TAPDANCING IN A MINEFIELD
Would you tap-dance blindfolded in a minefield? Not unless you had a death wish. The answer to this question seems easy enough because we are discussing the physical realm. But when it comes to the spiritual realm, many people are tap-dancing in a moral minefield.
This world of moral danger sits in most people's homes and is known as a television. Through this medium comes a pernicious stream of anti-Christian values too debased to discuss in detail. Suffice it to say that most of what comes across the boob tube is pure evil. Many people understand this vaguely, but do not understand how it affects them. Now hold that thought.
The conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act... (CCC 1777). The conscience therefore, is a function of the human intellect to make a decision. It is that part of the mind that, illuminated by the soul, makes decisions about everyday life. Like other functions of the human intellect it can be influenced. You can't make informed decisions about a calculus equation if you can't add two plus two correctly. The same is true in the moral realm.
The conscience can be made better or improved upon, just as our knowledge of mathematics can be improved upon. The influencing of the human intellect to make moral decisions is called formation of conscience. We can have a well-formed conscience by reading the scriptures, reading the catechism or other religious books, prayer, study of the lives of the saints, attending lectures or conferences, going to Mass, and receiving the sacraments. This is just a partial list. Anything that influences us to do good and avoid evil helps build a well-formed conscience.
A conscience can be poorly formed as well. If you don't do anything else you can have a poorly formed conscience just by watching television. To deliberately watch something for purposes of entertainment that ridicules or condemns the Catholic faith is to deliberately malform your conscience. Deliberately watching behavior that is contrary to the will of God, diminishes your ability to make good moral decisions. If you watch programs filled with violence and immoral sex, even if you realize that these acts are wrong, you have still been influenced. By its very nature, television can involve one to the point that there is a certain participatory nature to the actions on the screen. If you hang out with murderers, stealing doesn't look so bad. If you watch people have affairs night after night on the parade of filth that comes across the airwaves, you will not be surprised or even bothered when those around you do it in real life, because it will seem that those in your living room have already done it. After exposing oneself to sexual immorality that would make the denizens of Sodom and Gomorrah blush, why wouldn't one wonder about the Church teaching on contraception. Exposing oneself to moral excretion makes it that much harder to make a decision. This is not just for children: "The education of conscience is a lifelong task." (CCC 1784). It applies to everyone, young and old.
If you see something immoral it will stay with you in your mind forever. It does affect your ability to make good decisions. It does influence your ability to detect evil. It can lead you to do evil. Immoral television programs, or commercials will wear away your moral discernment as surely as the grains of sand will take the paint off your car in a high desert wind. Shocking scenes viewed only once can have the same effect. Either way they will pummel your spiritual insight until it is useless. So when you sit in your easy chair at home and flip mindlessly through the channels, you are tap-dancing blindfolded in a spiritual minefield. Each push of the button may land you on safe, albeit insipid ground, or it may maim you forever.
How can you avoid it? Here is some obvious advice: If it's bad for you, don't do it. It may be entertaining, it may make you laugh, or be interesting or even informative, but don't do it. Do not turn the TV on unless you know what you are going to watch. Find out what the show is like before you turn it on. If there is a risk of giving a bad influence leave the TV off. Keep a sheet or some other covering over your TV to keep it out of sight and out of mind. Make a cabinet with two padlocks on it. You keep one key and your spouse can keep the other. If you can't agree on what to watch beforehand, nobody watches anything. Have a TV-free evening planned as a family evening. If all else fails and you still find yourself watching things you shouldn't, get rid of your television completely. Jesus told us, "If your eye is your downfall, tear it out! Better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to be thrown with both eyes into Gehenna..."(MARK 9:47). The Good Lord told us to pluck out our eye if it led us to sin. How much more he would condemn that evil eye of the television.
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Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, February 1999.