Cardinal Newman had a brother who was an atheist. In trying to convince him of the truth of belief and even further of the truth of Christian revelation, he found that no matter what strongly argued reasons he gave to his brother, he would not listen or even be open to the possibility of being wrong. Newman called this his “Antecedent Probability” which disposes one’s possible future decisions. For one can make such a commitment to one’s own formulation of an issue that all contradictory evidence is dismissed and not
taken seriously. In a sense, the will ties ups the intellect so that it paralyzes the person in a formulation of the truth that it is convinced of and upon which other assumptions have been based.
So for Newman’s brother to admit the logical possibility of a God and then to accept this as true not only contradicts a lot of his intellectual assumptions about reality e.g. that the cosmos is a meaningless place, but may cause him to actually live his life differently. That level of change is scary for most people and many feel it better to not let in anything that contradicts their way of proceeding in life.
Now this ‘antecedent probability’ may be conscious or unconscious. It may come out simply as a prejudice that is unacknowledged and hence unexamined. Newman has an interesting example of this when he says that prejudice is like a stain on a couch that has always been there and therefore a person just assumes that it is part of the design of the furniture and does not even notice it. Because the person has just lived with it, they are surprised when a visitor remarks: “How did that stain get on the couch?” The owner then has to acknowledge that he had never noticed it.
Prejudice is often like that. If one is honest, one is surprised by it. If it is a racial prejudice for instance, one has to admit that it was always there and therefore that up to now the antecedent probability that one admit the prejudice is just about nil.
The reason for this long prologue to my main point is that it is essential for understanding how intelligent people of good will can be so frustratingly wrong about a major issue like abortion. This is seen clearly in the attitude of the medial intelligentsia in their handling of the Planned Parenthood videotapes and the violent attack on a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado.
When the tapes became public, showing the crass way the representatives of Planned Parenthood spoke about the fetuses harvested from their ‘patients’, there was little outrage in the media. They concentrated on whether they were true or doctored up, careful to give equal weight to responses by Planned Parenthood. In the tapes, the sale of organs harvested from killed fetuses was muted by the exchange of the word ‘organ’ with the less offensive expression ‘tissue’. Coverage also concentrated on whether they were actually being sold. The horror of it all was unacknowledged. But this creepy horror was there whether the organs were being sold or given away. But that reality did not seem to matter.
The coverage of the terrible shooting at the Planned Parenthood abortion facility was a marketing gift to Planned Parenthood. Suddenly they became the innocent victim of the violence. The amount of coverage was enormous and sustained over many days as those who were against Abortion were excoriated for their ‘intemperate language’ that made things like the shooting inevitable. Really? There was never an acknowledgment by the media of the violence perpetuated by Planned Parenthood by going into the safety of the womb and dismembering the developing human person within! It seems that the media was not put off with that violence.
One wonders in this palpable blindness to reality and the antecedent probability that the media does not even question its own blindness, why there has never been a thorough survey of the media and its many outlets as to their religious and political persuasions. What percentage of the media is conservative or liberal in politics? How many are actively religious? Why the lack of scrutiny as to who these writers and broadcasters are and what are their attitudes on religion?
One can only wonder why a group of people so prone to investigate every single possible scandal and nuance of everything under the sun, has never called for an in depth study of who the media is? What is the background of the majority? What are their religious affiliations, both in their backgrounds and in their present involvements? What are the organizations that they belong to? What is their moral life like? How many of the nefarious things that they have accused people of by their reportage, are they themselves guilty of? In effect, who are these people in the media and what makes them tick?
I am afraid to say that I know the answer to why no such study has ever been attempted or reported on: It would reveal the antecedent probability of the reportage on religious and ethical questions as not being truly fair and objective. It would reveal at best their religious insensitivities and at worst their conscious or unconscious collusion in their handling of religion and the whole realm of the spiritual. They seem to think that they are above scrutiny and that the same journalistic rules of their profession do not extend to themselves. Like the Church, has unfortunately felt in the past: they have a right to go about their business unafraid of this kind of ethical scrutiny as to their motives in reporting on, or not reporting on the whole gigantic and creative world of religious presence in the world.
Someday someone is going to wake up to this and demand a fair journalistic accounting of the people in the media that think that they are above the law of transparency.