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Media bias

Our dangerous diet of clips, tweets, memes, and headlines

We live in a 200-word blog post /140-character tweet /30-second YouTube clip /headline-reading kind of world. People read and watch more than ever, but with this larger volume comes the need to skim and sample. And that means even as we might know about more of what’s going on our knowledge isn’t as deep. And that can cause problems. What sort of problems? The sort of problems that happen whenever we have facts without context – what we think we know, just isn’t so. Hearing the other side Here’s one example: the September issue of the creationist magazine Acts and Facts included a wonderful article on “Our Young Solar System.” It was already a summary itself, giving a broad overview of a vast amount of research, and briefly highlighting 6 different evidences for the solar system’s young age. One problem common with summaries is getting just the one perspective (Prov. 18:17). Author Dr. Jake Hebert does mention secular scientists have objections to the young earth creationist interpretations – he's fair – but his article doesn’t have the space to get into, let alone respond to, any of those counter-arguments. Prov. 18:17 says that we can make our best assessment when we hear both sides, and summaries don't always allow for that. What we know isn't so But the bigger problem shows up on the Institute for Creation Research’s website ( where the article begins with an even briefer – just 30-seconds long – summary. Viewed on its own, the opening line could leave viewers with a mistaken impression. “Secular scientists estimate our Solar System is around 4.6 Billion years old, but evidence suggests it’s far younger.” ICR isn’t suggesting the all the evidence suggests it’s far younger – the article makes that clear. But for the many people who skip the article and watch the video instead, that’s an impression they could leave with. That’s already an impression that many a Christian high school student holds. And should such a student head off to university he'll be unprepared for the attacks coming his way – he’ll be shocked, and maybe even shaken, to learn there is all sorts of scientific evidence that can be interpreted in support of an older universe. The problem here isn’t with the ICR video. Maybe it could have been improved with the addition of one word: “…some evidence suggests it's far younger.” But the article right below it already makes that point. The bigger problem is our growing habit of ingesting facts without context, of reading just summaries – headlines, tweets, video clips, memes, and more – and believing that we are informed. There is a place for skimming and for a shallow understanding; we don’t all need to know the ins and outs of jam-making, cricket, or dolphin echo-location. But if a topic matters – if it is something we are going to share with others, debate, and hold strong opinions about – then as servants of the Truth, we need to dig deeper and truly understand. That's what we need to do to properly reflect and represent the God of Truth (John 14:6). ...

Media bias

Religious “ghosts” haunt the mainstream media

Back in 2004 a couple of Christian journalists were frustrated at how, in the words of William Schneider: “The press…doesn’t get religion.” So Terry Mattingly and Douglas LeBlanc started Get Religion, a daily news blog that would explore how the mainstream media was covering (and most often missing) the religious dimension behind the stories we were all reading. They called this missing element the “religious ghost” – it’s there in so many stories, but unseen by the media covering them. So, for example, a July 13 story on The Telegraph’s website reported on how: “a school in Leeds is attempting to tackle forced marriages by giving their pupils spoons to hide in their underwear to trigger airport metal detectors.” According to a spokesperson for the academy: “80% of UK forced marriages happened abroad during the summer holidays, making it a peak time for parents to take their daughters abroad to be married.”  The hope was, that if a girl was being taken against her will to be married abroad then, after this spoon set off the metal detector, it could create an opportunity for the girl “to raise the alarm with security staff privately.” A reporter is supposed to get to the 5Ws of a story, but here we see a couple of glaring omissions. Who are these parents forcing their daughters to marry abroad? And why are they doing it? This is described as “‘honor’-based abuse and forced marriage” and we’re told that these girls are “often conditioned from a very young age to consider arranged marriage to be normal.” But, again, who is doing the conditioning, and whose idea of “honor” is this”? Might there be an identifiable cultural or religious group linked to this, or has Britain always had this problem? There is a religious dimension to the story that’s left unexplored. But why? Can’t the reporter see it? Or is she deliberately looking away? Whatever the case, there is a huge “religious hole.” There probably isn’t anyone left who thinks the media is objective and unbiased. But do our children understand that this bias comes out, not just in what the press says and writes, but also in what they leave unsaid, and unwritten. When the media has no interest in the religious angle, they are treating God – who He is, and who He isn’t, what He thinks, and what He wants us to do – as unimportant. Daily doses of such perspective can have an impact, especially if we are caught unawares (1 Cor. 15:33). So let’s teach ourselves, and our children, to spot the “religious ghosts” that haunt so many front pages stories....


