Friday, March 21, 2014

Democracy, Controlling Social Media and the Church

  Recep Tayyip Erdogan talking to a crowd
Turkey restricted access to Twitter hours after its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, threatened to "root out" the social media network where wiretapped recordings have been leaked, damaging the government's reputation ahead of local elections.
I not sure I would describe Turkey as undemocratic, in the accepted sense of democracy, but it certainly seems to be a heavy handed state. For the Prime Minister there are presumably fears that social media users who were protesting in Taksim Square might return and trigger an Arab Spring in Turkey. Twitter, texting, blogging seem to to be sparks that can destabilise states. Social media gives a voice to the voiceless, that which was repressed is given substance. Important we would say in repressive regimes but important elsewhere. Often when there is no effective opposition or no-one to reveal abuses of power the social media fills that void, the voiceless are heard. Not only that but the voiceless find community, no longer are they a single voice crying alone in the wilderness.

I had a Sudanese nomadic camel herder staying in my basement for a while, he only spoke his local dialect but he he could communicate with his mother every night, in the past he would have sent a letter to a mosque that his family might possibly have passed once a year, the 'new media' meant he couldn't communicate with his family at home. Social media is revolutionary, it puts people in touch with one another. A parishioner was telling me about a friend who spends most of his time in touch with gay friends in Los Angeles but seems to know practically no-one in his immediate environment. Social media creates 'community' but it is a new kind of community, sometimes it is a community without responsibility and as we have seen amongst the young it can be a particularly cruel community.

For clerical bloggers there seems to be a continuation of 17/18th century pamphleteering, S Edmund Campion today would have a laptop rather than than printing press and Campion's pamphlets were like Newman's Tracts an extension of his pulpit, at times as we see with Newman they can have a certain waspishness and controversial tone and at times not be too welcome by the bishops.

I find it interesting that Catholic blogs seem to raise a particular ire in some quarters whilst other clergy are quite free to write in the secular or religious press any letter of dissent they choose, even to the point of regular press columns,  or even letters that seem to encourage outright rebellion to the bishops and pope.
A priest and deacon is ordained to preach, to speak out, to denounce sin and wrong doing, to proclaim the Truth. We are more comfortable with him speaking to few dozen rather than hundreds or a few thousand on social media. I can understand the fear some bishops might have with clergy, or even lay Catholics having a voice in a public forum.

I would hope it is not the same fears as Mr Erdoğan, there was certainly a stronger media buzz during the time of Pope Benedict than Pope Francis, I am not quite sure why I and other clergy had more to say during the previous pontificate than I have during this one, perhaps it is something about the change in attitude towards intellectual freedom that one senses in the air, or just the positive encouragement Pope Benedict gave to clergy blogging, tweeting etc. or maybe just a sense that Benedict needed protecting.

Mr Erdoğan recognises the dangers of social media, the overthrow of the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who of course was a legitimate and democratically elected, seems like many other leaders to have have had his flaw disclosed and opposition mounted against him through social media and new technology. Social media introduces a new dimension to democracy which presumably will have to evolve to account for the new voice people have. It seems remarkably odd that our own coalition government was elected by a minority of our citizens on a raft of policies which the majority rejected, some of which were abandoned as soon as they took their seats, whilst others were introduced with no mandate whatsoever. It is possible nowadays for everyone to vote on every bill before Parliament, whereas fewer and fewer want to actually vote for a Member of Parliament and even less for an MEP, mainly I suspect because most people just feel having been elected they will simply do their own thing. We no longer trust our leaders.

The Church is not a democracy but it is a community, and at the moment there is much talk about 'consultation' and 'dialogue' as well as 'new ways of decision making'. I can't help feeling that our present understanding of democracy belongs to a former age, especially in a fast moving society were 'traditional values' are overthrown; the government stepping in to redefining such fundamentals as marriage, life and death. The ancient model in the Church seems to have been acclamation by the people and a paternalistic dictatorship by the Bishop, who needed personal skills to hold the congregation together, it seems a model that tradition societies in Africa, Asia, the Arab world seem quite comfortable with, more so than what we in Europe call democracy, but really is an elected oligarchy or more often an elected dictatorship that often changes every few years. That is certainly not the model of governance for the Church but then neither is what we have had in recent years (centuries?) in the West at least. Liberals seem to want to turn the Church into a democracy, along Western lines whilst Conservatives seem to want a Presidential or Dictatorial model,

I wonder whether the model for the Church could be something like Afganistan's Loya Jirga? Whatever, Pope Francis, and many others from different strata in the Church, seems to recognise the old models simply don't work. For all the desire to paper over the cracks, there seems to be a new model to ensure cohesion in the Church, but also in society - the centre cannot hold.

   Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.


Newefpastoremeritus said...

A very welcome post, imho, which many including some in authority , might profitably reflect upon.

viterbo said...

What a segue, "no longer are they a single voice crying alone in the wilderness.

I had a Sudanese nomadic camel herder staying in my basement for a while.."

God bless you and your basement, Father.

from another wise voiceless voice.

viterbo said...

p.s. I hope you are wrong about the centre of the Church flattening out like a flatbread, Father. In such a landscape, there's certainly no verticle retreat from the world. and if, like kabbalists expound, the centre and the circumference is everywhere, what's the point of any lodestone, salvific or otherwise? it just become DIY salvation like the newageists blatt on about. The average parish is already a mini-messy-'democracy' where the only thing people can agree upon is that the past is the past and 'it' is what 'it' is.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Yeats is always useful at times like these. He was also quoted in the final episode of Clark's "Civilisation" which was ambiguous as Clark seemed to have absorbed, in the closing moments, a 1968 optimism. An optimism which not only looks ridiculous today but a timepiece worthy of study in its own right.

