Looking For A New Year’s Resolution? Give Up Politics

If we devote the year of 2019 to reading instead of binge watching, we might come into 2020 with more wisdom

(photo: Pixabay/CC0)

A friend of mine owns a plasma TV with the emblem of “FoxNews” burnt into the corner of the screen. In other words, he has spent so much time watching that channel that the television still displays “FoxNews” even when it isn’t on. This got me thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s quitting smoking, losing weight, or conquering addictions, resolutions normally focus on bettering one’s life. And thinking of my friend’s TV, it dawned on me that the best resolution some people can make for 2019 is to give up watching political shows altogether.

Even as I write this, I can anticipate at least two objections.

“John, you’re crazy! I need to make informed choices when I vote!” That’s noble, and I recognize the duty to vote, but 2019 isn’t a national election year. To prepare for the next election, you have from Jan. 1 until Nov. 3 of 2020 to research candidates and formulate an opinion. If ten months proves an insufficient amount of time to do so, face it: an additional year isn’t going to help.

“But I need to know what’s going on in the world!” For Christians, that objection often extends to “I need to know who and what to pray for.”

I remember once visiting a group of women who—amazing as it may seem—couldn’t name a single primetime host on MSBNC. They were cloistered nuns who lived behind wooden bars. Some of these women had lived in their self-imposed world for five decades, and thus knew very little about party politics or current events. Yet, I have never met a group of people who prayed and offered sacrifices more for the world—for you and me and everyone else in trouble all around the world. Though blissfully ignorant of politics, they continually conversed with an omniscient God. And they were convinced of a truth that the rest of us sometimes forget: God knows exactly who needs our prayers.

Oh, and one other minor point: these nuns were off-the-charts joyful.

Recalling that visit to the cloister from years ago, I am struck by the lack of joy and charity in society today. Somehow, it has become socially acceptable to be cruel, judgmental, and dismissive—in a word, unchristian—toward others. Though it’s certainly not the only culprit, the expression of American politics as it is manifested on both left and right-leaning cable networks is at least partially to blame for the pronounced decline in civility.

For individuals, this plays out on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, where name-calling has taken the place of reason, pejorative has replaced principle, and church-going Catholics call out fellow Catholics who disagree on minor political matters as misinformed dupes. We are called to be disciples to all strangers and nations, yet we demonize would-be friends in our own cities and towns—in print. Christ assured us that we would be held to account for “every idle word” on Judgment Day, yet we electronically publish unkind words.

Again, this is not entirely the fault of politics, but it’s fair to say that political speech seems to exist in an abhorrent vacuum in which acrimony is not only acceptable, but congratulated—and this often spills over into other areas of our lives. And by extension, the lives of others.

And we need a break.

Rather than binge-watching Rachel Maddow and/or Tomi Lahren, some have found it even more edifying to turn off the television and read the classic works of political philosophy like Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Cicero’s On Duties, Tertullian’s Apology, and Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Treatise on Law.

I can’t help but think that if we devote the year of 2019 to reading instead of binge watching, we might come into 2020 with more insights in how to vote and about how politics is supposed to be. We might even better our lives in the process. And maybe, just maybe, we might better the lives of everyone around us.