IMAGINE that it's Sunday evening and you're just sitting down to relax in front of a program on television. As you tune in, these words appear on the screen: ``Viewer Discretion Advised.'' Have you ever wondered what the networks mean by this warning? Often an explanation follows, stating that the movie may contain objectionable subject matter or disturbing depictions of violence. But what exactly is ``viewer discretion?''
Art, it is said, provides a mirror in which we may view ourselves. Some people feel that the violence portrayed on TV is indeed a reflection of our society. Others fear the reverse is true. They are concerned that society is beginning to mirror the behavior pictured on the screen and that the pattern of violence on TV is spilling over into real life. And there are studies that have shown a link between the violence on TV and the increasing level of violence involving young people. To remedy this, the fil m industry and TV networks are being urged to exercise self-restraint and eliminate the gratuitous violence that floods the airwaves. In fact, Monday's conference in Los Angeles, sponsored by the National Council for Families and Television, will deal with some of these issues.
This is a start, certainly. But more is needed. The Bible reminds us in Proverbs: ``Where there is no vision, the people perish'' (29:18). Where can we look for the leadership and vision that will bring healing to this situation? The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew's Gospel, shows us the source of the spiritual vision and unsurpassed wisdom of the greatest man the world has ever known, Christ Jesus.
Referring to Jesus' life, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes in her book Unity of Good: ``The talent and genius of the centuries have wrongly reckoned. They have not based upon revelation their arguments and conclusions as to the source and resources of being,--its combinations, phenomena, and outcome,--but have built instead upon the sand of human reason. They have not accepted the simple teaching and life of Jesus as the only true solution of the perplexing problem
of human existence'' (p. 9).
Jesus taught that the commandment regarding adultery applied not only to one's behavior but to one's thought as well. He said, Matthew's Gospel records, ``Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart'' (5:28). He made it clear that sinful motives must be arrested in thought before they are acted out in deeds. While his spiritual interpretation of this commandment requires more than a strictly literal perspective might, it also shows us how purificat ion of thought frees us from enslaving appetites and their destructive results.
When we accept vivid images of dehumanizing crimes as entertainment, aren't we, in a way, ``buying into'' violence? A fascination with gruesome pictures tends to feed morbid curiosity with an appetite for the sensational. To break this fascination, we must be more alert to what we accept and allow to remain in thought.
We, as individuals, can exercise viewer discretion over what we watch. But what about the broadcasting industry and its responsibility to serve the public interest? Human reason sometimes argues that network profits prove that ``violence sells.'' But such reasoning is based on a limited view of the situation. It lacks the deeper dimension of reasoning based on a spiritual understanding of God.
Christian Science explains God as infinite Mind and man as the idea, or expression, of Mind. As we perceive ourselves as God's spiritual ideas, we gain freedom from the limiting beliefs that are anchored in a material viewpoint.
In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy points out: ``The crude creations of mortal thought must finally give place to the glorious forms which we sometimes behold in the camera of divine Mind, when the mental picture is spiritual and eternal. Mortals must look beyond fading, finite forms, if they would gain the true sense of things. Where shall the gaze rest but in the unsearchable realm of Mind?'' (p. 264)
The spiritual ideas revealed by divine Mind bring healing and enlightenment to every aspect of human experience. This divinely inspired perception reasons from the standpoint of spiritual understanding. It discards the faulty logic that argues that it is necessary to rely on the element of violence to promote profits. Instead, accurate reasoning shows that true profitability must enrich both the broadcasting industry and the viewing audience through awakening a heightened awareness of good. Instead of de sensitizing viewers or depressing them with a sense of futility, the insight and artistry that underlie such programming inspire a conviction that life can be rich with beauty, meaning and purpose.
Prayer, then, can help us turn that warning, ``Viewer Discretion Advised,'' into a promise that we can have higher expectations for what we allow to entertain us. We can expect a standard of excellence that is indeed in the public interest and that brings out the best in all of us. Then we are using the spiritual vision that enables us to echo Biblical wisdom and declare, ``Where there is vision, the people flourish!'' BIBLE VERSE Ths saith the Lord God; ... The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. Ezekiel 12:23