Pope Francis’ gospel of communication

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The Gossips, by Norman Rockwell

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The Gossips, by Norman Rockwell

The Gossips, by Norman Rockwell

The Gossips, by Norman Rockwell

For his church’s World Communication Day tomorrow, Pope Francis has chosen as his theme: “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter.” Not to get all self-important or anything, but I like to think of my blog as at the service of the same cultural species, whether it be encountering other communicators via links or readers via interactive commenting.

The ideal, as the pope points out, is sweet: “creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all.” The real, not always so much:

The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings…It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters…We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive.

Which brings me back to that interactive commenting. Respectful and even chummy comments I get, but all too often this digital on-ramp seems designed to foster a culture of road rage and drive-bys. Only once, in the lengthy back and forth that resulted from my posting of a priest’s response to the Vatican’s questionnaire on the family, was the result the kind of true encounter that the pope seems to have in mind.

For all that, I’ve always maintained a policy of non-censorship. It’s not just that I find the abuse instructive. There’s more anti-Catholicism out there than I imagined, for example. But I think it’s only fair to allow people to respond with umbrage and venom to writing that touches their strongest feelings and ultimate concerns, especially when you indulge in the kind of critical commentary I do.

That’s not to say that I don’t find some of the comments offensive and dispiriting. Or that I don’t wonder, from time time, whether I am not in fact at the disservice of an authentic culture of encounter. Comments, anyone?

  • Lynne Newington

    No thanks, there needs to a lot of reckoning done before it can even be contemplated.
    Handing over information to the families knocking at his door, who lost their children during his timeline as ecclesiastical authority in Argentina and asserting the rights of children with clerical fathers would be a good start, both dodged at the recent UN Committee in Geneva.

  • Kevan Scott

    If by encounter you mean discussion and a sort of reconcilliation then there is lots of work to do. I find a lot of judgemental people in religion, whether Catholic or Protestant, all Claiming to be Christian while apparently enjoying condemning others to hell. There can be no encountering others when others believe so strongly that the other guy, who also claims to be Christian, is a person not deserving of grace and forgivness but one who there is no hope for and condemned to hell. I, despite much agreement with Lynn’s comments above, do find that this Pope is trying to take Catholics back to the basics of the faith and not to allow themselves to get caught up in the politics and religion of hate. He’s got lots of work to do! Encounter and reconcilliation can only come with a strong look inward by all involved.

  • Edward Burton

    Listen, you %#@& …

    Very nice article, Prof. Dr. Silk! People whose ears are open to hear what the Holy Father says, hear some wonderful sentiments. It remains to be seen whether the Church will fully accept and implement his words. Some regional authorities are not exactly expressing enthusiasm.

  • samuel Johnston

    Plato advised that the priests in his idealistic Republic, never be allowed to touch gold. Jefferson (and others) advocated a separation of Church and state.
    Lord Acton opined : “I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases.”
    Personally, I like this Pope, but as Pope he is a functionary of a political organization. He is not free to do as he likes. Lest we forget, Jesus was not bound by such constraints.
    No amount of communication will change these facts. Believers will advance supernatural, i.e. magical explanations. Academics should be embarrassed by them.

  • samuel Johnston

    HI Mark,
    I know the subject you have chosen is Spiritual Politics, but could you comment on just the Spiritual component? William James gave it a shot over a century ago. Have we learned anything since, or did he put us on the wrong track?

  • The spiritual component per se is pretty much above my, well, spiritual grade, Sam. I would say that James in his preferred approach pointed the way for a certain portion of the American population, but that Varieties makes the more important point that there are many, many variety of religious experience. And just as many now as ever.

  • samuel Johnston

    Thank you Mark. In that case, well,…back to the Pope’s communication.
    There is Religion, as described by William James, et al; and then there is the attempt to MANAGE, CONTROL, and DIRECT the religious impulse in men for the benefit of a specific group. The Church is, and has been from its beginnings, the the most successful of the contenders in that game.
    Pope Frances advises a radical change in Church policy: “We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. ”
    How can there be mutual respect if the Church’s manipulative web of deceit is not first admitted?
    In my view, the Church, indeed religion in the West, is faced with a stark choice, and I am not optimistic about a benign outcome. One path is business as usual – and the dissolution will accelerate. Who knows what “rough beast” will emerge this time as the winning cult? Scientology? Mormonism? Some form of Islam? Lebanon?
    As I see it, the opportunity is to evolve from a essentially fraudulent and secretive authoritarian organization, into a big tent service organization. Few of the regularly attending faithful will notice. Latin can be reinstated to
    sooth the ceremonially inclined. Theology, exhausted as it is, can be retired as a failed effort. A sort of Anglican
    respect for tradition can smooth the way – but the lying has to stop. The individual, not the organization has to be the final spiritual authority. Good will and good works must be the measure of organizational success.

  • samuel Johnston

    “Relic with John Paul II’s blood stolen from church in Italian mountain area beloved by pontiff” -AP wire today

    This sort of superstitious nonsense continues unabated! The magical kingdom is not worthy of respect. It is, in fact, immoral!