Considering the difficulty of keeping up with the news, John Stott commends, in his book Between Two Worlds, his own practice: “for many years now I have found a thorough reading of a weekly much more profitable than the cursory scanning of a daily” (193). How times have changed. If we aren’t vigilant, our own options have accelerated into the choice between the speed of our facebook news feed or our twitter feed, in the current culture of the constant news cycle. To many people, to receive the news only once a day would seem like the most ascetic of practices.
But how much benefit is there to the constant news feed? Granted there are times when we need to be aware of some great event or tragedy that has taken place, is there really any need to pay attention to all of the news all of the time? Last fall, when a certain well-covered circus was saturating the news reports, I found myself helplessly and magnetically drawn to the spectacle. But so often I would realize afterward that I had merely heard the same thoughts and opinions expressed a dozen different times. Couldn’t I have checked in once daily or even, dare I say it, a couple of times a week?
Often what happens is that once a big news item runs its course, it turns out to be a lot of noise that doesn’t finally matter. How many times must Americans be subjected to coverage of the latest political uproar, followed by the spin-masters’ retraction/reinterpretation of it, only to see the whole thing die out a week later in the wake of a new headline?
The question for a Christian to consider seriously is how much of this should we concern ourselves with, given our faith in Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever”? Taking the long view has rarely hurt anyone. We believe in One who is the Lord of all history, not just the current moment, and of all people, not only whatever local concerns preoccupy us. Getting overly obsessed with today’s news is folly that we should guard against.
The poet William Cowper, in a letter (February 27, 1780) to his friend the Rev. William Unwin, reflects wisely on this temptation after trying to compose a bit of poetry on current events:
When I wrote last I was a little inclined to send you a Copy of Verses entitled the Modern Patriot, but was not quite pleased with a Line or two which I found it difficult to mend, therefore did not. At Night I read Mr Burke’s Speech in the Newspaper, and was so well pleased with his Proposals for a Reformation, & with the Temper in which he made them, that I began to think better of his Cause and burnt my Verses. Such is the Lot of the Man who writes upon the Subject of the Day; the Aspect of Affairs changes in an Hour or two, & his Opinion with it.—What was just and well deserved Satyr in the Morning, in the Evening becomes a Libel.
Cowper highlights the trouble with one natural corollary of always hearing the news: we always have an opinion on the news. And online opinion platforms, comments sections, and blogs on current events only make the danger more obvious: we’re busy forming our opinions and judgments before we’re reasonably informed of the facts. Cowper’s letter amusingly shows that it isn’t exclusively a problem in our own time, but it certainly is a problem for us.
How much of our attention does the moment deserve? The moment is fickle.