“Believers are conditioned by a culture of images that imposes contradictory models and impulses, with the effective negation of God.”
— Pope Benedict XVI, March 9, 2008
I can’t get this quote by Pope Benedict out of my head. I use it often in my media awareness presentations to drive home the point that even people of faith can be desensitized to such an extent that their egos take over. That’s “EGO,” as in an acronym for “easing God out.” It seems so related to what’s happening in our society today, with the election being a recent example of Catholics reacting to a “culture of images” instead of making sound choices based on a well-formed conscience.
What were the images that bombarded us leading up to Nov. 6?
Scary images, phrases and ill-formed arguments thrown out on TV, social media and radio portraying Church leaders standing up against the HHS contraceptive mandate as Neanderthals who want to oppress women. Even though the bishops and others who are against the mandate never said anything about stripping the local pharmacy of birth control or demanding that obstetricians and gynecologists stop prescribing birth control, that’s exactly the message that was very effectively marketed to voters.
The other message that was planted in the heads of Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public was that the mandate itself would not put financial pressure on the Catholic Church. So said the vice president during the televised vice presidential debate. Never mind the long list of lawsuits filed by the Church and other Christian entities against the Health and Human Services Department. Never mind the fact that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was quick to respond with a strong statement clarifying Joe Biden’s misstatement. The damage was done.
It’s said that if you tell a lie often enough, people start to believe it. The lies about the mandate devastating women but not the Church were told repeatedly and then bought by a good chunk of the Catholic voting population. There are also voters who were clueless about the mandate. I had one woman call into my radio show one week before the election who admitted she had no idea what the HHS mandate was. And she was a Catholic radio listener!
The impact of this culture of images is telling for the Church on a number of fronts. First, the exit polling and other research since the election showed too many Catholics still do not agree with the Church when it comes to teachings on artificial birth control and abortion. We have a lot of re-evangelizing and catechizing to do. Second, despite the stellar efforts by the bishops to inform Church-going Catholics about attacks on religious freedom, those efforts were either not heard or weren’t convincing enough. Third, it was blatantly obvious the Church has to do a better job of expressing the truth and beauty of Catholic teaching within this culture of images. And finally, pro-life politicians were either on the defensive or not in the game at all when it came to articulating traditional values.
Research shows that young people use media about 53 hours a week. Adults aren’t much better. We spend close to 40 hours a week with various media. The culture of death is alive and well and a major voice in today’s vast and diverse media platform. If last month’s election is any indication, the Church is barely a blip on the radar or iPad screen. As painful as this situation was and is, it’s a great lesson and a wake-up call for us to get busy transforming that culture of images into a true culture of life.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.