Religion and TV must get in sync, says churchman, media analyst

According to the Rev. William Fore, there's trouble right here in Media City. With a capital ``T'' which rhymes with (another) ``T'' - and that stands for television. This National Council of Churches official is no Music Man. He says, however, that TV is calling the tune for society's values to the detriment of religion.

``In fact, television is itself becoming a kind of religion,'' Mr. Fore insists. He explains that TV promotes something of a fantasy outlook on society, providing an alternative to the ``old religious view based on reality.''

Television and religion are on a collision course, Fore continues. ``The values, assumptions, and world view of television's `religion' are in almost every way diametrically opposed to the values, assumptions, and world view of Christianity and the historic Judeo-Christian tradition in which the vast majority of Americans profess to believe,'' Fore adds.

Is this churchman a television-basher? Would he banish the ``tube'' from United States society as a first step to recivilize and spiritualize thought? It might seem so.

But that's not what Bill Fore is all about. A Methodist minister with a divinity degree from Yale and a PhD from Columbia, he is also a communications specialist who has been deeply involved in religious television programming.

He is not anti-TV. He is just against having the media swallow up religion by promoting its commercial and materialistic messages over moral and spiritual values.

In his new book, ``Television and Religion'' (Augsburg Press, Minneapolis), Fore suggests that TV needs to be ``reconstructed'' and says this regeneration must come, at least in part, from the religious community.

In an interview here, Fore stressed that there is a ``substantial audience hungering for help in dealing with questions of ultimate importance.''

And the churchman pointed out that religion has been a major force in bringing cohesion to the American experience for more than 200 years.

What can the religious community do to cope with television and, one hopes, make it more responsive to higher values?

Among other things, says Fore, it can foster more critical education about TV; encourage community action to press for media reform; spawn joint community-media projects; push for increased support for public broadcasting; and advocate use of cable TV, videocassettes, and other less ``mass'' forms of the technology.

The so-called ``narrowcast'' - where a select group is reached through cable TV, videodiscs, local point-to-point broadcasts, or low-power television stations - has almost unlimited potential for conveying religion-related messages, he adds.

``Cable is an excellent way to provide very low-cost, simple production coverage of worship services to the elderly, the shut-ins, the hospital patients, and people who are `shopping' for a church,'' Fore explains.

``[TV] courses for ministers and lay leaders in Bible study, church history, Christian doctrine, ethics, and other subjects are simply awaiting the right seminary or school of religion to develop them,'' he says.

Fore also stresses that the public must become more ``media literate'' - becoming aware through the church how ``television is working us over.''

The churchman and media analyst stresses that the ``theological analysis of the media is one of the most important tasks of American churches today.''

``Individuals need to cultivate the ability to stand back and create aesthetic and intellectual `distance' between themselves and what they see on television, and then, from a critical perspective informed by their own faith, look at what TV is doing and saying,'' Fore writes.

He stresses the need for a ``creative transformation'' that both rejects the accommodation of religion to the materialistic values of the media and also refuses to reject the media altogether.

``The essence of Christian culture,'' says Fore, ``is to be in the world but not of it - to recognize the vitality and goodness in the world while at the same time maintaining sufficient critical distance to seek its transformation or, in theological terms, its redemption from sin.''

Curtis J. Sitomer writes on legal and religious issues for the Monitor.

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