Infallible Ignorance

With the passing of Pope John Paul II, the world rightly recognizes in a unique way the end of an era, and, like a sober reveler on New Year's Eve, pauses for a moment amid the sound and fury of the present age, to take stock, evaluate, and come to terms with things that are, should be, or will be. This can be counted as an additional if unintended Papal blessing.

And so the worldwide media interrupts their daily cataloguing of human woes, ——tsunamis, wars, coups, counter—coups, revolutions, and Michael Jackson, to gaze upon Rome and to pontificate (sorry) on the state of the Church.

When dealing with a movement or an institution with a history as long, controversial and complex as the Church, it pays to have a minimal understanding of basic facts before one begins to speak. Of course, not everyone can be expected to be an expert. Yet the very act of turning on a news—channel or picking up a newspaper bespeaks a quest for facts, for knowledge, for insight. The seeker is not really asking for much.

Ironically and unfortunately, the defining quality of the American mass media during this technological age, an era of compulsory education, ubiquitous digital information and consequent lightning—fast answers, is one of overwhelming ignorance of serious religious observance in the Catholic Church, the largest single religious organization in the world.

In America, the 24—hour cable offerings have the inherent weakness of reliance on teams of pretty girls and boys chosen more for their looks than their substance and platoons of pundits—for—hire necessary to fill the limitless void of a cable wasteland. They deliver news product as predictable and nutritious as a Big Mac. On a routine news day their coverage is usually innocuous and transparent, digestible and caloric, if not exactly nutritious for a healthy mind.

This institutional and debilitating weakness is most glaringly exposed only when an event like the death of a Pope occurs, a major story, about a foreign issue. And although this weakness is just as disgraceful during a war or an election, to be sure, it somehow is not as obviously and painfully apparent.

The Pope dies and the usual cast of characters makes their way on to the stage. Chris Matthews, Christiane Amanpour, Shepard Smith, and lesser stars go to Rome to 'report' on the happenings and discuss the events, with little knowledge or understanding of what is happening or why. The New York Times, ABC News, CNN, also devote most of their resources to capture the moment. Only, they too don't have anything new, or informative to say. They just don't get it.

And if they could, they wouldn't want to. Like Powder River, they are a mile wide —— and an inch deep. Everything, therefore, is by necessity made to fit the limited world—view of the ever more juvenile New York/L.A./Beltway brethren. The death of John Paul II, part of the rich living history in the fullness of time of the Roman Catholic Church, 2000 years old, is perforce given the same treatment afforded the likes of Princess Diana and John John Kennedy, and a royal remarriage, although admittedly on a larger, slicker scale. The visuals are great.

The desperation of the search for meaning and context is quickly apparent as the clueless try to fit the Story into their routine. Why the 'Beltway Boys' must editorialize on the death of the Holy Father escapes me. Yet Brit must ask and thus Mort Kondrake must respond with this gem, 'Gee, he seemed such a nice man, if only he would have permitted the ordination of women, everyone would have liked him, I don't understand his stubbornness.' Alas, this inane comment was not an aberration.

Morning, noon, and night for several days the viewers and readers were given breathless coverage of pomp and ceremony, glorying in the spectacle while the anchors and reporters discounted the substance, baffled by the dichotomy: 'Why do so many love this man? He hates abortion, euthanasia, condoms,' the holy trinity of compassionate sophisticates. Renegade nuns and randy prelates must be trotted out to voice reservations, but there are only so many; even CNN exhausted this line of reporting. Though a new record for use of the word 'but' was undoubtedly set (breaking the record recently set at Reagan's funeral), surely the mantra, '... although many followers disagreed with his outmoded teachings.' will echo in our minds forever.

Of course the Church will survive the musings and wishes of the ignorant, the psuedo—educated, the vapid Gardarene swine of today, just as it has survived the much more formidable persecutions, heresies, wars, and reformations of the past.

The coming Conclave will produce a Pope and the newly elected Pontiff will guide the faithful with the permission and observance of the Holy Spirit, or so it is believed by the flock.

The ignorance of the media elite however will also survive and flourish. A new generation of uninformed news—gathers and consumers will replace the old. And as intelligence and instruction decline, the corrective voice of the wise will fade away.
They will report and discuss education, economics, war, peace, culture, politics and more with the same unerring lack of knowledge, humility, and grace.

Perhaps the growth and influence of new media can help to arrest this trend. New thinkers and knowledgeable experts have the ability to broadcast their expertise worldwide, without benefit of lip gloss, perfect teeth or a high Q—factor. Given the impetus of ridiculous reporting and empty—headed opinions provided by the major stories of our day, there is certainly an opportunity.