Good News, Bad News

News Sources and a New Reading of Religion

There sure is a whole lot of bad news in the world, isn’t there? Maybe one reason we get so upset with “fake news” is that it might get our “bad news” wrong! Some people don’t seem to care if their news is inaccurate, as long as it’s “true” as they see it. This is like opening the paper every morning knowing that the “news” won’t really be “new” at all. We find the same old “my view” and “their view” and know before we even begin how things will be when we close the paper.

That’s bad news for all of us, if we value knowledge and truth.

In his later years my grandfather got to the point where he wouldn’t read or listen to news much any more. He gave up, disgusted with the whole thing. But when you cut yourself off from the flow of information—even things you don’t want to hear, that might upset you or that might be un-true—we can suppose you won’t be a very interesting person to discuss world events with. Your mind is made up on most items and issues anyway.

Why read? Why listen?

The history of Religion is similar—it can be like reading a variety of newspapers or websites. How do we know what’s true and what’s not? I would guess it’s a lot like how we gauge and engage our news today. What catches our attention, moves us, and “seems right” attracts. If people we trust keep talking about stories from one source, we tend to accept that and believe it. After all, they just might be right. But they may just as well be wrong.

Each morning when I open my iPad I scan news sources, beginning with the Citizen-Times (of course) and continuing with the BBC, NPR, the Washington Post and the New York Times. Later, I may take a look at CNN, San Francisco Chronicle, The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, the extremes from Huffpost to FOX and the consistently excellent (in my opinion) PBS Newshour. Someone asked how I could read all that. I don’t; mostly I scan and dive in when my interest is aroused. I’m looking for an overview of the information landscape—otherwise, it’s overwhelming.

Whether I’m reading human or “divine” news sources, I want my mind to be active, questioning, reserving judgment, not leaping to conclusions. This is one reason I regularly ask people where they get their news—“Where did you hear/read that?” It can make all the difference.

Buddhist tradition tells of a monk who comes to a river, finds a raft, and crosses over. He continues his journey, but, of course, he doesn’t carry the raft with him. In the same manner, we discover things that help us along the way but that doesn’t mean we have to carry them any further. An example would be the textbooks we used in school. We took whatever useful information in them and moved on, but we didn’t need to lug those books along.

Our drawers are jammed with manuals and instruction booklets for everything. So, we put something together or program something and put the manual in the drawer or file it. We don’t carry it in our pocket.

Could this be the forgotten wisdom of the Bible and other holy books? Stories were told and written down, not to endlessly repeat those stories, but to encourage us to tell our own stories and write them down too, if we choose. I recall the intriguing final lines from the Gospel of John: “There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).

Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear more of those stories? Which editors decided what stories were included in the accounts? Who determined what the “news” would be, leaving out perhaps some very important contextual details? It leaves it to our imagination what might have been different in the Jesus Story if we had the whole picture. What if we had that entire library that filled the world? Would we have a better foundation to judge the accuracy of the reporting?

I would guess there were a lot more uncomfortable stories to tell about the Nazarene, many other challenges to self-righteous religious leadership and questions about the ways scripture is used to oppress, exclude or hold back progress. I’d guess there would be whole books on the practice of justice, lovingkindness and a more inclusive human community.

And what if we had letters, essays, books or breaking news from the Founders of Faith themselves?

Now, THAT would be newsworthy, but perhaps not for those who control the religious newsfeed.

Chris Highland
2021

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