Benghazi, Trump, and Checking Out

By David George Moore

Two events coalesced for me in an odd sort of way this past Monday.   First, I listened to Trump’s talk at Liberty University.  The other was an interview with the men who are featured in the just released movie, “13 Hours.”  This movie details the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Though vastly different, what struck me is a commonality between the two events.  In short, many of us Americans, including Christians, have checked out because of the daily deluge of a never-ending 24/7 news cycle.

What is one expected to do with so much information, all supposedly of equal value?   Perhaps checking out is a healthy way to cope with what Neil Postman called “Now This.”

“Now . . . this” is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is    about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see.             The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by   the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be    taken seriously. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating,             no political blunder so costly–for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or   weather report so threatening–that it cannot be erased from our minds by a   newscaster saying, “Now . . . this.” (Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. 99)

Along with the daily glut-fest of “news” most of us conclude that our ability to effect any real change is impossible, so isn’t checking out a reasonable response?

The trivial and the truly important are many times juxtaposed as if to imply a parity of sorts.  Lady Gaga’s latest antics can seamlessly follow a story about the Syrian refugee crisis.  Understandably, the “Now this” Postman spoke of numbs us towards inaction.  As Voltaire related in his insightful book, Candide, the world is far too chaotic and confused to do anything more than tend your own garden.

Justin Taylor had a clever tweet following Trump’s speech at Liberty: “Donald Trump’s theology is sort of like Moral Therapeutic Deism—just without the morality and therapy parts.”  Justin also retweeted Ross Douthat’s sardonic comment: “I’m intrigued by the religion Mr. Trump seems to have invented and I’d like to subscribe to his newsletter.”

We should be grateful for those who continue to expend considerable effort in addressing important issues.  However, for me, similar emotions came as I watched Trump and heard about the brave men’s futile efforts to rescue those trapped in the consulate.  I felt the pull of checking out as I concluded that there is nothing much that can be done in either case.   Minds are made up in both matters.   Persuading fellow Christians that endorsing Trump is shameful is no more likely than persuading others to reconsider whether the full truth is being told about Benghazi.

To end on a hopeless note would be less than Christian.  I stay sane by remembering my own sin.  It humbles me.  It reminds me that though a lack of thoughtfulness may not be my besetting sin I have others just as egregious.   I also stay sane by remembering the reality that God is coming to make all things right.  When I remember these two things, you will find me fighting back the temptation to check out.

William F. Buckley had many pithy lines which carried a lot of freight.  Among them was his desire, even when in the minority, to “stand athwart history and yell, ‘Stop!’”  Can we afford to do any less?  Checking out is overrated.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.