A light for the world
In 1908 few women had the authority or resources to start a daily newspaper. But late during that summer Mary Baker Eddy wrote a brief note to the directors of her church and to the trustees of The Christian Science Publishing Society telling them it was time to start a daily newspaper. She explained, "The Cause [of Christian Science] demands that it be issued now."
Unquestionably, she felt that there was a divine demand for this step to be taken. It was not a political step or an economic venture; it was not merely a journalistic enterprise; it was the result of a continuing unfoldment to her of what was needed for the redemption of mankind. In a draft letter to her editor and publisher, she wrote, "When I proposed having the weekly Sentinel students held back at first; they may hold back this time but I in the name of God direct you to do this."
The officers of her church and professionals from around the country clearly felt the force of this spiritual need and demand, and in three months the first issue of The Christian Science Monitor came off the press. Wednesday morning, Nov. 25, 1908, was overcast and foggy. When the first copy of the paper was delivered to Mrs. Eddy, her staff commented on how dark the day was. Mrs. Eddy responded, "Yes, but only according to sense. We know the reverse of error is true. This, in truth, is the lightest of all days. This is the day when our daily paper goes forth to lighten mankind...!" Rare is the paper that has such a spiritually defined origin and purpose. In "Science and Health" Mrs. Eddy wrote, " 'Let there be light,' is the perpetual demand of Truth and Love, changing chaos into order and discord into the music of the spheres." The demand for light never disappears, and the appearance of light never ceases in this spiritual equation. The demand that light come into the world and that humanity be enlightened is perpetual as well, and the work of The Christian Science Monitor is a continuing response to this demand.
Because of the severe challenges the paper faces at times, people are tempted to fear it will not survive. Reassurance and conviction of its life and future come with a realization of the spiritual demand that brought it into existence and continues to cause it to appear. What would make one think there is no need for a publication that takes as its mission to alleviate the fears and pains and despair that afflict so many in the world today? The Monitor reports the world's ills but doesn't become mesmerized by them. Like the polar star, it is a steady beacon of hope; it gives reassurance and direction to those in need. This paper also emphasizes the achievements that have improved life, the efforts that have resolved problems, and the things that bring joy into people's lives.
Those who are personally striving against oppression and being persecuted because of this, deserve evidence that their work is recognized and supported. When much in the media shows men and women at their worst, something is needed to honor the decency and courage and selflessness that surround us. It is important to shine a light on the work of those who are dedicated to delivering people from disaster, famine, or extermination. Often it is people of faith who have been moved to help the most unfortunate in the world, and their story should be told. And when so many are faced with inequality in education and opportunity, it is essential that this be exposed, and whatever and whoever is working to remedy this deserves to be lauded and known.
It is rarely fruitful to preach morality at people. But the spiritual roots of the Monitor have caused it to embrace its role as a moral force in the world. This doesn't translate into being holier than thou but into seriously heeding the spiritual directive "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This is what keeps us from being blind to our neighbor's need.
This sentiment helps explain the spirit of the paper. Those who care about the world and everyone living in it, must not be ignorant of the news that affects everyone's lives. The first editors of the paper explained the Monitor's role. In his book "Commitment to Freedom," Erwin Canham wrote that two weeks before the first issue came out, "about a dozen staff members sat around a large library table, with Mr. Dodds [the first managing editor] presiding.... Mr. Dodds told them they were to turn traditional newspaper practice upside down. That is to say, instead of emphasizing sensation, passion, conflict, and disorder, they were to record the important and constructive developments in the news, whether local, national, or worldwide." Archibald McLellan, the first editor, wrote that The Christian Science Monitor would be a "strictly up-to-date newspaper, in which all the news of the day that should be printed will find a place." A page of current events, similar to the Monitor's "News in Brief," had appeared in the first issue of the church's earlier publication, the Christian Science Sentinel, and continued there until 1917. It is obvious that Mrs. Eddy felt that those who devoted their lives to praying for the world needed to be aware of the news and of the trends that were occurring.
The Monitor's ability to be as up to date as its competitors has been challenged by production difficulties for a number of decades. The paper's reporters have compensated for this by giving extra value to the Monitor through their expertise in putting events into context and providing analysis of the news. Today, with the emergence of the Internet, the Monitor can report promptly on current events while continuing to provide the background and context readers have come to expect.
