Friday, November 22, 2019

Setting Screen Time

China has been a fixture of the news cycle lately. Between the ongoing trade war and negotiations with the United States, the freedom protests in Hong Kong, and the self-disgrace made by American companies like the National Basketball Association, there is always something going on to show their growing impact. 

Quest Forums was designed partly around my enjoyment of video games, so my interest in China was especially piqued by a law that went into effect earlier this month. In an effort to combat video game addiction, they have introduced a number of new regulations aimed at limiting the amount of time that minors spend playing. Those under the age of 18 are now restricted from playing between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., they can only play 90 minutes a day, and they may only spend around $40 a month on games. Furthermore, everyone regardless of age is required to use their real identification information when registering for online services, and no one can sell, purchase, or play games that include “sexual explicitness, goriness, violence and gambling.” 

Communists and Christians

Video games have been a bone of contention for a number of years. The first time I can remember them being a cause of concern, maybe the first time they ever were, was with the release of Mortal Kombat in the early 1990s. Since then, as game graphics have improved, it has increased their ability to depict mature content. The themes the Chinese are concerned about are ones that American Christians have also fought against for decades.

Of course, that similarity does not make for common cause. I’ll go on record as saying, and it should not be a surprise to hear from me, that communism has been nothing but a force for evil in this world. For one thing, it is an atheist system that enforces atheism, and many Christians and other theists have been persecuted by it around the world in all the nations where it has been tried. On top of that, everywhere it has been tried, it has been a failed system in practice. Even Chinese communism has only come as far as it has because of the ways it has repudiated communism and embraced free markets. But it still holds firmly to the totalitarianism that is always the result of elevating the state over the people and concentrating power into the hands of a few. 

Still, it might cause some to ask, what does it say that Christians and communists are fighting for the same thing? This is an opportunity to point out what should be different about Christian political engagement, and what unfortunately has not been different through the years. It is about being able to separate morality from law.

Christians stand on solid ground when they point out that nonchalance toward the vices in mass media can lead to their glorification into virtues. The surface is less firm if we then go from there to demand that the government forbid such portrayals. The Chinese example is the perfect illustration of that. What happens when the state is granted such power? It then has to claim other powers in order to enforce it. People have to submit to being identified and closely monitored. They cannot make their own choices. If they do, they will be immediately and brutally punished. And those mechanisms will not be restricted to the scope we want. They are expanded to all kinds of other goals, ones that very often target Christians rather than Christian priorities. 

Fighting the Good Fight

This leads to a few closely related issues, and answers them in the same way. Minors might be especially at risk to the negative impact of video games, but allowing the government to track them is not the answer. Video games might be addictive. But the jury is still out on that (in spite of what the World Health Organization might say), and an invasive monitoring program hardly seems like a commensurate response to the risk. Tyranny is not the right way to fight social ills.

They do have to be fought, though. And if we don’t fight them the right way, then governments will step in to do it for us. So what are the right ways? The first responsibility falls to the church. It is not our job to force people to behave in a particular way. But we do have the duty and the right to tell people that there are consequences to the things they choose to enjoy if those things are not edifying. Not only eternal consequences, which many people want to ignore, but also more immediate ones that ask a heavy price even in this world. We have to work on persuading people, showing them the superiority of the Christian way of life rather than chiding them for the inferiority of theirs.

Parenting One Way or the Other

The other, even more basic responsibility lies with parents. It is God’s plan, self-evident in nature, that they are to be the ones to see to the upbringing of their children. No one is closer or more necessary to them than their mothers and fathers. But too many parents want to escape that responsibility. I am not entirely certain how true that is of the Chinese. Their government is already so wicked, so demanding of total subservience, that the people there probably do not think of it as an escape. Instead, they probably view this top-down measure as being the normal way of things. 

That is probably less true of the South Koreans, who actually enacted similar video game restrictions in 2011. South Korea is a modern democracy, but the people there still apparently need to be told when their children can and cannot play. There can only be one reason for that. Too many parents refused to step up and take the screens away. They saw their sons become, if not addicted, then at least enthralled, and they were too weak to forbid them to keep playing. Instead, they abdicated their role and begged the government to step in. 

That is a terrifying example of paternalism, but not the only one. The sexual revolution taught people that sex should be without consequences, and the government has done all it can to make it so. Men not worthy to be called fathers can abandon children because the state offers to provide for them. Women do not want to get married because marriage is seen as a cage and they can actually receive more benefits by remaining single. Parents even in nuclear families are afraid to raise their children because they are convinced that “experts” in schools and bureaucracies are better qualified to do so. The most important unit in society, the family, is dying by a thousand cuts. Governments are more than happy to enable it. It makes them feel generous in the short term, and in the long term, it increases their power. It does not take much for paternalism to become authoritarianism. It’s just turning down the screws of control another notch.

For paternalism to be defeated, true parenthood must be restored. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). That is meant to take place in the home more than anywhere else. Set rules and enforce them. Be models of what good people should be. Learn the difference between license and grace, and practice the latter (Col. 3:21). Encourage children in what they can be and show them what they must do. Love them in this way, and above all, point them to the love of their Father in heaven who gave His Son so your sons and daughters can live. The more people will do these things, the less need there will be for the types of measures that insert the government into all our homes. At the very least, be able to tell your kids to get off their devices. Following China’s example is not the best way forward.

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