How News Can Make You Dumb

September 30, 2014

If you are going to read just one out of print book with a terrible cover this year read C. John Sommerville’s devastating little book How the News Makes Us Dumb (IVP 1999). I read the book soon after it came out. It was wonderfully iconoclastic then–and that was before the ascendancy of the internet and social media. The news examples are hopelessly out of date (they were already in 1999), but the media criticism is as relevant as ever.

Sommerville’s main point is not the news is dumb, but that we are dumb for paying so much attention to it (11). We have become conditioned to think that the really important stuff of life comes to us in a neat 24-hour news cycle. Worse than that, in our mobile-digital age most of us assume that news is happening every second of every minute of every hour of every day, and if we tune out (or turn off our phones) for more than a few hours (minutes?) we will be rendered out of touch and uninformed. That’s dumb.

The solution is not better news, but less of it. The problem is with the nature of news itself. The news is all about information. It’s about what’s trending now. It rarely concerns itself with the big questions of life. It focuses relentlessly on change, which, as Sommerville points out, gives it an inherent bias against conservatism and religious tradition (50-54, 60-62, 135). Our soundbite/twitter/vine/ticker-at-the-bottom-of-the-screen/countdown-clock/special-report culture of news encourage us to miss the forest of wisdom for the triviality of so many trees. As Malcolm Muggeridge once observed: if he had been a journalist in the Holy Land during Jesus’ ministry he probably would have wasted his time digging through Salome’s memoirs (54).

Of course, not all news is pointless. There are long form essays, insightful commentaries, skilled journalistic exposes, striking documentaries–all of these can come under the category of “news” and all of them, when done excellently, can point people to the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sommerville’s not even against the here-today-gone-tomorrow bits of news. Neither am I. The Lord knows–and so does the internet–that I’ve written blog posts on current events before, and every Monday I post two or three minutes of silliness, for no reason except to laugh a little. The news doesn’t have to make us dumb, but if we don’t take the necessary mental and habitual precautions it almost certainly will.

Constant attention to the news will not remind us of the weight of glory. We will end up expending our emotional and intellectual energy on a thousand things that prove to be unimportant. Let your weekly magazine sit for three months; you won’t care to read half of what’s in there. No one wants to read yesterday’s paper. It’s old news. More than that, most of it is insignificant news. Not insignificant to the people in the middle of the latest tragedy or travesty, but insignificant in the scope of human history and nothing more than background noise for your crazy busy life. Go readTime from six years ago, or six months ago or six weeks ago, and you’ll be amazed how little of what’s in there even matters any more.

How the News Works

Christians talk a lot about having a world and life view whereby we can discern the news from a biblical perspective. That’s a wonderful goal, so long as we are discerning about all the subtle ways the nature of news itself distorts our view of reality.

· The news exaggerates the extent of disaster in the world. Scandal sells. Tragedy sells. Controversy sells. Sure, the nightly news may end with a 60 second feel-good story or a funny YouTube clip, but the constant drumbeat of the news is bad news. The news reports on murders, abuse, war, disease, shootings, hurricanes, safety recalls, and airline crashes with complete disregard for whether these bad things have actually been getting better. Did you know that the rate of domestic violence related arrests in the NFL has decreased under Roger Goodell? Did you know that NFL players are half as likely to commit domestic violence as men in their 20′s in the general population? Everyone agrees a two-game suspension was woefully inadequate, and we all know what Ray Rice did was reprehensible. What we don’t know is how many athletes consistently do the right thing or how to place this incident into a larger framework.
· The news entices us into over reactions. Don’t waste a crisis, right? Anytime something breakdown or someone cracks up you will hear plaintive cries–some well-intentioned, others manipulative–to do something, anything, right now!! Especially in the frothing world that is the Twitterverse, we are expected to respond immediately to whatever might the scandal du jour. And if you don’t do something–and by that I mean, if you don’t call on someone else to do something–then you are bound to be this week’s social media pariah. As Sommerville notes wryly, “Of course news is not authorized to offer forgiveness, but it compensates by inviting us to join in blaming others” (121).
· The news over-emphasizes the role government should play our lives. This is true whether you get your news from the leftwing or the rightwing because so much of the news is about politics. In fact, oftentimes the political class and the media class act as if the other is only reality worth noticing: politicians strategize to win the 24-news cycles; media outlets talk incessantly about the latest political dish (64). And when they talk politics, it’s rarely about the “first things” behind our political disputes. It’s about outrage, opinion polls, who’s hot and who’s not in Washington. Politics has become a perpetual campaign, and most of the reporting is about the horse race not the horses. The ceaseless energy spent reporting on politics reinforces the erroneous notion that government is the proper focus of our attention and the entity most likely to solve our problems (77).
“Well,” you may say, “I don’t care if the news is fundamentally flawed. How else am I supposed to know what is going on? I don’t want to be ignorant about the state of the world.” But you already are. Even if the news is accurate—and Sommerville provides dozens of examples of major papers trumpeting exactly opposite headlines on the same day, sometimes within the same paper—how could it possibly keep us truly informed about two hundred nations and seven billion people? This is one of Sommerville’s most powerful points: “It turns out being informed really means knowing what the people around you are talking about. Our reality is the news, not the world” (43).

