Propaganda Pope?

Pop in a Santa HatThe Vatican has a good PR department. With half a billion adherents to the Christian brand, one might say this has always been the case. By the looks of certain papal headwear this festive season, a ‘merger’ with Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus logo seems to be on the cards, which could provide a further boost!

Their recent communication strategy may also prove an effective, if sinister ploy. From Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas message:

“Today we have vast material resources available to us,” he said. “The men of this technological age risk becoming victims of the successes of their intelligence and the results of their operative capabilities, if what they obtain is spiritual atrophy and an emptiness of the heart.

First, I think he is wrong to worry. The two largest technological revolutions are those of digital communications, and microbiology. Our capability for genetic engineering is certainly a potent force, but the furore surrounding GM crops is evidence that the scientists, the politicians and the public are acutely aware of the power we hold. Of course we need to take care, but the debate is proceeding slowly, precisely because of our ethical heritage.

I sense that the Pope is in fact referring to the advances in digital communications. In this case, the focus is on more people being able to communicate faster and easier. I would disagree that this will somehow lead to a diminished sense of soul. Indeed, these inventions have fostered entirely new types of community, ones that are not based on the accidents of geography or time. It allows people to maintain relationships with friends and family over long distances, and it allows communities to organise much more efficiently. Later in his address, the Pope emphasised the idea of a global family. Mankind is using these technologies to better itself – where is this threatening spiritual decline?

It is not our spirituality that is threatened, merely the Church and its outdated modus operandi. The Church does not deal in verifiable facts, but in the ideas we let into our minds. In the 21st Century, ideas flow so freely and cheaply that they are rebutted by a choir of voices almost as soon as they are aired. The Internet provides such diversity of thought and opinion, and the institution is particularly vulnerable to dissent and rebuttal. The Heiresarchs can no longer be silenced.

The Pope is free to tell us that our technological advances are threat to human spirituality. It is in fact only the Catholic Church that is under threat, but His Holiness uses his position to equate the two. He may well believe his analysis to be true, but it is a classic piece of propaganda and Christians should not fall for it. Instead, they should celebrate the growth in spirituality that the technology offers. Our new methods of communication allow minority voices to be heard, bringing new concepts of human value, and how people should spend their time. This may not be a new religion, merely an emphasis on (say) creativity and expression. The Catholic Church may “slip from their heart” but that is not to say that some other spiritual element cannot fill that void, even if it is simply concepts of kindness and happiness, which even atheists recognise as being a part of their substance. Who are you calling empty hearted, Joseph?

The casual Luddite attitude adopted by the Pope is designed to assert a superiority over other, competing voices. Paradoxically, it actually becomes a barrier to people attaining their version of spiritual fulfillment. Despite his white baseball caps, the new Pope’s pronouncements before and after his succession to the Papal throne hint at a hostility to the modern world. If this attitude does not change, then the Christian message will begin to wane. This would be a shame, as it is a creed that has so much to offer humanity. It is unfortunate that Christianity in its current form (along with many other religions too, I am sure) is obsessed with homogenising an aspect of life that is, by definition, personal. To do so, it must dismiss the possibility of other paths. Thus they warn us against technology, and the notion that spirituality may be a relative concept. As we use and embrace technology, so we announce that these alternative paths exist. The control that Catholicism exerts over its adherents, and those who happen to live alongside them is undermined.

Of course, it is possible my analysis of Pope Benedict’s strategy may be too complicated. Perhaps he is not as subtle as I give him credit for. He also spoke out against the proliferation of weapons. Perhaps the “operative capabilities” he refers to are in fact those conferred on the Saudi Arabian Air Force, now they have purchased 48 Typhoon fighter jets from the British Government! If it was this transaction that the Pope was talking about, then I can well believe in the spiritual atrophy he speaks of. The Saudi regime has a particularly warped conception of human value – Delivering these expensive killing machines to them will send our moral compass spinning.

6 Replies to “Propaganda Pope?”

  1. Hmmm, a tricky post for me to comment on without coming across as being an apologist for Catholicism.

    I certainly disagree with the the sentiment that only organised religion feels at risk from the developments the Pope was alluding too.

    Many people are scared rigid by developments in communications, particularly in the realm of surveillance technology. And you don’t have to be a Bible nut to sense that GM foods may impact negatively on a fabulously complicated system of natural balance and order.

    These questions boil down to, as ever, whether you trust the morality, motivations and common sense of the people who will be wielding those new technologies. And if I had to choose between a Pope, a President or a multinational CEO I’d be pretty stuck for an answer.

  2. Howdy,

    Spirituality: am i the only person that takes issue with the concept of it? My compassion, my interests, my art… they are part of my flesh and blood, not some ridiculous Old/New wave notion of trying to attain some kind of collective, tangible fulfilment.

    I wish the internet did carry people away from make believe gods and monsters, but like you say Rob, the internet perpetuates community. If you don’t happen to like the explicit homophobia of Christian teaching, why not take the bits you like and start a new collective over there somewhere? The inflexibility of the catholic church will be its downfall in the West.

    GM foods (in response to Stef): nature in farming is long, long dead. GM crops is a way to control the mutations imparted on any one species, rather than leaving it to the historical ‘random mutations’, which for millennia have been instigated by man anyway. To say it will harm nature is 1000s of years too late.

    Also, the Pope looks like Star War’s Emperor Palpatine.

  3. I get the idea the Pope is just trying to find somewhere to stand. Its just a way to say “im conservative” isn’t it?

    Ooh, more Saudi bashing. Warped human values? Surely that is not entirely reasonable.

  4. Robert,

    Is it not a bit of a broader attack that the Pope is making? Is he not saying that all technology has a potential downside in terms of the human spirit?

    A couple of years ago, it struck me as wierd that American pilots could kiss mom and the kids bye bye in the morning, go to a fuelled up bomber, fly across the pole and bomb someone in Afghanistan and still be back in time for tea. The risk of technology divorcing us from reality has maybe been hauled up short by the land war in Iraq, but the dream of the strategists and some military scientists to make war clinical where they can, could also be what he was alluding to, could it not?

  5. Yes DE, a case of CDB. I’m not sure the random, drive-by Saudi bashing really becomes me.

    Stef, I’ve been having an argument with my Auntie over Christmas dinner about the monarchy today, and so in a choice between the Pope, a CEO and a President I’ll choose the latter every time, even if he’s shite, because he is at least elected… Although what with Dubya in the White House, this is an ideological stance rather than one I would like to see in practice!

    I’m not suggesting that there are no threatening aspect to new technological developments. I mentioned that regarding GM foods, and the surveillance you mention is a good example too. But we are very aware of these issues. As DE says, I sense that the Pope is fishing for a political stance, and his comments are reactionary in character.

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