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A Prophetic Letter from 1971 – The Church and the Media – Rev. James Philip

Willie Philip, the minister of The Tron Church in Glasgow, has a key role in today’s Scottish church.  There are many aspects to this – one of which may well be passing on the legacy of his father, Rev. James Philip – who for many years as one of the senior ‘Stillite’ men had a lasting and significant ministry in Holyrood Abbey Church of Scotland.  Willie has graciously shown me some of his fathers pastoral letters and with permission I want to share the occasional one with you.  This from 1971 is stunning.  It is ‘prophetic’ in the best sense of the word.  Dealing with China, and the influence of the media – before the Internet – Mr Philip (as we knew him) prophesied the situation we are now in today…enjoy (the highlights are mine)….I hope that one day these letters will be published…they certainly deserve to be…

My Dear Friends,

4 April 1971 – The Church and the Media: The corrupting influence of the mass media

I listened to part of an interesting debate the other day, in which the motion being discussed was that the modern mass media (television, radio, advertising, etc.) have now become a dangerous and even sinister influence in society. The case for this motion was put persuasively by the first speaker, with due emphasis on some of the problems that are obvious to most of us – problems which even the opposing speaker was willing to concede as being real problems. But, what took my attention particularly was the main thesis which this opposing speaker presented in defence – if it could be so-called – of the mass media. It was this: It was misleading, he said, to speak of dangerous and sinister influences in society as if this were a “one-way traffic”, as if it were simply a case of our “being got at” by these media.

We do not have to have a television set in our homes – and, even if we do, it is not necessary always to have it on; it can be turned off. We do not have to have newspapers. It is we who take them into our homes. We, therefore, co-operate in such influence as the mass media have. And we are free agents, and can take appropriate action.

This point of view was presented with great cleverness; the quiet expertise of this particular debater was impressive, even brilliant at times. And it seemed to take the heat out of the arguments on the other side and cut them down to size, so to speak, and make them seem as if what had been said was “much ado about nothing”.

With respect, however, it requires to be pointed out that the situation is not quite so simple and clear-cut as the debater sought to make out. It is true that one can turn one’s television set off, or even to dispense with it (it has to come to that with some, to safeguard their integrity); true also, that one can stop taking newspapers and magazines, to prevent oneself from being unduly influenced by the views or philosophy they promote. But the truth of the matter is that the mass media are both very persuasive and very pervasive – particularly the latter – and it is almost impossible not to be in contact with them in some way or another without opting out of society altogether and living as a recluse. It is one of the huge and pathetic ironies of our time that, in an age which prides itself on its tolerance, permissiveness and freedom, men have hardly ever been less free than they are now, and certainly never less tolerant of any challenge to their way of life and never more bitterly resentful of any who resist them in the name of honesty and integrity.

It will not have escaped the notice of thinking people that “The Weekend Scotsman” carried an article recently on this subject, urgently pleading for some control to be placed on the media, with a sub-title in the following words: “In this culture, the traditional liberal attitudes are no longer possible…. The media are too explosive to remain free”. And it quoted the director of the research department of French Radio and Television as saying, “We cannot yet protect ourselves from the impact of our communicating machines, but if we are to prevent this imminent explosion, society must end the freedom of the media”.

What such men are beginning to fear – and it is a fear that Christians should be particularly aware of – is that the minds of men are becoming manipulated and indoctrinated by powers that are alien to religion and morality, that hold truth and honour at a discount, and ruthlessly and unscrupulously devalue human dignity and human values in their bid to undermine and destroy the traditional standards of our country. And it just will not do to say that men do not have to allow themselves to be brought under influence, for this is to misunderstand and seriously under-estimate the nature of the situation. It is to assume that this is a trivial and unimportant irritation on the surface of society being exaggerated out of all proportion by a minority of puritanical “fuddy-duddies”, when in fact, it is an example of one of the ugliest and deadliest destroying powers in history. Let me explain what I mean, lest it be thought that this is simply emotional and hysterical language.

