Our brains are continually evolving. From the time of birth, when the newborn’s brain is a blank slate, every action or reaction, every stimuli that child is exposed to, every habit that child embodies, a neural pathway and chemical transmission line is formed.
Those pathways dictate how we will respond to the world around us. These chemicals that our brains release during learned activities and visual stimuli are like a drug that is more addicting than anything one can put in their body. This evolution that we are engaged in is also the biggest stumbling block to family life, spiritual discernment, and a moral foundation in the media-saturated society that we inhabit.
We are a nation captivated by the technological Eden we’ve created, not realizing it’s a prison that is anything but Paradise.
Off The Grid Radio
Released: May 11, 2012
Bill Heid: And greetings and welcome, everybody. It is Bill Heid with another—yet another—episode—an amazing episode of Off the Grid Radio. We’ve got a guest today that’s kind of a neighbor of ours. Believe it or not, it’s Phillip Telfer and Phillip is the founder and president of Media Talk 101. He produced and co-directed a documentary, Captivated, which won an award. Phillip, was it the runner-up or did it win the documentary award?
Phillip Telfer: Thank you, Bill, for having me on your show. We were runner-up for “Best Documentary” and we were finalists for “Best of Festival” at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.
Bill Heid: And so the finalist was the movie Courageous. Is that correct?
Phillip Telfer: They were the winner, yes.
Bill Heid: They were the winner. They were the… Wow. So you’re right up there and I want to say congratulations. I’ve watched the film a couple times and it’s an amazing documentary and it’s tough to watch because it’s just all too true, in a sense, Phillip. You’ve really kind of spent the time and you went right to the heart of the issue. We’ve got a nation of people that are captivated by media and I’m just… Again, as I said before we started, I just want to say thank you for your efforts there because I think it’s one of the better documentaries that I’ve ever seen and it’s probably the best documentary on this particular subject that I’ve ever seen.
Video Excerpt: We live in a media saturated society. The screen time for the average American child is over 53 hours a week. The digital age has swept into young adults’ lives like a tidal wave. Media has taken my generation captive. Media was very big in helping me to escape the realities of my life. I was captivated by television. It dictated what I was going to do and when I was going to do it. It’s a bigger addiction than drugs, a lot of times. There is a great need for concern. Have we entered a techno-utopia or a virtual prison? Pretty much my life has like consisted of media in some way, shape or form. I just got so sucked up in it. It just kind of took over part of my life. Is our social experience richer and deeper or more shallow and artificial? I would be on Facebook every day, all day long. We stand a chance of roboticizing relationships. The trivia of youth are amplified by these digital tools. Men are trying to escape into the world of games. We’ve arranged the culture to trick their brains into thinking that they’ve done something when in fact, they haven’t. The kind of thing I’ll watch and I’ll listen, I wouldn’t do. Is there hope of finding freedom? I found that there is more freedom without media, in all honesty. When I was able to let go, there was such incredible freedom. This world would be a completely different place if we weren’t all glued to a screen. There is a need to break free from these chains that bind us. When you unplug, all of these things that are part of God’s design for us begin to be restored.
Bill Heid: And that is the trailer that can be found on www.MediaTalk101.org, a website that you should go visit. But Phillip, again, a great trailer. Before we get started, how did you…? What prompted this? You’re a parent yourself. You have two children, I believe. What got you going, that made you…? What was the motivating force behind this?
Phillip Telfer: Well, over the last 20 years I’ve been actively involved in ministry and I have seen this issue of media addictions and media distractions and a lot of the garbage—entertainment today—is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to spiritual growth, to family health, to our nation’s moral foundations being eroded and I didn’t see too many people talking about this intelligently. And so that was the motivation.
Bill Heid: So did you see…? Were your thoughts kind of, “Let’s scrap… Let’s be Luddites and scrap technology and media completely” or “Let’s just throw ourselves at this”? Were those the two extremes that you found or what did you find?
Phillip Telfer: No, and the approach that I have taken on this, it’s not an anti-media or an anti-technology approach but rather a need for caution. There are so many problems today with media and technology and more and more people are recognizing these problems in this digital age and I believe it’s time to start asking more questions and looking for answers and that’s really what I did with this documentary.
Bill Heid: I think ever since Neil Postman wrote the book Amusing Ourselves To Death, he kind of hit it—“Hey, there are some issues here” but it’s now that we’re actually… These issues are kind of showing up. In other words, we’re forming statistics, right? Both emotionally, spiritual and what you show in “Captivated,” even physiological statistics. So we’ve got health issues, mental health issues, spiritual issues as a result of this overconsumption or this massive amount of non-discerning media type.
