Last evening, I watched a few segments of Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word on MSNBC. I don't recall having watched O'Donnell before but I chanced upon his interview with Michael Moore and stayed. Moore was in the midst of giving President Obama full praise for the elimination of Osama bin Laden and noting that Americans were now seeing the "difference between having smart in office and stupid in office." O'Donnell's next guest was Frank Bailey who talked about his recent book, Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Memoir of our Tumultuous Years. In most tearful tones, Bailey confessed his role as a Palin staffer making some phone calls in the Troopergate scandal and his disbelief that Palin might publicly contradict what he had privately told her. The final segment dealt with Mr. O'Donnell painfully parsing a two-sentence clip from his competitor Bill O'Reilly in which Mr. O'Reilly technically acknowledges to agreeing with socialism. Debate done—we all agree with socialism. Conveniently the time was up so the show was over. Mr. O'Donnell's views are clearly quite different than mine. I don't doubt that on another channel a different TV host was broadcasting similarly silly one-sided interviews from an opposite perspective. I don't begrudge their right to do so. It was my choice to watch and I could have flipped the channel or hit the off button. Evidently, there are enough who don't to keep programs like this on the air. My thoughts segued back to last weekend and the mistaken claims of Harold Camping. I thought of the tragic circumstances of some of his followers. What was their mistake? Do the ingredients not include uncritically listening to a one-sided interpretation
of a controversial question, getting caught up with sycophantic followers and celebrity leadership, and becoming emboldened by the profile and sense of importance that a megaphone can provide? While the subject was politics rather than religion, how different were last night's television offerings? My point is not that we are all at risk of selling our positions in pursuit of empty thinking. Neither should we avoid holding any controversial views on issues that seem important. By all means, believe what you will with passion and conviction. I have a few of my own truth claims that some might consider controversial but I am ready to defend. 3+4=7, but could also be 5. (Think vectors and the Pythagorean Theorem). I have a responsibility to help my neighbours in need. Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be. Society would be better off if institutions other than government (such as family, faith institutions, business organizations, labour groups) would play a more vibrant and public-minded role. If that list doesn't do it for you, I can provide more. Each of these claims needs a defence since there are many whose first impulse is to disagree. Caring about my neighbour means anticipating and addressing their questions. I realize that my answers will not always satisfy and there are places where we will agree to disagree. On issues that matter, I should even point out to those who disagree (whether they appreciate it or not) why the consequences of holding one position are preferable to holding a different one. But that very process of engagement is one which challenges me to deal with both sides of a question. When we fail to do that, we are prone to make fools of ourselves and head down mistaken paths. The Bible commends the Bereans as noble people who tested what Paul said to see if it were true. Maybe a bit more of that Berean spirit might contribute to clearer thinking. It would also contribute to a bit more civility on the controversial questions of our day. It might even improve the TV offerings one watches in a hotel room.