Media bias and Australia's marriage debate

This month and next Australians are being given the opportunity to have their say on same-sex “marriage.” The Liberal-National (LNP) coalition ran their election campaign last year with a promise to hold a plebiscite on the issue. Like regular elections, this plebiscite would have been compulsory, with every eligible voter required to cast a ballot. However, the LNP does not have a majority in the Senate, and that resulted in the legislation for the plebiscite being blocked (twice) by the other parties. Finally, the LNP decided to undertake a voluntary postal survey – no one is required to vote – and the results are not binding on the government. Ballots have been mailed out with one question: "“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? Yes or No." Results are expected to be announced on November 15. The campaigns for both “Yes” and “No” are now fully underway. Much of the Australian news media is unabashedly promoting the “Yes” campaign. Not only are there the usual editorials and opinion pieces, but much of the news reported on the postal survey is slanted towards influencing the “Yes” vote. However, some news outlets have gone further. Following a post on social media of an offensive poster against SSM, some Australian news outlets were reporting that this poster had been "plastered" all over Melbourne. Broadcaster Channel 10 went out in search of the alleged poster, but came up empty. However, they needed a visual for their news story. So they got creative. They took a stock news photo of a European bus shelter and photo-shopped the poster in (see original, and as doctored for Channel 10, in the picture to the right). After being exposed, Channel 10 released a statement in which they stated, “This was not a deliberate attempt to mislead our audience, but a creative error which we regret.” This was followed by less than truthful reporting on a “No” campaign meeting at a Roman Catholic Church in Brisbane. “Yes” campaigners gathered outside the church and succeeded in preventing the meeting from even happening. As a few of the “No” crowd drove away in their vehicles, the “Yes” side tried to block them. Some news reports spoke of a rowdy clash between the sides. Other news reports mentioned a vehicle driving “at nearly full-speed” into the protestors. Queensland Police later confirmed that these reports were completely false. This debate reflects not just differing views on marriage, but a clash between utterly opposite worldviews. In one worldview, truth is something that exists outside of ourselves as public, objective reality. In the other worldview, truth is a subjective thing which can and must be manipulated for your own agenda. The latter is fantasy, the former fact. Christians should be encouraged: the former that will ultimately prevail, no matter the outcome of the postal vote. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at Yinkahdinay and Creation Without Compromise. BOLT: If there's one thing that could make Australians vote against same-sex marriage, it is the bullying. Live now on @SkyNewsAust — The Bolt Report (@theboltreport) August 28, 2017 ...