It is in China today that the full flowering of this process of manipulating and conditioning the minds of men is seen. Some will doubtless be familiar with Leslie Lyall’s book, “Come Wind, Come Weather”, in which he describes the grim and terrifying nature of the Communist “take- over bid”. In a chapter entitled “Brain-washing” he writes:

“This picturesque term is by now well known….it is a frightening form of thought control, carried out under terrific psychological pressure. For a Christian to remain sane and faithful to his religious convictions after years of such pressure is a miracle in itself. Ever since the communists came to power in China they have been conducting the most thoroughgoing education of the whole population. The feat of organisation involved is stupendous, for the task of re-educating a population of 600 million people goes on daily. Every unit of society, workers in an office, children in a class at school, workers in a shop or factory, residents in a street, soldiers in a platoon, meet daily, in most cases out of work hours, and under the guidance of an instructed communist, study dialectical materialism in all its facets and its ever changing applications to current events. One would need to be a very well taught Christian to maintain an unflinching stand after the first few weeks of the daily, incessant, inexorable bombardment of the mind with Marxist ideas. Yet, Christians have been subjected to this for over ten years now. Inevitably, their thinking is in many respects being remoulded, unconsciously so….”

It is this pattern that we are beginning to see in our society today. To be sure, there are no stated classes for indoctrination, (but how can we be sure that this is unthinkable in our situation ?); but the attack is no less thoroughgoing for being perhaps more subtle and devious, and no less deliberate either, as it makes use of the obvious and natural desire in the hearts of the people for entertainment. The article in “The Weekend Scotsman” already referred to, says -“During the last ten years or so, a young, impressionable, cinema-going public has been exploited by certain film makers into accepting amorality, sexual aberrations, drug-taking, industrial anarchy, educational revolt and political subversion as the norm”. And what is true of the cinema is as true of television and radio, of modern literature and the whole sphere of advertising, so that it is scarcely possible to buy a paperback in a bookshop that does not have the dreary and squalid sex theme blatantly displayed and loudly proclaiming its obscenity. Speak about the muck-rake!

Lord Hailsham has said, “Our country is being destroyed before our eyes by a conspiracy of intellectuals without faith, delinquents without honour, muck-rakers without charity or compassion, young men who are incapable of dreaming dreams and old men who have never known what it is to see visions”.

But – and it is here that the sinister element is seen – people get used to X-certificate films; they get used to dirty plays on television; they get used to lurid sex covers on paperbacks and magazines. People who live in mining communities tend no longer to notice the stench of the coal gases; they have had to live with them, and have got used to them. And this is what our decadent aesthetes count on; they know that if they can steep the minds of people in the fetid atmosphere for long enough, they will come to stop noticing it. And finally, all unconsciously and imperceptibly, they will have breathed that atmosphere for so long that it will have poisoned them, and dragged then down.

This is the danger we are facing today. It will not grow less, but greater, as the days go by, unless the corruption of the media is challenged and set at nought. It is as well that we should see what is happening to us.

Yours faithfully, James Philip.

P.S. The afore-mentioned article wonders why the Left-Wing editors of “Panorama”, “24 Hours” and “World in Action” refuse to criticise vigorously Communist Chinese atrocities in Tibet and the Soviet Union’s racial persecution of its Jewish citizens. Why indeed: Right-Wing atrocities and discrimination are so much more convenient for a Left-Wing Aunt Sally. But who is kidding whom?

Alexander Leaving? (Eric Alexander on leaving the Church of Scotland)

The 10 Greatest Threats to Democracy Today – CT


  1. Very interesting.

    I hear the concern with “it is almost impossible not to be in contact with [the media] in some way or another without opting out of society altogether” and “thought control, carried out under terrific psychological pressure” with it being a “miracle” “to remain sane and faithful” to Christ.

    Well, I can’t go into detail about something for legal reasons but I have used the term “hate” and “psychological abuse” to describe something I have been experiencing at an institutional level with the best offering an institutionalised church has given me is to leave if it continues to be injurious. What happened to being “more than conquerors ” in Christ?

    Miracle or not, Jesus encourages that if you are hated because of him then great is your reward in the kingdom for this is how the prophets were treated. and that a prophet is without honour among his own people.

    So can we consider this to be normal? And rather than feel sorry for ourselves with the “we… are not following Jesus well enough” grow a pair and but faith into action?

    If death has no sting then what for thought control under pressure? OK we may be considered insane and some might accuse us of being unfaithful to Christ, need to be “nice” and the like in the church. But wasn’t it the religious that lobbied for Jesus to be killed and wasn’t it the secular that carried that killing out. As Nietzsche has famously said “god is dead” and “what’s to become of us murderers of murderers” predicting something terrible and this leading to two world wars that had nothing to do with religion.

    Would you rather be sane and be accused of being insane – faithful to Christ while being accused of being unfaithful? Or would you rather have an easier life, compromising on your integrity and rather than being welcomed as a “good and faithful servant” being told by Jesus “go away, I don’t know you”?

    Whether it be in the institutional church or the media, or any other source of influence there are forces at play that we struggle against in this dark world. But we can have reassurance that truth is freeing and love never fails. And perfect love, the love of God casts out all fear.

    And with that, what is there to fear of any “thought control”. The term “thought control” bring my mind to the Pink Floyd song Another Brick in the Wall, where it is about a teacher humiliating a pupil about his poetry and making fun at his expense in front of his peers. It’s not just Communist China where this can happen but also in polite English society and in fact anywhere in the world. Unless of course we do retreat to an esoteric lifestyle in a monastery or the like.

  2. The legion of ways in which traditional values are attacked knows no ends. When we try a blunderbuss approach response, then there is a risk of becoming easy meat for media liberals. Maybe we should focus on abortion, and more particularly the use of images? The CBRNI and CBRUK activities show great courage and ingenuity. When we pin opponents to specifics, such as when embryology or clinical pictures are used, they cannot prevaricate their way out of logical inconsistency. CBRNI have a public education event pending in the centre of Omagh in Co Tyrone.

  3. I’d heard of Mr Philips’ ministry from afar (here in Australia). An extract from something he wrote in another context was a great encouragement to me in my ministry at St Kilda, one of the less salubrious suburbs of Melbourne, among some special people: ‘A time must come when the lame and the halt and the blind will come again to Jesus …’ Though I love her dearly, I think the Presbyterian Church on the whole feels far too comfortable ministering to the fairly well-to-do to the detriment of the poor and needy.

  4. As an atheist law student in 1971, I wouldn’t have particularly recognised that essay as being Christian, or if I did realise it was from a Christian minister, whilst I’d acknowledge the dangers of communism, the remainder would have little to no effect.
    It certainly would not have drawn me to Christ.
    That I lived another 46 years before I came to know our Lord Jesus Christ, surviving as it were the doom laden analysis is a testament to the power of the Good News.
    Now from the other side of the fence, as a Christian, I’m aware of the dangers and risks of temptations to sideline Christ, through the idol factory that is my heart.
    Again, I’d point out that it is far too easy for Christians do dwell on what we are against rather who we are for.
    And again I post this 90 second Gospel to lift us. It is astonishing, remarkable, leaving little doubt what Christianity is.

  5. 26, not 46 years.
    And while I would have recognised Lord Hailsham as a high office lawyer, I’d not have recognised the allusions to scripture, and unless it related to the law, as I was from working class family I’d have taken little notice of what he’d have to say on anything else, as a senior Tory.

  6. At the beginning of our marriage in 1999, I read the book ‘Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television’ by Jerry Mander. This is a secular and scholarly book, and reading it convinced me and my husband to keep our home television free, which we have done almost uninterruptedly since, bringing up our children with very little screen time, particularly in their early years. We have seen the benefits in their rich imaginations and ability to concentrate compared to many children, who seem dependent on screens to keep them entertained, who struggle with boredom, and whose imaginations are full of things that they have seen on a screen. People have asked me incredulously, “How can you live without a TV?” I actually have no idea how I could fit time to watch TV in my life, and the few times we have had it in the house, eg when the Olympics are on, it is a relief when it has gone.

    The battleground now in our home seems to be more with the internet and smartphones, which our teens have, and the influences there, which are so much harder to control. I struggle with addiction to it myself, and have had to stop using all social media because I realised that it was influencing my behaviour in the real world, eg I was doing things and thinking about how I would write about it online and what the reaction would be.
    It’s also almost impossible to find an unbiased source of news that is not presenting a particular worldview, and I found that reading the news was disturbing my faith and trust in God, so that I have needed to limit that as well.

    There seems to be a tendency to become addicted to information, endlessly stuffing one’s mind with facts and opinions, and never taking time to ruminate and process it properly. I can graze for hours and never really learn anything. We all need time in stillness and time to be bored.

  7. We did pretty well without a TV for about 30 years and technically we still don’t have one. For myself I’d be happy with all the good stuff on YouTube and and to keep
    the relentless propaganda outside the door. But alas we’re now paying the BBC poll tax and boosting Gary Lineker’s bank balance though the BBC has spawned worse things than him I dare say.
    On a lighter note our eldest daughter was very deadpan at school and when she was 11 or so she was fielding questions about this from an incredulous older boy: “so, what do you do all evening? Look at the microwave?” Answer: “we don’t have a microwave.”

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