Beyond CNN, Thought Lives

books inside tv5:00 am, Chicago O’Hare Airport, en route to New York’s LaGuardia.

CNN Headline News blares from the corner of every waiting area.

Homeland Security will be simplifying the threat-level alert system. With only two levels – high threat and higher threat – you will feel more secure.

Gas prices are rising.

Apple Computer keeps records of the location of your I-phone, and thus of your location, and you might resent this invasion of privacy.

Jobs in the technology sector are up! For the first time in a while, the job seeker holds the advantage over the employer.

The quality of U.S. Education is not declining. In fact a new study by the Brookings Institute confirms our educational system has always been terrible.


Today’s early morning CNN presents “A message from your government.”

Terrorists are out there, but we are watching your back.

We have to go to war to keep your gas prices down.

We only make the invasive privacy laws; blame Apple for following them.

Don’t worry about unemployment; a few of you will find jobs.

The decline in education is not our fault.

You are as smart as you ever were.

Yes, you are smart.

I wander into Hudson News. Just to browse the magazines; just to see if I can find something educated, intelligent, and independent.

I see a Newsweek cover:


The words are set atop a black and white picture that looks like debris on the ocean floor.

Could this be a scientific article about the earth’s atmosphere? Could it be related to a recent article in National Geographic about shellfish growth stunted in poisoned oceans?

I reach for the magazine and my bleary eyes focus.

The cover really says:


I have a very hard time grasping that this two thousand year old question could be news.

Nonetheless, I open the article. It’s an extended ad for a new book by Pastor Rob Bell.

Bell argues that Jesus and his contemporaries might have meant for “heaven” and “hell” to be metaphors. (Well, DUH.)

Not true, says the reading public. Early Christians would not have tolerated such nonsense. Pastor Bell is making up something new.

My heart sinks. History erased, in the name of truth. Absolute truth, tolerating no ambiguity.

3:00 pm, I am riding the New York City subway.

Karen Armstrong’s book The Bible: A Biography sits open on my lap.

Armstrong says: Before the age of biblical literalism, generations of Bible readers found ecstasy in Biblical ambiguity.

In her own words: “Things that seemed separate and even opposed coincide and reveal an unexpected unity…[leading to] intuitions of divine oneness.”

Thank you Karen, for bringing history to life.

5:00 pm, Bryant Park, a giant courtyard behind the New York Public Library, a world-class research library.

People of all nationalities sit on simple outdoor folding chairs, talking and reading. Some browse the shelves of a mobile borrowing library.

Young men sit together at chess tables, playing an intensely focused game.

Four young teens around a cafe table write in their journals, occasionally sharing and commenting.

A small child sneaks into the off-limits flowerbed to chase some pigeons. Everyone sees, but no one admonishes him.

I sit on a flimsy green folding chair, following the afternoon sun around the park, intuitions of divine oneness following me.

I’m one of hundreds of people enjoying the natural beauty of literate thinking.

Thank you, New York City, my home town.

9:00 pm, My mother’s dining room table.

“Why,” I ask, “is it good for thinking and questioning to be part of religion?”

My brother: So you don’t blindly follow religion without some individual and independent application to you.

My daughter: So you don’t believe things without taking the time to ask, ‘Does it make sense for me to believe this?’

My mother: Because the only honest position is agnosticism. How could you really know for sure about God?

My daughter: So you’re not completely inconsistent, like fundamentalists who believe that God made everything exactly as it should be, except for gays, environmental activists and Jews, who should be different.

My mother: Like when people say, ‘a good thing happened for me, so God is good.’ What about all the terrible things that happen?

My daughter: Children should be taught that they are allowed to question, and to ask, ‘Is that really true?’ Teachers could answer, ‘Most people think so; what do you think?’ or ‘It sounds like you don’t think so. Why not?’

I sit on a decaying blue-cushioned dining room chair, following the discussion around the table, intuitions of divine oneness following me.

Family members whose religious views seem separate and even opposed – one secular, one agnostic, one searching — coincide and reveal an unexpected unity.

12:00 am. At the book-lined desk in my childhood bedroom, scanning the spines of my favorite young adult books.

George Orwell’s book 1984 suggests that wealthy owners of the means of production control the life of the mind.

But there is life beyond CNN and Newsweek: life in the park, at the library, around the dinner table, and hidden between the lines of the Bible.

I pray that people remember.

Image: This post was originally published 6 years ago today!

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