Social. Political. Economic. Career| Seyed Ibrahim

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Television, Televangelism and Muslims

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Swaggart's confession

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Here are some excerpts from a well-researched article

When television was introduced in the middle of the 20th century, Muslim scholars nearly unanimously opposed it, just like the film before it. They were concerned about its potential social, cultural, and moral impact on the society. In the decades that followed their worst fears came true. Television everywhere caused unprecedented upheavals in the society, changing moral norms, corrupting social structures, and ushering an era of unabashed hedonism and materialism. After watching the destruction caused by the glamorous new toy in their societies for decades, and the apparently unstoppable momentum with which it surged forth, many concerned Muslims decided to do something about it; in increasing numbers they want to use it to promote Islamic teachings. After all when nearly everyone who can afford it — and even many who cannot — have a television in their home, how can you ignore it?

On television, the picture is the centerpiece. It dominates and controls the entire communication and everything else is subordinate to it. Now words and pictures do not occupy the same universe of discourse. A piece of writing requires one to go beyond the shape of the letters to read them. It requires thought to understand what is being said. To concentrate on a critical idea we sometimes close our eyes or even when they are open we pay no attention to what is visible. We develop insights by opening our inner eyes, so to speak, and turning away from the sights. But in the presence of television you cannot close eyes or ignore what is in front of them. Before you can begin to think deeply about an idea, there is another eye-catching picture on the screen to distract you. Thus television does not only not require reflection; it does not even permit it. With beautiful imagery and a continuous display of dazzling pictures it shuts off our ability to engage in deep thoughts.

That is why little children can spend hours in front of the mini screen but get tired very quickly after looking at a picture-less page of text. The disability to think and process textual information is increased with continued watching. Therefore generations nurtured on television have such a short attention span. Television can titillate, it cannot teach. It appeals to the emotions, not the intellect. It can bring images into our heart, not ideas into our mind.

Televangelists like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts (d. 2009), Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, and Robert Schuller built broadcast empires whose budgets and audiences ran into millions. As early as 1957 the television programs of Oral Roberts were reaching 80% of the possible television audience in the US. Around the same time Billy Graham boasted that in a single telecast he preached to millions more than Christ did in his lifetime

Using the full capabilities of the medium in masterly manner televangelists certainly attracted huge audiences. But what was its impact on those audiences? According to Christian critics it was not the promotion of Christianity as it was known before the advent of television. The audiences were attracted and held though the lure of entertainment, which is the “supra ideology” of television as Neil Postman said. Schultze notes that televangelism promoted a new religion whose pillars were selfishness, individualism, and materialism — not to mention superstition in the form of the health and wealth gospel.Some would call it the ultimate blasphemy. In Richard F. Collman’s words “The ultimate blasphemy of a consumerist culture is its desire to consume God”. This is what happens when religion is sold in the entertainment marketplace.

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Written by S Ibrahim

Nov 27, 2011 at 10:07 pm

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