Current Events Monday: Some Pointers for News Filtration

James Hassell   -  

How do you filter the news? Maybe you simply don’t see a need in news filtration. Some people reject news consumption for a variety of reasons, and perhaps rightly so, since it can have such a detrimental effect on one’s sanity. There is however something to be said for keeping up with current events, if for no other reason than to consider how one could effectively make disciples of Jesus and proclaim the good news in a sea of bad. Even if a person merely glances at headlines on occasion, how can he or she filter what is viewed through the lens of the gospel of Christ? Let’s therefore turn our attention to news filtration today.

We will use a local news website to help clarify our advice: A cursory glance at this website reveals what appears to be an almost bottomless pit of information, most of which deals with money (property taxes, home insurance rates, rebuilding after tornado destruction, AISD cutting 600 jobs, Google investing $9.5 billion in the Austin market, etc.). Other items deal with subjects like health and science as well as the just plain violent, including APD officers hit by a drunk driver and the horrible war in Ukraine. One could however perhaps find some solace in the fact that the heat and humidity will be lower this week.

So, what do we do with all this information? The chief word of advice at this point would be: Choose your filter wisely.

We all have filters for information, some of which have long abided in our subconscious. It would take volumes of books to explain these filters in detail. Suffice it to say, our filters have been shaped by things like family history/environment in which we were raised, experiences, reason, and cultural traditions. These same filters are used by those who write and edit the news stories, as well. Yet, some of these filters may not be the most biblical or Christ-centered. I’ve discovered that most news stories in our culture are written and can be read through one of three different filters. Apply each of these to the website news items linked above. Which one resonates most with you?

Filter Option 1: The Idealist Filter. This filter aims at discovering ways that men and women can better themselves by their rationality and reason. The news thus points to those people or issues that are either exhibiting or prohibiting our ability to understand the world around us and therefore attain the highest and purest happiness possible. When using this filter one may be prone to look at a story regarding war or violence and think/say, “Why would one act that stupidly? If he or she would just do x, y, or z, then we would all be much happier and have fuller lives.” Some people even use this filter to create an entire career path. Pundits and news commentators consistently tell us how to realize our potential as both individuals and as a society, and they point out those people or forces that are holding us back—and all this under the guise of being more educated and therefore more dedicated to the good life than you. Their intention appears to be for us to follow their advice in order “to become what thou art.”

Filter Option 2: The Naturalist Filter. This filter aims to illustrate how people simply follow natural laws and processes apparent in everyday life. It would argue that there really is no rhyme or reason to life, and there certainly is no Higher Power or Being we could call God. God and/or religion would even be likened to a manifestation of natural forces rooted in human thinking. The news therefore becomes an exercise in learning how to balance both the good and the bad of life, or in how to deal with humanity’s irrational behavior. We accordingly compare and contrast ourselves to others we hear about in the headlines. We say, “Well, at least I’m better than him because I’m a more rational child of nature and do what is best for my own happiness.” As you can tell, this filter has little regard for what we would call human transcendence. It would suggest that we are all just products of an unexplainable universe trying to do the best we can with what we have.

Filter Option 3: The Plato Filter. Plato accepted both humanistic ideals (idealism) as well as some natural laws (naturalism). This is called “dualism,” and it has played a significant role in shaping American culture. Dualism is the idea that the mind/rational thinking is separated from the physical body. The news therefore becomes for some a reflection of what happens when one’s body is not controlled effectively by the ideal mind—the inference being that should we exercise more self-control over ourselves, then we would have a much more peaceful and harmonious society. More sensationalistic news outlets will even go to great lengths to show how people fail to exercise good self-control. Plato even suggested that there is a Highest Good that can be attained by human beings should we unconditionally devote ourselves to certain, transcendent values. Yet, most people in today’s society can’t seem to agree of what those transcendent values are, except to say that some (if not all) of these values are duties to be accomplished for personal happiness or for rewards from one’s fellow humans. This is why many news outlets today have so many one-sided opinions, or narratives behind how they report things to us. They each have a concept of the Highest Good and try to steer information through that concept.

Is there another option? These filters seem to be greatly lacking. Let’s see if we have a more understandable and biblical option next week.