The Mainstream Media and religious illiteracy: why be ignorant, when you can be misinformed?
ROME, April 10, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The very first phrase in a recent news article from the BBC relating to the Catholic Church in Ireland brought to mind something that has been rolling around in my head lately: the trouble with the Mainstream Media on Catholicism, Christianity and the life and family issues, (ie: sexual morality) is not actually their vicious mendaciousness and ignorance.
Malice against the Church is nothing new or exciting, but there is also an awareness starting to dawn that these media people don’t know much about it. We are starting to hear more admissions that there is a bias in the media.
But I’ve been thinking lately, that even this doesn’t adequately cover it. It isn’t their total ignorance of anything about the Church whatsoever, but the total impenetrability of that ignorance.
There is in the mainstream media, which the BBC more or less embodies, not even enough of a clue to cause them to pause for a moment and wonder whether they should look something up. The real trouble is their ignorance of their ignorance.
Today’s example is a story from the BBC, with the totally-and-completely-unbiased-we-swear headline, “Concern at Vatican ‘silencing’ of Irish priest,” the first sentence of which tells us that “The body that represents priests in Ireland has said it is disturbed over the Vatican’s silencing of one of its members for his liberal views.”
“The body that represents priests in Ireland” eh? Do tell. Which body would this be, exactly? It certainly sounds official and important. Gosh, I mean, could this be yet another example of the wicked old arch-conservatives in Rome trying to squash another progressive, forward-thinking movement to usher in a new era of reform, openness and wonderfulness in the Church?
It’s the first sentence in the story, so it must be important. And it’s the BBC, so naturally, we would never dream of wondering whether it is true.
The story goes on to say that the group has “warned that forcing Father Tony Flannery …to stop writing for a Redemptorist Order magazine would fuel belief of a disconnect between Irish Catholics and Rome.”
Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I mean, here is this nice group of priests, just trying to keep things together in Ireland’s difficult times, and these horrible old guys in Rome are just tearing things down, for no better reason than to maintain their medieval power structures.
But wait, here’s something funny. The group the story is talking about is the Association of Catholic Priests, that the BBC hastens to tell us is “800-strong”. What association is this, you might now be wondering. No? You weren’t wondering that? Could it have been the BBC’s use of the term, “body” in a way that might have allowed you to assume that this is some kind of officially recognised organisation of the Catholic Church?
Could it possibly have been that the BBC writer was hoping no one would cut that name out of his story and paste it into the LifeSiteNews search engine? And what do we come up with there?
Woah-nellie! That’s not any official body of the Catholic Church, either in Ireland or anywhere else! In fact, this is a group of priests who have set themselves up in deliberate opposition to the Catholic Church, specifically to tear it down. Precisely what the BBC writer is implying the Vatican is doing… what gives here?
And, why, look at this, they’re trying especially to convince the Church that the old sexual morality was wrong. That wouldn’t be at all in line with the BBC’s unofficial position on the matter, would it?
Nor, it seems, did anyone think we might take Fr. Flannery’s name and put it into Google. Let’s see, what can we learn about Fr. Flannery CSSR?
It turns out that he is the author of no fewer than six books, a multitude of articles, and, one little online bio notes, is well-known for his criticisms of the Catholic Church: “…he is widely regarded as a spokesman for liberal reform of the Catholic Church”. He is, in short, a campaigner, a full-time professional anti-Catholic lobbyist, ironically, being paid a salary by the Catholic Church to undermine its own teaching, and discredit its leaders and institutions, (a job, I might add, that the Irish bishops have made much easier). This movement seeks to knock down the institutions, moral teaching and structures of Catholicism, a project that is obviously dear to the heart of the BBC.
So, in fact, three or four clicks will reveal that this “article” by the BBC is, in fact, a piece of political propaganda, carefully fashioned to point a totally-unbiased-we-swear finger at the Pope for trying to hold his priests accountable for being… well… Catholic.
A lot of this is malice, of course. The deliberate pushing, lobbying essentially, of a particular set of political ideas, without the courage to come out and admit that is what they are doing. The fact that everyone who reads an article online is also capable of uncovering this naked partisanship with a few clicks of the trackpad doesn’t seem to have dawned on them yet. Nevertheless, we still try to give the benefit of the doubt where we can.
We still say that much of this is based on “religious illiteracy” in the media, and among the public who believes what they read there. And obviously this is true, but I have noticed that this is only the first layer of the problem.
