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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

As Christians, we must conquer our addiction to the 'Bitter Food' of despondency

“Let listening to worldly news be bitter food for you,

and let the words of saintly men be as combs filled with honey.”

St. Basil the Great

During the pandemic actor John Krasinski created a YouTube series entitled, "Some Good News." From his living room, the actor famous for his role on The Office shared uplifting stories showcasing humanity's good side. Unfortunately, once life got back to normal again, the series went by the wayside, though its short-lived presence was a welcomed change.

According to the ratings, however, most people don't care about good news.

I once had a network executive tell me, "Positive news pieces are ratings suicide. Even on a slow day, people don't want to feel all warm and fuzzy. They change the channel. Why do you think there are so many crime dramas on during primetime?"

I hadn't really given it much thought, though it makes sense.

Until the early 2000s, evening sitcoms dominated the airwaves. In the 1990s, NBC had a Thursday night lineup of comedies they marketed as "Must See TV." ABC had a Friday night lineup of family friendly comedies they marketed as "TGIF."

For whatever reason, the stage lights went dim on situation comedy for the most part, and primetime television indeed became dominated with programming that focused on crime. If memory serves, there have been roughly 440 spin-offs of CSI and at least 217 spin-offs of Law and Order.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the 24-hour news networks and their lineup of talking heads. MSNBC had an angry emasculating woman. CNN had an angry homosexual black man. Fox News had an angry homophobic white guy. Though diverse, they all shared one thing in common: they were angry. And let's be honest, the more you watched them, the angrier you became.

Pause for a moment and ask yourself: "Can all of this anger possibly come from, or glorify God?"

Of course we know that the answer is no.

Why, then, does the overwhelming population seem to crave it so much?

Because most of society, having succumbed to the snares laid by the father of lies, are dead on the inside. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, they've grown "comfortably numb."

The Righteous Seraphim Rose of blessed memory warned us: "The psychological trials of dwellers in the last times will be equal to the physical trials of the martyrs. In order to face these trials, we must be living in a different world."

Indeed, the only way a Christian can survive in this age of information overload is to live in it, but not of it. The adage "ignorance is bliss" has often been applied to fools. But isn't that precisely what we are called to be: fools for Christ?

St. Ephraim of Syria says, "Blessed is the one who farms fair and good thoughts each day and by hope conquers the wicked passion of despondency."

Take a moment and really absorb those words.

I certainly don't need to tell you the definitions of the words 'blessed' and 'depondency.'

St. Ephraim's words are clear: in order to lead a blessed life, one most conquer what he goes so far as to call "the wicked passion" of despondency. St. Ephraim doesn't call it a bad habit, neither does he call it simply a vice. No. He calls depondency a wicked passion. A wicked passion, he goes so far as to say, that we as Christians must "conquer."

Why does St. Ephraim use the word conquer?

Because depondency is a trap set by the devil. A trap that has been masterfully placed all around us: on television, on our multimedia devices, in our relationship with the world.

Again, my sisters and brothers, this is precisely why we are called to live in this world, but not of it. The only way to truly accomplish this is to conquer depondency and replace it with love.

Lately, I see so many Christian movements that are declaring "war on society." These movements, while well-meaning, are grossly misguided. War is not the answer; the only weapon (if you want to refer to it as such) that we should wage against society is unceasing love.

To be clear: that doesn't mean accepting that which is deranged in this world. Rather, it means embracing what is good and tuning out that which is not.

How many times have we seen two movements clash? How many riots, protests, and street wars have we observed in recent years?

This happens, dear brothers and sisters, precisely because the side of good fails to simply tune out that which is not. When you sound a battle cry against a deranged movement, you're giving that movement credence. You're validating its presence. I liken it to somebody who is enjoying a summer afternoon on a patio and suddenly finds himself in the company of a hornet. If he shoos the hornet away, he will more than likely get stung. However, if he remains still and calm, ignoring the pest, it will eventually depart from his presence.

Mainstream media has made us far too comfortable with becoming angry. Inevitably, the first response for one who is angry is to fight. Hence we hear so many well meaning Christians sounding battle cries and declaring war on society.

In the end, this will only result in a bitter sting of defeat.


Because we were not meant to wage war against this worldly existence.

Since the fall of Adam, our world has been sullied, it literally fell from grace. There is nothing that you or I can do to change that reality. Thus, we must keep our hearts and minds fixed on the world that is to come. In that world, there exists only love. Hence, our existence here should radiate the same.

"Where there is love, there is great security and God’s great blessing," St. John Chrysostom says. He continues, "Love is the mother of all blessings, their root and source; it is the end of wars and the extermination of strife. Indeed, just as dissent and strife cause death and demise prematurely, so love and harmony produce peace and unanimity, and where there is peace and unanimity, all in life is safe and secure. Why speak of the present only? Love brings us heaven and unspeakable goods; it is the queen of virtues."

In fact, there is no need for a Christian to war against society. Love will be our just and eternal dessert.

It's true what they say: laughter is the best medicine. When evening sitcoms went by the wayside, families who gathered around the television soon found themselves bombarded with crime stories, sadness, and hate. That, combined with a 24 hour news media that thrives in negativity, and constant access to information at our fingertips, has resulted in a society that is plagued with depondency. Indeed, a society that cannot laugh, cannot love.

Love is the most powerful countercultural revolution a Christian can wage.

Thus, to be a Christian who thrives in love makes you the odd man out. To love puts you low on society's ratings. But for a person who lives in this world, but not of it, that's precisely where you want to be.

St. Philaret of Moscow tells us, "A fish that is alive swims against the flow of water. One that is dead floats down with the water. A true Christian goes against the current of sinful age. A false one is swept away by its swiftness."

Every day, therefore, be especially on guard and aware of the information being hurled your way. If it's not rooted in love, it's not of God. It's really as simple as that.

As St. Basil the Great instructs us, “Let listening to worldly news be bitter food for you, and let the words of saintly men be as combs filled with honey.”

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, have mercy on us and save us.

In peace and simplicity.

J. Basil Dannebohm


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