A word about this blog

Daily News and Prayer is inspired by The Christian Science Monitor, one of the most important (and most underappreciated) newspapers in the world. Posts are usually (but not always) responses to articles in the Monitor about events and trends that call for prayer.

The blog's aim is to help strengthen humanity's collective confidence that we can triumph over even the most deeply entrenched evils, in ourselves and in the world.

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Has the news become a substitute for religion?

An occasional commentary on Alain de Botton’s thought-provoking book, The News: A User’s Manual, about the role of news in modern society.

De Botton is a Swiss writer and philosopher – a philosopher of daily life, as some have called him. He is dedicated to taking a fresh look at things that we take for granted, and in 2014 he turned his eye on the news.

De Botton believes that in the developed countries the news has, in many respects, taken the place of religion. Whereas in times past religion shaped every walk of life, today the news, as de Botton puts it, “is the single most significant force setting the tone of public life and shaping our impressions of the community beyond our own walls.” And that’s a problem, because news outlets generally have little interest in shepherding their flocks of readers and viewers toward a higher sense of morality or a more thoughtful, more compassionate view of life. Instead, they play off humanity’s capacity for dread of what might happen or has happened or will happen, along with its panicked refusal to examine its own inner life.

Those who read this blog know my admiration for The Christian Science Monitor. Like other news outlets, it communicates the news as accurately and completely as it can. But it doesn’t stop there. Instead of painting a view of the world as curiously flawed or hopelessly corrupt and leaving it there, it brings a practical sense of religion into the equation. The Monitor expects its readers to pray about what they read and to do it with hope and as much understanding as they can muster. If readers don’t want to pray, they still get the news, but they’re missing the larger point of the Monitor. De Botton would probably dismiss the role of prayer as so much fantasy (he is an avowed atheist), but it’s actually the answer to the problem he raises.

No other newspaper encourages its readers to pray in response to what they read, pray deeply and sincerely and precisely. Monitor readers, or the ones it’s really meant for, don’t just read the news to get informed or to marvel or gag at human behavior. They read the news to exercise their spiritual sense, through compassionate prayer for humanity, in a way that is intended to contribute to healing.

The temptation to turn to news as a substitute for religion has always been there, in the same way the temptation to turn to matter as God has always been there. It’s just a whole lot easier than wrestling with the deep questions of life and facing up to our own failings. Which is a big reason the founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, started the paper. She wanted to turn that temptation on its head and make the news a route to God – or, more accurately, to demonstrating His power for good. She gave the paper the objective, “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”

Read the Monitor as much as you want. If you are a religious person it will make you a better one. And if you aren’t, it will still make you a better person.

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