The news doesn’t keep anything before us for long. Are the racial tensions exposed by Ferguson no longer an important issue in our country? Of course not, but most people will quickly move on to something else because the news will move us to something else. In the world of news there is little proportion. Today there will be breaking news, special alerts, and another must-read. How can we possibly know what really matters when everything matters to the very utmost every day? “News is addictive, and if we want to regain an active intelligence, it will mean getting over the idea that news keeps us informed in any grown-up sense of that term” (131). We are already ignoring virtually everything happening in the world. So if we have to ignore something, let’s work hard to make sure it’s the ephemeral and not the eternal.

Putting First Things First

So what’s the answer? How do we prevent the news from making us dumb?

Sommerville does not argue for a complete repudiation of the news, and neither do I. But we must keep the news in its place. Most of us would do well to read the news less often. We would be wiser, happier, and more useful if we read more books and fewer blogs, if we read older stuff, if we read the good stuff—the lasting stuff—first instead of last. Put down the phone and pick up a book. Get more worked up about the Bible and less worked up about this afternoon’s internet brouhaha.

And for those of us who blog, let’s make sure it’s not all Duck Dynasty, Miley Cyrus, and the latest slice of evangelical gossip. I’ve written plenty about hot topics from homosexuality to Hobby Lobby to the emergent church. But hopefully there’s something of lasting biblical reflection in those posts, and hopefully there’s much more to the blog than pop culture and current events. If nothing on my blog could be useful outside America and nothing will be worth re-reading a year from now, then I am of all bloggers most to be pitied. Popular perhaps, but not, in the long run, particularly helpful.

I’m not against sports and entertainment. I’m not against political punditry and cultural commentary. I’m not against all news. As gospel people we are great lovers of good news! But unless we see what the modern phenomenon of news is and what it does and what it conditions us to expect, we will be unthinking in our consumption of the news and unreflective in our digestion of the same. The news will make us dumb unless we are smart enough to merely nibble on it as snack and look for our daily sustenance somewhere else.

Kevin DeYoung

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O’s Strategy

September 30, 2014

Claim ignorance, blame subordinates, hope people forget.

Arise, My Soul, Arise

September 22, 2014

Arise my soul arise shake off thy guilty fears
The bleeding Sacrifice in my behave appears
Before the throne my Surety stands (1x)
My name is written on His hands.

Five bleeding wounds He bears received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers they strongly plead for me
Forgive him, O forgive they cry (1x)
Nor let that ransomed sinner die!

The Father hears Him pray His dear anointed One
He cannot turn away the presence of His Son
His Spirit answers to the blood (1x)
And tells me I am born of God.

My God is reconciled His pardoning voice I hear
He owns me for His child I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh (1x)
And Father Abba Father cry.

Charles Wesley
1742

NFL

September 17, 2014

No Faith League

Christian Cops

September 16, 2014

‘I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the law.’

It may be foolish to suggest I know exactly how the apostle Paul felt in Romans 9:1-3, where he expresses impassioned hope for the salvation of his Hebrew kinsmen, even if such hope could only be realized at his own peril.

But I have an idea how he felt.

In that passage, Paul writes he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” over the estrangement between God and his Jewish brothers because of their ongoing rejection of Jesus, the Messiah. So great is his love for them that he suggests if their salvation could be accomplished only by his being “cut off from Christ” he would consider that a viable option. John Stott, in his commentary on Romans, quotes Martin Luther, who said of Paul’s remarkable appeal, “It’s incredible that a man would desire to be damned, in order that the damned might be saved.”

