It has long perplexed me. How is this possible? What manner of cognitive dissonance is capable of such amazing mental gymnastics? What devilry, what witchcraft is afoot here? Here there be demons for sure, but where? It was like listening to one’s kind and sweet Grandmother talking about kittens and rainbows who suddenly shouts out an expletive. Then it finally dawned on me: this used to be me!
Not only was I a rabid 1980s Moral Majority Republican who actively campaigned for local Republican candidates, I was a 1990s consumer of right-wing talk radio. When, in the late 90s, Fox News debuted, I became a several-hours-per-day viewing addict. Other than occasional movies and sports, it was what I primarily watched in the evenings.
I lived in an echo chamber, a bubble of noisy, white, male, patriotic anger. Who was I angry with? Liberals. Feminists. Democrats. Hillary. Muslims. Obama. Immigrants. Environmentalists. Hillary. College professors. Atheists. Anyone who dared disrespect the flag or America. Hillary. Anyone I didn’t think supported law enforcement or the military. Hillary. Anyone I didn’t think supported the Second Amendment and gun rights. Did I say “Hillary”?
While this echo chamber was a combination of fundamentalist/evangelical books/ministries, conservative talk radio, and right-wing websites, the largest of these funnels was Fox News. Fox News had the biggest soap box and the loudest megaphone. And I loved it. At last, some media out there who reinforced, gave voice to, what I already believed and thought.
Fox made me feel good about my prejudices. Fox also made me feel aggrieved. Finally, someone who noticed how persecuted I was, what, with people saying, “Happy Holidays” and all. They stood up for God and country … and white people. Never mind that God, the ground of all being, doesn’t need defending or that our country is the most powerful in the world. And how is it that white people, males especially, needed defending? Talk about snowflakes. As if they haven’t had the loudest voices and power for centuries.
Anyway, Fox also made it clear who the enemies were. I didn’t have to think about it too much. It was presented clearly by all the attractive women anchors and the handsome, square-jawed Sean Hannity. These were the good guys; these people were “winners.” It was like a show staffed with articulate quarterbacks and cheerleaders. This was the winning news team.
And now, looking back in complete embarrassment, I can say without hesitation it was mostly propagandistic hogwash. I haven’t watch Fox News in at least fifteen years. Now, if I ever run across it, if it’s on in someone’s home, or a bar or restaurant, I watch it like someone might watch monkeys at the zoo, for entertainment. Oh look, they’re throwing their feces again.
By the way, yes, I do know there are some decent people at Fox. Just not Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, or any others reprimanded, forced out, or fired over sexual harassment or other egregious actions or remarks. Also, for other sober reflections regarding Fox, see here and here.
But my thoughtless intake of Fox News explains so much. It explains how I could be a nice and thoughtful Christian one moment, easily conversant with the Bible and Christian narrative in general, well aware of the primacy to defend the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, marginalized, orphan, and widow … to an angry, right-wing jerk if one brought up the political realm and my supposed “enemies” who, it turns out, were some of those very people we were supposed to defend.
In one moment, I could talk about how the statement “Jesus is Lord” was a political statement. How such a declaration had a deep political meaning, as in, we do not worship emperors, presidents, or nation/states. We are good citizens; we pay our taxes and obey the laws, but we are also citizens of the world and a universal or catholic church. Our true identity is not “American” or “Mexican” (or whatever) but child of God. We are citizens of heaven first, and our brothers and sisters are everywhere. Our ultimate identity is not found in ethnicity, blood, soil, or cultural history.
And, in the next moment, if someone brought up something I thought unpatriotic, I could completely forget all that and respond with ignorant sentiments like, “Hey, this is America, love it or leave it.” And don’t even get me started about people disrespecting our flag or (gasp!) kneeling during the National Anthem. Yep, my theology would go right out the window as I would bray as loud as the other “America-First-ers” to prove my patriotism. Good job Fox for your expert creation and discipleship of nationalists, i.e. idol worshippers (Babylon Bee gets it and so does the Washington Post).
It was like Jekyll and Hyde. It was only after I slowly began to wean myself from fundamentalist/evangelical sources of political information, and from the right-wing echo chamber, that I began to see my Mr. Hyde self. And I didn’t like what I saw. I stopped watching Fox News and I stopped listening to right-wing talk radio. I went cold turkey.
Afterward, the first thing I noticed was how less angry I was. I began to see the marginalized, the “other,” differently. Or, I should say, I allowed my views in these areas to align better with the Gospel than Fox. I listened more. I considered the idea that, while I should “seek the welfare of the city,” I should also not overlook her faults or shortcomings. And that to do so, even protest, was not being unpatriotic. In fact, it was the best type of patriotism. Bottom line: Nationalism is heretical.
A word of counsel to those still within the fundamentalist/evangelical world or those coming out (to anyone really): Turn Off Fox News. Get your news from credible, respected, sources. Especially seek out written sources of news where the bombast, anger, drama, and celebrity so common to television/cable news are removed. Avoid sources from the extreme Right or Left.
We have Protestants (and many variations therein), Catholics, and Orthodox. Unfortunately, we can now add a mutant/heretical variant to all these: Fox News Christians.
Brother, sister: Don’t be a Fox-News-Christian.
Photo of FoxNews.com by Dan Wilkinson.
About Darrell Lackey
Darrell Lackey has served as a lead pastor and currently works in the private sector. He is a graduate of the University of San Francisco and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (Now Gateway). You can follow him or read more of his writings at Divergence (A journey out of funda-gelicalism). He and his wife reside in Northern California.