When I ‘reverted’ to my baptismal Catholic Faith almost a decade ago I underwent a simultaneous political conversion. Before I came back to the Sacraments (well, really to the Sacraments for the first time as I was raised only nominally Catholic) I would have considered myself a Liberal or a centrist. As much as I despise my former political beliefs, I will give myself at least enough credit to admit that I was not a Leftist, but really a Classic Liberal.
I was raised in a Canadian culture that – until the rise of Comrade Trudeau – was very much conducive to a type of moderation typical of Commonwealth nations. In Canada, the “culture war” did not really exist before Trudeau, and it still doesn’t exist today in any way similar to the American political scene.
For example, tackling the abortion question was not – and still isn’t really – an issue that politicians spend much time on. Something of a Victorian Era hangover still exists in Canada, and the prevailing temperament that underlines political and social questions is one of “we ought to stay out of each other’s business.” Nasty and repulsive topics such as abortion, sexuality, and so on, are not things I grew up hearing about, and people generally did not speak about them in mixed company. In fact, the laws (or lack of laws) surrounding abortion in Canada reflect how unwilling Canadians are to speak about them. Technically speaking, abortion is only legal in Canada in that it is not illegal, as it is not regulated at all. The ban on abortion was struck down in 1988, and no regulatory laws have been created. As far as the government of Canada is concerned, abortion is a medical procedure, and it is available at the discretion of doctors, which is to say it is available all the time at any time during a pregnancy.
Enter T & T
At any rate, around the time of my conversion, two political figures arose that would tear asunder the formerly polite – even if naïve – Canadian political conversation. In 2015, after I returned from a pilgrimage to visit Our Lady of Guadalupe, Justin Trudeau burst onto the political scene as the leader of the Liberal Party and defeated Conservative Stephen Harper, who had been prime minister for a decade.
Trudeau’s campaign was as shocking to Canadians as it was effective, and it was probably the first time in history that a politician resorted to the nasty and gossipy tactics so common to the American Democrats. Trudeau’s team whipped up centrist and left-wing Canadians into a frenzy of rage against the machine, labelling Prime Minister Harper as an enemy of progress and science who had to be defeated lest the world descends into a new “dark ages.” The messaging was of course not based in reality, as Harper – although personally a Christian conservative – was as “right-wing” as Paul Ryan. (In fairness to the Liberal Party, Harper did commit the heinous crime of bringing Canada through the Recession with a balanced budget and made Canadians wealthier than they had been in decades – all of this made dependence on government less necessary, which the Liberals could not let stand.)
Shortly after Trudeau’s victory, Donald Trump rose in meteoric fashion to the pinnacle of the world’s political stage.
These two black holes of political energy arose just as I had gone from a Liberal to a committed Christian Conservative. Seemingly overnight I went from being relatively apathetic about social and moral questions to intensely pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, etc. At the same time, I realized I had so much to learn about the Faith.
I read somewhere in one of CS Lewis’ works – I cannot remember where – a bit of wisdom that I found very helpful. He talked about how futile it was to always be keeping up with the news cycle, given that the same sort of political theatre plays over and over, but at the root of the issue are the same fundamental religious and philosophical questions. At this time in my life, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I was a neophyte in my religion who had undergone an intensely political and religious conversion, and I decided it was a waste of time to concern myself with political questions when I still didn’t understand the more fundamental religious and philosophical ones. So, I essentially swore off the news and devoured Christian literature as much as I could. In addition, it was at this time that I discovered GK Chesterton, which made this roughly 12-month period one of the happiest times of my life.
From the summer of 2015 to the summer of 2016, I rarely read any news, and concerned myself only with spiritual, literary, and philosophical material, and in many ways I had not a care in the world. Also in 2015 and 2016, my wife and I welcomed our first two children into the world, born twelve months apart. (An openness to life also followed my conversion.)
But when the school year began in 2016, I realized that my students and colleagues were obsessed with Donald Trump. (I was at this time a teacher at a “Catholic” school.) Cries of “racism,” “bigotry” and “Nazism” became like fits of Tourette syndrome. Donald Trump was the Antichrist, and Hitler had been reincarnated. Needless to say, I could not ignore the political conversation anymore, because it was shoved down my throat at staff meetings, in the lunchroom, and pretty much everywhere else. So I decided to look into the Donald, and found that I liked him very much, and that he was saying things in support of pro-life causes and in support of Christians.
