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21 August 2005

The Whole World In His Hands

Every now and again I receive a letter from World Magazine asking me to become a subscriber to their publication. For those who don't know, World Magazine is a weekly news magazine (the fourth largest in the country, in fact), similar to Time, Newsweek, and U.S. Weekly. What makes World Magazine different from these other weekly periodicals? I'll let World founder and chairman Joel Belz tell you:

At World Magazine we investigate and report on current events from a Christian perspective. We believe that there are absolutes in this world. There are certain types of conduct that are always right and always wrong. In this era of "whatever feels good," real conviction is all too rare, but not in World Magazine.
There are a few things that I find troubling about this. For one, news should not be reported from a perspective. Don't get me wrong. I've had my share of both journalism courses and actual journalism experience. I'm fully aware that there is no such thing as objectivity. To pretend otherwise is just silly. To be objective is essentially to have no viewpoint, which we all know to be impossible.

Language is a fickle thing. Different words contain different shades of meaning. Simply choosing one word over another will colour a piece of writing in a particular way. It's unavoidable. The journalist is also forced to make choices in everything they do. If I were writing a story about the use of soda machines in high school cafeterias, I would have to make several choices. Whom do I interview? What questions do I ask? What perspectives do I present? Do I talk to people who feel that soda machines bring in revenue that schools are not getting elsewhere? Do I talk to people who feel that the presence of these machines presents students with unhealthy eating choices? Do I bring in lack of money for public education? That our government underfunds education while spending more than half its budget on the military? Do I talk about the effects of corporate presence in schools? There are so many ways to take this story. The direction I take it will depend on who I am as a person, the life I have had, my beliefs, my background, and so forth. So objectivity is a myth.

That said, to purposely report a story from a particular viewpoint seems off to me. While I'm grateful that the particular bias of World Magazine is admitted up front, that this perspective will be Christian, or more accurately ultra-conservative evangelical American Christianity, to purposefully report from a certain perspective betrays what journalism is about. Journalists should strive to report all sides fairly, to refrain from a particualar bias, even though we know it to be impossible.

The thing that is more troubling, though, is that Christian journalism seems to me an oxymoron. Journalism at its core necessitates a belief in absolutes. It necessitates that there is objective truth, because journalism seeks to report the truth. If there is no truth, then there is no need for journalism. So there is no need to report from a "Christian perspective." If journalism is about seeking the truth, then it is already coming from a Christian perspective in some sense, because Christianity claims to be a search for truth. If you want to have a discussion about whether "secular" journalists are reporting the truth, or are concerned with truth, that is one thing. But to think that "Christian" journalism is some other thing than "secular" journalism misses the point.

But I don't think these World journalists are concerned with the truth. Rather, they're concerned with a certain strain of conservative American Christianity, and with making it look good. They're concerned with advocating Republican politics, politics with which they already agree. World Magazine is right to confront the shoddy thing that passes for journalism in the United States. It's an absolute mess. But they're attacking the wrong things. They think mainstream journalism is "too liberal." So instead they're injecting journalism with conservatism. If World Magazine was really concerned with the search for truth, I would expect them to be raking our President across the coals about now. That hasn't happened. And it won't.

This has nothing to do with truth. And it has nothing to do with real Christianity. Christianity does not bow to any American political party. And it does not bow to the bias of a particular setting on the political spectrum. If it does, it ceases to be Christianity.

Comments on "The Whole World In His Hands"


Blogger hipchickmamma said ... (8/22/2005 08:16:00 AM) : 

preach it!



Anonymous zalm said ... (8/24/2005 10:39:00 PM) : 

I meant to tell you when I first read this how much I appreciated this post. Sorry I needed a reminder link from a later post to do so.

In particular, I thought the part about Christian journalism being redundant is right on. I think we're so used to slapping that modifier before anything and everything that it helps to have reminders as to what that actually means.

Great stuff, Kevin. Thanks.


Blogger Wasp Jerky said ... (8/26/2005 10:43:00 AM) : 

Thanks. I think a lot of Christians have so secluded themselves in their little bubble that they forget how to interact with the real world. They're so concerned with being right and proclaiming Jesus that they forget about the beauty and truth that's already out in "the world." When you come to everything with an agenda (the arts, journalism, etc.), you've got no time to listen and interact with people and ideas.


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