Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
At the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple Simeon prophesized, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted.” (Luke 2: 34) Nowhere is this sign of contradiction more evident than in the news media when it deals with the teaching and the news of the Church.
There is a built-in tension between the news media and the Gospel. The Gospel is counter-cultural while the news media belongs to the culture and is directed to a worldly audience. What the media says is not necessarily untrue but often it does not communicate the whole truth. It distorts it. If we are aware of this fact we will save ourselves a lot of headaches and heartaches.
The content of the Church’s message is a mystery of faith, the mystery of God’s presence and redemptive work in Jesus Christ. It is to be approached in a posture the reverent acceptance of faith. The media, far from being reverent, revels in exposing what is pretentious, false and scandalous. The Catholic Church with its exalted claims is a particularly tempting target.
The message of the Church is the one and eternal Gospel. Because it is permanently valid, the Church seeks to maintain continuity with its past, and cherishes stability and shuns innovation. The media, by contrast lives off of novelty, thrives on the ephemeral and panders to the “itching ears” of its readers. It accents what is new and different thus giving the impression that the Church is in constant turmoil.
The Church seeks to promote unity and reconciliation, and minimizes discord and dissent. The news media, however, is just the opposite. It specializes in disagreement and conflict which will arouse interest and boost circulation. The Good News is hardly newsworthy. Understandably, the media tends to give the impression that the Church is divided into warring factions and that every point of dogma is hotly contested by theologians within the Church itself.
We do not get our faith from the theologians. We get our faith from the Magisterium. So do the theologians. In aerospace terminology, the Magisterium is the launching pad and mission control of theology. The theologians get the faith from the Magisterium, and then fly off into the outer space of theology. If they get off the radar screen the Magisterium calls them down. If we did get our faith from the theologians the question would be, “Which theologian?” Theologians fill the spectrum from the ultra conservatives to the ultra liberals and every degree in between. And who is to decide which theologian to follow?
The media in a democratic society uses democratic criteria in its assessment of any organization. It thrives on taking polls and arguing about them. They poll a few hundred or thousand people and say this is what the majority of Americans are thinking. It is a lie. There are more than 300 million people in this country. I have never been polled by these people and I do not know anyone else who has.
The media does not appreciate a hierarchical society in which the leaders do not hold their authority from the people but from Christ through apostolic succession. Any effort of the Church to control its teachings is regarded as censorship. The media has a built-in bias against the authoritative teaching of the Church especially when it is counter-cultural. The disobedient priest and dissident theologian are portrayed as “champions of freedom.”
The teachings of the Church on matters of faith and moral practice are frequently complex and subtle. The media wants stories that are short, simple and striking, so they slur over nuances and qualifications that may be crucial.
We should not rely primarily on the news media for the teachings and news about the Church, and we should not be surprised or shocked at its distortions in the news media.
It is said that we
should read two things every day, the daily newspaper
and the Bible. The bad news is in the newspaper and the
Good News is in the Bible. The Devil is in the
details and God is in the big picture. Nothing happens in this
world that is not either positively willed by God or at least permitted
by God. And to those who love God all of these things, the evil
as well as the good, work for good.
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