Such was Paul’s emotion for the Jewish people, and, in some distant way, so is my heart for the men and women I spent 17 years serving alongside in law enforcement.

God Squad

It’s been three years since I daily put on a ballistic vest, and took up the modern-day sword known as a sidearm. But as I read the headlines and critiques of these brave men and women in the wake of tragedies in Ferguson and St. Louis, I too felt the sting.

From 2006 to 2008 my wife and I led an outreach ministry to local law enforcement officers. Some of my non-Christian co-workers dubbed our gatherings “The God Squad.” At first, the meetings were awkward. I was a relatively new Christian who had never led anything. Still, there were some sweet times, like when we took communion before the start of our shift. Or the time we hit the street to feed the homeless under a bridge. It was a meager effort, I admit, but God was bringing shape to my faith, and the faith of other police officers.

That night under the bridge ended with some local residents calling the cops on us. That’s right: cops were called out because a group of off-duty cops were feeding and sharing the gospel with homeless people under a bridge.

The next day, I was called into my captain’s office and told by my bureau commander to “cease and desist.” As it turned out, the sheriff didn’t want local residents upset at him in an election year. I had never felt more alone and out of place in my uniform than I did that day.

Civil Order

That improbable scenario taught me something about the spiritual condition of far too many of my “brothers in blue.” I saw myself, and where I had been spiritually, with new eyes.

To understand this unique group, you have to get a feel for the community as a whole. You have to first understand how they think, how they see themselves, and how they often relate to others because of their enculturated worldview.

As Christians, we understand the dangers of and striving for righteousness by works of the law. Non-Christian police officers sometimes regard themselves as “good” by virtue of their commitment to law and order in civil society. Law enforcement becomes to them a civil religious order.

This way of thinking, when coupled with the depravity they witness and endure daily, can produce a self-righteous, “us versus them” posture. I know this because I lived it. There was never a more profound moment in my career than the day I realized I was no different before God than the man I had just placed into handcuffs.

Law enforcement has a tenacious appetite for consuming the life of the individual. Its culture tends to be guarded, and fellow officers tend to be their own harshest critics. These realities make reaching police officers with the gospel difficult, as over time they learn to be suspicious of others.

This suspicion underscores how much our law enforcement community needs the tenderness of Jesus. They need to hear that while the system in which they work measures them by their own performance, the God who ordained their role in society offers them a relationship built upon grace.

At the end of a 25-year career, most police officers are emotionally and spiritually exhausted. Many of them die at relatively young ages within just a few years of retirement. As it turns out, these heroes need a hero of their own.

System of Justice

While this account may seem to paint a dark picture of your local patrolman, you should know that most do a good job of managing these difficult emotions. Most police officers are, as we say, “good people,” interested primarily in serving their community.

As we continue to scrutinize police practices, remember that the men and women at the center of the dialogue are, in many ways, just like you and your family. They’re your neighbors, the moms and dads pushing their children on the swing at the local playground.

And like the rest of us, they need the hope of the gospel. They need the church and the Christians who fill them to model Christ-like grace and mercy toward them, even as they live and move in a system of justice that knows little of either.

Joshua Waulk, a former police officer, has served in various ministry capacities. He is a graduate of Trinity College of Florida, and is completing the master of divinity with biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

No other king, but Christ

September 14, 2014

O Lord,
Come quickly and reign on Your throne,
for now often something rises up within me,
and tries to take possession of Your throne;
pride, covetousness, uncleanness, and sloth
want to be my kings;
and then evil-speaking, anger, hatred,
and the whole train of vices join with me
in warring against myself,
and try to reign over me.

I resist them,
I cry out against them,
“I have no other king than Christ!”

O King of Peace,
come and reign in me,
for I will have no king but You!

– Bernard of Clairvaux, 1090-1153

O=Hitler with a Headdress

September 4, 2014

(Dr. Jerome Corsi) – It’s tempting to believe Obama does not have a strategy to combat ISIS, or to combat anything else, for that matter.

But are we really that naïve?

Obama has always had a strategy and he has not wavered from that strategy since his childhood years when Frank Marshall Davis filled his head with Communist nonsense.

Obama’s plan has always been to reduce the strength, dignity, and glory of the United States of America at home and abroad.

Why?

