wisdom of trying to “win” a college education (or mortgage, or nest egg, or European vacation) on a game show ’til the cows come home, but that’s not the main issue. The larger problem is this: why are evangelicals so silent about game shows like “Deal or No Deal?” Why are we silent about the “clean” programming that undermines our Christian worldview?

We rate movies based on the number of curse words they contain. We avoid movies with bedroom scenes. We decry movies and television programs that portray alcohol and drug abuse in a positive light. We complain about shows that portray husbands and fathers as incompetent imbeciles. And we get worked up when homosexuality is portrayed in a positive (or even neutral) light. But we don’t say anything about the myriad of other programs that subtly assault our Christian worldview.

Like game shows that cater to the greed, avarice and covetousness that slowly kills our contentment.

Like the pithy romance stories that cause us to long for a different (better, prettier, more handsome, more sensitive, more manly) mate than the one we have.

Like the various types of boxing and wrestling that degrades the image of God in us by turning men into animals and deadening our desire to be peacemakers who value all life.

Like the comedy movies and television shows that make a mockery of those who are developmentally challenged or otherwise different than “normal” people, numbing our compassion toward those who suffer or hardening our acceptance of those who may not look like us.

Like the reality shows that humiliate often-unsuspecting people, causing us to laugh at other people’s misfortune. Or the reality shows that encourage lying, cheating, backbiting and other sinful tactics to win whatever the prize may be.

Like the endless genres of visual entertainment that demean women by turning them into nothing more than sexual beings, perverting true feminine beauty and tempting us to think of women as objects of pleasure rather than precious human beings created in God’s image.

Bringing our Christian worldview to bear on entertainment ought to mean more than counting “F” words and sex scenes. We are assaulted in innumerable ways, many of which fly under our radars because we are so busy monitoring movie ratings (which I believe tell us little about the suitability of a movie) and complaining about all the winsome homosexual characters on sitcoms that we miss some of the subtle (and most dangerous) attacks of the enemy.

I’m not calling for Christians formally to boycott any particular show or genre of entertainment; that decision should be left to the conscience of every individual believer and family. But surely there are times when all of us should turn the TV off or avoid the popular movie, regardless of its rating. Not every attack on biblical morality is a frontal assault; in fact, most of them are covert operations. And when we do enjoy entertainment that conflicts with our worldview — which is most entertainment — my prayer is we will be discerning rather than “conformed to the pattern of this world.”

When it comes to buying into to the subtle sins of the entertainment culture, more of us need to respond with a resounding “No Deal.”
Nathan Finn is associate archivist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and a Ph.D. student in church history.

    About the Author

  • Nathan Finn

    Nathan A. Finn is professor of faith and culture and executive director of the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University. He is also the Recording Secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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