Editorial: Getting burned

The brief tenure of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director at the end of July highlighted yet another animated turn in the political discourse of the United States. It also illustrated how, culturally, we never seem to appreciate the true danger of the things we have come to tolerate.

For political pundits and consumers of media, it’s all fun and games until we take into account that our children are watching and that interviews laced with turns of phrase that can’t even be printed have now been grafted onto the history of the presidency.

It’s the same line of thinking that says, “Oh, I’ll only be out in the sun for a little while. I won’t take precautions.” A world of sunburn-induced hurt usually follows.

The same dynamic carries over to other materials that we handle with a cavalier sort of ease, such as our sources of entertainment. It’s human nature to think that we can partake of copious amounts of reality television or programming with graphic violence and sexuality and not be changed by it. That a program’s popularity makes it border on a “cultural event” that lights up Twitter and entertainment media should give us even more pause. The average viewer most likely isn’t going to go out and rape and pillage after viewing the latest “Game of Thrones” episode, but as our society still continues to grapple with our response to sexual violence and pervasive consumption of pornography, we can’t deny the willful desensitization that we bring on ourselves.

In a recent interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Teresa Kettelkamp, former head of the Child and Youth Protection office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, now staffing the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in Rome, listed the degradation of culture — such as advertising that once would have been considered lewd or profane content — as a factor of which the Church has to be mindful. What is acceptable behavior in a given society?

It doesn’t have to be something as brazenly life-destroying as the sexual abuse of a child for harmful effects to last a lifetime. Recent studies have found that children of divorce, while able to achieve academically and professionally, really do struggle when it comes to forming lasting, trusting relationships in adulthood.

So what is to be done about this?

So many shifts in the culture away from a universal moral code and toward an ethic of “I’ll do my thing; you do yours” have been sparked by the thoughts, words and actions of a few individuals exacting influence over society as a whole. From there, groupthink and social pressure take care of the rest.

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People of faith can take comfort in the fact that this dynamic works in both directions. The living out of an authentic witness of the Christian faith in daily life can make an impact, change hearts and minds and, ultimately, transform culture and treat the wounds — from burns or otherwise. This is the faith-filled view, imbued with trust in God’s providential plan.

“We can never build heaven on earth,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, said in an address July 27. “But we can make this world at least a little more loving, free, merciful and just by our actions in the public square.”

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor