Fasting, Media & Mind Games
New patterns of behaviour are emerging as a result of over-exposure to the mass media … As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values … [Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 62]
Contemplating a spiritual fast? Look not only at food and nutrients, but also at your lifestyle. Look to see what there is in your daily life that represents a distraction from spiritual development. Analyze your thoughts and determine what preoccupies you, what diverts you from remembrance of God.
Do you spend all day thinking about your work, then every evening immersed in media programs that fills your mind with sports, fiction, sensational news events or inconsequential media talk? Do you spend weekends amusing yourself with trivial pastimes that improvidently satiate your thoughts process, until Monday morning, when your own eternal recurrence begins again?
Fasting can circumscribe such cycles. We can choose to isolate our distractions, then undertake complete or partial abstention from them.
Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusts in Thee. [Isaiah 26.3].
Let us examine our words to see whether patterns of deceit, anger, backbiting, cursing, lying, boasting, bickering, babbling, complaining, criticizing, or arrogance abound. We can select as many as we can identify, then determine to abstain from them. This too is fasting.
. . . Verily, God does not change mankind’s condition unless they change their inner selves; and when God wills people to suffer evil [in consequence of their own evil deeds], there is none who could avert it: for they have none who could protect them from Him. [Quran 13:11].
Business marketers have established a foothold in our soul. We are becoming more attentive to advertising, entertainers and technological media than to the word of God. We follow behavior and lifestyles depicted by commercial sponsors and popular culture instead of scriptural role models.
Commercial advertising is today a science, replete with advanced technology and buttressed by research and development. It is essential to corporate growth.
As consumers, we are categorized, surveyed, simulated and tested to develop appealing products, including entertainment and food.
The business of the advertiser is to see that we go about our business with some magic spell or tune or slogan throbbing quietly in the background of our minds. [Marshall McLuhan].
Our media-dependent intellect is constantly being excited and exploited by business marketers who have perfected the art of provoking human desires and tantalizing the physical senses. We are regularly frightened, shocked, thrilled and sexually aroused through our immersion in media “entertainment.” Even when sincerely engaged in fasting, we may still be overwhelmed by a thought process produced by technology and the advertising media .
Vast amounts of data on persons and their shopping habits are collected, accumulated, aggregated and analysed with the aid of credit cards, bonus cards, raffles and internet surveying. With increasing accuracy this supplies a picture of behaviour, wishes and weaknesses of certain sections of a population with which advertisement can be employed more selectively and effectively . . . Robert McChesney calls it “the greatest concerted attempt at psychological manipulation in all of human history.” [Wikipedia, From Criticism of Advertising].
With our preferences scientifically determined, we are easy targets, readily convinced that what we are being offered is what we want. When subjected to such influences, our lifestyle can become an extension of business brand names and a reflection of the advertising media.
This fasting … is very good, provided the commandments of the Lord be observed … First of all, be on your guard against every evil word, and every evil desire, and purify your heart from all the vanities of this world. If you guard against these things, your fasting will be perfect. [The Pastor of Hermas, Bk. III, The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325, Rev. A. Roberts, D.D., and J. Donaldson, LL.D.]
The media tampers with our mind to establish product preferences. Our taste and appetite can be skillfully influenced and even subconsciously solicited.
Through marketing and advertising, our emotions and perceptions are often manipulated. The internet, movies, television, sports and entertainment indirectly expose us to reprehensible lifestyles. Even harmless, enjoyable entertainment such as sporting events, movies and even the news can be just as distracting, when we are fasting.
How does all that affect our fasting? When we find it difficult to resist the temptations of a negative culture, do we turn to remedies provided by the media, the very source of so many temptations?
When the distraction of the senses and the vivacity of the imagination hinder the soul from a sweet and peaceful state of recollection, we should at least be calm as to the state of the will … We must return toward God, and do everything which He would have us do with a right intention. [Francois Fenelon].
Further, let us identify physical activities which are contradictions of our spiritual growth and offensive to our true self: too much internet, cheating, idleness, intoxicants, etc. A fast can restrict them, or even better eliminate them, and replace them with acts of charity, kindness and compassion.
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy Word. Thy Word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee. [Psalms 119:9-11].
Fasting must encompass your thoughts, your words and your deeds. It can grow from mere abstention from food and drink to total immersion in a spiritual lifestyle manifesting complete devotion to God — a divinely conscious mind.
On Yom Kippur the Torah commands us to “afflict ourselves” by not eating. To not eat is to suffer. G‑d gives us this day to try and wake us up, to shake us out of our slumber, to sensitize us to the truth of reality, to the deeper places within ourselves, to our need for Him. [Rabbi Ilan Weinberg].
Undoubtedly, such fasting is more complex, and more difficult, than simply abstaining from food for a few hours. Nevertheless, that is the true purpose of fasting.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: “Here am I.” [Isaiah 58:3-9 (NIV)].