If Michael Kitchensâ€™ research is any indication, the answer to both questions is: not many. An assistant professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College, Kitchens conducted a study that investigated whether peopleâ€™s religious backgrounds influenced their choice of media on religion. He and his students asked 213 participants to rate their preference for one of three fictitious research summaries: one with positive information about religion, one with negative information about religion, and one neutral.
You can guess what the study found. Religious people preferred the positive summary. Non-religious people preferred the negative summary.
In an article on his research, Kitchens extrapolates from these findings to the political realm. It makes sense, he writes, that â€œpeopleâ€™s political identity fuels the need to seek information that confirmsâ€ their beliefs. This, he reasons, has given rise to a fractured media landscape in which â€œmedia sources continue to validate peopleâ€™s preconceived notions and worldviews.â€
I think heâ€™s spot-on here.Â What surprises me, though, is his bleak outlook for the future: he says that â€œharmony is unattainableâ€ and the best course of action is to learn how to conduct â€œa reasonable debate about ideas.â€
But how do we even get to the debate if we are so suspicious of the â€œother sideâ€? That suspicion comes from the same cycle that Kitchens is on about. As we take in the news media that agree with us, we inevitably hear criticisms of those who disagree. In todayâ€™s toxic public square, those criticisms are particularly nasty: we hear our adversariesâ€™ motives questioned, their patriotism impugned, their truthfulness cast into doubt. So how can we approach them with anything that appears like listening?
What if, however, we took one simple step long before the debate: what if we all read or viewed media that disagree with us?
What if we all committed to reading one newsmagazine, watching one news program, or visiting one blog whose worldview is completely different from ours? We could do this not just across political lines, but across other divides too: divides of gender, color, sexual orientation, and yes, religion.
Hereâ€™s what Iâ€™ve seen happen: once we take in this media from proponents of the â€œother side,â€ we realize that their thinking has some rationality behind it, that their motives have more integrity than weâ€™re led to believe, that maybe a few of their points make senseâ€”even if we still disagree with them. This opens our minds a bit. The next time we approach these people or their ideas, we might be just a bit more inclined to listen, and our minds open wider.
Now Iâ€™m not talking about the ranting mediaâ€”particularly the talk radio programs whose sole purpose is to inflame passions and get ratings. Iâ€™m talking about thoughtful columnists and pundits who believe something different. This is why I read David Brooks and Kathleen Parker as well as Cynthia Tucker. Maybe I need to suck it up and read George Will, too.
What about you? If you could read one columnist or magazine or blog from the â€œother side,â€ which would you pick? Share it here. It might just be a resource no one else has thought about.