My Brother’s Keeper: Catholic New Media & Fraternity

If you’ve ever flipped through the channels on basic cable, the stations on your satellite radio, or the podcasts on your iDevice, you’re probably already aware of the phenomenon that is Catholic New Media. You may not have realized it had a name, but you probably became aware of at least two things:

  1. There is a new push to evangelize for the Catholic faith on new media platforms such as the Internet, social media, satellite radio, and smart phones.
  2. These people are crazy. (Present company excepted.)

Let’s take these one at a time.

There is a new push to evangelize for the Catholic faith on new media platforms…

You’ve almost certainly flipped through basic cable at night and somehow wound up watching Mother Angelica pontificate and remonstrate on EWTN. At first you think, She is too cute. And before long you’re thinking, Oh… Oh my… This is embarrassing. So you change the channel and move on. But it’s made its impression, right? Because later, when you should be sleeping, you’re observing your blood pressure go up and thinking, This is not good. That did not make me feel good about myself or my faith. We’ll consider this “Early, Primitive, Catholic New Media.” Because Mother Angelica has left the building.

New Catholic MediaNow, we have all sorts of options for “Catholic content.” (Much of which, for whatever reason, is sponsored by or affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York.) You can listen to The Catholic Channel on your SiriusXM radio. You can listen to any number of Catholic podcasts or watch them in visual form. There are Catholic-themed iPhone apps, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, and numerous, specialized blogs. I mean, the Pope is on Twitter for God’s sake. (Pun totally intended.)

If you’d like to take a closer look at all the Church is doing to promote Catholic New Media, feel free to read or download the 128-page report published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November of last year, creatively titled Catholic New Media Use in the United States, 2012. (I joke about the creativity of the title, but seriously, it’s a monster of a report, in a good way.) Make no mistake about it, there is a push for this “new evangelization.” In point of fact, there are Catholic New Media conferences, how-to guides, and awards ceremonies. It really is a thing. I didn’t make it up.

What these outlets do exceedingly well is present a face of Catholicism to the world, a face that is hip and modern, and yet a face that is incoherently backward, traditionalist, and out of touch. It’s like they’ve created this wonderful system of outreach and are putting on a dazzling show, but they’re not actually reaching anyone new because they’re Ad orientem. Which brings us to the second thing that is hard to miss about Catholic New Media:

These people are crazy…

(Let me start by adding in that extra “present company excepted” piece — because one should never bite the hand that may one day feed them.) Having said that, Catholic New Media folk are, by and large, out of their minds. What begins as a brilliant strategy to reach new audiences, comes crashing down like a heavy kneeler on your foot, where the only way to extricate yourself is to convince everyone else along the pew to ease up already.

papal conclave 2013An example is in order: When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his retirement (Say what?!), I immediately subscribed to SiriusXM radio specifically to have access to The Catholic Channel. (I have a thing for papal elections. Always have, always will. I’m like a pontificate junky who needs multiple fixes of papabile rumor and innuendo throughout the day to function during any interregnum. Besides, this was only the second time there would be an apostolic vacancy in my entire life.) In the end, the subscription was absolutely worth the (albeit negotiated) cost. The Catholic Channel provided outstanding coverage leading up to the conclave, during the conclave, and all the way up to the election of Pope Francis. For the next few days afterward, the coverage continued to be superb, and the sense of excitement of the station’s staff was palpable. It made me even more excited.

And then, when the novelty of the situation had worn off, The Catholic Channel resumed its regular schedule. And I was at a loss for words. What had seemed like a fraternal communion and feel-good unity between Catholics fizzled out, and suddenly I would find myself changing the channel when literally out of nowhere a host would start spouting off about gay marriage or Obamacare. And it wasn’t just civil debate in the style of NPR. I was actually being yelled at. I, the listener, was being belittled and made to feel “not Catholic” or, as traditionalists like to put it, “heretical.” What had been, just two weeks earlier, a conversation about pontifical humility as a shining example for the world very quickly morphed into the ugliest form of mini-attack ads, but on my very humanity and in the “safe spaces” of my home and car.

I’ve found that this is typical of the current crop of Catholic New Media hosts, pundits, contributors, and commentators. You can be drawn in by an affinity toward charity, love, and hope, and then you are sideswiped by politics and anger. It’s off-putting, and is exactly the wrong way to evangelize.

I realize that up to this point in this article, I probably haven’t made many friends with the Catholic New Media circles. (It’s also a good place to say that my views are not necessarily the views of Catholic Majority, nor of any of its other contributors.) However, it is important to both recognize and name this type of behavior: it is bullying, belittling, and not at all Christ-like. And yet we are called to fraternity, and to charity.

cropped-GIFlogoColorSmall.gifSo I may as well admit this: Inasmuch as we are called to charity, I genuinely believe that those who behave in this way are doing what they believe to be best, and what they consider to be “loyal” to the Church.  I don’t really believe that they are crazy or out of their minds. They, like everyone, want to convince others what they believe to be right and good. But there is a diversity in the Church that isn’t apparent if you observe Catholic New Media today, and that is why websites like Catholic Majority are so important.

We, as Catholics, need to have places to speak civilly, and not be afraid of voicing our beliefs. We can and should be a part of Catholic New Media. As baptized members of the Church, we have a responsibility to share our faith to the best of our understanding. Our beliefs don’t always jibe with the beliefs voiced by our brothers and sisters who currently have a stronghold on Catholic New Media and new evangelization. That stronghold, however, need not be a barrier to the sharing of our perspectives, respectfully, and honestly, with one another, and with those who might be drawn to the Church by our example.

cain and abelInasmuch as we place value on fraternity, it is my greatest hope that the present state of Catholic New Media does not chase away those who seek comfort in the arms of the Church. Let us never permit ourselves to extinguish the voice or the hope of any of our brothers or sisters.  Let us also remember what happened when Cain killed his brother, taking away his voice and his life. When God inquired after Abel’s whereabouts. Cain asks, flippantly, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And his punishment was more than he could bear.

What do you think? Do you ever feel embarrassed by the images or words you hear representing your faith to the world? Did you even know Catholic New Media was a thing? And anyway, can’t we all just get along?

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