The perils of being in the know
Daniel Darling | Resolve to be smart with your news intake in the new year
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January brings a fresh start and a reason to hope for some, but as the calendar turned to 2022, it found most Americans nervous about the future. According to a new Axios poll, 54 percent of the country is fearful about the upcoming year. Some of this, undoubtedly, is driven by genuine concerns about COVID, cultural shifts, and economic uncertainty. Yet it’s safe to assume that much of our anxieties these days are also driven by the glut of news that hits our timelines and pops up on our smartphones. Many media outlets across the political spectrum thrive in uncertain times, attracting eyeballs with headlines designed to raise the blood pressure and get the heart racing faster.
We can’t know what 2022 will bring, but we can control the way we approach the inevitable onslaught of information that is a feature of living in this digital age. We can make wise decisions about who we trust and whose worldview shapes the way we understand the times. This is an age of disinformation, biased news, and agenda-based media, and Christians need discernment to avoid being catechized by half-truths.
Anyone given over to mass media over-saturation, from any one side, can quickly lock themselves in their own echo chamber. I’ve seen friends seized by fear break from reality and walk down a long road toward believing wild conspiracy theories. I’ve also seen friends influenced by headlines from major news outlets, which have distorted their worldview and sense of reality. Both tendencies give way to a deep cynicism about neighbors we are called to love.
We need a filter for the way we wake up and engage the world, reading trusted sources that deliver facts, regardless of the political outcome, and commentators whose worldview and character we can trust. I might humbly suggest beginning with the approach here at WORLD, of “Biblically objective” journalism that reports from a Christian worldview, even if it disturbs our own sensibilities. Opinion columns should be read with similar care and discernment.
We also need a filter to ask ourselves what kind of news we need to care about. The diversity of Christian callings means that some need to be more informed and others less. Yet, if we are not careful, we can talk ourselves into thinking we need to be in the know about everything all the time. Jeff Bilbro, assistant professor at Spring Harbor University and author of Reading the Times, is right when he suggests a kind of “emotional audit” on our news intake: “We need to conduct an emotional audit and consider which issues or news items cause us to become angry, outraged, or excited: Are we grieving over what grieves God and rejoicing over what brings him joy? Or have we become emotionally invested in trivia while growing apathetic about matters of real import.”
The Apostle Paul didn’t live in this digital age, but he does have a word for it, warning against those who are “not busy … but busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11). There is a temptation, as old as Eden, to be all-knowing in a way that attempts to usurp the mystery of trusting in an omniscient God, a malady of the heart that seeks catechism in daily punditry instead of in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Scripture and worship in community. Renewing our minds must be an intentional practice (Romans 12:2) in an age of confusion.
This, of course, is not a call to ignore the world around us, for loving our neighbors and participating in a representative democracy requires us to be informed. Yet the discipline of discernment, of being quick to listen, slow to react, slow to anger (James 1:19) can guide Christians toward a more focused way of living in the world.
Naivete isn’t a virtue, but neither is irrational fear, especially for those who follow the One who says, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
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