Phillip Telfer: Yeah, and let me give you some examples. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s research, they have found that the average teen consumes 7.5 hours of media every day. That’s nearly a full time job. I call it the “all you can eat media buffet” and we actually use that analogy in the documentary—kind of this idea of piling more and more on our plates but it’s not just how much we’re piling on our plates. It’s also what’s the content? And you have the average teen—average mobile teen—sending and receiving over 3,339 text messages per month. And the same Kaiser Family Foundation research discovered that only three in ten young people between the ages of 8 and 18 have any rules in their home how much time they can spend playing video games, watching TV or being on a computer. So there is not a lot of mentoring going on in the home.
Well, when you have the average American watching—according to the Neilson ratings—4.7 hours of TV each day, we’ve got a problem. They have anticipated that at some point those numbers will go down because of the rise of internet and other things but every year those numbers inch up and everybody’s astounded, which means people are just piling more and more on their plate. And I think what’s even really troubling is that 43% of three to four year olds have a TV in their bedrooms. And one out of five children under the age of three have a TV in their bedrooms, completely disregarding even what the American Academy of Pediatrics has found in their studies and they have stated on their website, which can be easily found, that children under the age of two should be discouraged from watching any television because of the impact that it has on the brain. So we have a ton of things going on. We live in a media saturated society and I believe that there is a huge impact on multiple levels.
Bill Heid: I think too, what could be difficult for a lot of parents is if you have school aged children as well… Years ago and this is something John Dewy wrote about extensively. John Dewy wanted to produce a lot of little socialists so one of his tactics for that was to make a more image centered curriculum. In other words… This isn’t hidden. This isn’t conspiracy. He wrote openly about this. So how can we take the written word and move from the written word and move into a more image based curriculum? So your kids go to school for 6-7 hours a day. They get an increasingly image based curriculum. Then they come home… or before—whatever—then they’ve got another seven plus hours of image based things. I think that’s pretty spectacular and I think historically this is probably an unprecedented time in history, Phillip.
Phillip Telfer: Yes. Image based mediums are very, very powerful and can be effective but also very dangerous depending on who is using these mediums. Joseph Stalin once said, “If I can control the medium of the American motion picture I would need nothing else to convert the entire world to Communism.” And one of the reasons it’s so effective and one of the reasons Dewy was so keyed in on this was that when you’re watching something and you’re passively watching something, you don’t have time to stop and think about it. You’re carried along by the production as opposed to reading. When you’re reading a book and if you were to read a line that you questioned and you say, “Is that true?”—Well, you can actually stop and think about that. But you can’t do that when watching a movie. You can’t do that when watching a television program. And so that’s just one of the issues.
Plus one of the things that Neil Postman was concerned about in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death was even when we start children at a very young age with things like Sesame Street, where we’re trying to combine entertainment with education, what we’re doing is we’re training children to think that everything has to be entertaining and that’s just not reality. So everybody has to become an entertainer now and really what we’re doing is dumbing people down and dumbing our children down and like what Neil Postman said, “Amusing ourselves to death.” The word “amuse” means “to not think.” And we are creating a whole culture of non-thinkers and that’s dangerous.
Bill Heid: And we’re starting, as you said, from an age that’s very, very small and so people immediately… Let’s say a movie comes out, even a movie like Toy Story or one of these movies that’s just graphically unbelievable—Despicable Me—and some of these movies, Phillip, may have what Christians would call a redemption motif to them but it still… It’s not the fact that they have a redemption motif. It’s the technology involved and it’s what it’s doing to the brain. Do you want to talk a little bit? Am I jumping ahead or do you want to talk a little bit about the chemical reactions that are actually happening when you’re kind of doing the work for the child instead of having the child read a book or whatever?
Phillip Telfer: Sure. You mentioned about starting children at a very young age. I went to the Seattle Children’s Hospital to interview Dr. Dimitri Christakis. He’s one of the nation’s leading research doctors on this subject. We did this for the documentary and he mentioned that the average age that a child begins to watch TV in America is four months old. And the reason four months is because that’s when a child starts sitting up on her own. So as soon as they can sit up, a parent is putting them in front of the TV, out of convenience. It’s the electronic babysitter. Now what’s happening though, when you put a child in front of the TV starting at four months old, is first of all they are beginning to orient to the screen and the other thing…
And there is a lot of wiring going on in the brain at that age and there have been a lot of studies that have shown that—and this is what Dimitri Christakis pointed out—that for every hour a child watches TV in those young, those first few years of life—for every hour—they are 10% more likely to develop ADHD. And the average child right now, under the age of three, is watching 3-5 hours of television a day so that child who is watching five hours of television a day is 50% more likely to have ADHD. Now why is that? Well, part of that is just the pacing of television. It’s so fast paced. And when you have children orienting to screens at that age and becoming accustomed to this fast movement and constant changes, the rest of life just isn’t like that. It’s just boring compared to that hyper speed. Now that has to do with a lot of what they call the brain plasticity or neuroplasticity, which means that—especially in those younger years—a lot of those connections are being made and kind of establishing the thinking habits and thinking patterns.
