Culture Notes


Issue: "Question of Faith," April 5, 1997

TV heaven and hell

A recent poll by TV Guide found that 82 percent of respondents would like to see more references to moral issues on television, and 68 percent wanted more "spirituality." Answers to some of the other questions, however, suggest that audiences, no less than the TV industry, may not understand spirituality when they see it. One question in the poll asked which TV character is most likely to go to hell. The most damnable arch-villain, according to respondents, was nuclear-energy tycoon Mr. Burns of The Simpsons. Second place went to soap-opera bad guy Michael Mancini of Melrose Place. Third place in perdition went to the cancer man, the chain-smoking government conspirator of The X-Files. The overwhelming choice for the most spiritually rich show was Touched by an Angel, followed by Family Matters. Tess, the angel supervisor played by Della Reese, was voted by half the respondents as the character they would most like to have a conversation with about God. A similar percentage said that Tess is the character they would most like to have as their child's Sunday school teacher. Perhaps more revealing is that the second most in demand for a theological discussion was Jerry Seinfeld. The comedian, star of the top-rated Seinfeld, is genuinely talented in being able to make humor out of trivialities. He was also voted the second best choice for a child's Sunday school teacher. For much of America, being religious means being "nice," while sin is a matter of being "mean." Few seem to understand Christianity, which teaches that those who go to heaven are precisely those who have been bound for hell, that Christians are sinners who have been redeemed.

No thanks; I'm trying to cut back

A new approach to drug treatment dispenses with abstinence, in favor of simply cutting back and employing safer methods of drug use. The Milwaukee AIDS Project won a state license for drug and alcohol abuse treatment, with the understanding that it would be using the new "Harm Reduction" method. This approach seeks to change the user's habit incrementally. A heroin user would be encouraged first to use clean needles instead of dirty ones, then later taught to smoke or snort the drug instead of injecting it. Then, the addict would be encouraged to cut down the amount, and then switch to less dangerous drugs. In other words, this approach to drug counseling adapts the methods of liberal sex-education programs, which stress "safe sex" rather than chastity. Judging by all the experience of Christian organizations such as Teen Challenge and Victory Fellowship, the new approach also promises to be ineffective.

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A homosexual-rights group is seeking to air a commercial on the much-hyped coming out episode of Ellen on April 30. Though the national ABC network turned down the ad, citing a policy against airing issue-oriented advertising, most of their local affiliates reportedly have accepted the commercial. The ad will depict co-workers expressing surprise that a colleague has been fired because she is a lesbian. The commercial, from the Human Rights campaign, is designed to build support for a proposed new federal law that would ban job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Forget the computer; try the piano

Piano lessons significantly increase preschoolers' ability to perform the types of reasoning required for excellence in mathematics, according to a study published in the journal Neurological Research. Researchers at the University of California-Irvine and the University of Wisconsin studied 78 California children and found that the beneficial effects of music lessons on math skills were independent of socioeconomic class or even parental interest. This was the same team that found that listening to Mozart improved performance on IQ tests, though the effect faded quickly. Music lessons, however, seem to have a long-term effect. The researchers believe that learning to play any musical instrument, not simply the piano, may have similar effects. The music, not simply practice in manual dexterity, seems to be the decisive factor. Lessons in using a computer keyboard provided no similar benefit. Classical thought has always associated music--with its harmonies, proportions, and measured time--with mathematics. Classical education places both in the quadrivium of the liberal arts, all of which are designed to teach ordered, objective thinking.


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