Junk food for the soul

Television is an almost precise spiritual equivalent of junk food. The entire content of its programming is unedifying, un-nourishing, opposed to sound mental and emotional health, and filled with value-training which is diametrically opposed to a sound and healthy society. The life styles and ideals it portrays are artificial, corrupt and undesirable. Moreover, television is highly addictive.
| 16 October 2008

Source: Canadian Orthodox Messenger




Junk food is artificially flavoured and coloured, excessively sweetened and highly addictive. It is harmful to physical and mental health and its consumption interferes with or even deprives one of beneficial, healthful nourishment.


Television is an almost precise spiritual equivalent of junk food. The entire content of its programming is unedifying, un-nourishing, opposed to sound mental and emotional health, and filled with value-training which is diametrically opposed to a sound and healthy society. The life styles and ideals it portrays are artificial, corrupt and undesirable. Moreover, television is highly addictive.


Even cartoons designed especially for children instil uncompassionate, aggressive and violent attitudes which are definitely reflected in children’s behaviour in school and at play. It has been repeatedly demonstrated, by University of British Columbia studies, and by several studies and commissions in the United States and Europe, that television viewing imparts negative ideals and behaviour patterns to young people, and that children tend to accept the TV version of life and behavior as acceptable norms. In addition, television commercials, which are designed to increase and exploit every human passion, are very popular with children. It has been shown repeatedly that television advertisements have a powerful residual effect not only on the impressionable minds of children, but on adults as well. These advertisements do succeed in initiating, building, strengthening and then exploiting the passions of every sort.


If one carefully examines the moral content of television programs, including that of children’s cartoons and the commercials, one will see that they are precisely the opposite of Orthodox Christian ideals. Having contemplated this, stop and compare the number of hours both adults and children spend under the influence of television with the amount of time spent in church, prayer and the reading of the Divine Scripture and other spiritually edifying books. Thus, the heavy influence of Satan and his ideals in the lives of our children begins at a very early age, and in our very own homes.


This problem is often compounded by the sorrowful fact that many parents who are proud of their colour television set are ashamed of the ikon of our Saviour. The television set is given a place of prominence, almost a place of honour, in our homes, while often there is no ikon corner to be found, and if there are ikons, they are hidden away out of the main room of the house, where they will not “cause any embarrassment.” Many parents who will consent to their children’s spending hours glued to the television set, will not spend so much as ten minutes together with their children praying before the ikons. The Saviour and His saints are embarrassments, not entirely welcome guests, while the liturgy of of the evil one, served daily on television, is given a place of singular honour in the household. Families which would never think of reading together the life of a saint or from the Scripture, will eat in front of the television, just as pagans shared their feasts with their idols—and often such families even neglect to bless the food before the meal.


Later, the parents of such families will bemoan the moral and spiritual state of their offspring. How often do you read the lives of the saints to your children? How much time does your family spend together at the ikon corner in prayer? How often do your children catch sight of an ikon of the Saviour or the saints in your home? On the other hand, how much time do they spend with violent, aggressive and uncompassionate cartoons? How much time do they spend with loud, aggressive, sensual and immoral anti-heroes on television?


No one is foolish enough to suppose that a physically and mentally healthy child can be raised if his intake of junk food exceeds or even equals that of healthy, natural, beneficial food. Why would someone be so foolish as to suppose that one can raise an emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy child on spiritual junk food?


Television, like so many of man’s inventions, has been consecrated to the demon of greed and envy, and it is manipulated primarily for the purpose of increasing and exploiting every human passion. Even the occasional “decent” program is more than counterbalanced by commercials designed to feed, and to feed on, human passions. Some people have asserted, with good reason, that it is better to have a television set in one’s home, where TV watching can be controlled, than to have one’s children watching television elsewhere, in uncontrolled circumstances. There is considerable truth in this. But stop and consider for yourselves whether your television set takes precedence over your ikon corner, whether TV is given a greater position in the lives of your children than is Christ. Are you feeding your children more spiritual nourishment than spiritual junk food? The knowledge that parents must answer before the Judge of All for the manner in which they reared their children ought to be enough to make them pause for serious consideration of this matter, even if parental resolve is too weak to do so.





Two reflections on “Junk food for the soul”


Canadian Orthodox messenger’s note: we received several responses to the article “Junk food for the soul” by Archbishop Laza, which was published in the spring 2004 issue of this periodical.  Below are two of the written reflections.



What Orthodox parents need


“Junk food for the soul” by Archbishop Lazar raises two interconnected issues: that of Orthodox parenting, and that of the concrete methods this parenting takes, using the example of parental leniency on television viewing. Although I agree that most TV programmes are both unedifying and even pernicious in their content and the “values” they carry, this article left me with a bitter taste. As a parent, I thought the tone of the article discouraging and unhelpful. It does not concern me personally, since my family does not watch TV in the home—ever. Yet as a Sunday School teacher of nine years, my heart ached for all those people—young or adult, “lost” or “on track”—who might have welcomed a gentler counsel.


