Hear it on the radio when pointlessly adversarial interviews are staged with two opposite views – because a negative clash is deemed more likely to engage listeners than a reasoned debate. All it does is leave both interviewees looking foolish – and the presenter as righteous ring-master. Hear it when interviewers constantly interrupt or harangue their interviewees, leaving an impression that the person being interviewed is stupid or inept.
Watch it on television when news reporters conclude their package with a phrase such as ‘But critics will say…’ without naming anyone, or indeed offering any evidence they have even spoken to such ‘critics’. And there’s that other lazy, negative journalistic sign-off – ‘But many questions remain unanswered’ – leaving the impression that whatever person or event has just been reported on, there’s probably some sort of cover-up or incompetence yet to be exposed.
Observe it in politics in the nastiness between Democrats and Republicans in the US. See it likewise in Britain: witness the way people on both sides of the Brexit debate have spoken of the other. Or hear Labour MP John McDonnell who said he could never, ever be friends with a Tory – as though they are to be regarded as some separate species of human.
And sadly, of course, the cult of relentless negativity is in the church too. Read Angela Tilby’s likening of Anglican evangelicals to Labour’s hard-left ‘Momentum’ grouping in last week’s Church Times. Why undertake any serious comment when you can just smear a whole group in this way? Meanwhile an ‘inclusive’ and influential Anglican website carries an article in which every member of the Church of England’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ sexuality project is declared ‘guilty’ on six counts (yes, six!) of ‘evil’ by the writer, namely ‘prejudice, silence, ignorance, fear, hypocrisy, prejudice and misuse of power’. Quite some indictment!
More conservative Christians can be the same. There are websites purporting to offer objective comment on Anglicanism which seem dedicated, relentlessly, to reporting and reinforcing a 100 per cent negative view. One wonders what it does to those who churn the stuff out. Some of the loudest online critics of the Church of England have alienated potential allies by relentlessly disparaging anyone who does not see things exactly as they do. How easy it is, as the puritan Richard Baxter observed, ‘to tear our brethren as heretics before we understand them’.
Read it all.