Why Deserting the Culture War Is a(n) (Understandable) Mistake


Sometimes I catch myself picturing God as an indulgent grandfather.

He smiles at my successes but winks at my missteps. He thinks I have the best ideas at work meetings. He nods in agreement when I squawk at the driver in front of me.

Obviously, and mercifully, it is not so. Over the past few months I’ve been reading a few pages at a time of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The book is about writing, but in one instance, she shares the wisdom of her “priest friend Tom”:

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

I reread the sentence a few times, certain that God was taking the opportunity to reassert his divinity through my Kindle screen. With every deficiency or smallness of our own that we project onto God, we distance ourselves from him and from other people — and not just while we’re sitting in traffic. From irritating acquaintances to politicians to the professor who gave us a C+, we cultivate a me-versus-them mentality backed by God the Yes-Man.

But if there’s something worse than my own struggles in seeing others with the eyes of God, it’s when many of us do this collectively. One area in which this phenomenon is particularly visible is in our news consumption as Catholics.

It’s the perfect storm: As much of our culture turns away from Christianity, the beliefs our faith espouses make their way into the mainstream press less and less. Many media sources, already vehicles of various biases we find unpalatable, make us angry when they misrepresent Catholicism or advocate immorality or scoff at our values. So we boycott. Stay inside our social media echo chambers. Read about how bad the other side is in our preferred news sources without actually reading what the opposition is writing.

It’s not an irrational response — frankly, it’s an understandable response. But it isn’t the best one.

“Listen so that you can understand why someone holds a different view than yours and whether there’s truth in their perspective.”

First, it dehumanizes journalists, who — despite all our grievances — are often just trying to get the story right. (Fr. James Martin addresses this in an excellent piece about his experience with religion reporters.) If you’re skeptical, here’s a challenge: Next time you see an error in a story, whether it’s a misleading headline or a reference to Natural Family Planning as “the rhythm method,” send an email to the author with a well-worded correction. My husband, Kevin, has gotten New York Times headlines changed this way. (A caveat: Be nice about it. It bears remembering: God loves journalists, too.)

Second, by choosing not to read a variety of news sources, we weaken our ability to dialogue productively with our intellectual opposition. This isn’t about changing our minds on important issues — we know which beliefs are non-negotiables. (Furthermore, it’s worth stating that merely reading opposing views does not constitute compromising your own.)

No, what I’m talking about is listening. Listen so that you can understand why someone holds a different view than yours and whether there’s truth in their perspective. Listen so that you can better address their concerns. Listen because it upholds their dignity. While you might dislike them (and, consciously or subconsciously, believe that God does, too), you can’t be an instrument in their conversion until you love them.

Third, this isn’t only about journalists. It’s about your non-Catholic neighbor or cousin or coworker who reads news and commentary that you don’t. Pope Francis addresses this beautifully in his 2014 World Communications Day message:

“We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death. We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert. To dialogue means to believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective.”

So what are we to do?

First and foremost, embrace prayer and humility, two keys to beholding God as he truly exists instead of as as an accomplice to our failures and biases. Pray for openness of heart toward others; pray for the conversion of the world. Pray to recognize your own failings and need for mercy.

Furthermore, we must equip ourselves for daily conversation. Read the news — about your faith, about the world. Read opinions you agree with and disagree with. Kevin and I compile a newsletter of news and commentary pieces Monday through Friday. If you’re interested, you can subscribe here. If not, find your own way to stay updated: a Twitter list of eclectic media outlets or journalists and a habit of checking various op-ed pages are good places to start.

Finally, adopt an attitude of evangelization. Jesus urges us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) — and he meant all.

Laura Loker is a co-founder and editor of Go Forth: Field Notes for the Modern Catholic, a curated morning newsletter of news, commentary and practical posts relevant to Catholics. She also is a marketing consultant. Follow her: @lauramloker

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1 Response

  1. J-T Kelly says:

    Hi, Laura! Wonderful points about loving those we differ with.

    You misstep when you say, "One area in which this phenomenon is particularly visible is in our news consumption as Catholics… As much of our culture turns away from Christianity, the beliefs our faith espouses make their way into the mainstream press less and less… So we boycott. Stay inside our social media echo chambers."

    The points you make about not closing off, about loving others, are good ones. It’s your target that’s off. If you and your peers are exhibiting the echo chamber-seeking behavior you mention, it’s probably not so much due to your Catholicism as it is to your income, your race, the region of the country you live in, and the level of your education. That you are Christian matters, too, but not so much your denomination – and not as much as your income level, your race, and your education level.

    To make a claim about the media consumption habits of American Catholics, you would have to take into account the 27% of American Catholics who were born outside the country – most of them Hispanic. Source: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/09/14/a-closer-look-at-catholic-america/

    Another piece of data you would have to contend with is the voting behavior of American Catholics. About 45% of American Catholics hold liberal social views. I am counting the categories of "White Moderate" and "White Liberal" from this page: http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/11/the-catholic-swing-vote/

    The American Catholic presidential voting record is pretty well split between Democrat and Republican, with the Democrat vote coming out on top by a little bit. Source: http://cara.georgetown.edu/presidential%20vote%20only.pdf

    Well done putting together a new feed to enable what you suggest. Thanks!

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