And that, my friend explained, is the reason why almost all news is bad news.
There is something reassuring in this notion. For all the brokenness of the world, it is still the norm for things to go right, or at least to avoid implosion. It’s the catastrophes that are headline worthy, whether of the crash-and-burn variety or the impending-doom type (global warming comes to mind). There is, of course, the occasional cheerful report on the gradual recovery of consumer confidence or the decline in Houston’s overall crime rate. Still, how many of us tune into the daily news expecting a rise in our serotonin levels? If it’s good, it ain’t newsworthy.
But is the good really the norm? With all the brokenness of the world, all the lives of quiet desperation, why does the bad, even of the explosive variety, come as a surprise? Why not see the bad as the norm?
The study of history only amplifies the question. So much of it strikes us as an excellent example of man’s inhumanity to man, to the point where at least one student has told me that she prefers to avoid history classes because she finds the subject discouraging (unless it was my syllabus that had a dampening effect?). The modern age has been especially hard on those inclined to a sanguine view of history, but when did things ever go right? Few historians today believe in progress. We semi-solve some old problems only to come up with new ones, or new forms of old ones, more intractable than the first. Same old, same old. Even the eighty thousand airplanes carried their passengers only to another chapter in their lives of quiet desperation.
Why, then, our stubborn attachment to the notion of the good as normal? When all the evidence points in the other direction, we still have a deep-seated conviction that the bad has no business being the norm. Isn’t this certainty, or rather mental habit, rooted in a kind of ancestral memory of Paradise? Our hearts are still in Eden, and all the plummeting planes and plunging serotonin levels in the world fail to convince us that the bad is anything other than an aberration. We remember that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . and behold, it was very good.
How ironic, then, that the planetary Good News, that Paradise has been restored to us already, more radiant than before, strikes many a modern ear as old news. Or even old lies. How can we believe it, when the daily stench of despair is interrupted only by the occasional airplane crash? The annals of history and this morning’s news offer precious little evidence of Paradise regained. The sky has not lit up.
But this is because the Good News travels slowly and, for the most part, along narrow and secret channels. It defies the noxious norm without making headlines. And it convinces because our hearts remind us that the good is just as shining and new as it ever was, and that it knows no bounds. Pulverized planes, and their passengers, can be reassembled, and everything old made new.
As Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”