Thomas Merton and Our Obsession with TV News

Of all those who could possibly comment on the place of television news cycles and the apparent demise of broadcast (among other media) journalism in recent years, Thomas Merton might strike you as an unlikely source. Yet, in an essay written toward the end of his life and published in the collection titled Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice, Merton has a very timely and relevant remark that appears worthy of reflection in light of the increasing obsession with “immediate news” in our society. Here is what he has to say:

What was on TV? I have watched TV twice in my life. I am frankly not terribly interested in TV anyway. Certainly I do not pretend that by simply refusing to keep up with the latest news I am therefore unaffected by what goes on, or free of it all. Certainly events happen and they affect me as they do other people. It is important for me to know about them too: but I refrain from trying to know them in their fresh condition as “news.” When they reach me they have become slightly stale. I eat the same tragedies as others, but in the form of tasteless crusts. The news reaches me in the long run through books and magazines, and no longer as a stimulant. Living without news is like living without cigarettes (another peculiarity of the monastic life). The need for this habitual indulgence quickly disappears. So, when you hear news without the “need” to hear it, it treats you differently. And you treat it differently too.

This reflection, particularly the last few lines, strikes me as especially striking given its foresight and applicability today, nearly fifty years later. During the season of lent, perhaps we could stand to reflect on how we use or abuse “news” and reconsider what is most important in our lives.

Photo: UCSD

One Response to “Thomas Merton and Our Obsession with TV News”

  1. The “instant access” to “news” through the internet deserves the same critique as Merton made of television. Radio or TV news and the internet are “stimulants.”
    I especially appreciate Merton’s insight that “when you hear news without the “need” to hear it, it treats you differently. And you treat it differently too.”
    Thanks for sharing this quote and your reflection.

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