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.