Friday, May 2, 2014

Cliven Bundy and Cute Cat Videos

     When I was in college (and one of my undergraduate schools was a Christian college), I had a fellow student come up to me one day and ask the (rhetorical, to him) question: "What's the last word of the book of Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament)?"  "Cursed," he answered, when I shrugged.  "And, what's the first word of Jesus' "Beatitudes" (Matthew 5:3)?"  "Blessed", I answered, pleased that I knew that!  "Right!" he said.  My friend was trying to emphasize the superiority (in his mind) of the New (Christian) Testament to the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures).  But . . . "What an absurd set of questions, a bogus kind of reasoning!" I told him.  "Using that logic, you can say/prove almost anything!" I said.  He looked a bit stunned, and then, a bit reluctantly, agreed.
      That encounter comes back to me with unfortunate frequency when I read the news, listen to preachers, watch sporting events (how many goal-line signs reading "John 3:16" have you seen?), or, given our current social media culture, scan my Facebook feed.  I know that, with great regularity, many of my Facebook "friends" will "share" something that came into their feed that extracts a sound-bite from a longer story.  The implication is that I should feel the same sense of outrage, or self-righteousness, that motivated them to "share" the post.  (My experience with Facebook--and my "friends"--has been sufficient that I've learned to screen such posts through the lens of suspicion.)
      So, it was with great surprise this last week that I ran across a shared post, from someone whose opinion I generally respect, asserting that Nevada Republican Cliven Bundy's (reportedly) racist remarks were taken out of context.  My "friend" was not supporting Mr. Bundy, but simply pointing out that what the media has been reporting might not be whole story.  Really????  The media has an "angle"?
      One of the realities of our new media culture is that EVERY outlet has "an angle".  And each of us can choose the outlets that we like -- usually those that align with our views.  Advertisers know this, the media moguls know this, politicians know this.  I suppose even WE know this.  But we continue to subscribe to some kind of fantasy that THE correct view of the world is mediated by the media we choose.  Just like my college friend (and he became a good friend!) who selectively chose Bible verses to make a very strange (and, certainly, contestable) point.
       Context IS everything, I believe.  That is NOT to assert that everything might be excusable 
because of context.  It is simply a recognition that, without learning and knowing the context of an event or quotation, we are subject to someone else's (self-motivated) interpretation.  Whether we choose to let others guide us in that way--for better or worse--is up to us. It does take a bit of effort, I know, to do the research . . . but, I think, it's worth it.
       So, when reading Facebook, I've taken to having another tab of my browser devoted to cute cat videos.  Why?  There's so little context demanded to understand them . . . except that they also serve as a reminder that the videographer CREATED the video.  I have had cats for decades; they don't try to be cute.

Chaplain Gary

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