This debauched medium

what tends to be widely disseminated by the media will almost certainly not be the most worthy, the most consequent, the most eloquent, most beautiful, but rather whatever provides passing satisfaction to an ideological palate which has lost the ability to distinguish between the true, the trivial and the blatantly manufactured. This might be in the form of political reporting, or celebrity gossip, or whatever is trending on social media, or inspiration porn, or coverage of some calamity, or sound bites from a popular religious figure, or sound bites from a loathed religious figure, for that matter – but they are all accorded the same status within this debauched medium.

Scott Stephens, editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal, has written an excellent piece on the role of the media in the formation of our collective moral mind:

According to Kierkegaard, the role of the popular press is effectively to inoculate the public against serious ethical reflection by peddling a placebo called opinion: a form of irresponsible speech which in no way obliges the speaker to act upon his convictions, but which can nonetheless shown off as a kind of fashion accessory.

“The great mass of people naturally have no opinion but – here it comes! – this deficiency is remedied by the journalists who make their living by renting out opinions … Gradually, as more and more people are wrenched free of the condition of innocence in which they were by no means obliged to have an opinion and are forced into the ‘condition of guilt’ … in which they must have an opinion, what can the unfortunate people do? An opinion becomes a necessary item for every member of the enormous public, so the journalist offers his assistance by renting out opinions.”

It is not surprising, then, that Evgeny Morozov regards Kierkegaard as the first and most perceptive critic of what he calls “slacktivism”: the rather dubious modern practice of incorporating political causes or one’s ethical bona fides into a carefully constructed online persona. As Kierkegaard recognised, not only does this corrupt moral sentiment itself, it also produces inconstant, ultimately exhibitionist forms of quasi-morality.

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2014/12/13/4148098.htm

The piece is scathing, and well worth your time.

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Evolution and the Catholic Church

Earlier I posted a lovely piece of satire: ‘The Pope on Evolution‘.

Amidst the media inanity TIME was one of the few outlets that saw through the haze of collective stupidity, with a story titled:
Sorry, But Media Coverage of Pope Francis is Papal Bull

But it’s not really good enough to have to rely on occasional media sanity – we should be able to see through the nonsense for ourselves.

It’s hard to seen through the nonsense if you don’t have any indication that it is nonsense, so it helps first of all to have enough general knowledge to know that something doesn’t add up. You might have to know, for example, that unlike the American Creationists who pushed Intelligent Design, the Catholic Church has a proud history of philosophical and scientific engagement. When it comes to ‘faith vs science’ the Catholic Church doesn’t believe in ‘versus’.

If you knew that, you would be immediately suspicious of the claim that Pope Francis’ comments to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences signaled some kind of revolutionary change in the Church’s attitude to evolution.

For more detail, the now outdated Catholic Encyclopedia is a great source of information on what the Church thought circa 1909. On ‘Catholics and Evolution’ the Encyclopedia states:

One of the most important questions for every educated Catholic of today is: What is to be thought of the theory of evolution? Is it to be rejected as unfounded and inimical to Christianity, or is it to be accepted as an established theory altogether compatible with the principles of a Christian conception of the universe?

We must carefully distinguish between the different meanings of the words theory of evolution in order to give a clear and correct answer to this question. We must distinguish (1) between the theory of evolution as a scientific hypothesis and as a philosophical speculation; (2) between the theory of evolution as based on theistic principles and as based on a materialistic and atheistic foundation; (3) between the theory of evolution and Darwinism; (4) between the theory of evolution as applied to the vegetable and animal kingdoms and as applied to man.

Unfortunately this is already too much detail for most media outlets, and perhaps most people generally. If you can’t for example, understand why the simple question of “Does the Church believe in Evolution” has suddenly branched off into a series of complicated distinctions and definitions, this path of inquiry might not be for you.

The Encyclopedia post is too big to reproduce in its entirety, but it notes along the way that

As early as 1877 Knabenbauer stated “that there is no objection, so far as faith is concerned, to assuming the descent of all plant and animal species from a few types”

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published in 1859.

The Encyclopedia doesn’t show an unconditional acceptance of the theory, but rather an intelligent philosophical engagement with the varieties of evolutionary theory and the theological implications and ramifications, appropriate to a point in history that predated much of the supporting evidence and relevant biological discoveries such as DNA.

Read enough of this stuff and it becomes clear that whatever one might think of the Catholic Church and its teachings, it has historically exhibited a level of intellectual engagement that puts to shame our contemporary media outlets and our uncritical reliance on them.

The Pope on evolution

Others before me have said: “when the media reports on the Catholic Church, deduct 50 IQ points.”

Unfortunately it’s a lot easier to interpret reality through the prism of hearsay and poorly bounded cliches than to go to the effort of finding evidence and applying reason. So when the media starts reporting that the Pope has finally embraced modern science and evolution, those of us with enough intellectual integrity to know that this is a non-story can only take refuge in hilarious, wonderful satire such as the following:

VATICAN––In a stunning break with centuries of Catholic teaching, Pope Francis announced today that the forces of Gravity and Electromagnetism are real, adding that “God is not a magician with a magic wand.” This is in stark contrast with the teaching of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, whose third Encyclical is entitled “God the Magician: Why Gravity Doesn’t Exist.”

http://www.eyeofthetiber.com/2014/10/28/pope-francis-says-forces-of-gravity-and-electromagnetism-are-real/