Modern Society likes new ideas, hates truth

There is a verse in Sacred Scripture, in Acts of the Apostles, which describes the residents of the Greek city of Athens.

{17:21} (Now all the Athenians, and arriving visitors, were occupying themselves with nothing other than speaking or hearing various new ideas.)

The culture of that time found empty entertainment in the discussion of new ideas. But they were not seeking truth. They preferred new ideas over any older ideas, regardless of truth. They were interested in this new religion, Christianity, only because it was new. Judaism did not interest them very much, being a rather old set of ideas. And then, once they had entertained themselves with a discussion and debate of whatever ideas were new, they would go on to the next set of new ideas.

Our culture is much the same. There are many news and opinion discussion shows on TV, especially on the 24-hour news channels. They discuss culture, politics, religion, law, economics, and any human interest type stories. The choice of topics favors whatever is sensational, controversial, and debatable. But they rarely, if ever, bring in experts on any topic. The same panel discusses every topic under the sun, always speaking as if they were knowledgeable, whether they are or not.

And just like the Athenians, the purpose of the discussion is entertainment, not the search for truth. This disregard for truth is particularly disconcerting when a serious topic involving human suffering arises, such as war or terrorism or poverty or disease. The subject area is mined for its sensationalism, for its ability to provoke an emotional reaction from the audience. But over time it become clear that these shows have no humanitarian or philanthropic or moral purpose at all. News is presented and discussed for the purpose of entertainment.


I will add, though, that a second purpose arises when major elections are drawing near. The news outlets, or at least their main on-air personalities, take sides and attempt to convince their audience to vote for or against certain candidates. Gone is even the pretense of impartiality. Moderators openly debate with candidates, instead of moderating. Interviews with an out-of-favor candidate quickly turn into a debate between the candidate and the interviewer. More so than in past election cycles, it seems to me that the persons covering the political stories have the continuous purpose of trying to sink the candidacy of some and promote the candidacy of others.

And it’s not as if they are merely individual voters exercising their freedom of speech. They have an audience of hundreds of thousands of persons, and over time millions of persons. They control what is reported and how it is presented to that audience. So they have the ability to influence many votes. And as time passes, that influence is growing.

I worry that in this next U.S. presidential election, the election will be decided by the media, not the voters. If the media does not prefer a particular candidate, he or she gets very little coverage. This results in low poll numbers, which then is used to justify the lack of coverage. Especially in the primary season, media coverage is crucial for a candidate to become known, so that voters can make an informed decision. But the major media outlets have excessive influence over the dissemination of that information.

Listen To Us

The modern media outlets decide major issues. I see sitcoms presenting what is claimed to be normal moral human behavior, and yet the characters are engaging in all manner of grave sins. Plotlines designed to promote a particular socio-political point of view are common. Promoted behaviors include sex outside of marriage, unnatural sexual acts, use of contraception, surrogate motherhood, in vitro fertilization, gay marriage, gay adoption, and other topics.

But why should people who are skilled at entertainment be the ones deciding grave matters of faith and morals? It is as if the court jesters of the kingdom have been appointed to lead and judge the people. A person might be skilled at entertainment, leave that career behind, and then gain some expertise in politics (e.g. Ronald Reagan). But instead what is happening is that anyone skilled at entertaining others automatically assumes that he or she should be teaching and leading on every controversial issue.

It is just as Jesus said:

“How can the blind lead the blind? Would they not both fall into a pit?” (Lk 6:39).

And the Old Testament offers insights on this topic as well:

“For fascination with entertainment obscures good things, and the unfaithfulness of desire subverts the mind without malice.” (Wisdom 4:`12).

“You should not be continually in need of entertainment, nor should you be persuaded by it, lest perhaps you may perish by its effectiveness.” (Sirach 9:4).

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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