SEND CONGRESS A PINK SLIP: Gun grabs, Martial Law, amnesty, executive orders, unconstitutional laws, bypassing Congress and the Constitution— Obama has committed a string high crimes and misdemeanors. YOU can send a PINK SLIP to every member of Congress putting them on notice: “IMPEACH OBAMA NOW OR WE’RE KICKING YOU OUT!”

Because he learned from Frank Marshall Davis – as well as a chain of subsequent socialist/communist mentors, including the writings of Franz Fanon, Saul Alinsky, and Cloward/Pivens – the two revolutionary socialists Columbia University allowed to be on the faculty as professors of sociology.

What Obama learned was that the USA is a colonialist, imperialist nation that oppresses minorities at home, rapes populations internationally, and pillages natural resources to preserve an outrageously high lifestyle for those at the top of the capitalist pyramid.

Why don’t we assume that Barack Obama is implementing policies that were always intended to produce the results we see.

Now ISIS is terrorizing Christians with barbarism not seen since the Dark Ages, while radical Islamic terrorism surges across North Africa, and Hamas is firing rockets into Israel.

If anyone thinks Obama did not intend this result, then please address the “Arab Spring,” and the lies Hillary and Obama told that destabilizing Libya by killing Gadhafi and throwing Egypt into chaos by toppling Mubarak was a “democracy movement.”

In June, Obama released five senior Taliban leaders in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Berghdahl, who ends up most likely being a deserter and a collaborator with radical Islamic enemies of the United States.

Then, Obama opens the U.S. border with Mexico to allow an unchecked invasion of teens in prime gang recruitment years posing as “unaccompanied minor,” free to flow into the United States with Border Patrol having no way to know who these people are or whether or not they have a criminal background in the countries from which they came.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has warned repeatedly that with a 2,000 mile open border with Mexico, a failed narco-state, the reality is that Border Patrol and Homeland Security could not keep out of the country terrorists form the Middle East, who are politely classed as “OTMs,” or “Other Than Mexicans” in Obama politically correct terminology.

Now, with several hundred Americans now recruited to ISIS, and with ISIS having passport-forging characteristics, how many terrorists are simply going to buy airplane tickets to travel first-class back into the USA from Europe?

Then, as the ISIS threat grabs international headlines, Obama goes on an extended vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, plays extensive rounds of golf, and returns to the White House to say he doesn’t have a strategy.

The point is simple: The rule in politics is that everything happening is happening for a reason.

The reason here, construed logically, is that Obama is setting the United States up for another 911 terrorist attack, possibly even a 911 surprise that will dwarf in horror the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

Why would Obama do this?

It was Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s first chief-of-staff in the White House, who tipped American off regarding how much radical revolutionary operatives like Obama enjoy milking a crisis for all its worth.

How hard would it be for Barack Obama to use a even more horrifying second 911 terror attack to declare martial law?

With martial law declared by the president, the possibilities are endless.

Elections could be cancelled.

Obama could suspend the constitution and declare himself emergency “national security” powers that would extend his presidency beyond 2016.

Tea Party Loyalists need to see through the Obama revolutionary socialist goal of “fundamentally transforming” America.

If there is going to be a “fundamental transformation,” Tea Party Loyalists need to implement that transformation by firing Congress – Republican and Democrat alike – and making sure Obama goes into retirement.

It’s time to send a Pink Slip to Congress to put them on notice that “We the People” are tired of the lying and we are not going to take it anymore.

We have had enough of the lies Obama is willing to tell in his move to grab power and deny U.S. citizens our fundamental freedoms.

Tea Party Loyalists are the last line of resistance to “America’s Fraud President” who is attempting to deprive us of our Constitutional rights in his effort to debase America to a police-state maintaining order in a second-class nation.

Our voices must and will be heard.

We are putting out a call: Tea Party Loyalists are warning Americans to wake up to America’s fraudulent and imperial president.

But if you absolutely can’t stand it, such that waiting until after November is just too long to wait before asking for impeachment, then please join me in sending a Pink Slip to Washington.

Washington needs to know that Tea Party Loyalists intend to win at the ballot box in November 2014, and again in November 2016, defeating any and all incumbent members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats alike – who do not stand with us to defend the United States of America.

