I grew up in a household where newspapers were read, we always took a national daily, a local daily, two local weeklies and the Methodist Recorder. Newspapers were an important part of our lives. How times have changed. Last week I cancelled my subscription to the Methodist Recorder and therefore, for the first time, have no physical newspaper to read. I do however still read lots of newspapers on line.
If I’m feeling left wing and urban I’ll read The Guardian, if I’m feeling right wing and rural I’ll click on The Telegraph, if I want to read something balanced and objective I log in to The Times. That last phrase is supposed to be tongue in cheek because there is no such thing as a newspaper that is balanced and objective, every newspaper has an editorial slant, even The Independent. What the Independent is supposed to be independent of is a mystery, but it’s certainly not politically neutral.
Reading papers on line requires discipline. Most articles allow comment. A particularly provocative article may spawn hundreds of comments, especially in The Guardian. If you’re not careful you can spend 5 minutes reading the article and half an hour wading through the comments, growing either steadily more angry or more confirmed in your prejudice.
Amongst the newspaper article commenting community are many people with deeply entrenched and forcefully expressed opinions. Pity the poor journalist who writes a slightly right of centre piece for The Guardian or the columnist in The Times who dares to comment favourably on Ed Milliband’s latest policy initiative. Sadly what one comes across far too often in the comments columns are closed minds unable, ironically, to enter into any kind of meaningful dialogue.
A closed mind is a distinctly sad failing in a human being. A closed mind also leads to a closed heart. It is too easy for the individual with the closed mind whose understanding is that all those who use a Foodbank are feckless scroungers to then close his heart to the tens of thousands of genuine cases of hardship. When exposed to the generosity and kindness of open hearts and minds these families can find hope and healing and restoration. But faced with closed hearts and minds they become entrenched and embittered.
In the days leading up to Easter, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out on his slightly tenuous Christian faith. It was like a red rag to a bull to the ‘secular commentariat’ that exists in the on line newspaper community. Not only was Cameron roundly condemned but we Christians, as well as all people of faith, were mocked and derided. Once again - closed minds, leading to closed hearts.
But it is all too easy for we who would claim to be people of faith to fall into the same trap. After all the people most criticised by Jesus for their lack of understanding and empathy and their rigorous adherence to strict rules were the religious establishment of his day.
Don’t fall into the same trap, take a risk, be open minded and open hearted, even at the expense of having to swallow a few of your own prejudices and opinions.