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Angels in the newsroom
Many coastal media elites are quick to deride the millions of ordinary Americans who believe in angels. But we journalists could learn a thing or two from the numinous
 
Matt K. Lewis
Matt K. Lewis

In Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama The Newsroom, lead character Will McAvoy — played by Jeff Daniels — explains in a rant why our country is not as great as Americans seem to think:

"There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world," McAvoy avers. "We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined — 25 of whom are allies." 

Average Americans across the nation (if they actually watched the show) must have scratched their collective heads, wondering: "Why would a belief in angels be listed alongside prison inmates — and the war machine — as things that ostensibly prove America isn't great?" Clearly, there's a yawning chasm between how elites and average Americans view the numinous.

Journalists are, in a sense, sentinels as well — sentinels of human, not supernatural, action.

And yet, for millennia, serious thinkers have believed in the existence of angels. And some modern authors, including Joel J. Miller, are working hard to make belief in angels fashionable again. 

During a recent interview about his new book Lifted by Angels, Miller told me that while a belief in the Almighty is still ubiquitous in the American mainstream, the perception is that only "sentimental fools would believe in angels." (Listen to the interview below.)

Part of the reason for this, Miller argues, is that our image of these angelic beings has been "polluted by a pop-culture idea of angels that is really erroneous and unhelpful and frankly just fictional and silly." Correcting this image is one of Miller's main goals.

"Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life may be endearing, but he's nothing like the angels we find in the pages of Scripture," Miller writes at Real Clear Religion. "Ditto for Christopher Lloyd in Angels in the Outfield or Denzel Washington in The Preacher's Wife. And if John Travolta had played Gabriel instead of Michael, Mary would have called off the Annunciation."

Of course, Miller's is hardly an original observation. Philosophy professor Peter Kreeft wrote a popular book on the same topic: Angels (and Demons) — What Do We Really Know About Them?  On his website, Kreeft describes angels as creatures that are "not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or 'cool.' They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors." 

How, then, should we conceive of the relation between humans and angels? 

The epigraph of Miller's book presents readers with the words of Augustine: "I hope to demonstrate, if I can, that there is no absurdity or incongruity in asserting a fellowship between men and angels."

Augustine of Hippo — philosopher, theologian, and early church father — wrote City of God in the 5th century. His great Christian treatise presented to us a model of history seen through the lens of conflict between the "City of Man" and the "City of God." Angels enter into the City of Man in an attempt to relay messages and to protect humans. 

As Miller describes in his book, the English word angel is derived from the Greek word meaning "messenger." And this is where the irony comes in regarding the Will McAvoys of the world. 

Journalists are, in a sense, sentinels as well — sentinels of human, not supernatural, action. 

The website I work for, The Daily Caller, no doubt owes its name, at least in part, to the tradition of messengers and the criers who brought public information to the masses.

To be sure, we're no angels. Much of what passes for journalism today can seem (or even be) trivial and salacious. Just as fewer elites believe in the existence of angels these days, studies show that fewer and fewer Americans believe in the integrity and objectivity of journalists.

Clearly there has been a loss of trust in the profession, but sometimes journalists still do make a difference; sometimes reporters do uncover and deliver information that changes the world, summoning powerful forces for the cause of good. In fact, the "journalist-as-messenger" trope is so pervasive that when journalists are killed in the line of duty it is often referred to as "killing the messenger."

We are poised in the City of Man, standing alert to the significant events of our time. And some of us occasionally rise above the coastal effete stereotype to do something fearless and formidable. 

It can be a thankless task. Just as men have been known to "wrestle with angels," sometimes the public doesn't like it when writers adhere to McAvoy's mission and "speak truth to stupid."

Maybe angels and Will McAvoy aren't all that different, after all.

Listen to my interview with Miller below:

 

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