Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Religion and a Nation's Destiny

When you're driving, do you wear a seatbelt, or do you leave it off and trust that God will save you if there's an accident? Over the past eight years, I've seen the most powerful nation in the world flying by the seat of its pants, trusting that God (or the free market) will intervene to make things work out.

God works in subtle ways. Thus far, with Iraq, the energy crisis, global warming, I don't see God swooping in to make everything work out. After all, He's got a whole universe to look after. It's a bit presumptuous to expect Him to do a lot of hand-holding, particularly for a nation at the peak of its powers. "In God We Trust" doesn't mean you win the game by throwing one Hail Mary after another. If God has given us enough brain power to predict the consequences of invading a country or continuing to burn fossil fuels, does He want us to ignore what we've learned in favor of a blind faith that everything will work out?

Does this happen to all great civilizations, that at their peak their people contract a virulent sense of powerlessness and fatalism, and reject their God-given abilities to understand the world's workings? Where do we put our faith? In God, in market forces, in government, in science and technology, in ourselves? How about in a combination of all the above?

Friday, April 04, 2008

News Media and Our Discontent

Today's headline in the NY Times, "81% in Poll Say Nation Is on the Wrong Track," provides as good an excuse as any to begin a long-delayed project. According to the poll, "Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s."

It's fair to conclude that this nation, the strongest in the world, remains profoundly vulnerable to poor leadership. Is the system self-correcting? Will enough capable and effective leaders come forward and be voted into office to change people's negative view of government and the country's course?

It was back in the early 90s that I concluded that the news media, upon which we as voters depend for information on current and potential leaders, was both tragically flawed and unlikely to ever change. Newt Gingrich was leading an ascendant conservative movement to take control of Congress. He and other Republican leaders mounted a devastating critique of the status quo in Washington, heavy on symbolism and often slim on content. The news media proved helpless to put the accusations in context, to point out that some alleged mountains of government waste were in fact mole hills.

Mainstream news organizations, it turned out, were not the public's watchdogs, but instead only passive conduits for the squeakiest wheels. It's no surprise that, fourteen years later, all the promises to shrink and clean up government have come to nothing.

News as we know it is preoccupied with stories. A bomb goes off in Baghdad. A candidate makes a faux pas. But hearing these breaking stories tells us no more about reality than gazing at breaking waves tells us about the ocean. The buildup, the climax and the roiling aftermath are engaging, but what determines an ocean's fate, or a nation's, is not in the eye-catching sparkle on the shifting surface. We stand gazing, clueless as the tension of a tsunami--of debt, environmental catastrophe, incompetence, or financial chaos--builds far below the breaking waves of daily newscasts. By the time it becomes news, we are helplessly awash in its consequences.

The news media is, for competitive reasons, dedicated to keeping our eyes affixed on the breaking news stories of the day. We have chosen our leaders based on these daily servings of shallow drama, and now declare ourselves more disillusioned and despairing than ever.

The waves of breaking news will always be there; I am as entertained by their drama as anyone. What I propose is needed, and will outline in subsequent posts, is a complementary and parallel news service, that will help people journey beneath the waves, to the deeper realities of government, environment and nation, where we can become less vulnerable to the daily shift and sway, less disillusioned by the consistent negativity of the news stream, more able to appreciate good leaders if and when they come along, and more able to discern a plausible path out of current discontent.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pride in Government?

Imagine, oh jaded ones, the following scenario: A government employee is being interviewed on a radio talk show, and fields a call from a listener in Arkansas who raves about the government's "amazing job." The employee says, "Well, first off, thank you for your support, because it's your tax dollars at work." "You betcha. I'm proud of ya," responds the happy taxpayer.

It's enough to warm the cockles of the heart, and it certainly warmed mine as I drove home, ambushed by good news from a radio station that more often provides painful details on the latest setbacks for humanity.

As it turned out, the program was about NASA's unmanned mission to Mercury, whose dazzling success owes to close collaboration between scientists and engineers, government and the private sector, and cost-conscious budgeting.

Most of us have a quarrel with government. It can be slow, wasteful, easily corrupted. People love to complain. But my heart is not the only one that wishes for a government that elicits more pride than disdain.