Jesus made it clear that our duty is (Matthew 28.19-20) …
“… to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.“
And he concluded with that great promise in verse 20
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
But a requirement for making disciples (literally, “learners”) is not just to know the content and the basics of the Christian faith and the Christian world view. This embraces the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption through the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the End (with his return). Knowing and teaching that, of course, is absolutely necessary. But how you teach has to take account of the context in which you teach. And the context for us is a Western world influenced by a modern secular “intelligentsia”, also defined as the “new class”. Let me explain.
The “New Class”
The sociology of knowledge is very important. It simply draws attention to a common sense observation, namely that your social environment profoundly conditions your beliefs, or rather your “background” beliefs – things you often “take for granted”. In all societies there are “plausibility” structures that mean people are conditioned to believe, almost automatically, that certain things are true or false and certain things are right or wrong. Today this social conditioning is effected not least by education and the media. It is then argued that those in the education establishment and the media have become, and then promote, a “new class”.
The concept of a “new class” goes back to the days of the communist Soviet empire and revisionists like Djilas (of old Yugoslavia). Djilas saw a controlling political class emerging in his Soviet world that was working for an expansion of political control. While being justified as a benefit for the working class, in reality it generated more tyranny and hardship; and as we now know, self-imploded in 1989.
The concept of the “new class” was then taken over for understanding of what was happening in capitalist societies as well. Here the thesis was that in all advanced capitalist societies the middle class has split. On the one hand there is the “old” middle class – producing goods and services and made up of business people and the older professions. On the other hand there is now a “new” middle class – producing “knowledge” (so called) through education and the media (especially the electronic media) as well as through the administration and delivery of social and therapeutic services. And the new class has vested interests in centralism. This is because centralized funding (through taxation and, most importantly for the BBC, through an enforced licence fee) is essential to its support and functioning. The result is its huge influence. For as a tax-supported “knowledge class” it directs and controls communal information.
Centralized power, however, is always dangerous unless there are many checks and balances. “Democracy” is supposed to provide this. But the larger the centre, as was found in the Soviet Union, the more difficult it is for any outside the centre, whether elected or not, to exercise control. The brilliant BBC TV comedy series, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were a witness to this fact (insiders said the episodes were all so true to life). For the Christian, the sad reality is that the new class is in a linear succession from the secular humananistic Continental Enlightenment tradition (the French and German tradition), and not the British and American Enlightenment tradition (in which the Christian Evangelical tradition played a major part). Opinion polls reveal, for example, that journalists’ values are far less sympathetic to orthodox Christian faith and ethics than those of the rest of the population. The result, as Thomas Sowell, the philosopher, puts it, is that there is now an “optional reality in the Media and Academia”. He says, “many among the intelligentsia create their own reality – whether deliberately or not – by filtering out information contrary to their conception of how the world is or ought to be. Some have gone further. J.A.Schumpter said that the first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie. It is not necessary to lie, however, in order to deceive, when filtering will accomplish the same purpose. This can take the form of reporting selective and atypical samples, suppressing some facts altogether, or filtering out the inconvenient meanings or connotations of words.”
So what is the evidence for this? This has been happening in TV for years. Martin Carr, a famous documentary producer, confessed that the producer’s first step was to “arrive at a point of view”. Balance had to be maintained but maintained carefully; otherwise you upset the “emotional impact” of the programme. He explained how you might interview someone as an opponent to your position. But if his personality would charm the viewers, you have to go for someone else who would alienate. Referring to a specific programme, Carr reports, “One could only feel a particular way at the end of the film … the way I felt about it!” Then there is “the Pinsky Principle”, named after an American journalist, Walter Pinsky. He described his approach like this: “If my research and journalistic instincts tell me one thing, my political instincts another … I won’t fugde it, I won’t bend it, but I won’t write it.”
Carr and Pinsky were from the formative generation of modern TV and journalism in the 1970s. But it is still the same over controversial issues like stem cell research (where the BBC regularly says that there is Christian opposition to “stem cell” research, when it is only “embryonic stem cell” research that is consistently opposed). Then there are homosexual issues and issues surrounding drug use. Given the present Government’s proposals regarding homosexual marriage, this is significant. Bernard Goldberg in his recent book, “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News” reports that “during the period studied, 6 percent of the people with AIDS shown on the evening news were gay men. But in real life 58 percent were gay men … [then] on TV 2 percent of the AIDS sufferers were IV drug users. In real life 23 percent were.” William McGowan, Colouring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism discovered that there were more than 3000 media stories about a gay man in Wyoming who was beaten unconsious by thugs and left to die, but fewer than 50 media stories about a teenage boy who was captured and repeatedly raped for hours by two homosexual men, who likewise left him to die. McGowan’s search indicated that the second story was not mentioned at all in the New York Times which, on the last Saturday of September 2011 was described on the BBC as being, along with the BBC, the most significant source for news in the world!
Perhaps the most wicked filtering ever was before the Second World War and the non-reporting of the Soviet Union’s governement-created famine in the Ukraine and the North Caucasus that killed millions of people in the 1930s. Malcolm Muggeridge called this “one of the most monstrous crimes in history.” Thomas Sowell who cites this says: “New York Times Moscow correspondent Walter Duranty wrote, ‘There is no famine or actual starvation, nor is there likely to be’. He received a Pulitzer Prize … for his reports, ‘marked by scholarship, profundity, impartiality, sound judgment and exceptional clarity.’ Meanwhile, British writer Malcolm Muggeridge reported from the Ukraine that peasants there were in fact starving: ‘I mean starving in its absolute sense; not undernourished as, for instance, most Oriental peasants … and some unemployed workers in Europe, but having had for weeks next to nothing to eat.’”
When in the last days of the Soviet Union archives were finally opened under Mikhail Gorbachev an estimate of six million or more having died in the famine was confirmed. But in Britian at the time Muggeridge was vilified by the left-wing establishment led by Beatrice and Sidney Webb and so was unable to get work as a writer.
The Christian response
Paul wrote: “though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10.3-5). As Christians, therefore, we must be concerned for the truth, which is often being publicly denied. For the truth is essential to true freedom. “Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8.31-32). So for the Christian the fight against any opposition, therefore, is never to be with violence but with ideas and with the truth. That involves exposing media and educational deceptions when we can. So we have to use our minds. Paul says: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12.2).
But it essential that we understand that so many people today have been deceived in terms of anti-Christian ideas and morals. At the end of the day it is the Holy Spirit alone who will bring true conviction regarding “sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16.8). So we must pray for him to be working to open closed minds. But then our witness to Jesus is needed. So Peter could say to his Jewish opponents: “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5.32).