Jacobi said...


Your remark about the change of attitude in the air is interesting. I think we have all been aware of it, not the least being of course, Deacon Nick

There were profound forces at work during and particularly after Vat II. Forces of Relativism and Secularism were at work. I suspect these forces, in retreat during Benedict XVI reign, now sense a new opportunity.

If so they are wrong. Pope Francis, at the coming General Assembly, as indeed he must, will hold to orthodoxy. But some things, particularly in that old and very basic area of sex, in its various forms, will dominate the coming deliberations. Of course it will all be dressed up in very theological language, but it will be the same hoary old problem and nothing will change.

A Mortal Sin is a Mortal Sin etc, etc.

The danger, and it is real, is that raised expectations might well provoke the split in the Church which has been threatening for some time now.

By the way all that has happened in Turkey is but an extraordinary display of human ingenuity on the part of young people in overcoming these silly restrictions. Mr Erdogan has joined that amusing band including Knut, and bishop what’s his name, who think they can hold back the waves!

Nicolas Bellord said...

Father: Just how many camels you have got that you need a camel herder?

GOR said...

I have lamented in the past why dissident priests in Ireland were allowed to flaunt their dissent publicly for years until the Vatican had to finally step in and put a stop to it. The same could be said for other countries and it is still going on.

There is something radically wrong when members of the hierarchy turn a blind eye to this, yet come down on clerics who seek to preach and teach the Gospel in its fullness. I’m still hot under the collar about the treatment of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate - among others.

Fr. Philip Powell, OP said...

Dear Father, just a brief note of thanks for sending so many of your discerning readers to my blog. The post on Bishop McMahon's appointment to Liverpool has almost 1,100 hits. This is by far the largest number of hits any post on my blog has ever received.

God bless, Fr. Philip Neri, OP

gemoftheocean said...

With you 100% GOR -- why are obvious miscreants so often not only tolerated but seemingly too often feted as in "move along nothing to see here." It's enough to make a cloistered nun consider taking to strong drink if she had the money.

But all is not lost. Fr. Blake, I.e. blessed Blake of Brighton's blog played a role in bringing me and my late husband together-and for even just that the Catholic blogosphere in general and this blog in particular will hold a special place in my heart. I have had great fortune to both meet and stay in touch with many wonderful people through the new technologies in the last 20 years starting with usenet days. The Catholic blogosphere keeps my spirits up and reminds me I am not alone. And these days it's much easier to keep up with family and old friends, share pics and a slice of our lives. The trick is to choose your on-line communities well.

As for the current malaise I feel re: the church in general and the increasing anti-God attitudes in the world perhaps it's best to remember this "pilgrim church on earth" has always been in for a battle. Time to remember our confirmations for being made soldiers of Christ. The modern ritual did no one any favors by taking that tap on the cheek out. That's the problem - the hippy people want to pretend it's all
kumbaya and rainbows and unicorns. It is perhaps best to take comfort from the words of Evelyn Waugh at the end of Brideshead Revisited when he speaks of the knights of old in front of the tabernacle sharing the same fidelity and bonds of faith of the current soldiers beating back the evil forces - United in Christ across the centuries to promote the glory of the eternal kingdom. The church militant must remember our bonds with the church triumphant. Even though it may seem at times part of the church militant is being a boat anchor, and some of those can be clergy (bad bishops and cardinals in particular) in the hierarchy as well as secular nominal boobs with political power.

It would be nice if a certain party in white put the red shoes on as a reminder to himself and others he walks in the blood of the martyrs before him. Symbols mean things. George Washington wanted his officers to lead from the front - our pope needs to be out front too, and not mentally in a small diocese in podunk. As my dad said: lead, follow, or get out of the way. I want a certain party to take strong leadership rather than mouth ambiguous platitudes. Teach hard bits. Even the bits regards the final judgement. No skating around that no matter how many guitars you strum or felt banners emblazoned with rainbow flags a congregation flaunts or cigarette lighters you wave in the air prattling about social justice. We all sin. We must repent. We know not the day or the hour.

gemoftheocean said...

A-ha! Found the bit from Brideshead:

" There was one part of the house I had not yet visited, and I went there now.

The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect; the art-nouveau paint was as fresh and bright as ever; the art-nouveau lamp burned once more before the altar. I said a prayer, an ancient, newly-learned form of words, and left, turning towards the camp; and as I walked back, and the cook-house bugle sounded ahead of me,
I thought: 'The builders did not know the uses to which their work would descend; they made a new house with the stones of the old castle; year by year, generation after generation, they enriched and extended it; year by year the great harvest of timber in the park grew to ripeness; until, in sudden frost, came the age of Hooper; the place was desolate and the work all brought to nothing; Quomodo sedet sola civitas. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

'And yet,' I thought, stepping out more briskly towards the camp, where the bugles after a pause had taken up the second call and were sounding 'Pick-em-up, pick-em-up, hot potatoes', 'and yet that is not the last word; it is not even an apt word; it is a dead word from ten years back.

'Something quite remote from anything the builders intended, has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time; a small red flame - a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.'

I quickened my pace and reached the hut which served us for our ante-room. 'You're looking unusually cheerful today,' said the second-in-command."

viterbo said...

well said, Gem. it is a great balm to know that one isn't alone in feeling like it's time for papa Punch to lay off the fists for the faithful and get down to the serious business of leading us to Heaven.

nickbris said...

Basically Democracy as we have it at the moment is just a load of hogwash.

Our current administration was unelected and they are totally corrupted by small but extremely powerful lobbyists,the recent Budget for example was concocted by mealy-mouthed unelectable Lib Dems,controlled by the Greens,Stonewall and other assorted misfits