Are Buddhists in favor of abortion and making the marriage sacrament available to homosexuals as well?
Letter: Right-wing propagandists attack pope’s encyclicalBy Shelton A. Gunaratne from Moorhead
Yet another example of the penchant of the mainstream American press to focus on the conflict criterion of determining news to enhance the salability of the story was the reporting of Pope Francis’ encyclical (titled “Laudato Si”) on climate change, which I analyzed. Following the leakage of this extraordinary encyclical, mainstream American journalism began to target the Bishop of Rome as either the villain or the hero whose pathetic ignorance or compassionate wisdom would ruin the earthlings’ current level of prosperity or save the Earth from certain ruin.
This illustrates the insipid knee-jerk behavior of the contemporary American media to see news as atoms that belong to the yinyang extremes: conservative/rightwing/Republican or liberal/leftwing/Democratic. Thus, people identify columnists/opinion writers/media as belonging to one of these extremes.
The net result of this division is the reduction of mainstream journalism into propaganda as was the case in Europe when Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation early in the sixteenth century. Opinion writers are hunkydory presenting evidence favoring their particular camp while omitting or slighting the other side thereby violating the principles of right speech, right action, and right livelihood. They ignore the fundamentals of editorial writing – checking for fallacious reasoning, objective evaluation of facts and figures, exclusion of relevant arguments, etc.
My hometown newspaper, The Forum, published the conservative columnist Cal Thomas’ nationally syndicated commentary on Francis’ encyclical last Sunday (June 28). He ridiculed Francis’ call for “an open and honest debate” on climate change when Francis has “already reached his conclusion without debate … [and] joined the disciples of the environmental cult.” Thomas found fault with the Washington Post, the upmarket liberal newspaper published in the nation’s capital, for its editorial praise of Francis’ encyclical endorsing the idea on the Earth’s warming “as a matter of scientific doctrine.” Climate scientists have estimated that average global temperatures will increase by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius – 2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit – over the next 100 or 200 years given a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A Washington Post editorial (Jan. 4, 2014) explained that this range of estimates for “climate sensitivity,” if it were to occur, would mean the difference between relatively small effects and significant consequences for human welfare.
Thomas pointed out that previous “scientific” predictions have proven wrong: an ABC News Special 2006 prediction that New York City would be underwater by this year; and that gasoline would cost $9 a gallon and milk $13 a gallon because of “global warming.” But Thomas failed to confess that science cannot “predict” anything because of the nonlinear reactions of natural phenomena; it can only estimate the probabilities of occurrence. Thomas ignored Francis’ emphasis on the Eastern/Buddhist notion of interdependence thereby paving the way toward furthering interreligious understanding. Far from reifying science, as Thomas appears to believe, Francis clearly expresses his dissatisfaction with science for the fragmentation of knowledge. Thomas twists the pope’s plea for understanding interdependence through meaningful transfer of wealth from the North to the South. Thomas, however, dismisses this admonition as a fantasy because “corrupt governments siphon it [money] for themselves” at the receiving end without benefiting the people. By branding the entire South as “corrupt,” he implies that the North is not – a supreme example of fallacious reasoning.
Thomas and other “journalists” of his ilk are determined to denigrate Francis, 78, “the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere and the first non-European pope since the Syrian Gregory III in 741” (Wikipedia). They are unlikely to concede his humility, his concern for the poor and his commitment to interfaith dialogue. What the world needs is a commitment by both professional and citizen journalists to practice the concept of what I have called mindful journalism that exemplifies the Buddhist Middle Path that will eschew the yinyang extremes of political, social, religious, or economic ideology.
Gunaratne is professor emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead. He is lead author and editor “Mindful Journalism and New Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach” (Routledge, 2015).