A Matter of Discernment

A Matter of Discernment

from the April 18, 2016 eNews issue



Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things. Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right: the righteous follow his example, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Hosea 14:9 (ISV)

Discernment goes beyond finding the truth in the Bible.

Discernment

Discernment has been defined as “drawing a contrast between truth and error”. The Greek verb translated “discern” in the New Testament is diakrinō. It means “to make a distinction,” and is literally translated that way in Acts:

He made no distinction between them and us because of their faith-cleansed hearts.

Acts 15:9 (ISV)

It is painting an issue in black and white and refusing to use shades of gray. One cannot be truly discerning without developing the skill of separating divine truth from error.

Scripture tells us how to be discerning. Paul sums up the process in 1 Thessalonians:

Test everything. Hold on to what is good. Keep away from every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:21–22 (ISV)

Experiencing Church

People have gotten away from discernment. As we move toward “experiencing” church and how we “feel” about a service, we move further away from the Gospel message and God’s plan of redemption.

This can be very dangerous.

It is this type of thinking that has led people into cults with disastrous consequences.

In an earlier eNews article, a Jonestown Massacre survivor spoke of Jim Jones and the horrors his followers went through on his account. The survivor, Herbert Newell, made an astute observation. He said:

Had we been in church and reading our Bible, we would have known that this was not something Christian-like or of God.

Only in retrospect had Herbert recognized a basic fact. One needs to check what a person said against what one knows to be true before it is to be believed.

Another Type of Discernment

Red sky in the morning, cloudy and storming. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, yet you can’t interpret the signs of the times?

Matthew 16:3 (ISV)

In this verse Jesus described how well his questioners could interpret the sky in discerning the upcoming weather, but they could not interpret the signs of the times in which they were living. The signs of the times were more obvious than the indicators of the next day’s weather.

This applies to us as well.

We are suffering from a type of blindness that comes with information overload.

Digital Dementia

We have become so reliant on technology that we can fall victim to what has been termed “digital dementia.” The term was coined in 2012 by the German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer and is used to describe how overuse of digital technology is resulting in the breakdown of cognitive abilities in a way that is more commonly seen in people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.

People who spend a lot of time on digital devices have problems concentrating, have short attention spans, and short memories. All the qualities politicians love.

News outlets love it as well.

The News Cycle

Slightly predating the rise of digital devices came a sea change to news coverage — the 24-news cycle. In 1980, Ted Turner founded a fledgling news channel, the Cable News Network (CNN). CNN promised round-the-clock news, and this concept ushered in a new era of reporting. News analysis started to take a back seat to news reporting. While in the past, news outlets always wanted to get the story out first, it would have to break into regularly scheduled programming and that would require verification before standard programming (and commercials) were interrupted.

With a 24-hour news channel, website or tweet, this did not matter.

This new phenomenon put a premium on what could be called the “scoop-let” — the small tidbit of news that did not have much to back it up, but was rushed out into the ether to satisfy the audience’s insatiable desire for fresh information. There was no time to analyze the information in the crush to “feed the beast”. One result of this crush was the fiasco of the Cruz campaign workers messaging out the “fact” that Ben Carson was quitting the race for the presidential nomination. These messages were based on CNN anchors echoing Twitter messages from a reporter saying Mr. Carson was heading home to Florida after Iowa, rather than to New Hampshire or South Carolina.

In the news game, the goal used to be winning the 24-news cycle. Now it is winning the current minute.

The Need for Reflection

For thousands of years information travelled at the speed of a horse or a ship at sea. That gave diplomats the luxury of time. They had time to weigh options and time to formulate a reasoned response to a letter. It did however have its drawbacks. (The Battle of New Orleans was fought two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, effectively ending the War of 1812.)

The invention of the telegraph was one of the causal factors of World War I. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria set off a chain of events throughout continents with a series of telegrams that proceeded so quickly that no monarch had a chance to sit back and reflect on the consequences of their actions.

It was truly a “rush to war.”

This is where the United States is in its current election cycle. News reporting is all about immediacy and optics. A news outlet will do anything to get its audience to keep coming back to them for more.

News as Entertainment

Newsgathering is an expensive operation requiring high levels of investment and, consequently, media executives are under constant pressure to deliver demographically desirable audiences for news and current affairs programming to contribute to profits, or to at least avoid losses.

In the US, one major recent development has been the acquiring of major news networks by conglomerates whose primary interest is in the entertainment business: Viacom-Paramount for example, thus strengthening corporate profits.

In his book, “Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay” Patrick Brantlinger charted a trend to what he called “negative classicism”, which found analogies between television and Roman circuses:

They both substitute immediate visual experience for anything deeper or less immediate; they both impinge from above or outside on mass audiences of non-participatory spectators; they both seem to substitute false experiences of community for something more general and the sex and violence of commercial television appeals like the Roman games to sadomasochistic instincts.

Like the Roman circuses of old, television is designed to keep a populace docile and unconcerned about events swirling around them.

The results are obvious.