The End was near

They’ve probably been predicting the end of time since the beginning of time. Recently, we’ve had predictions it would end in 2012, due to some Mayan calendar related prophecy. And in 2011, Harold Camping, a prominent, and formerly Reformed, radio host made news predicting the universe’s destruction for October of that year. And, of course, cults all around the world were expecting the end in the year 2000, and countless individuals were predicting Western civilization would grind to a halt as the Y2K computer bug shuts down all the computerized systems we depend on. While computers may be a recent invention, predictions of the end are not. For numerous orthodox and not-so orthodox Christians, predicting the end of time has been a pre-occupation for as long as anyone can remember. The reasoning behind most of the predictions has often been creative, and of the sort of logic that could come up with almost any date. It often goes something like this: the world is going to end in 1998. Why 1998? Well, all you have to do is take the number of God - 3 - multiply it by the number of the beast - 666 - and you get 1998. (Since you’re reading this in 2017, you might’ve noticed a flaw in the reasoning.) Other examples abound. John Gribben authored a book in the 1970s arguing that an alignment of the planets in 1982 would bring on the end as the combined gravity of the planets caused massive earthquakes, tidal waves, and other disasters. Though by 1980, even Gribben had disowned his theory, some religious groups continued preparing for an end that didn’t arrive. Jehovah’s Witnesses Charles Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult, took a unique approach to forecasting the end. He predicted Christ’s return in 1874, but he predicted this after the year had passed. According to him, Christ had returned secretly that year. In the closest thing to success in a doomsday prediction, Russell expected the final battle between God and Satan would take place in 1914. While it wasn’t the final battle, World War I did start that year. In fairness to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, after repeated failed attempts to predict the end of the world, they gave up on that in 1996. Now they focus on being “watchful” rather than failing to predict the end of time. The End through the ages For those trying to anticipate the end, the year 1666 was an obvious year to expect it. After all, the year itself contained the number of the beast. If anyone was expecting judgment that year, it only arrived in London, where The Great Fire burnt much of the English capital to the ground. Some had predicted the end of time to fall in 1657. The very important Council of Nicea was held in 325. Two times the number of the beast - 666 - plus 325 and voila, you’ve got 1657. The Black Plague swept Europe from 1338 to 1349, returning for a second outbreak between 1357 and 1362. This rat-borne disease wiped out from 20 to 30 million people, anywhere from one quarter to one third of Europe’s total population. With this sort of catastrophe sweeping the continent, predictions abounded of the anti-Christ’s imminent arrival. He was expected to come in 1346, 1348, 1375, and 1400. If those dates didn’t produce the expected result, those peering into the future simply tried again and guessed another date. Though they thought they could see Armageddon coming, they miscalculated, repeatedly. One of the predictions that seemed to catch a lot of people’s imaginations was that the end would come in 1260. The monk, Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202), developed an elaborate theory of history to back up his expectation. Based on Biblical genealogies, there are 42 generations from Abraham to Christ. If a generation is 30 years on average, that’s 1260 years. He reasoned that there would also be 42 generations after the birth of Christ, and thus, the world would end in 1260. What made Joachim’s system so much more enticing was that his whole history of time was based on the number 3. The first period, the period of the law or of God the Father, took place until the birth of Christ. The period of Christ would last until 1260, and the third and final period of the Spirit, when the world would be converted, would take place immediately after that. Though Joachim was consulted by popes, and wined and dined by kings and princes, he was still wrong. Time kept marching on. Year 1000 scare The most widely believed date for the end of time was the millennium. No, not the year 2000, but the year 1000. At that point, there was considerable panic that the end was near. In 950, the monk Adso wrote to Gerberga, sister of the Frankish king, Otto I, saying that the anti-Christ would come when the last Frankish king died. This Frankish dynasty ended somewhere between 987 and 991, inspiring fear that the end of time was fast approaching. This fear was reinforced by Adso’s one-way pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The arrival of Halley’s Comet in 989 was seen as a sign of the coming apocalypse. These indicators were backed up by the preaching of Aelfric, the Abbot of Eynsham, who delivered apocalyptic sermons in the 990s, hinting at the end of time in the year 1000. Dooms-dayers are nothing if not flexible. The year 1000 was seen as a reasonable date for the end of time since it came 1000 years after the birth of Christ. When the world failed to end in 1000, the next logical choice was 1033, 1000 years after the death of Christ. In the case of both the year 1000 and the year 1033, society changed in noticeable ways. Peace councils were formed to try to stop the violence and war of the period. In the resulting peace, parishes and villages were organized. Not surprisingly, new prosperity resulted. In preparing for the perceived end, the peasants and aristocrats drew together in a new spirit of cooperation and friendship. As the cynic might expect, when the end did not come, these advances quickly fell apart. Conclusion So what are we supposed to make of all this? Try as we might, we just don’t know the day or hour of the end, not even the angels in heaven know that. Since we’re still here, in time, having to use our talents to God’s glory, that means that we have to trust that God will take care of us. Eventually, those predicting the end are bound to hit the mark. If you make enough predictions one of them eventually has to be right. However, when that last day comes, for us it’s not something to fear or to make us panic. When the Master returns and finds his servants doing what he has asked, He will richly reward them. The end of time is something to be eagerly expected, not eagerly predicted. A version of this article first appeared in the May 1999 issue. For more information on End Times predictions see Richard Abanes’ “End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon?” and Bernard McGinn’s “Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages”...