Because of its tone, the article is unlikely, in my opinion, to help harassed, exhausted parents change their family’s lifestyle. Raising children is a very demanding, labour-intensive, self-sacrificing and tiring job—not to mention expensive. These hidden costs often go unacknoweldged by both the secular society and the Church. Moreover, many people in our churches who grew up under the Communist oppression of Orthodoxy have an incomplete knowledge and experience of what truly Orthodox child-rearing might entail.


Most parents must juggle full-time jobs, household chores, parenting (including scholastic and religious education) and volunteering, and usually these things are done in the absence of any help from extended families, neighbours, or the Church community, which was often available in the past. The temptation to ‘park’ the children in front of the TV in order to buy an hour or two of relief from their incessant demands just to prepare the evening meal or run a load of laundry must be, indeed, great. Not all parents cave in to it, however, and those who do need help, not condemnation. Admittedly, it is much easier not to start, than to stop or taper off the habit of TV watching, once it is established.


What parents might need, nowadays (in no particular order), are:

·         living examples of role models of the type of parents God meant us to be, starting with our clergy and Church hierarchs;

·        continuous education, not only theoretical religious education, but ongoing building of Orthodox parenting skills, with the possibility of feedback and interaction from other experienced and reliable parents (clergy with many offspring have, in my limited experience, come with the best practical suggestions);

·         support, encouragement, praise and congratulations for those things they do right, rather than endless criticism of a terrible statu quo;

·         help and compassion when the family experiences difficult times, whatever the nature of those difficulties; unconditional love and valuing of the children and youth themselves by the Church community, its clergy and hierarchs. That would make the youngsters and their families want to come to church more often, and carry that love of Christ further into their daily lives;

·         meaningful Sunday schools for their offspring, and a vibrant, caring, interconnected network of other Orthodox families with whom to share and celebrate the commonality of childhood and their faith.


Yes, children are a gift from God and it is the parents’ responsibility to raise them and prepare them spiritually not only for the Kingdom, but also for the daily warfare on our beliefs and their expression. Parents are the first whose duty it is to ground their offspring in Christian morality, and to teach children and youth how to cope with the many temptations and misleading messages of modern life. However, and in all humility, I must ask if, as a community, the Orthodox Church, its hierarchs and clergy, are not also jointly responsible for the salvation of every member’s soul, including the youngest ones’. Just looking at the points suggested above (and I am sure other parents will find a few more to add), there certainly is room for improvement in our Orthodox Church.


There are loving, inspirational clergy who do a fantastic work with and for families with children. The church might identify them and encourage them to run workshops to train the clergy who are less aware, less skilled, less welcoming to our young charges. They in turn might train their respective congregations, who sometimes ostracize or despise children. Only when the Church as an institution has accomplished its mandate of loving, educating, nurturing and welcoming all its members, including parents with offspring, only then might it throw the first stone at those whose parenting style has fallen by the wayside.


The article that set this train of thoughts in motion also seems to assume an awareness and receptivity to sin of our children that contradicts my practical observations. Children have little experience of “every human passion.” While viewing inappropriate content, most children will lack the context that gives that content a truly sinful meaning. Not having being tainted yet by adult hypocrisy, children will simply speak out their mind and call a spade a spade when an adult would hesitate to do so. I think that we must trust the Lord God to have made our children in His image and endeavour to cultivate that aspect of their human nature.


Certainly most television programming is not appropriate for children, especially in quantity and without adult supervision/guidance. Certainly a lot of our children watch more television than is desirable. Certainly an effort should be made to curtail such brainwashing, and to replace it by more meaningful, spiritually-sustaining fare. But there are plently of other sources right under the children’s noses that could have just as perverse an effect on them, and possibly a more pervasive one.


When children witness callous or aggressive interaction within the family or within the parish community, what are we adults teaching them? When we ignore them or allow them to be put down as if they did not matter, how do we demonstrate our love for them? When we say one thing but do another, what concept of truth do we instil in them? When we quote Scripture at them to further our own agenda(s), how do we prepare them for their salvation? When we value our church’s material assets more than its people, what sort of freedom of choice do we exercise? When we display selfishness or pride, how do we embody Christ’s example? Despite all the evils of TV watching, I believe that the living people closest to a child will have the greatest influence on him or her. And if one of those people is not the parish priest, or deacon, or church elder, is it always the parents’ fault? Ioana Bertrand, Toronto


Reflections on life in Christ


As a mother of a young teenaged daughter, a religious educator in Toronto since 1975, and an Orthodox seminary graduate, I am prompted by Archbishop Lazar’s article “Junk food for the soul,” to try to “scratch the surface” on some of the issues involved in Orthodox parenting and, in general, in being Christian today.


In North America today we are constantly reminded that we do not live in an Orthodox world. We live in a secular world, in the midst of a melting pot of religious and secular teachings. It is the world of the Internet, e-mails, pop-ups on the screens, advertisements, junk mails, TV and radio broadcasting, newspapers, movies and so on. In a climate where “freedom of speech” is highly valued and protected,

these things seem to rule much of our lives. Nevertheless, this is also the world in which each Orthodox Christian experiences his or her own spiritual warfare, a world which constantly challenges one’s spiritual growth. For just as in ages past, continuous, ongoing spiritual growth depends not only on the grace of the Holy Spirit, but also on each Christian’s efforts to live a life committed to Christ and His Church.