Dr. David Walsh puts it this way, “Whatever the brain does a lot of, the brain gets good at.” Though brain plasticity or neuroplasticity happens from cradle to grave, in those first few years it’s really accentuated so it’s a critical time in a child’s life to develop good habits and what we’re doing is we’re training children to be inattentive to anything but screens. Another thing that I thought was interesting that I learned from Dr. David Walsh was that sometimes we think of attention as just one thing. You’re either being attentive or you’re not. And that’s why people will say, “Oh, my child’s been diagnosed with ADHD but boy, they can sure watch the TV for hours or play video games for hours.” Well, one of the things we have to realize is there is different types of attention.
Dr. David Walsh brings up the fact that there is something that we are born with that’s hardwired in our brain called “reactive attention” and I think we can all relate to this. He uses a great illustration. He says, “Look, if I’m engrossed in reading a book, engrossed reading this great mystery novel—that’s what you would call ‘focused attention.’” But he says, “Out of the corner of my eye I see a mouse run a long the floorboard. Where is my attention going to go? It’s going to go automatically to that mouse, regardless of how focused your attention is and that’s called the ‘reaction response.’” We are hardwired to pay attention to things or to put our attention on things that are moving or emotionally stimulating and that’s what babies have. You don’t need to train anybody to do that. We just do that automatically.
Right now if we were in the same room, you and I, which we are using technology—we’re doing this over the phone—but if we were in the same room talking to one another and over in the corner of my eye you had a big screen TV on, playing the news or something, I would have a hard time communicating with you, even though I try to train myself in attention because it’s that reactive attention. We always want to put our eyes and our focus on things that are moving and that’s why this is just a no-brainer. We’re losing… Our children are not gaining. They’re not losing it because they’re not gaining the skills of focused attention because we’re allowing them to just continue to foster this reactive attention on all these screens.
Bill Heid: On all the screens. Let me pose another question because this has an interesting moral dimension to it. You’ve got that moment. You have children. I’ve had children and grandchildren. And so I understand that moment. And there you are with a task that you’ve got to do around the house and so you have the option to have an electronic babysitter. But I think, Phillip, what’s interesting is we all think that there is zero cost associated at that existential moment—that there is zero cost associated with sticking that child in front of that. It’s back to that theme. You can pay me now or pay me later. And don’t you think there is a sense from the wiring…? I don’t know how morality gets wired or hardwired in our brains but I think there is a sense in which morality in a child gets hardwired and shaped by engagement with real life.
And so we react in the world and the world responds back and we quickly learn, Phillip, that we’re not the most important thing, right? Even as a baby, we learn this feedback loop. But if you sit in front of a TV at four months old, two years old—whatever it is—there is no stinking feedback loop. So you’re robbing your child by putting them there and like you just said, you think that that’s free, “Oh, I’m going to go get the floor swept and put little Johnny in front of the TV or let him watch a movie” or whatever it is but then you’ve got to pay in costs with the school administration and with the doctors that hand out the drugs. So it’s cheaper to not put that kid in front of the television and probably more moral and more humane to him. But in that moment we all sometimes fail, don’t we?
Phillip Telfer: Yes. The late preacher, Matthew Henry, once said on child training, “The branch is easily bent when it is tender.” The younger a child is, the easier they are to shape and to bend in the way in which they should go. But that bending is either going to be done by the parents and thoughtfully or that bending is going to happen through their interaction with television and video games and cell phones and the internet. I’m a homeschool father. We homeschool our children for multiple reasons and I have a chance to even speak to many homeschool families around the country but what I’ve even cautioned many homeschooling families who think that by pulling their children out of public schools that, just that alone, they have now become the sole influencers or teachers of their children but if those children are engaging with television and the internet and on the radio, video games on a regular basis, those parents have to realize that they are not the only teachers. The media is training and teaching their children.
