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Ep 295: Bonnie Kristian and the Unhealthy Skepticism Corrupting Culture

Unhealthy Skepticism Corrupting Culture

In this episode, Doug talks to Bonnie Kristian about her new book titled, Untrustworthy The Knowledge Crisis Breaking Our Brains, Polluting Our Politics, and Corrupting Christian Community. She is concerned with the unhealthy skepticism corrupting culture. Bonnie Kristian (MA, Bethel Seminary) is a seasoned journalist who writes on foreign policy, religion, criminal justice, urbanism, civil liberties, electoral politics, and more. Her column, “The Lesser Kingdom,” appears in print and online at Christianity Today, and she is the author of A Flexible Faith: Rethinking What It Means to Follow Jesus Today. Her work has also been featured in other outlets, including The WeekUSA Today, CNN, Politico, and Time. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband and twin sons.

Summary – Bonnie Kristian and the Unhealthy Skepticism Corrupting Culture

Bonnie Kristian believes there is a crisis impacting the church that we are only just now becoming aware of. What is it? Not so much a “misinformation” problem as it is a combination of overwhelming information and few skills for processing through it. The constant bombardment of information is a relatively new phenomenon in human history. And it doesn’t begin with the advent of the Internet, but with the advent of the television. For most of human history, information has been passed down actively through oral and written mediums. Since the television, it became something visual and passive.

Kristian first noticed the problem when interviewing pastors about their concerns impacting the church. Pastors noted a discipleship problem wherein people were only exposed to preaching for one to two hours a week, verses the near constant news and commentary bombarding airwaves during the rest of the week. But it wasn’t simply the passive receipt of information, but also a change in habits and behavior including unhealthy skepticism corrupting culture. Kristian notes specific characteristics that are particularly troubling including, time use/management, the mixed quality of available information, the inability to critically assess and evaluate that information, and also, the manner in which media and the news industry produced their content. People began trusting media less, but consuming it more.

This shift away from trusting news sources comes from what Kristian believes is a myth. Namely, the idea the corporate media is consciously and maliciously lying to the audience to further a subversive agenda. Kristian, a journalist herself, raises the point that journalists are still trained to avoid writing to support political agendas and parties. (Though she doesn’t deny this happens in some cases either). She believes are fair critiques to be made of journalism today, and she addresses those in her book. However, the main driver of news and commentary seems to rest in click bate. How do you get people to click on your link? Kristian points out the old model of advertising-financed news sources doesn’t work anymore. But people are willing to pay for their news either. So in some sense, our own behavior of clicking on the most provocative titles, rather than search for and evaluating trustworthy content.

Another contributing factor to this unhealthy skepticism is the “death of expertise.” Kristian borrows this phrase from author Tom Nichols who points out a problem that expertise is closely tied to an ideal. Its the notion there is an ideal that has “died” and so expertise with it. While we have plenty of examples of misuse of expertise, Kristian wants to emphasize the alternative is untenable. That is, that being completely self-sufficient in our own knowledge of expertise is not possible. When purchase good or services, we’re looking for the best quality. That requires expertise. When we drive across a bridge, we expect it won’t collapse. That requires expertise. Kristian laments that subject-matter experts have a bad habit of not staying in their lane. But that problem also results from people not recognizing the lane they ought to be in.


Main Points of Discussion

00:00 Introduction
02:04 Why is unhealthy skepticism corrupting culture?
06:19 Why should Christians be concerned with tribalism, misinformation, conspiracy theories, etc.
11:12 What characteristics are particularly troubling?
14:02 How does our online activity affect our offline behavior?
19:03 Why the shift away from trusting media
27:43 Is clickbate contributing to the problem?
30:42 What the death of expertise & democratized knowledge?
36:09 How do non experts navigate the information minefield?
39:59 Why do we love conspiracy theories?
47:42 Concluding thoughts

Resources Mentioned

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