In this age of nearly instantaneous communication, there is an overwhelming amount of news and information available to us. There is nothing wrong with news and information, but each of us must decide how much exposure, in terms of time and content, is good for us. Not all “Breaking News!” is really that urgent. Too much news can distract us, overwhelm us, and provoke anxiety and anger. Further, the “news” is heavily filtered to feature what is bad, strange, unusual, violent, and dangerous. It does not represent the reality most of us live in nor is it something on which we should be focused. Frankly, most of us lead routine and “boring” lives. This doesn’t make for riveting news, but it is more representative of our lives.
In such an environment, we do well to hear and heed an admonition of Isaiah, who describes the just person in this way:
He who practices virtue and speaks honestly,
who spurns what is gained by oppression,
brushing his hands
free of contact with a bribe,
stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed,
closing his eyes lest he look on evil.
He shall dwell on the heights,
his stronghold shall be the rocky fastness,
his food and drink
in steady supply (Isaiah 33: 14-16).
Note especially this part: stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed, closing his eyes lest he look on evil. While it is not possible to avoid all exposure to bloodshed and evil, it is surely advisable to avoid unnecessary exposure to it lest we become desensitized to it or unnerved by it.
Obviously, we should avoid movies and video games with gratuitous violence, but we should also limit our exposure to a steady stream of news that emphasizes violence, conflict, controversy, excess, and aberration. Many news programs today feature panels who engage in endless debate, even to the point of yelling, and who say more and more about less and less.
There is also a lot of sinful curiosity and voyeurism involved. Everyone has personal struggles—even tragedies—but the cameras don’t need to be rolling and public displays made of them. Talk shows traffic in this sort of material; people are invited on to share what should remain private, and viewers, indulging in a kind of sinful curiosity, willingly consume the sad display.
Sadly, this bleeds over into news coverage as well, where every sort of strange psychological, addictive, compulsive, and dysfunctional behavior is trotted out for our consumption. The overall effect is to normalize bad or dysfunctional behavior, exaggerate its extent in the population, and make a public spectacle of it. All of this serves to desensitize us to its sinful, even tragic, roots.
We have gradually shifted from being informed to “look[ing] on evil” and “hear[ing] of bloodshed.” The loss of life implied by bloodshed is more than physical death; there is a great deal of spiritual death in our culture as well.
If viewing this public spectacle of sin, confusion, and death led us to deeper prayer and a commitment to working harder to speak the truth in love, perhaps it would be a more tolerable change. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of this even among committed Christians.
Therefore, the advice of Isaiah should be heeded. We should we actively limit our exposure to this spectacle, closing our eyes lest we “look on evil” and stopping our ears lest we “hear of bloodshed.”
There is some need to stay informed, but we should limit our exposure. Reading the news may be better than viewing it; one can skim the headlines and read further only if necessary. We don’t need to know as many details as we think we do. Staying informed at a general level is adequate for most of us.
Stepping back from the spectacle and from the steady diet of the dysfunctional and the tragic will give us greater serenity so that we can pray, which is a better gift to the world than our being merely informed.
St. Paul give the following advice:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, put these things into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:8-9).
Being serenely at peace, connected to God, able to pray, and growing in virtue are much better solutions for the problems of our day than is knowing all the gory details. Be careful what you read and listen to each day. There is a place and time to close our eyes lest we look on evil and stop our ears lest we hear of bloodshed.