And so the way I like to put it is, “Every song is a sermon. Every movie is a message. Every teacher, every word is a weapon.” And they say a picture is worth a thousands words and we have to take this seriously and we have to make sure who is shaping the hearts and minds of our children? Parenting is difficult. I have four children. It’s the most difficult thing that God has entrusted to me and it takes a lot of work. But like you said, you have to look long term. We have to say “I don’t want to take these short cuts now that will have long term deficits in the lives of my children.” So I’ve got to do the hard work now to help shape them and help them get on a good trajectory that will be a blessing to them, a blessing to the church, a blessing to our culture and a blessing to generations to come.
Bill Heid: Sure, and I think you’re even saving them a lot of long-term grief. I think you’re… Matthew Henry “branches being bent when they’re young” by pulling your kid from the TV set. This may sound like a stretch but I think one of the reasons the divorce rate is high as well is you have trees never bent, cocooned up, stayed in their own world, self serving, “I’m the most important thing.” They grow up into sturdy oaks and then you try to marry two sturdy oaks and they’re not interested in bending or compromising or trying to please the other party. They’re just… The other party is there for them on some level, to the extent that they’re not. And if they’re not, it’s time to break up. So pull your kid away from the TV set when they’re four months old and save their marriage. I don’t think that that’s that crazy by making a statement like that.
Phillip Telfer: Yes. It’s interesting that guys like Neil Postman, Marshall McClewan—these guys were interested in what’s known as media literacy. But the Bible says as well and even more importantly that we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. This idea of making sure that we’re guarding what’s coming into the heart and mind… So we’ve been talking about consumption but you can’t remove content from consumption. So it’s not just how much is being consumed and there is a ton being consumed and even if you could somehow imagine or be convincing that that three to five hours of television that the average child is watching was great and helpful… In fact, what they’ve discovered—and this is pretty shocking to many people when they hear this—Dr. Dimitri Christakis has done a tremendous amount of studies of even educational or what’s labeled as educational videos for babies—things like Baby Einstein. So this idea that you could sit your child in front of something educational and it would be beneficial to him.
Well, what they’ve discovered in their research is that not only is that not beneficial, it actually hinders them in several areas of their life. First of all, if a child is watching even Baby Einstein or something educational or a toddler under the age of three, three things will happen. They will have… Their cognitive ability will not be as developed as those who don’t watch any television—or what they would call their “school readiness,” their language will be less than a child—their overall number of words will be less—than a child who doesn’t watch any television at all and their attention span will be shortened. And so these things have been proven and so people think… Well, so it’s not so much about even the quantity but we do have to be concerned with content.
Sometimes people think this is some sort of right wing, Conservative agenda to just be always talking about morality and media but in 1930 there was something called the Motion Picture Production Code, that Hollywood adopted as kind of their code for producing and in that code it said, “No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.” So at least back in 1930 Hollywood was in agreement that there was a moral issue regarding motion pictures and I would say that that would cover all visual media as well.
Bill Heid: And Phil, don’t you think that you and I would kneel before Christ and say Christ is our preeminent authority and we would definitely bow to whatever He says but I think all of the world’s great philosophers, whether it’s Marcus Aurelius or Confucius or whatever—one thing that’s attendant about all of those folks—they all had a philosophy of, “Whatever you believe, you become.” In physiology we talk about the body becomes its functions. So if you shovel coal for a living, you’ll develop calluses and muscles in the right spot. God’s just kind of created a body for us and that happens. But the same thing happens on the input side of your brain. Whatever you give it, it will help to process more of that. It will become like more of that.
And so if you give it expectations… Let’s say for example if you’re fond of watching a lot of advertisement then your cultural and sociological expectations are formed as a result of the ads. Well I wonder, “I’d like to look like that” or whatever it is. And so more of that… The more of that you take in your brain, the more of that you want to become. Your brain doesn’t care. You want to be a better Xbox battle fighter somehow—God gave you a pretty good brain. You’ll probably get pretty good at that. But that’s the danger. That’s the challenge, right? We’ve got to control the quality of what comes in as well.
Phillip Telfer: Yes. Well, and it’s hard to control the quality if there is so much quantity. So that’s why the first step is that we need to definitely watch our media diet and be much more careful about the quantity. So in my home, we’ve never had a television in the home. My children are the better for it. It’s not that we can’t access. I have… When I say “television in the home,” I’m meaning we’ve never had broadcast TV. We’ve never had any kind of connection that was any content coming in unless I choose it. We physically didn’t even have a television for many years. I’ve got one in a box somewhere that I could dig out and hook it up to a VCR or a DVD player and we could selectively watch what we choose to watch but once again, it’s in a box and it’s not convenient and…
Bill Heid: And you’re not letting the media teach your children. If you’re going to use that media, you’re going to control it. You’re going to watch a DVD. Maybe you’ll want to watch Courageous or whatever it is. But you’re going to use that as a tool. It’s not going to be the mantel or the fireplace of the house.
