When I was a young man, I had subscriptions to Time and to U.S. News and World Report. I watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I was satisfied that I was being given a fair representation of the news. Mr. Cronkite was a daily dose of the news delivered in scholarly, prudent manner, U.S. News presented a balanced, professional account of world national and international business and political dealings, and Time was a bit of fluff, more entertainment than news. I watched over the years as Time devolved from fluff to trash, as U.S. News tried to recreate itself until it finally abandoned print publication in favor of an online-only presence, and as CBS Evening News stumble about only to fall on its own sword as Dan Rather tried too hard.
Professional journalism is supposed to try to adhere to the standards of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability journalistic integrity. It seems to me that most U.S. news providers have forgotten or at least ignore these principles. I don't believe anything that I hear on Fox News or on MSNBC without verifying it from another source. I resent the comedy acts of Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh being given enough legitimacy that I hear people regurgitating what they say as fact. I long ago grew weary of the endless sensationalism of the news and even the weather by the 24-hour channels vying for peoples' attention.
There is of course a place for opinion pieces. Obviously this is one. You should not read this article and come away thinking that U.S. news media gives short shrift to the principles of accuracy, objectivity and impartiality. You should read this article and come away thinking that Bernie thinks that the U.S. news media gives short shrift to the principles of accuracy, objectivity and impartiality. Take that information, add it to other information you have gathered along the way, and then decide for yourself whether or not you agree.
When I want to find out what's going on in the world, I go to the BBC. They seem to do a very good job at trying to maintain an acceptable level of journalistic integrity, and for the most part, clearly separate the objective from the subjective. Their news pieces are interesting and informative, and their columnists deliver thoughtful and thought provoking points-of-view.
Take this article "A Point of View: The perils of belief," for instance. The author, John Gray, is a British philosopher and writer. He is an atheist. In this particular article, Dr. Gray discusses a bit of the life and philosophies of Norman Lewis, the noted author and journalist. Mr. Lewis is also an atheist. Dr. Gray observes that man uniquely has the ability to form ideas and beliefs, and that we alone of all creatures are willing to die and to kill for these ideas. Religion is of course one such example of ideas that people die and kill for, but Dr. Gray readily acknowledges that secular belief systems, communism for example, or democracy, are ideas that can be used to justify great acts of cruelty. As a species, we are always proposing beliefs for solving mankind's problems or for defeating death, and we can believe passionately in them. Faith, defined here as trust in a higher power, can serve the useful purpose of tempering our pride and giving perspective to our pursuits.
A real problem arises however, when in our zeal, we want to evangelize. It is not sufficient that we believe something, we must convince others to believe the same thing. "...much of history," Dr. Gray writes, "is composed of sections of humanity attempting to impose their own sense of the meaning of life on others. Lewis viewed universal religions as being among the great human evils and I am inclined to agree. Whether they are religious or political, evangelists seem to me to have been a blight on civilization. For them as for those they persecute or bully, belief is an obstacle to a fulfilling life."
I agree. I am not an atheist, and indeed would consider myself an evangelist. I have spent the past thirty years presenting my faith to anyone who would listen. But I would have to admit that, even within my own faith community, I have encountered those who attempt to bludgeon into conformity anyone who might not share their personal vision of our faith.
Even though I do not agree with the conclusion Dr. Gray comes to (that it is wise to not believe in belief), I applaud the BBC for providing a forum for the presenting of a well thought out point of view, and I applaud Dr. Gray for making the effort to allow me to understand what he thinks, to see the world as he sees it, without resorting to calling me stupid or ridiculing my beliefs. It is apparently possible to have a civil conversation about a highly emotional subject.
One final comment about Dr. Gray's ideas. There is a reality to the universe, the most fundamental aspect of which is the existence or non-existence of God. All of our belief systems attempt to describe what that reality is. Dr. Gray has assembled and examined all the information he can about the nature of universe, and after thoughtful examination, has concluded that there is no God. My own examination has led me to the opposite conclusion. The reality of the universe depends neither on Dr. Gray's conclusions nor on mine -- it is what it is. One of us is wrong. I can not speak for Dr. Gray, but I think that he would have no problem agreeing that proper evangelization consists in the opening of one's personal beliefs to examination by others so that they may decide for themselves what to believe. Done properly, evangelization is a service to others. Dr. Gray has done us a service.
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