Being a bit naïve – an understatement! – I thought my supposedly Catholic colleagues would be delighted to hear that Trump was not a racist and that he was pro-life, so I told them. Well… that didn’t turn out well. I was called a “bigot” and an “Islamophobe” for saying that Trump’s so-called Muslim Ban wasn’t really a ban on Muslims entering the US, but merely a travel ban on a few countries that were hotbeds for terrorist activity during a time of civil conflicts.
The heat kept coming, and I wouldn’t back down. As a result, I was radicalized and entrenched in my political positions and would defend them whenever the opportunity arose. I do not regret doing what I did, as my colleagues were veritably insane, but it did come with a cost, both in my personal life and professional life.
After things cooled off a bit, I went back to not reading the news, and I was happy I did. However, in 2020, another existential threat came – COVID. Funnily, I was doing an extended internet fast at the time and did not even know what COVID was when the school board sent an email telling us we would be staying home for “two weeks” after March Break. The first article I read on the issue was one by Chris Ferrara where he roundly debunked the hysteria with his typical wit, logic and humour, and I was convinced that everyone was losing their minds for no reason, just like they did with Donald Trump. Not to brag, but I was right.
In any event, I was pulled back into the news cycle. In the words of Don Corleone: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
The COVID hysteria was like the Trump hysteria but on steroids. No, it was like the Trump hysteria but on acid, cocaine, and steroids. People were not only motivated and committed to the narrative, but they became psychotic and broke away from objective reality. As a result, I had to leave my profession as a Catholic school teacher, as I didn’t want to become a Communist nut job or fight them for the rest of my professional life.
Throughout those halcyon two years to slow the spread, I saw first-hand what an addiction to the news cycle could do to a person. The majority of Canadians really did lose their souls in a sense and became completely demoralized automatons. I saw family members radically change from March 2020-November 2020. When vaccine passports were introduced in September 2021, the visible change was even more stark. Like lemmings willing to walk off a cliff, TV-watchers and mainstream news junkies started sounding more and more like the real Hitler. It was surreal.
The damage to the soul, however, was not only on the Left. Right-wingers were generally speaking more correct on COVID and the vaccine, but we also fell prey to the news cycle. After I left teaching, I started working as a journalist and political commentator, which is something I really enjoy if I am being honest. But, after about three years of working in that world, I saw the effect of the never-ending news cycle on my own soul.
As I said, right-wingers are generally correct about politics, which is good. But, right-wingers are still human beings with immortal souls that can be stressed and demoralized. In a sense, it doesn’t matter if you are right about what is causing the apocalypse as compared to the left-wingers who live in fantasy land: if you are constantly consuming negative information and worrying about a coming calamity or crisis, you will experience a death in your soul.
It is simply impossible for anyone – Christian or not – to be in a state of unending news consumption without being tempted to go off the proverbial deep end. We simply aren’t made for this modern info war.
Assessing the Damage
We live in an ugly post-modern industrial age, where we are surrounded by the moral decay of a declining civilization. This is obvious to all of us. But we still check our news feeds and timelines for more evidence of the collapse around the world, as if our own experience isn’t enough. Do we really gain anything by obsessing over supply chains, Davos meetings, and how much crack Hunter Biden smokes? I understand there are real issues to consider, and that our different states in life require different levels of involvement, but there has to be a cap on how much news we immerse ourselves in, or we will lose our wits.
I am not advocating for a pietistic quietism or a holier-than-thou approach to world affairs – “Look at me, I am so holy I don’t care about stupid politics” – but I am suggesting that virtually every grown man in the world reads the news more than he should.
There is only so much “space” in your mind for information on a given day, and if it is filled with emotionally negative factoids, you are fooling yourself if you don’t think it will cause a type of death in your soul.
I am a bit of a boxing fan and still enjoy the training, and any boxer will tell you that overestimating an opponent can be as deadly as underestimating an opponent. If you overestimate an opponent, you will be tense and timid in the ring and make bad decisions, whereas if you are nonchalant, you will have your bell rung and it will attack your confidence.
Something similar happens to us when we consume the news. If we are being honest, we read the news that we do and come away with the opinion that “they” are the enemy and are dangerous. Again, this is usually true, but overconsumption leads to an overestimation, which causes stress and anxiety that causes us to lose our stamina and wits.
Has Klaus Schwab kicked down your door and made you eat bugs yet?
The classic example is Alex Jones. He is admittedly hilarious at times, especially when he screams about gay frogs. But he has by his own admission suffered from psychotic breakdowns as a result of the doom and gloom he consumes daily.
To conclude, I am not saying that you should never read the news, or that you should adopt a quietist mentality and put your head in the sand, but I am saying that the news will make you crazy if you aren’t careful, and the despair and adrenaline that it encourages could kill your soul.