Phillip Telfer: That’s right. And it’s all about intentionality. In America today, because people don’t have a vision and purpose and direction, when they have free time or elective time, which they have a lot of, the default is just to gravitate toward visual media because we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Well one of the reasons I don’t have a TV is for one, I just don’t have time for it. I don’t know how people can carve out 4.7 hours of their day just to sit in front of a TV. There are things… The Bible says that we are created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. And I believe that God has things for us to do—real things.
And I know I’m going to jump to a whole other subject here but that’s probably one of my greatest concerns about video games today in the home, with boys and young men is that we are training them to be passive and to think that they’re actually accomplishing something when they’re not accomplishing anything. And when they should be engaged in the real, spiritual, moral, cultural battles that are raging all around us, they’ve been turned into these passive young men who think that they’re doing something really great but they’re just simply wasting time and not really becoming equipped or getting involved in the real battles of life.
Bill Heid: And how often have we seen people—young men—sit there while their parents ask them to do this or that, just engaged beyond all belief into the depths of some of these games. I’ve never been much of a gamer so I can’t really get a feel for what the temptation is. It’s much like you, Phillip. I’ve just… There has always been a lot to do. I’ve played a few video games in my life but never really had the temptation to play… for it to go further and further and further. So it astonishes me that there is this world and in the movie—in Captivated—you talk about the money that changes hands every time one of these new games comes out and it’s staggering.
Phillip Telfer: Yes. Well years ago this game Halo 3 set a record. It was a very, very popular video game and when it was released it sold $170 million worth of video games in the first 24 hours of sale. It set a record. And this was not a video game record. This was an entertainment industry record. Prior to that nothing in the entertainment industry had sold $170 million worth of anything in 24 hours. Well that game, a year later… That record was broken a year later by the game Grand Theft Auto 4, which sold $310 million worth of games in 24 hours and then those records have been broken since then as well. But Grand Theft Auto 4 is a game where you play a thug and you’re basically portraying, in the game, a criminal and you can shoot cops and you can bludgeon people to death and pick up prostitutes and do drug deals and that’s the game. And this is one of the most popular games. The Grand Theft Auto series has consistently been one of the most popular games in America and it’s just shocking.
Bill Heid: So what’s the way out before we move onto any other components of this? What’s the way out? Because on one hand what you’ve got—sort of a lawlessness both at the top with respect to the creator—the game’s creator… They have no moral compass by which to draw the games up. And then you’ve got a complacent American parenthood who really has no compass either. So I think there will be some who will swing for radical… saying, “Let’s make laws against this. Let’s make laws against these things. Let’s try to…” The answer is always in more government regulation, right? I’m being rhetorical there.
Phillip Telfer: Sure.
Bill Heid: But for the sake of… I’m not against regulations and censorship but what you talked about, with respect to Hollywood, they wanted to self-censor themselves early on. I find that interesting.
Phillip Telfer: Well, yes. First of all, so many things that were brought up just in that question there but when Paul was writing to the young minister, Timothy, he said the law was not made for the righteous but for the unrighteous. God’s intention is for His law to be written on people’s hearts and so there is a double-edged sword here. For children, I think it’s much easier because children have structure and they have oversight in their lives through parents. And so the parent can say, “Hey look, there is a law in this home and ultimately we want to see that law embedded in your heart but until you start behaving as someone who is not a lawbreaker, then there are going to have to be rules.” There is nothing wrong with having rules in the home. I grew up with rules in the home regarding media.
But there was something that happened in my life at the age of 17 when I became a Christian. I had actually heard, shortly after that time, a sermon and I was being challenged, as a 17 year old, to consider the things that were influencing my life. And so I became very convicted about the garbage media and the toxic media that I had been allowing into my heart and my mind. These were things that my parent didn’t allow but I was a rebellious teen. I had been living a double life prior to receiving salvation from Jesus Christ. And so there was a lot changing and I began to… So I decided on my own, at 17 years old, to go on a media fast. I was going to go without television, without movies, without the radio, without playing video games. Of course I went to public high school, graduated from high school in 1990 and at that time there was only one person in my class who even had access to the internet so that wasn’t as much of a stumbling block back then.
But in those two weeks something happened in my heart and my mind. First of all, I began to become re-sensitized to things that I had been desensitized to and I began to see things… I used to be the typical teen saying, “Hey, this stuff doesn’t affect me at all. It really doesn’t affect me.” I began to see how my heart and my mind began to clear up and I sensed this freedom and this weight that was lifted off me, that I didn’t even know was on me until I took a break from it all. And so that’s really what began this more than 20 years ago was just this personal decision to say, “Hey, I’m going to unplug and I’m going to begin to live differently, even from my peers.”