The term “religiously illiterate” simply doesn’t cover it; people, particularly the media, are religiously ignorant. There isn’t much about the Catholic Church that the media, and the wider public informed by it, doesn’t not know.
To complicate matters, on top of that ignorance and malice there is a large inventory of ideas, completely absurd nonsense, that “everyone knows” about the Catholic Church, that are total rubbish. (Here, Robert Spencer does an amusing job of shredding a sample of the problem from the New York Times.)
Put these four problems together, malice, blank ignorance, the total lack of awareness of that ignorance and wild misinformation, and it creates a perfect disaster for the public. How can we expect ordinary people, many of whom have never heard the term “media bias” to know where or when to click? How many out there would have read that story by the BBC and have known what questions to ask?
I’m afraid I laughed when I read recently about some Vatican occasion when a bishop or cardinal or someone was ever so delicately tiptoeing around the notion that many people in the western countries are a little in the dark as to what Catholicism actually teaches.
I could not help thinking of the occasion, many years ago, when I went to Catholic school in Ontario to give a talk. I have noted before that the lower grades, 8s and 9s, were quite receptive and interested, though ignorant as 10th century Inuit. The later grades, however, the 16-17 year-olds, had at some point heard the vague rumour that the Catholic Church taught two things they didn’t like and they were having none of it, or me. They had heard that they weren’t allowed, as Catholics, to sleep with whomever they pleased, and that they also weren’t allowed either to contracept away or simply to kill the products of their amusements afterwards. The shocking cheek of those old guys in Rome, trampling all over their rights like that!
I went into the class and it was immediately obvious that they were ready to tear me apart. I asked a few questions and quickly found out what I already knew.
“So you guys have been in Catholic schools all your lives and by this time, you figure you know everything the Church teaches, right?”
Nod nod nod.
“And based on that knowledge, you have examined these teachings in the light of your consciences and have come to the rational and well-informed decision that you don’t agree, right?”
(General murmurings, foot-shuffling.) “Yeah…I guess so…”
“OK, so you won’t mind a little pop quiz then. I teach catechism to some kids at my parish who are about 13 or 14 and are getting ready for their Confirmations, and I’ve just finished writing their exams, so it’s still fresh in my mind.”
(Worried looks, but still defiant.)
“Ready? ...What is the Hypostatic Union?”
A room full of more impenetrably blank looks you could not find at a convention of Italian medical secretaries.
“No? OK, maybe that was a little obscure. Then what about the difference between venial and mortal sin?”
...We all listen to the crickets chirping for a few seconds…
“Uh huh. Well, what about the difference between the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception?”
“OK, well this one is the easiest, a give-away… Ready? Who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity?”
I had to stop here because I thought one of us was going to cry and it wasn’t going to be me.
“So, you have come to the considered opinion that you reject the Church’s moral teaching on sexuality, but you don’t have a third-grader’s knowledge of what that teaching is, or the reasons behind it. Have I got it about right?”
This situation feeds itself, particularly in the media, who also don’t know enough about religion to know what they don’t know, and are equally sure they are fully possessed of What Everyone Knows About Catholicism, thus creating an almost impenetrable wall that admits no possibility of communication.
What can be done? Read LifeSiteNews, for one thing. And fight back, for another. First equip yourself for the discussion (I won’t say “fight”). Learn everything you can about how to answer the arguments against traditional Christian morality (This is not proposed as an exercise only for Catholic Christians).
This is something for which LifeSiteNews is the ideal tool. We write in these pages about both sides, what the other side is doing, thinking and saying, and why, and what is being done about it on the other side.
The peddlers of anti-Catholic, anti-Christian hatred, are counting on your ignorance. The author of this piece I have focused on here was depending on his audience not wondering whether this were a legitimate organisation of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
He was selling you a paradigm that liberals base all their hate-mongering on: that there is a “good” Christianity that is all for abortion, homosexuality and sexual libertinism, in the name of “freedom” and “conscience” and on the other side, the dark forces of “conservatism” whose only interest is in squashing your fun for their own nefarious purposes. It sounds silly when you write it out like this, but that really is it in a nutshell. Whether they are paid by the BBC or whether the Redemptorist order in Ireland is signing the cheques, the desired outcome is precisely the same.
They can only sell it to you if you are buying. And you will only be in the market for these ideas if you are not already in full possession of the Truth.