Seeing the Pope through the media

/ 10 October 2013

Stewart Hoover makes some trenchant observations on the ways in which media seek to cover our new Pope. He argues that Ross Douhat, for instance, is missing a transformation that is already in process:

It is also possible to see that through the instruments of the culture, including the media, it is increasingly possible today to imagine and inhabit faith and spirituality without the legitimation of doctrinal authority. That means that what Douthat fears on behalf of the new Pope is in fact the reality of modern life and modern culture: that there are ways of being religious, even Catholic, that defy traditional categories. It also means that the indicators he uses to measure decline, attendance, etc., actually measure changing practices vis a vis clericalism and traditional authority.

I’ve long argued that what is shifting in media cultures is how we understand authority, what we mean by authenticity, and how we experience agency — both our own, and God’s. Reading Stewart’s piece reminds me that the Spirit is doing so much more with our Catholic community than the hierarchy, let alone the press, can see. I’m not even sure that Stewart sees it?

For instance, what does “doctrinal authority” mean? What could it mean? How might Catholics inhabit the possibilities? This is where Brad Hinze’s recent history of dialogue, Anthony Spadaro’s work on “cybertheology” and my own work on “raising Catholic kids in a post-church world” becomes so pertinent.

Authority, authenticity, agency — all of these dynamics are shifting rapidly, and finding ways to retrieve the best of what has been, imagine what is possible, and help people find the path there is what this Pope is doing.