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Ears and Eyes for News

John on June 27, 2006 at 11:45 am

Joe Carter has a post up today called “Now…This” Daily News and the Death of Wisdom. As with most of what he writes, it’s thoughtful and very well executed. However, it happens this is an area I’ve spent some time thinking and writing about. As a matter of fact, I hope to one day soon begin a book on this topic, tentatively titled “A Christian Reads the Newspaper.” So in a spirit of friendly conversation, I want to disagree with some of what he has said.

Joe’s piece starts with the following question:

Why do so many people buy into the ridiculous notion that a daily diet of “current events’ is anything other than a mindless (though perhaps harmless) form of amusement?

He then goes on to argue that the central quality of News is change. That news itself is really a symptom of a certain mindset, one which is constantly looking for the next thing without ever really learning from the last thing. This idea of news as change is certainly true in a sense. The word “news” itself is simply new with an “s” on the end of it, the “s” suggesting an endless stream of new moving ever forward into the future. This is just the sort of thing I think Joe has in mind. And as far as it goes, I certainly agree that this would seem to be an unpromising conduit of lasting wisdom.

But it’s here I have to turn aside from Joe’s analysis and offer a bit of my own. I want to play Parmenides to his Heraclitus. For while it’s certainly true that one distinctive of news is it’s constant newness, there are other distinctives which I find more telling. For instance, every day the front page of the paper presents us with a group of stories which seem to have little in common except that (for the most part) they occured yesterday. A closer examination, however, reveals that they have other things in common. For instance, much of our front page news is bad news. What do we mean by bad news? It’s news that relates some tragic event or circumstance, e.g. a bombing, a murder, a war. Rarely however will you find news about your aunt’s pet fido on the front page. In other words, the front page collects that which a large number of people inherently feel is significant.

Think about that for a moment. If the paper collects “significant” information, then one can in effect reverse engineer the front page and discover just what it is that a wide swath of people (i.e. news readers) consider important. In my view, the newspaper is much more than an ephemeral form of amusement. It is potentially a window to the soul of mankind.

I won’t work out all the details here (but book agents who want to hear the rest are encourage to call). But what you find if you “reverse engineer” the paper in this way are several things. You find that man is significant to himself. That human life is of great value. That injustice is an affront to our sensibilities. And it’s not just the front page. You can turn to other sections of the paper and perform this same trick. In the sports page you fnd heroism. In the business section you find freedom and initiative. In the comics you find the parable of the table (who is up and who is down). Eventually, lurking just beneath the surface you find something remarkable…all the pieces of man’s divinely impressed nature, like a puzzle waiting to be assembled by an observant reader. What we read in the paper comports perfectly with who we truly are.

The newness of news is, as Joe says, not a path to wisdom. But within this endless stream flowing on into the future are the foundations of who we are as human beings. These are things that do not change and which can, if attended to, produce wisdom. Dan Rather may not have discovered it despite having his “Eye on the News” over at CBS for several decades. But isn’t that what we should expect? As Jesus said:

This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

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Category: Religion & Faith |

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