People outside the United States are often surprised at how ignorant Americans are. Most Europeans or Southeast Asians know who the US president is, but few Americans can name the prime minister of Great Britain or New Zealand. Even in domestic affairs, Americans are woefully uninformed. In a 2012 survey, two-thirds of those surveyed could not name a single supreme court justice. In 2014, 1,000 American-born citizens took a citizenship test. Only twenty-nine percent of those tested could correctly name Joe Biden as the vice president. Those same people, however, were 100% able to identify the names LeBron James and Kim Kardashian.

Print media helps perpetuate that ignorance. Media outlets will often shape its reporting for its US audience differently than for the rest of the world. This is by design.

Dec 9, 2013 Issue (Image: Flickr)

Dec 9, 2013 Issue (Image: Flickr)

This has all resulted in an election contest like no other. The four leading contenders for the two major parties are each unique in their own right. With the news cycles moving so quickly, the candidates frequently say things that are patently false and are not called into account for them. For example:

“I’m the only candidate in the Democratic primary, or actually on either side, who Wall Street financiers and hedge fund managers are actually running ads against.”

— Hillary Clinton

(Wall Street is attacking everyone)

“A couple of debates ago, (Donald Trump) said if you don’t support socialized health care, you’re heartless.”

— Ted Cruz

(Donald Trump made no such statements)

“Climate change is “directly related” to the growth of terrorism.”

— Bernie Sanders

(No evidence to support this)

“[Ted Cruz] said I was in favor in Libya. I never discussed that subject.”

— Donald Trump

(He discussed it on his own blog)

The above is not to illustrate who is the best candidate or who is the most truthful. All candidates make honest misstatements when on the campaign trail. No one would want to have cameras or microphones following them 24/7 during a grueling election cycle. It illustrates that the media no longer feels the need to be the watchdog of government. It is in the entertainment business. This was made painfully clear during the debates for the Republican and Democratic nomination for president. Very few of the questions put to the candidates were either probing or related to policy.

News divisions used to be “off book” line items on a network balance sheet. They were not expected to make a profit. They were considered a public service. Now, they are expected to be their own profit center and generate revenue for the network. News anchors are hired more for their looks than for their journalism prowess. News outlets do not like to admit it, but the primary goal now is income generation. He probably regrets saying it now, but Les Moonves, executive chair and CEO of CBS, made the following comments about the presidential campaign during a recent speech:

Most of the ads are not about issues. They’re sort of like the debates … It [the presidential race] may not be good for America, but it’s d**n good for CBS. … Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now? … The money’s rolling in and this is fun. … Bring it on, Donald. Keep going. …

Bias Coverage

It will come as no surprise to anyone, but the media is also biased, mostly to the left. While, there are some outlets that have a definite conservative tilt, the larger majority have a definite liberal or even socialist slant.

In a study titled “A Measure of Media Bias”, by political scientist Tim Groseclose of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and Jeff Milyo of the University of Chicago, the authors found the media are skewed substantially to the left of the public.

“I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican, but I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are,” according to Groseclose.

Only Fox News’ “Special Report with Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored to the right of the average U.S. voter.

Another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom was the Drudge Report was slightly left of center.

“One thing people should keep in mind is that our data for the Drudge Report was based almost entirely on the articles that the Drudge Report lists on other Websites,” said Groseclose. “Very little was based on the stories that Matt Drudge himself wrote. The fact that the Drudge Report appears left of center is merely a reflection of the overall bias of the media.”

One does not find bias only in the media. As early as 2010, Google came under fire for skewing their search algorithms to have certain topics come up on the first page of their search results. This is prime real estate since most people do not go past the first page when looking for information. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) first looked into this in terms of shopping for items, but the problem of bias goes much deeper.

It is no secret that Google search results aren’t a font of objective and unbiased information. Now, as we enter into a prime-time political season in the U.S., the searching for candidates is heating up. So what do Google’s biased search results mean for the election and for democracy itself?

A crowdsourced analysis of Google search results on Dec. 1, 2010 for the names of 16 presidential candidates revealed Democrats fared better than Republicans did when it came to supportive and positive sites within the first page of results. Democrats had, on average, seven favorable search results in those top 10, whereas GOP candidates had only 5.9.

First page of Google search results by party

(Image: Slate)

Notice the trends in the above graphic according to party. Democrats start higher than Republicans and have consistently higher rankings overall. For a largely uninformed electorate, these kinds of results can affect the outcome of a primary or even an election.

The Need for Discernment

Now, more than ever, there is a need for discernment. All the signs are pointing to political, cultural, and economic events coming to a head in the coming four to eight years. When it comes down to it, Americans know very little about the people running for the high office in the United States, or do not seem to care. Those who will be voting in that election need to pray about the upcoming election, and to make an informed decision on which candidate to cast their vote.

Go beyond television reports, the newspapers, or Facebook posts. Read alternative media, even those media reports you do not agree with. Do not fall victim to confirmation bias. Sit back, reflect and analyze.

Above all, pray. Pray for wisdom in this regard and remember the source of all wisdom:

It is because of God that you are in union with the Messiah Jesus, who for us has become wisdom from God, as well as our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

1 Corinthians 1:30 (ISV)

Further Reading

– FROM:- KHouse.Org

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