A commitment to life in Christ and His Church is not just the verbal promise the Godparents make on behalf of the baptized child, nor by the adult himself/herself in the case of adult Baptism and Chrismation. This commitment is sustained, expressed and fulfilled when supported by constant learning of the Faith and by integrating one’s knowledge and experience of faith into daily life. Sacramental experience and religious education are both parts of a lifelong process, which assists us to actualize the Holy Spirit in our lives. We grow in discerment of sins, acquiring the virtues, fighting vice, becoming holy, growing closer to God.


During this ongoing process of growth, Christians need the support of their community in Christ, their

church. In today’s society, where everyone is expected to behave and talk in a “politically correct” way, and where we are often tempted to bend or twist our values or standards so we that do not offend others, we need more than ever the support of the Church community.


According to the saints, our attitude towards each other reflects our relationship with God, and our attitude towards God reflects our relationship with others. These “others” include children, teenagers, young adults, adults, the elderly, clergy and, of course, the members of one’s own family. The well-being of each Orthodox Christian community depends, in large part, on how the individual members of the Body of Christ relate to each other. We should therefore prayerfully ask ourselves the following:


Does my attitude towards my brothers and sisters in Christ reflect my love for Christ?


Am I welcoming the little children just as Christ welcomed them (Matt. 19:13-14)? Do I fret within myself at the smallest movement or sound from a little one in the church, instead of rejoicing that they are the church’s future?


Am I welcoming the exhausted new mother, or any mother with children in the Church? Am I welcoming the father who works on shifts, but still brings his family to the Liturgy on Sunday, driving for more than thirty minutes? Am I looking at my watch to see how late they are instead of praying or thanking God for them?


Am I tolerant towards the little children, who make joyful noises exploring different places and things in the church, while the service is going on?


Am I welcoming the teenager who is dressed like a model from a fashion magazine, but who appropriately (surprise!) venerates the icons and follows the Liturgy? Or am I passing judgment on him or her and the parents?


Do I, clergy or lay person, correct misbehaviour in church, on the part of children or adults, with loving, kind and gentle firmness: or do I make a public “scene,” humiliating the members of the flock and possibly even alienating them from Christ and His Church fowever?


With my attitude and behaviour, am I bringing others to God or am I doing exactly the opposite? Am I being a witness for the love of Christ in my day-to-day life, and especially in my parish?


For the growth of our church communities, spiritual guidance and counselling by the parish priest or someone else, such as a Starez, is of crucial importance during the formative years of the children and particularly of the teenagers, as well as for anyone newly received or baptized into the parish community and anyone else in the Church, for that matter. The priest’s ability to model Christian love, patience and gentleness when dealing with those entrusted to him by God, assists the spiritual formation of that person, no matter what age. Making confession a rigid ritual of absolution for less than a minute immediately before Holy Communion cannot lead to real spiritual growth.


From my youth in Bulgaria, I treasure the times I spent with my spiritual father discussing the Orthodox Faith, the saints, the virtues and the vices. He gave wise instructions about how to discern the various shapes of sinfulness. He supported my spiritual growth, urged me to participate in the Liturgical Services, and encouraged me to become more holy. This reminds me that our Holy Orthodox Faith teaches us to believe that God is Love, and Christ is forgiving. Our God is not a dictator, a terrorist, a manipulator of people, nor an evaluator of rules and regulations.


We, both the clergy and the faithful, should witness to the love of Christ throughout, and in every area of our lives We should be role models of kindness, righteousness, and love for our children and youth. We should be supportive of our brothers and sisters in need, and that includes especially the families with children, some of whom have great difficulties in these days.


Think a moment: Do you consider yourself a role model for others in your parish? Who is your role model in your parish or in the diocese? Maybe some will answer: I am inspired by the saints, by the icons, by the Theotokos. That is good, but is this sufficient for the children and the teenagers? In today’s world, despite the parental control a family may have, the children and young people have easy access to the tempting role models of sin and of this “world” via TV and computers (even if not at home, definitely at school and with friends). To counter this, we need to offer them role models in the church community, and even try to be these role models ourselves by our Christ-like behaviour.


What our children and teenagers need to see is God’s love in action in the midst of the Church community and in the life of their own family. This will assist them to understand that Faith is a way of life, not just a concept, that God exists not only like someone from the icons, or someone who will put on the vestments for the services and feel powerful. By loving example we can assist our children and teenagers to understand that Faith is a way of life, that God is present in the life of His people all the time, not just sometimes.


When we are better integrated into the Orthodox Faith, when we acquire a truly Orthodox identity (which is a continuing process), all of us—clergy and laypeople, adults and children—will be better equipped to deal with the challenges of today’s world. We will be able together to learn what in this fallen society can be used in such a way that our Christian identity is not tarnished, and we will be able to support each other in turning away from those elements in the culture which cannot be edifying.


Would the world not be a better place, would the Church not be a healthier community, if all of us were to strive with all our hearts and minds and souls to put our commitment to life in Christ into practice? Let’s try harder!Antonina Dunn, Toronto


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