And that’s one of the things that we also highlight in the documentary Captivated. It’s not just the experts. We have a ton of experts who speak on this subject but sprinkled throughout that are stories of families, individuals, young people that have all taken some similar steps and said, “You know what? I’m not going to let this control my life. I’m going to refocus and set a new trajectory” and they all share the same thing—there is a tremendous amount of freedom that we’ve experienced. So this is not a negative. This is a positive.
Bill Heid: It’s extremely positive. You bet. You bet. And let me throw this thought in here quick. Early in this country—maybe listeners are sick of me talking about deTocqueville all the time—but when he wrote Democracy in America one of the responses was, “Gee. I can travel all over this country and there aren’t any cops.” And of course his view of that was because people were willing to govern themselves at the individual level and the family level so you didn’t need a cop standing on every street corner because the people generally were interested in self-government. That’s something that was a product of the Reformation.
That’s something that came here and for the early part of our country that’s something that certainly existed as a cohesive element of our culture. That’s something that we need to get back because we don’t need all these laws if we’re going to, as you say, let Christ govern our individual heart and the hearts… and have that government in our family, then we just say no to these things. The same amount of government is necessary but we’re just transferring it from civil authorities, for example, to our own hearts and saying no on our own. “We don’t need somebody with a club to stand over us.” But how does that come? It only comes through the regenerative process of Christ changing our hearts and giving us a moral compass, right?
Phillip Telfer: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s what had happened in my heart. I had a great foundation, a great structure given to me growing up. Of course and that’s one of the reasons I homeschool my children is that as I look back at my childhood, I look at the great job my parents did in raising me and my brothers but they didn’t know anything about homeschooling so they were just kind of going along with the culture and so we were sent to public school and everything that they protected and guarded me from, I was just thrown to the wolves. And this was in a rural community in the state of Oregon. So I really struggled with just the peer pressure, the temptations, being exposed to a lot of toxic things. And so that’s one of the reasons that I homeschool my children. But now looking at also the influence of media, I can see so clearly how it continues to shape the hearts and minds of this generation. And it is a battle and that’s another section in our documentary, where we talk about the battle because there is a spiritual battle. There is an ideological battle. There is a cultural battle that’s being waged and the weapons that are being used are today’s media and entertainment.
Bill Heid: And I think, Phillip, as well, we’d look at folks and we don’t want to make idols out of our heroes but if I look at some of my own great heroes… I look at maybe Stonewall Jackson, Patrick Henry, George Washington—people like that—the list could go on and on. Those folks didn’t grow up… It’s obvious technologically they didn’t have a cell phone but you can’t produce Patrick Henrys with the current media consumption and the type of consumption that we’re having. So we’re going to need heroes to lead us out of this mess. And if we’re going to produce those heroes I think it’s incumbent upon parents to be very—what we would say as—epistemologically self-conscious. Know what you’re doing with respect to how to raise your child and raise your child up for a specific reason. You don’t know what God will do with your child so you just raise… You do the best you can and if it’s in His pleasure, He will raise that child up. But boy, you’ve got to do your part, right?
Phillip Telfer: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Parents need to start parenting again and that’s really… Parents are really one of the primary target audience for this documentary, Captivated. We have content in there that is really beneficial to anyone at any age but our heart was to speak to the parents and encourage them. I’m especially concerned for parents with young children because I believe that there is a lot of hope. There is a tremendous amount of hope if first of all we begin to take these issues seriously and we begin to take the right steps to get our families going in a better direction and not just passively allow the culture to swallow up our families. And then… So that’s what I’ve done. I decided I’m going to raise my family differently. But secondarily, then I think we need to engage others and encourage them. I don’t believe that any change comes without challenge and so this is a challenging documentary and…
Bill Heid: It’s very challenging.
Phillip Telfer: We want to challenge parents and individuals and young people to consider not just the devastating effect of just continuing the course that we’re on but the beneficial direction of saying, “Hey, we’re going to live differently” and it’s not because of some legalistic standard that we have to keep, that other people are imposing upon us. This has to do with life. I teach all the time about what I call the “counterfeit life.” I believe that every one of us have a desire to live life to its fullest. Jesus Himself said, “I have come in order that you may have life—life in all of its fullness.” So we know that God wants us to live life to its fullest. But Jesus also said there is a thief who comes to steal and kill and to destroy. And so I believe that the whole purpose of this is to first of all recognize that there is an enemy out there that wants to rob life from you, your family, your children, your grandchildren but that there is hope of the true life if you’re not going to buy into the counterfeit. And a lot of the entertainment and media are simply offering a counterfeit life when it comes to the moral issues, when it comes to character issues and we need to get in the battle.