The Internet is both a challenge and an opportunity. While the Monitor has fewer than 60,000 subscribers today, more than 1.8 million people visit its website each month. This is probably the most significant development in the history of the Monitor. An ever-larger percentage of the population is turning to the Web for its news and for information on every subject under the sun. This does not translate, as some fear, into ceasing to print our paper, but common sense dictates that the ever-growing Web-reading population of the paper be served as effectively as possible.
The Web can no longer be looked at as ephemeral. Publishers around the globe are realizing that it is here to stay and that it is the most potent media force on the planet. Every publisher is striving to understand how to use the Web's resources effectively and profitably.
Much of the Internet has a Wild West atmosphere that is undisciplined and uncharted. A Web search can pull in information instantly from around the world. But as one looks at a Web page, the questions arise: Is it true, dependable, accurate, up to date? And then, how many have time to wade through countless sites to find trustworthy information? The Monitor has a promising role in helping its readers and subscribers find their way; the paper's natural filter will help point readers to sites that can be trusted, that are worthy of their attention, that are suitable for a family, that enhance their understanding of the world. In return, studies show more and more sites on the Web are turning their readers to the Monitor's pages.
We live in a world of extremism, especially in religion and politics. This polarization of thought prevents the resolution of conflict and paralyzes progress. Balanced and thoughtful discourse is diminishing. Many are so blinded by their own views that they have lost all interest in the public good. And Mrs. Eddy once pointed out, "When pride, self, and human reason reign, injustice is rampant." So in the opening page of Science and Health she addressed a different audience: "The time for thinkers has come."
These thinkers come from every level of society, from every level of education, from every corner of the world. The Christian Science Monitor strives to give these thinkers the facts they need and an understanding of their significance. It introduces them to key individuals who have the ability to shape the next steps for humanity's progress. Mrs. Eddy wanted her newspaper to be useful and welcome in people's homes. Free of sensationalism, gossip, and anger, it was to be an oasis from extremism, something a family could trust and share.
As in Mrs. Eddy's day, so today, it is difficult to stand above the fray of political zeal; it takes special alertness not to adopt a particular bias. In a recent review of the opinion of Monitor readers, some subscribers complained that the paper was either too American, too liberal, or too conservative. It is natural to plead innocent of these labels, but the moral demand is to be watchful. Self-examination is important, and alertness on this front is a duty of the editors. The Monitor grows with its subscribers. Like all of us, when necessary, it learns from experience.
Throughout its history, the Monitor has been blessed by a staff that has felt its mission deep in their hearts. Few people would ever work as hard, as long, as courageously, or faithfully as they do. Unless you are actually in the newsroom or speak with a correspondent, it's hard to imagine what the staff does to get each issue out, nor could one imagine the depth of experience they bring to the day's news. Our debt to them is enormous because they are committed to the goal Mrs. Eddy established for the paper: ". . . to spread undivided the Science that operates unspent. The object of the Monitor is to injure no man, but to bless all mankind." This newspaper is equally blessed by subscribers who feel an equal passion for this mission. They have lived through its ups and downs and have stuck with the paper like limpets; nothing has shaken them off. Why? Because of the impact the Monitor has had on their lives. This community of writers, editors, and staff, along with its subscribers, is essential to the paper's progress.
The Monitor cannot go it alone. It needs its readers, and it needs the prayers and support of the members of the Church that produces it. Often people are not aware of how essential their support is. We are used to the paper "being there." But the Monitor needs its readers, subscribers, and advertisers, and it needs their effort to expand its universe of readers, subscribers, and advertisers. Those who work for the paper know from personal experience how valuable each minute of the day is. In return for your readership, they are committed to presenting the news as efficiently as possible, whether in print or on the Web. While not referring to the Monitor, these Bible verses are good guidance; they say, "Make it plain upon the tables, that he may run that readeth it" (Hab. 2:2), and "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2). Our hope is that the Monitor contributes to this kind of healing.
In writing about Church, Mary Baker Eddy pointed out several key features of its work. Two of them are to afford "proof of its utility" and to "elevate the race." These fit well with the Monitor's mission and are important guides as it takes its next steps in this new century. They will shape its work and its fruition. "Let there be light" remains divine Mind's response to our needs and to the world's.
• Richard Bergenheim is editor of The Christian Science Monitor.