An Uncivil War

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Tom Clancy has his Jack Ryan character, who is among other things a historian, say, “History is but ideology imposed on the past.”  If that is true, then journalism is ideology imposed on the present.  When people comment a news story, they invariably do so through the filter of their own prejudice and preconceptions.  That doesn’t make it fake news; it makes it a human exercise.  The most professional of professional journalists will try their best to be as objective as they can be.  By contrast, bloggers build an audience by saying what the audience wants to hear.  The problem today is that the “mainstream media” seems to act more like bloggers.  (Why is “mainstream media” a derisive term to so many?  “Mainstream science” is only negative to the anti-vaxxer crowd. And the opposite of “mainstream media” is “lunatic fringe,” right?). Both CNN and Fox News have a core constituency just as surely as do The Huffington Post and The Drudge Report.  One claims to be “Fair and Balanced” while the other claims to be “The Most Trusted Name in News.”  Their only concession to try to be either “balanced” or “trusted” is occasionally having “experts” from both sides of an issue come on to scream and yell at and over one another.  The news business today is an uncivil war of competing ideologies, and truth is always the first casualty. 

Disclaimer.  I don’t watch cable news… an easy policy to follow when you don’t have cable.  I do sometimes watch the first 15-20 minutes of network news; if something important (“news”) happens in the world, they’ll mention it the first 15-20 minutes, right? The rest of any news show, like all of TV, is about selling soap.  I do sometimes watch PBS, not because it is free of bias, but because it is free.  It is also civil; it doesn’t have experts shouting over and at one another.  They do have people defending competing views, but they take turns talking, and no one shouts over or at the other.  I appreciate civility.  I think God does as well.  The real “national emergency” (I had to reference one news item) is that we have lost the ability to disagree without being disagreeable and we deem it acceptable to demean anyone who disagrees.  

The reason the media is so polarized is that we tend to only read and listen to viewpoints and ideas with which we already agree.  A Christian brother that I greatly respect once said at a public gathering that Fox News is the “Christian News Channel.”  We assume everyone with one eye and half-sense will agree with us, so we question the honesty and intelligence of anyone who doesn’t.  And we wonder why the country is so polarized?  I heard a Christian college theologian say that he reads only feminist or homosexual theologians.  Why? He already knows what he thinks and what other evangelical scholars are going to say, but he learns things from people who come at scripture from a totally different angle.  He disagrees with them, but he learns from them.  Maybe we should all adopt that practice when choosing our news source. 

At the very least, don’t spend your time listening to people scream and demean one other in the guise of a “discussion.”  I’ve seen reports on studies on the connection between exposure to violent video games and an increase of aggression in children.  Someone needs to study the impact of continued exposure to cable news shows and the decrease in civility and loss of empathy among those who watch it.  The problem isn’t just that the different news outlets take a single editorial position (OK, that is a problem too) but that there is absolutely no toleration of people with a different viewpoint.  Being right on an issue and being meanspirited (or catty or cruel or hostile or harsh) are seen as the same thing.  And the more we watch that, the more we become that.  We need less of Sean Hannity and Jim Acosta and much more of Mr. Rogers! 

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self-control.  Those are the traits of people who are led by the Spirit of God.  When you sit for hours in front of the TV hearing people scream at one another telling how stupid one group of people are, that does not produce patience, gentleness or self-control.  It produces things like hatred, discord, fits of rage, selfishness, dissensions, factions— the works of the flesh.  We become what we choose to expose ourselves to, both for good or for bad.  We become better people by exposing ourselves to better things, not an ongoing uncivil war.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)