Bill Heid: And you have choices. Everybody who… You’re not a slave. It’s interesting that this concept of freedom and slavery and I think a lot of Americans would see themselves—at least politically… I would probably even take issues with that—but we see ourselves… I think we’re a little pretentious. We see ourselves as free but I think beneath that, Phillip, there is slavery and idolatry at a lot of different levels—at about every level. We’ve made economics an idol. We’ve made sports. We’ve made all these different things idols yet we kind of still… I think we’ve really deceived ourselves with respect to how much freedom we have.
We sit in front of news and then a lot of people that I know just watch news daily and a lot of people that listen this, maybe they would also be more conservative so they would watch FOX and they would just be so anxious over the next thing that Sarah Palin’s going to do or who knows what Newt Gingrich might say next or whatever it might be and just all of this comes at a cost. A lot of times, Phillip, they won’t even vote. So there is all of this being worked up and then not engaging in culture. What did Dostoyevsky say about, “You want a better world? Pick up your garage. Clean up your garage.” Man, sometimes we don’t even see that our own garage is messed up because we’re so busy worrying about all these media driven issues.
Phillip Telfer: Yes. And this documentary was based on a powerful verse in Colossians. It’s the Apostle Paul speaking to Christians. He’s speaking to the Church. He says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceptions.” And so he is recognizing that there is the potential of these philosophies and deceptions taking people captive and yet, during those days where did you find those philosophies and empty deceptions? You had to go and actually search for them and find the philosophers and sit at their feet and listen to their ideas. But today all those philosophies and deceptions are being piped right into the home. So many people are inviting them right into their home.
There is an interesting story. A lot of people are familiar with the movie and the story of The Great Escape during World War II in this Nazi camp. But it wasn’t a very successful escape when it was all said and done because they had intended to get a lot of people out. They didn’t get as many out as they had hoped and almost all of them were recaptured. Over 50 of them were executed by Hitler’s orders and so altogether it was not a real great escape because they didn’t stay free.
But in that same camp, which is Stalag Luft III, prior to The Great Escape there were three men who conspired together. They wanted freedom so bad that they actually built a wooden horse. It was a gymnastics horse for vaulting. And they would have this gymnastics vaulting horse carried out toward a perimeter fence every day by their friends. Unbeknownst to the guards, this wooden structure concealed two men and they started tunneling right next to the perimeter fence and while these guys were vaulting, it would create enough of a distraction. In short, these three men successfully tunneled and escaped out of Stalag Luft III using this method.
And you think about that and it was a successful escape and you think, “Well, what does that take, to escape like that and to continue to keep your freedom?” Well, you have to first realize that you’re a prisoner. And when Jesus spoke about truth, He says, “The truth will set you free” and he said that to a group of people who say, “Hey, we’re not slaves. We’ve never been slaves to anybody,” which was simply not true.
The whole history of Israel was of going back and forth between serving God and rebelling against God and going into captivity and being brought out of captivity and even at that point, when Jesus was speaking to them, they were under the thumb of Rome and yet they didn’t see themselves as slaves. And yet Jesus said, “When you know the truth, that truth will set you free.” And so we have to see ourselves as being captives first or else how are we going to say, “Hey, I want my freedom so bad I’m willing to take whatever I need to do with my family and take maybe what the world might look at as some really extreme steps.” But really I think some of the steps that we have to take are not so extreme but we’re unwilling to break free from these things that bind us.
Bill Heid: Well, and you give some great examples of folks—even local folks—and I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned to our listeners that you are from this area. You’re from Mt. Carroll Illinois, which is just a little ways away from where I’m sitting right now. And one of the folks in the movie is Rhett Simkins who works for us, oddly Phillip, and works for you as well. And Rhett made… Rhett is sick today. Otherwise he would have been here with me to do the interview. But Rhett made this decision as well and it would seem to me he’s all the happier for it. As he comes to work and engages his environment, he’s suited very well for his task because he’s not consumed by all of this other stuff. If I were to look at Rhett and say, “Here is an example of someone that threw the TV in the trash, then everybody ought to consider doing that.”
