10…….I came that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.
John 10:10 – REB
32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Luke 12:32 – NRSV
We all know that listening to the news is sometimes depressing. Some years ago, I decided as an experiment to give up all news for the seven weeks of Lent. It was quite a challenge, but at the end, at Easter that year, I reflected that the experience had been overwhelmingly positive. I’d found much more time for prayer and reflection and I found to my surprise that I didn’t miss much of any importance over the period. Above all, I felt an inner peace that can sometimes be elusive in ‘normal’ times.
I’m far from being alone in finding the news at the moment hugely challenging. Last year was bad enough, as we were assured daily that Brexit was going to provoke a national catastrophe. At the same time, we had an almost completely dysfunctional parliament, intent only on fighting itself. Since December, the political sphere seems to have quietened down a bit, but in its place we have had a sequence of hair-raising reports on Climate Change, with unqualified protestors insisting that our world is on fire and dying. We’ve had fires in Australia and flooding in the UK, both offering plenty of ‘evidence’ of the end of the world for those who feel the need to believe it. A report has been published which claims that Life Expectancy in the UK has reduced and that this was caused by austerity (it’s not true; our media would appear not to understand the difference between the rate of improvement in life expectancy slowing, and life expectancy actually declining). Now, to top it all, our news media is full of reports about the Coronavirus ‘pandemic’, with calls to reduce or eliminate all community and sporting events, travel and all contact with people who are sick. I’m sorely tempted to give up all news again, but I have to accept that I must live in the world as it is (and hopefully try to do my bit to change it).
When reports are put out about these issues, they’re uniformly negative and pessimistic. It’s often been said that good news doesn’t sell newspapers, but I do find myself wondering whether it’s the news-consuming population that drives this, or the mainstream media itself, that feels the need to be catastrophic and hysterical, to gain attention for their increasingly challenged industry?
The debate about Climate Change seems to disavow human ingenuity to address the challenges that increases in CO2 levels may represent. The media companies demonise carbon, whilst at the same time ignoring that life on earth couldn’t exist without it. The fact that carbon dioxide is actually plant food is also ignored, as is the possibly beneficial fact that Nasa has observed that the world is 5% greener than 20 years ago and leaf cover has increased by 2 million square miles since the early 2000s.
Why do we never hear that in the last few decades, we’ve lived through the greatest improvements in living standards in history? Why is it not stated that 60 years ago, those living in extreme poverty represented 60% of the earth’s population, that 30 years ago that figure had been reduced to 36% and that the figure for 2018 was 8.6%? Why do we not hear that global child mortality, economic inequality, malaria, polio and heart disease rates are all declining steadily? Why do we not hear that polar bear numbers are rising and Humpback Whale numbers are now 93% of what they were before hunting took them almost to the brink of extinction?
And why, with all of our wall-to-wall coverage of Coronavirus in recent weeks, have we not been informed that only 0.0001% of the world’s population has so far (3 March 2020) been infected by Coronavirus and 0.00003% have died from it? Or that a vaccine against it was discovered on 25th February and clinical trials will be starting in the very near future?
Instead of this good news, we’ve been advised to ‘self-isolate’ if we potentially come into contact with the virus, meaning we should withdraw from all human contact for two weeks, even isolating ourselves from our loved ones. If this is the ‘cure’, I think I might prefer the disease.
This very morning, it was reported that research has shown that 73% of children who routinely watch the BBC’s ‘Newsround’ programme, experience distress and depression. What about the old adage ‘If you want to help, first do no harm’?
My GP friends tell me that doctors’ surgeries are already full of those who are suffering from anxiety and depression, even before we consider what the long-term effects may be of listening to the doom and gloom about global warming and coronavirus?
Research has often shown that Christians enjoy better mental health than the rest of the population. This is despite the fact that Lent is sometimes considered to be a rather depressing time of the year, when we’re expected to give up things we like doing.
Maybe this year, instead of giving something up for Lent, we could show the way to those without a faith, by committing ourselves to showing a bright, optimistic face to the world and to demonstrate to those with whom we come into contact, that we refuse to be scared and depressed by the constant barrage from our media?
Then we can be in good shape to meet Easter morning with the riposte:
‘Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!’
Post Script: A remarkable British Scientist, Dr Freeman Dyson, died last week aged 96. He attributed his optimistic outlook on life to old age, stating that ‘in the 1930s, no-one expected to survive.’ For more about his views, see https://youtu.be/-mmI6DorL_Y
Note: Thanks to humanprogress.org and futurecrun.ch for most of the facts quoted