Dr. Jerome Corsi

Dr. Jerome Corsi received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Political Science in 1972. He is the author of two No. 1 New York Times nonfiction bestsellers, “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry” (with co-author John O’Neill) and “The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality.” In the past 5 years, Dr. Corsi has written 5 New York Times Bestselling non-fiction books. Dr. Corsi is the Senior Commentator for TeaParty.org.

Bible Study Struggles

September 2, 2014

I have a confession to make. It’s embarrassing and humbling, but I’m willing to make it publicly: I’m not always excited about reading and studying the Bible.

I go through periods of what I would call spiritual boredom, when the “old, old story” just isn’t very exciting to me. On my worst days, reading God’s Word feels burdensome to me, and my heart is motivated more by duty than worshipful joy.

When I hit these periods, there are 3 things I require myself to remember:

1. I Remember God’s Grace

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is Isaiah 55 – I’ve written about it here and here. This chapter gives us visual picture after visual picture of God’s amazing grace, and because it does, it’s not surprising that the crescendo of this chapter is a visual picture of what the Bible is able to do in us and for us.

You’ll never find joy in Bible study until you understand that reading God’s Word is not first a call to duty, but an invitation to receive a wonderful gift. Your Bible is a gift of God’s grace that’s able to do what no other gift can do—change your heart and your life. Scripture really does have to power to turn thorn bushes into cypress trees!

2. I Remember Jesus

Reading God’s Word is much more than reading dusty, abstract theology, becoming familiar with ancient religious stories, or getting principles for daily living. You’ll never have joy in your Bible study unless you understand that it’s God’s invitation for you to commune with his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In John 5, Jesus’ claims are questioned by people who are purported to be experts in Scripture. Christ says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39).

Open your Bible and what do you encounter? Not a thing, but a Person, and His name is Jesus. Reading and meditating on your Bible is God’s means of welcoming you into daily fellowship with your Brother, Friend, Savior and King—Jesus.

3. I Remember To Remember

I’m so prone to forget God, forget his grace, forget my identity as his child, forget that he supplies all that I need, forget his unstoppable sovereign plan, and forget his eternal kingdom. When I forget God, I tend to put myself in his position and make my life all about me: my will, my feeling, my plan, my wants, and my needs.

Putting myself in God’s position always leads to spiritual dissatisfaction because the world was not created to do my bidding. So I need to be reminded every day of God’s awesome glory, his gracious presence in my life, and my special identity as his child. His Word was given so that day after day I would remember.

So, tomorrow, when you don’t feel like opening your Bible, remember God’s grace, remember your friend and brother, Jesus, and remember how quickly you forget. Pick God’s Word up not with the burden of guilt or as a call to duty, but because it’s a gift given to you by a God of amazingly tender mercy and grace.

Paul David Tripp

Coffee Naps

September 1, 2014

WASHINGTON — If you’re sleepy, taking a nap or drinking coffee can help refresh and re-energize you. But new research says combining the two into a “coffee nap” can help even more.

Drinking coffee and then taking a 20-minute nap can maximize alertness, researchers say.

It sounds counterintuitive: Coffee’s caffeine keeps you awake. But having caffeine immediately before snoozing for about 20 minutes exploits a loophole in how brains process sleep and caffeine, according to Vox.

It works because it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine from coffee to be absorbed through the small intestines, pass through the bloodstream and get to the brain. And a 20-minute nap is the optimal time for your brain to rest without entering deeper stages of sleep.

Also, napping after drinking coffee clears out a molecule that can inhibit caffeine from being effective.

Does it work?

Scientists have been evaluating coffee naps to see whether they are any better than just taking a nap or just drinking coffee.

Researchers at Loughborough University conducted a study in which some tired participants took a 15-minute coffee nap and then were tested on a driving simulator. The coffee-nap group had fewer errors than those who only napped or only drank coffee.

Another study examined how coffee nappers performed on memory tests. The participants who took coffee naps performed better than those who only drank a cup of Joe, took a nap, washed their face or had a bright light in their eyes.

How to take a coffee nap:

It’s not rocket science, but there is a method to coffee napping.

Drink coffee, or another caffeinated drink.
One key is to drink it quickly so there is a longer window of time before it reaches your brain.
Gulping down hot coffee may be difficult, so iced coffee is always a good option.
When the coffee is gone, try immediately to sleep.
Even if you’re not able to sleep, resting or reaching a half-sleeping stage is good.
Wake up after 20 minutes. Any longer and you risk getting into deeper stages of sleep, which can leave you more tired.