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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Metaphysical objectivity vs. methodological objectivity

Because of Christian anthropology, there is no such thing as metaphysical or ultimate objectivity. Why is that? Because every bit of our rationality (i.e., our thinking about comprehensive and true knowledge) is limited by our finite and fallen essence. All human thought is subjective. Every human is biased. Every human is prejudiced. Human interpretation is unavoidable, given Christian anthropology.

All of us use initial affirmations or presuppositions in our thinking, because thinking without presuppositions is impossible. Presuppositions are like the glasses through which we view the world. If the lenses are green, the world has a green tint. If the lenses are red, the world has a rose-colored tint. The lens determines what the eye sees. In the same way, our presuppositions, the ideas (glasses) we use to first view humans, events, and objects in the world, affect (color) how we understand the world. A person’s presupposition might be, for instance, that nothing can be true if it isn’t rational or logical, or that nothing can be true if it isn’t sensed or verifiable. That foundational idea or belief will be the launching pad as well as the judge for all subsequent ideas. Thus, there can be no such thing as a neutral, uninterpreted or objective fact.

The point for the Christian journalist is this: We humans are not neutral witnesses of the world in which we live. We attempt to understand the meaning of everything either through a lens of divine revelation–the objectivity of God–or through a lens of naturalistic reasoning. Everything observed in reality is understood in these two fundamentally different and sometimes conflicting ways. The Bible speaks of the condition of the heart determining the vocabulary of the mouth. To the journalist of faith that means knowledge is never morally neutral, because sin corrupts our wills, cripples our minds and perverts our actions.

Because Christianity teaches that sin has crippled our minds, general revelation, which is manifested in the world around us–the arena of the journalist–needs to be explained and interpreted. Special revelation – Bible – is one source of understanding. But there are other sources of information and understanding the world around us.

Journalistically, does that mean that since we can only be biased and subjective in our thinking that we are constrained to report from only a biased and subjective, predisposed point of view? That is, since epistemological bias is our only intellectual option, is journalistic bias our only professional option? To a certain extent, I think so. But even though we reject metaphysical objectivity, journalists who are Christian are to embrace methodological objectivity as our standard of journalism. What does this mean?

I define methodological objectivity as

*the courageous search for the facts,

*the correct context for the facts, and

*the enlightened interpretation of the facts.

An important point to be made here is that writing for a mainstream publication is different than writing for a religious publication. A word written for everyone has no individual integrity (unless it is written by the Creator of everyone). The Christian always takes into account the audience to which she is communicating. It is a matter of simple compassion and sensitivity to the listener/reader. Badly written words sweep away the prospect of good and leave an unfortunate impression. This principle is taught in numerous places in the Bible (e.g., Proverbs 10:32; 15:23). In Proverbs 25:11 the Jewish Tanakh even translates the phrase “word spoken at the right time” as “a phrase well turned.” The lovely medium of well-chosen words enhances the truth of a situation. Proverbs 12:14 is interesting because it combines appropriate words and actions–good advice for the Christian journalist in a secular newsroom. The calming words of Naaman’s advisers are a fit application of this principle (2 Kings 5:11-14). We see Paul enunciating the principle that words must fit the audience in 1 Cor. 3. Paul was realistic about the ability of his Corinthian audience to understand his language. The Christian journalist needs to be likewise intellectually sensitive.

Methodologically we can approach journalistic fairness, accuracy, veracity and, yes, objectivity to a large and reliable measure. The Lord of the universe has so structured reality and the human mind that we can observe reality and report on what we observe, in such a manner that enough truth will emerge from multiple human reports that we can claim that journalistic fairness, accuracy, veracity and limited objectivity can be achieved through “eyewitness” accounts (Moses: Deut. 19:15; Jesus: Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; Paul: 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19).

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