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Is Reading the News a Sin?

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Newspapers keep not a few back from perfection

-Fr. Frederick Faber, D.D.

I have never heard even one remotely persuasive argument why Catholics should read or watch the news.  To the contrary, to fulfill their duty as responsible citizens who contribute to the common good, most Catholics should probably stop doing so.  Indeed, in many cases, watching the news is a sin. 

An honest assessment of why people read the news reveals less than virtuous motives.  For most, reading the news is indistinguishable from gossiping, feeding morbid curiosity, or indulging envy or schadenfreude.  As G.K. Chesterton noted over a century ago, “All that anybody ever meant as the evil of gossip is much more characteristic of established journalism.”  We read to catch the latest twist in the illicit or turbulent romance of some prince, starlet, or athlete—an affair that is none of our business.  We monitor a body count in war or a police chase, which produces a vicarious thrill or perverse pleasure but no virtuous action.  Or we comb the news for the latest stumble, gaffe, or crime of our ideological enemies—again to no good end. 

For most, taking in the news is little more than wallowing in others’ faults.  As St. Thomas Aquinas concluded, this vice of curiosity is sinful: “[T]o observe our neighbor’s faults with the intention of looking down upon them, or of detracting them, or even with no further purpose than that of disturbing them, is sinful” (Summa Theologica II-II. q. 167 ad. 3).

As Christians, our first priority lies in removing the log from our own eyes, not announcing the speck in our neighbor’s  (Mt. 7:3-5).  When St. Anthony of the Desert questioned the Lord why some die young, why the wicked prosper, and why the just suffer, the Lord replied, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.”  The same applies to most news watchers.

Watching the parade of horribles march through your television or monitor also gives rise to frustration, indignation, anger, and helplessness, if not despair, about the state of the world.  Such futile feelings are an impediment to our interior peace and, therefore, an obstacle to our relationship with God.  As St. John of the Cross commands, “Strive to preserve your heart in peace; let no event of this world disturb it” (The Sayings of Light and Love, 154).  Or as Fr. Frederick Faber notes, commenting on the forces opposing a healthy recollection, “We should also watch jealously any eagerness to hear news, and to know what is going in the great world around us.”

These reasons are no doubt why neither Christ himself, nor any saint of which I am aware, has ever argued that Christians are obliged to follow current events. 

But doesn’t a functioning democracy require an “educated citizenry,” as Thomas Jefferson purportedly claimed, and doesn’t this mean we citizens should educate ourselves through the news? 

Whether or not the first proposition is true, the conclusion does not follow, at least for Americans.  The move from one to the other rests on several assumptions, none of which are true.

In order to make educated political decisions, you need to stay on top of current events.  False.  Americans do not live in a direct democracy.  We elect representatives and, short of the rare referendum, do not vote on legislation.  There are few “democratic” decisions for American citizens—voting and perhaps political campaigning for or against some candidate or issue.  A concentrated study of well-researched, documented, and objective sources before making a decision—not the daily intake of semi-true sound bites—is more than enough to inform those decisions. 

And for the very few political decisions Catholics face, is there really a need to dive deep?  Do I need to follow the daily news to know that President Biden is aggressively pro-abortion?  That the President mandated healthy young employees be forced to take unnecessary experimental drugs?  On the state or local level, isn’t a simple perusal of an incumbent’s voting record or a challenger’s literature, perhaps supplemented by first-hand knowledge of the candidate, sufficient to cast an informed ballot?   

In order to stay on top of current events, you need to watch the daily news.  Again, false.  Whether we want to hear it or not, the news—in half-true, oversimplified bursts—will come to us.  Co-workers, neighbors, family members, or friends will inflict the news upon us.  The Amish know that Travis Kelce is dating Taylor Swift and that Russia is at war with Ukraine. 

The media is a trustworthy source who select and report on their subjects based on objective criteria.  Risibly false.  Over 95% of journalists identify as Democrats, and their political affiliation naturally drives the topics they advance, the topics they ignore, and the way the advanced topics are treated.  These facts are so well documented they are not worth expounding. 

Nor is even non-ideological journalism generally reliable.  As an attorney, I have worked on many cases that have “made the news.”  In that capacity, I have had access to confidential, internal documents of companies I have defended or sued.  The news coverage of these matters has always been misleading, either through omission, simplification, confusion, or simply getting the facts wrong.

Without the daily news outlets, there would be no watchdog to monitor the government for abuses.  Again, risibly false.  Twenty-four-hour news coverage has co-existed with, and likely facilitated, rampant government expansion and its accompanying corruption.  And is the government less corrupt now than before the advent of round-the-clock news?

As the Covid-19 pandemic confirmed, the media is more a vehicle for a progressive narrative, wielded against “the enemies of the people,” than an adversary of government.  From the Russian collusion hoax to “Don’t Say Gay” to the Hunter Biden laptop cover-up, the mission of the mainstream media has been to carry water or provide cover for Democratic politicians.


In short, Catholics and all citizens of good will would be better served by tuning out the phantoms haunting their televisions and computers, and serving the real people in their families, neighborhoods, and local churches.  The country is morally and spiritually collapsing while everyone watches the news.  Connect the dots.

Albert Camus famously quipped that “[a] single sentence will suffice for modern man.  He fornicated and read the papers.”  The two are of a piece.  Unserious, the fornicator lives on the surface—refusing to commit to the people from whom he extracts cheap and fleeting pleasures.  Those who “read the papers” do the same.

Photo by Filip Mishevski on Unsplash

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