“Test Everything”

So said St Paul, and so reads the title of George Cardinal Pell’s new book (I am currently reading one sermon a night for my devotional reading – incidentally, today I also picked up a copy of “Donne’s Sermons: Selected Passages” which might also join Pell’s book on my bedside cupboard).

Voltaire also famously said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In this country we have a free press, and I am glad of it. Thank God we do not have a government controlled media as in many less democratic and open states.

Nevertheless, St Paul’s/Pell’s dictum holds good for the media too. In his 1997 Pentecost Pastoral Letter to Youth (the first chapter in “Test Everything”), +George wrote:

To all young people battling with conflicting pressures, I repeat St Paul’s urgings as you search for the truth. Look before you leap. Search out genuine love and service. Reject evil. Test the claims of the advertisers as carefully as you examine Christian claims.

I would say that that advise goes as well for what we read in the morning papers as for anything else. Like advertisers (and indeed Christian preachers) we say what we say for a reason. Those who read this material have to ask themselves “Why are they saying this? Is it true?”.

In another sermon in the same volume, Cardinal Pell says “We are not free to choose what is false” (not an exact quote – I don’t have the book with me – as I said, it is next to my bed). I take this to mean that when we choose what is false rather than what is true, we are not free, we are rather binding ourselves to falsehood – and as Christ said, only “the Truth will make you free.”

In the academy, writers of papers and theses have to have references and footnotes to back up their claims. In the Press, on the other hand, it is seen as a veritable virtue to “protect your sources”. So what we read is often “alleged” or “unconfirmed”.

Like rumours of Vatican appointments, such reports are not facts. “Test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

I am glad we have a free press, but I urge everyone who reads the press not to swallow it all gullibly. In other words, I defend your right to say what you say, but I will fight to the death to urge those who hear what you say to “test everything” before believing it.

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