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18. A Sermon on Newspapers (1897)

18. A Sermon on Newspapers (1897)

I don’t want you to get the impression that religion was strictly or even popularly against the idea of the Sunday paper, it was simply up for debate and like most cultural artifacts of the time, that debate took place in the pages of the newspapers. In the year after Dr. Burrel claimed that Sunday newspapers were immoral, Rev. Dr. Joseph Rylance came out in their defense,

“. . .The newspaper does more than any other power in fitting the masses of the people for the safe
exercise of the prerogatives of citizenship. Much good literature comes into large public view through the press . . . ”

Our journals are helpful in the work of social administration and reform; in exposing corruptions and abuses of all sorts; pleading the cause of the neglected and the oppressed; directing charity to a wise use of its bounty; denouncing those who prey upon the innocence of the young, or the simple minded . . .

Coming to the question of Sunday newspapers, objection is heard from many good Christians to the Sunday edition . . . The objection really rests upon the assumption that the issuing of newspapers on the Christian holy day is a desecration of the Sabbath, people being thus tempted to sit at home and read their papers, instead of going to church . . .It by no means follows that men and women, not reading newspapers on Sunday would go to church. Very likely they would be doing something worse. Preachers err in supposing that if this, that or the other temptations were taken out of the way, all the world would be good.

I bring this up again as a more general illustration of how wildly society can shift over time. This debate was big news back then, big enough to get multiple articles over the course of several years. These days, the fact that anyone would argue against making newspapers on Sunday (or any day for that matter) seems almost ludicrous. There has been an overwhelming shift not only in the importance we give to the news but the responsibility news-makers feel they have to provide a continuous stream of news.

That leaves an open question sitting on the table. In the next 25 years, what will be our Sunday paper controversy?

One suggestion is the current cultural debate over same-sex marriage. If history teaches us anything, it’s that the social mores that seem most important during one period of time tend to lose importance as time shifts.

Two perspectives: one from the comedians at Livfilms and another from Stuffmadesimple.

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