If you’ve been following the news the past week or so, you may believe that an Elvis impersonator from Mississippi is being held for mailing ricin-laced letters to President Obama, that more than 60 people died in a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas, and that two Eastern Orthodox bishops were kidnapped by terrorists and released the same day.
But while each of those items contains a grain of truth, they are mostly false. The bishops were abducted, but major news agencies were fooled into believing they had been released; the death toll in the West explosion is 14; and Paul Kevin Curtis was released by investigators who believe he might have been framed.
The problem isn’t merely that much of the news is inaccurate — that is an inevitable feature of the ravenous daily news cycle — but that most news is largely irrelevant to our lives as Christians. Most of us realize that the events of last week will probably not have a significant direct effect on how we live. Indeed, if we’re being honest with ourselves, most of us would have to admit that what is sold as news is rarely newsworthy at all.
I think I have a pretty good vantage point to make this assertion. After all, on a daily basis I devour a steady diet of local, state, national and world news. I’m here to tell you, for all my parsing of daily events as an editor — and even occasionally reporting the facts of a matter — I’m able to gain precious little wisdom from my own work. Of course, that’s not really the point, is it? The media’s role is not so much to impart wisdom as it is to provide information. I get it. But another question we should ask ourselves is what makes any particular story important to us and what distinguishes it from mere gossip or trivia?
One aspect of any answer would have to include an explanation of how the story fits into a broader narrative or has an air of permanence. But how often does this apply to our weekly, much less daily, news?
The product of the news business is change, not wisdom. Wisdom has to do with seeing things in their largest context, whereas news is structured in a way that destroys the larger context. You have to do certain things to information if you want to sell it on a daily basis. You have to make each day’s report seem important. And you do that by reducing the importance of its context.
Now, I can vouch for the fact that, here at the Henderson Daily News, we try very hard to provide a context for the information we put out there. Frequently our reporters will refer to previous interviews with a subject, will cite prior stories written on an issue, and sometimes even rehash previous reportage. As editor, I try to produce a paper that is informative and engaging — leaving our readers to assimilate and consider the events of our day.
At the same time this focus on change, if devoid of context or connection to a greater reality, has a deleterious effect on all forms of public life — whether cultural, political, or religious. Myself, I believe change to be something to be undertaken slowly and with prayerful reflection. After all, the important institutions — family, church, government — shouldn’t change on a whim. But the focus on daily-ness has led many of us to adopt attitudes of hyper-progressivism.
For instance, we don’t just ask what our church or government has done for us lately, we ask what they have done for us today.
As Christians, we’re expected to take an eternal perspective, viewing events not only in their historical but also in their theological context. But I can’t do that while focusing on the churning events of the last 24 hours. Events that are truly important are rarely those captured on the front page of a daily paper.
I imagine if there’d been a news outlet in the Holy Land at the time of our Lord’s ministry it would’ve been focused what was happening in Herod’s court. You’d have earnest, keening reporters gushing over his wife’s latest fashions and wanting to sign Salome for her exclusive memoirs. There’d be ’round-the-clock coverage of chariot races at the colosseum, and reporters camped out on the palace lawn trying to find out what Pilate was up to.
But in this thirst for easily digestible and meaningless pablum, would anyone have cared about the execution of a religious/political prisoner?The news can be helpful at keeping one informed, but there’s more to the life than the trivia of the 24-hour national news cycle.
When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, people become an audience.
If we are simply that — an audience who receives and cannot do anything with what we are given — the very death of our culture and civilization is at hand.