DATE: 12/14/2004 06:53:00 PM
Vox Blogoli IV - One of the reasons I enjoy reading Hugh Hewitt's blog is that he's a generous man. He is a big media figure who doesn't mind giving attention to the smaller bloggers. I've enjoyed participating in the Vox Blogoli in the past and this one was particularly enjoyable. For some strange reason, I always liked research papers in college. Here is my best attempt at one now. Hold on, this is going to be a long one.
Vox Blogoli VI: What does Newsweek's story on Christmas tell us about MSM?
In the fall of 2004, Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" had an exclusive story. Newly discovered documents and sources seemed to confirm the worst about President George W. Bush and his service in the Texas Air National Guard. The story ran on September 8 and was eagerly embraced by the national media. For a few hours, CBS News was on top of the world. They had run a story no one else had that cast doubt on the president's service in the military and, more importantly, made the president look bad.
The celebration was short-lived. Within a few hours, bloggers began to compile evidence that cast doubt on the authenticity of the memos and the story fell apart. A week later, Rather was forced to concede he had "lost faith" in the accuracy of the memos.
This week, Newsweek ran a story by Jon Meacham entitled "The Birth of Jesus." The story uses new scholarship and the work of skeptics to cast doubt on the Biblical accounts of Jesus' birth and life. At a time when antipathy toward religious conservatives is high due to the role evangelicals played in re-electing George W. Bush, the story seems to confirm what many would like to believe about the Gospels - that they are a mix of the true, the false and have pagan roots. The story also plays into the anti-Christian bias that has been part of the entertainment, news and public media over the past year. From the furor over the alleged anti-Semitism in "The Passion of the Christ" to the popularity of the mildly entertaining but theologically ludicrous "DaVinci Code," the media has shown a growing willingness to attack those of faith.
As with the Bush memos story, Newsweek's skeptical story on Christmas and the origins of Christianity is destined to become yet another embarrassing chapter in media bias and cluelessness about faith. Already, there has been considerable doubt placed on the claims of the article by writers on the internet. Albert Mohler and Mark D. Roberts have taken to the web to respond to the Newsweek article and point out where Meacham was wrong.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, examines the author of the story and given the evidence he complies about Meacham's beliefs based on what is written in the article, shows the Newsweek writer is willing to spread heresy in order to justify his own personal beliefs. Mohler says describes Meacham as "the classic self-congratulatory theological liberal" and shows the shallowness of his scholarship in the Newsweek article.
Pastor Mark D. Roberts examines the Newsweek article at length, over a five-part series. Roberts raises many of the same questions as did Mohler. Roberts gives more evidence of Meacham's theological liberalism and gives examples from his own life of dealing with people who put their own personal beliefs about God above what scripture teaches.
Although both writers are critical of Meacham, they resist the urge to engage in the same sort of condescension the Newsweek writer repeatedly uses in his article. Meacham draws a bright line between "literalists," who believe the Bible is literally true, and those of a more nuanced faith, who believe in a more "historical" Jesus. Meacham speaks warmly of Gnosticism:
A complex movement popularly known as Gnosticism (from the Greek "gnosis," meaning knowledge) offered an apparently compelling and appealing version of Christianity in which believers sought, in addition to received teaching, "inner knowledge" of God. "Insight, or gnosis, was the experience of searching for the divine, the source of our creation, within oneself," says Elaine Pagels, professor of religion at Princeton...Meacham's blend of scriptural truth and pagan beliefs is, in fact, a form of the very thing he quotes approvingly. Meacham skillfully blends scriptural truth, personal belief and pagan theology into his Newsweek narrative of the birth of Jesus. The end result is a readable but ultimately false view of scripture. I'm not a theologian, though. To fully understand the depth of Meacham's deception, read the articles by Mohler and Roberts. I want to examine a point raised well by both authors and what it says about the mainstream media.
Both Mohler and Roberts point out that Meacham spoke to only one side of the theological argument on an issue of great importance. For this reason, the Newsweek article, for all its seeming sophistication and intelligence, is nothing more than yet another example of the bias pervasive in the media. Most of the experts Meacham quotes are liberal scholars whose work has cast doubt on what scripture teaches about Jesus and mocked those who believe in absolute truth.
Meacham is a product of our culture of permissiveness and postmodernism. It is obvious reading his article that the author is uncomfortable with the actual life of the Jesus he claims to worship. Similar feelings arose during the debate over Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." Critics complained about the movie's 'excessive violence' and its focus on Christ's suffering and wondered why Gibson didn't focus more on what Christ actually taught. Of course, to those of a more liberal theological persuasion, Christ's teachings basically boil down to 'be nice to each other' and 'government entitlements are good.' So what does Meacham's postmodernism have to do with media bias?
The media is one of the most postmodern entities in the country. While journalists make a huge issue out of seeking "truth," the actual definition of truth is rather vague. A document called "Ten Ethical Principles for College Journalists" contains a statement that is both unintentionally hilarious and deeply disturbing:
Objective truth-like flawless beauty-is an illusive goal. Nonetheless, just as human beings pursue many aims that can never be fully achieved, it remains a worthy endeavor for journalists to commit themselves to trying to tell the truth. - Postmodernism proclaims the truth that truth is an illusion..."The truth that truth is an illusion..." The statement goes on to say that while truth may be an illusion, journalists should always strive to tell it. The most common definition of truth in journalism is found in the old saying 'speaking truth to power.' This makes truth a constant contrarian and presupposes that all of those who have power are spreaders of untruth. This definition of truth is the one that drives all of journalism - the seeking of truth is the tearing down of powerful people and institutions. There is little constructive in this defining of truth, but it is where Meacham has planted his flag.
When one examines "truth" in this light, it's easy to see how Meacham could have written such a blatantly biased article, how Dan Rather could have used such obvious forgeries and how Michael Moore can justify making propaganda films filled with lies. In the eyes of these postmodernists, a few inaccuracies are forgivable if they lead the public to an understanding of the "higher truth" being sought: that Bush was a bad soldier, that the war in Iraq was a mistake and that Jesus wasn't the Christ.
There is a wonderful symmetry between what Meacham has said about scripture and the Rathergate story. In Mohler's article, he points out a statement by Mohler on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" in which Meacham says scriptures can be "true without being accurate." Shortly after the memos were found to be forgeries, the New York Times ran a story with the following headline: "Memos on Bush Are Fake But Accurate, Typist Says."
In a word, it is postmodernism that accounts for the appearance of this piece in a major news magazine. This is what modern journalism has been reduced to - sacrificing truth in the pursuit of 'truth.' Meacham is so desperate to prove that modern-day evangelicals are simpleminded buffoons who believe in fairy tales that he is willing to ignore the experts and evidence that disagree with his rather liberal interpretation of scripture.
Meacham is seeking a comfortable Christianity, a nonthreatening version of Jesus. In doing so, he's cast aside truth. I'll end with a quote from C.S. Lewis that Meacham may want to consider the next time he ignores scripture in search of the 'higher truth:'
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.UPDATE: Welcome, Hugh Hewitt readers! Feel free to stick around.