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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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The perils of being in the know
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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.

This is an age of disinformation, biased news, and agenda-based media, and Christians need discernment to avoid being catechized by half-truths.

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).


Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a bestselling author of several books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity Revolution, The Characters of Christmas, The Characters of Easter, and A Way With Words. He is also the host of a popular weekly podcast, The Way Home. Dan holds a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry from Dayspring Bible College, has studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Angela have four children.

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Lisa Dwinell

Thank you for writing this article. Thank you WORLD, for including it. What an important reminder. May God give you wisdom and grace in this new year.

Salty1

It has been my observation that many Christians lack the wisdom to discern the times. I have followed politics like many people follow sports since I was a child. We have these young people reporting at World who have little experience. Nothing against them, but many times they cannot distinguish fact from fiction where they are suckered into believing the propaganda of the left. So this “biblical objective reporting” is a joke oftentimes purely from the inexperience of the reporters. Even those who are older and should know better, they sometimes get it completely wrong.

I am not against trying to have objective reporting, but any reporting is biased purely by the facts that the reporter chooses to present or leave out. Just because a reporter has “Christian” behind his name, doesn’t mean he will be the better reporter - though a Christian worldview will hopefully enable him to see things more clearly, though not always.

One other point. We shouldn’t write fearful things off our list purely because they are fearful. We should assess how accurate is the prediction of the fearful event. If there is no basis for thinking that it will happen then we shouldn’t entertain it, but if there is a solid basis for it then we had better take action against it and protect our Christian cause. Putting our head in the sand about fearful events purely because they are fearful is dangerous too.

JSCHULTZ

Try Colossians 2:8 "See that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition..."

Jamee

Should I no longer trust CDC statistics? I have heard that the rate of Covid in children being reported is exaggerated because no matter what a child is hospitalized for they are listed as Covid if they test positive upon entry. And yet WORLD reports the child rate without this caveat. Where can I go for the truth in this matter?

not silentJamee

Re whether to trust the CDC: I guess my first response would be to ask why you wouldn’t trust them (at least with regard to what they were created to do). If it’s because they have issued conflicting and sometimes seemingly contradictory info and guidance: first of all, I understand why that would undermine trust. However, no scientific or medical group will be right all the time-particularly when trying to adapt to a complex and constantly changing situation with new info coming out all the time, while simultaneously having to deal with hysteria from politicians on various sides who are trying to use the crisis for political gain.

Specifically regarding your concerns about exaggeration of the numbers of children with COVID: I have not heard evidence that anyone is falsifying data (i.e., saying people tested positive for COVID when they did not test positive). What may be happening is that people who are admitted to the hospital for any reason must be tested for COVID and reported to the CDC. Here's the thing: we all know that someone may test positive for COVID and not have symptoms and/or not have severe symptoms. But, in a hospital setting, you don't want patients spreading a contagious illness to other patients or to caregivers, particularly when that illness CAN be dangerous or even deadly to certain people or groups. So they HAVE to know if patients are infected, whether they have symptoms or not-and they HAVE to report it to the CDC.

The fact that different sources may have different data does not mean the people or groups involved are lying or misleading people. There may be lags in reporting of data, different ways of reporting data, different types of statistical analysis, etc. And sometimes there are human or computer errors which affect all these things. We have a lot of local data, state data, and national data. It would be hard to analyze it all under any circumstances, but it’s particularly hard when there is a quickly changing crisis. It doesn’t help that there is also misinformation, politics, fear, and other basic human sin involved.

I personally think the CDC is the best medical authority when it comes to infectious diseases (like COVID-19). Does that mean they are perfect or always right? Definitely not. Only God is perfect and always right!

Does that mean they aren’t political? No, they are a government agency and can’t avoid the existence of some political influence.

It’s natural to want truth because we were made in God’s image. But expecting absolute truth without any error ever from any human institution is unrealistic and will probably lead to disappointment. The only source of absolute truth is God! So we should all be on our knees praying for our leaders, medical officials, and ourselves. And I guess we must continue to seek God’s discernment when it comes to flawed humans and human institutions.

Jameenot silent

I heard Dr. Fauci himself say that the numbers are not really indicative of the true nature of the illness and children. I am also reading data out of other countries such as Israel and the Netherlands which contradicts many of the things the CDC is reporting. It's just very concerning.

not silentJamee

I agree there is a lot that is concerning, and it is very hard to know who and what to trust. I have to remember that my anchor is in the Lord and my ultimate trust is in him alone.

NBrooksJamee

Jamee, it really does boil down to: God is the only being you can truly trust. He is allowing this time of disinformation and lapses of human ability to test where our peace lies. I've found it very helpful in pinpointing whom I truly trust. Keep your eyes on God. Human beings are human beings, and they make mistakes and sometimes choose evil.

Big JimJamee

" . . . in my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.” Psa 116:11 NIT

I am extremely skeptical of everything I hear, especially "official" sources of information like the government and especially in the times in which we now live where everything and I mean everything has been politicized. Even sources that we routinely go to such as Wikipedia and Google can be slanted, skewed and/or outright fabricated. I try to get information from multiple sources then compare for "believability." Regarding motivation for the purveyors of information I always keep in mind that:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jer 17:9 KJV

That's why I love the Bible: it is absolutely true, inerrant, dependable, unchallengeable, reliable and believable. It's the only source I don't "fact check."

not silentBig Jim

I understand people being skeptical of the government, the news, social media, etc. As you quoted, "The heart is deceitful about all things, and desperately wicked..." What concerns me is how many people, in their skepticism of recognized authority, are turning to sources which have minimal if any forms of accountability and which have NUMEROUS reasons to try to manipulate and deceive.

I agree with you and others: the ONLY source we can trust completely is the LORD. Let us continue to seek him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Big Jimnot silent

I'm skeptical of those other, lesser-known sources too.

not silentBig Jim

Yes, it can be very hard to know who to trust. All the more reason to lean on the Lord!

CVAU1973not silent

It doesn't help when some of the people who are pushing the vaccine hardest are the ones who have aggressively pushed for world population reduction.

not silentCVAU1973

If the ONLY people who were promoting the vaccine were also promoting population reduction, it would be quite concerning; but we both know that isn’t the case. There are plenty of pro life people who support the vaccine and who believe it saves lives.

not silentnot silent

To add one thing: it’s okay if you don’t trust me or other people. The only one we can always trust is God.