Phillip Telfer: Yeah. I met Rhett when he was I think 12 or 13 years old and I was a pastor in the church that he was attending and we became friends. Over the years the Lord has given me an opportunity to be a mentor in his life. And when I started my organization Media Talk 101 back in 2005, he was actually present at the very first talk I ever gave in the city of Chicago. Over the next year or so he would be listening to what his former pastor, Phillip Telfer, was speaking. And he took the challenge that I was giving, to take a break from media, to reflect on how these things might be holding us back from the race that God has called us to run.
And so he decided he was going to fast from television for a month. But he had such tremendous freedom. And he was kind of typical teen—what I knew of him early on—and yet he became atypical when he kind of broke free from the cultural norms and began to live differently. And I’ve always anticipated that young people, when they would begin to unplug, would be longing for something that is real. And so it didn’t surprise me when he began to take up new hobbies to replace all that time he was wasting. And one of those is foraging—you know—going out in the woods and looking for food in the wild. That’s a big change from just sitting in front of a TV, staring at a box for hours, doing nothing.
Bill Heid: He’s engaged in a feedback loop. The world is teaching him as he’s out walking about. He is not sitting there isolated, just sucking in information from one source and then pushing that same information back out toward the TV—“Ahaha! Isn’t that funny?” or whatever. He is actually out there saying, “Oh, it’s warm. It’s hot. Wow, I can’t eat that. Gee, I get sick when I eat that. Boy, that’s really good”—whatever it is that he finds and forages. Just what a great tradeoff as a hobby that he’s picked up, just as one of the many examples in the documentary Captivated.
Phillip Telfer: Yeah, and I think with Rhett, in particular, something that’s even a greater benefit in his own life, which he has discovered and which I have seen personally is that he has gone from someone who was amusing himself to death—being trained to be a non-thinker—to someone who thinks very deeply about things. He’s a young man in his middle twenties and he is an example of the hope that we have if people would stop just passively consuming all this nonsense and begin to take every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.
Bill Heid: You bet. And as we kind of close, I think we always like to close with something optimistic. I think every civilization that sort of struggled—at least in the history that I kind of follow, whether it’s the renaissance or whether it’s Rome or whatever—Christianity has always been that vibrant glue that can come and save the day as the foundational principle of Christianity works its way out into our lives. And we become more consistent with what that faith requires of us it becomes the leavening and function of the saving grace of a new, more vibrant society. So I’d like to think guys like you and Rhett—you’re not out there marching in the streets but you’re kind of trying to start a new civilization in a sense—a regenerated civilization. What are the implications of regeneration?
Phillip Telfer: Yes, very much. And that’s… I’m very grateful to… I want to share my thanks to guys like Doug Phillips at Vision Forum who puts on the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. I was living down in San Antonio for several years with my family and met Doug and he had invited me to his film academy and his film festival and for several years I attended, just observing. And here is a man who has got a passion to see some things change. And so he’s trying to inspire others to take up… to do something—as you mentioned, to have that epistemologically self-conscious message and to produce things that will have an impact for the Kingdom.
At one of those conferences, I had met Stephen Kendrick, the director of Courageous and Fireproof. As I had a chance to talk with him and he learned about the ministry that I was doing, he pointed his finger at me and he said, “Phillip, you need to make a documentary.” And at that point in my life I hadn’t even considered the idea of being a filmmaker. I had been listening to this but I was hoping maybe I could inspire somebody else. And I think that’s the problem we have is we’re always looking for somebody else to do it—somebody else to get out there and do something about all the things that seem to be crumbling.
And so as I was challenged by him to say, “Hey, you get out there and do this,” a year later I was at that same film festival and I saw a film by Curtis Bowers called Agenda. Curtis Bowers had never made a film before. And I sat watching his documentary at that film festival and I was so inspired that during the documentary, I got out a notepad and began to write the script for Captivated and left that with a resolve to say, “You know what? I’ve never made a film before but it’s just not acceptable for us to sit around and do nothing.”
Bill Heid: That’s fabulous, Phil. That’s goose bumps stuff, man, in that you… Something got inside you—I would say the Holy Spirit—and said, “Phillip, get out of the nest and start flying.” And I guess as we end this, I think your first flight is phenomenal and everybody that’s listening to this show, I would say, go get this documentary. Watch it. Give it to your children. If you have grandchildren, give it to your children. Pass it out. People need to see this because it is one of the main issues of our day. It’s taking back our freedom from this grid that we’ve tied ourselves to. We don’t even know that we’re slaves. Phillip, thank you so much for your work. Thank you for being with us today and we just really appreciate it. When you get back home, I’d love to get together and buy you a cup of coffee.
Phillip Telfer: I will look forward to that. Thank you so much, Bill.
Bill Heid: Alrighty, God bless.
Phillip Telfer: Thank you.