The September 16 issue of Time magazine has a picture of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel on its cover teasing a story about paying college athletes. Well, at least that’s the cover if you read Time here in the United States. In the rest of the world, the cover featured a picture of Russian president Vladimir Putin and teased a story about his view of the world.
Now I like sports, and I think there’s a debate to be had over whether or not we should pay college athletes. But the juxtaposition between what Time thought would grab Americans’ attention and what the rest of the world would find interesting didn’t speak well about us as a people.
Substituting college football for something literally a matter of life and death says that American people really don’t have a high appetite for thinking about things in a very deep way. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, once wrote about “man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” I'd only add that, unfortunately, this seems to be especially true of Americans.
This distractibility is, as Huxley’s novel depicted, the stuff of tyranny. Freedom — spiritual as well as political — requires at a bare minimum paying attention to the world around us. Awareness is our first line of defense, which explains how, culturally speaking, things have gone from bad to worse seemingly overnight.
It’s worth noting that Huxley’s line came in the context of a larger discussion about the role of media in a democracy. As he wrote, “In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or the propaganda might be false.”
What they didn’t envision was the “development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant.”
Fifty years after Huxley wrote these words, things are even worse. When you add the ignorance of and even hostility towards traditional religious faith of most mainstream media, the temptation is to withdraw into our own little media bubble.
But as WORLD magazine editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky would tell you, that would be a mistake. Olasky, whom I recently interviewed on “BreakPoint This Week,” insists that Christians should absolutely read mainstream media. I agree. And I agree when he says we should read it not for information in the “who/what/where/why” sense, but to know and understand the worldviews that dominate our culture.
Staying away from culture, like the Amish-like community in M. Night Shyamalan’s film “The Village,” is neither possible nor desirable. What is necessary is proficiency at cultural hermeneutics. We need to go from being passive consumers of media to discerning analysts of it. We need to train ourselves to distinguish the true from the false, the important from the irrelevant, and the genuine from the counterfeit.
In that spirit, Olasky recommends that we read the New York Times and his own publication, WORLD magazine. I fully agree with that, too. This way you'll get both sides of the story, and laying these things side by side, you'll see how words are used, and discern what values are shaping the way the story is being told.
Of course, this requires that we pay attention, which, to paraphrase Proverbs, is the beginning of cultural hermeneutics. Without that, our appetite for distraction will become an appetite for cultural, as well as personal, destruction.
I do hope you'll listen to my interview with Marvin Olasky and his colleague Warren Smith on “BreakPoint This Week.” Simply come to our website, BreakPoint.org, and click on the “This Week” tab. The occasion of the interview was a 25th anniversary edit and re-release of Marvin's groundbreaking book The Prodigal Press. If you want to know how deeply worldview runs in media and the difference it makes, this is the book to read.
And be sure to check out BreakPoint on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @BreakPointPFM.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: September 23, 2013