As television turns our society into an increasingly image-dominated culture, Christians must continue to be people of the Word. When we read, we cultivate a sustained attention span, an active imagination, a capacity for logical analysis and critical thinking, and a rich inner life. Each of these qualities, which have proven themselves essential to a free people, is under assault in our TV-dominated culture. Christians, to maintain their Word-centered perspective in an image-driven world, must become readers.
Postman explores the differences between the mental processes involved in reading and those involved in television watching. Reading demands sustained concentration, whereas television promotes a very short attention span. Reading involves (and teaches) logical reasoning, whereas television involves (and teaches) purely emotional responses. Reading promotes continuity, the gradual accumulation of knowledge, and sustained exploration of ideas. Television, on the other hand, fosters fragmentation, anti-intellectualism, and immediate gratification.
As evangelicals, we too are tempted to conform to the world rather than to the Word, just as the children of Israel were tempted by their neighbors’ graven images and the thought-forms these embodied. We too often stress feeling rather than truth. We tend to seek emotional religious experiences rather than the cross of Jesus Christ. Because we expect worldly “blessings,” we do not know how to endure suffering. We want to “name it and claim it”—instantly—rather than submit ourselves without reservation to the will of God. We are impatient with theology, and we dismiss history, thus disdaining the faith of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and neglecting what they could teach us. We want entertaining worship services—on the order of a good TV show—rather than worship that focuses on the holiness of God and His Word. We want God to speak to us in visions and inner voices rather than in the pages of His Word. We believe in the Bible, but we do not read it very much.