It is a sign of our discombobulated times that when I saw on Facebook that Pope Francis, in a joint statement with the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church had declared marriage to be a union between only one man and one woman, I checked Snopes.com — which, as everyone probably knows, assesses the veracity of Internet rumors.
There was nothing there, which is a reliable sign that the declaration is so authentic that the need to prove it does not arise.
But how can this be?
If the major newspapers or television networks reported this development it escaped me, and I am a hungry consumer of news. It’s not as if the various declarations of Pope Francis are of no interest to our media lords. When he urges the United States to open its borders to everyone and anyone (as he did yet again last week), or declares Donald Trump an infidel, it is round-the-clock important. Even casual consumers of news must know that Francis once declared it none of his business whether priests were homosexual (“Who am I to judge?”). Coverage of that, while an inch deep, was a thousand miles wide.
When Francis takes potshots at capitalism, we cannot retire for the night without his words ringing in our ears, so faithfully do media worship at the papal throne.
How can it be, then, that the following Francisism, delivered not quite two weeks ago, escaped the attention of our watchdogs:
“The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.”
It could hardly be clearer from this that Francis is, after all, Catholic.
Not only does he assert here the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, plural marriage, open marriage and all other marital innovations, he also condemns the wider society for tinkering with a human and biblical tradition that has done more than any other to wrest order from chaos. So entrenched in the order of the universe is this male/female, mother/father model that Mother Nature Herself has declared that life may not proceed without it.
In the illusion that we are sovereign individuals responsible only to our own sense of right and wrong, we forget that we are easily programmable. We see this all the time. Who would care about Miley Cyrus, Kanye West or Khloe Kardashian if media did not consistently impress upon us their importance and the consequent need to follow their doings? That is programming. The power of media is the power to determine, by inclusion or omission, what is important.
If media do not publicize that Francis has denounced the ongoing redefinition of marriage, if Oprah and Ellen and Anderson Cooper and Scott Pelley don’t talk about it, then it has little force in popular culture. It carries an air of unreality, it lacks legitimacy, almost as if it didn’t really happen.
It is relegated, as this particular pronouncement has been, to the Catholic press, which is reverent, the gay press, which is snippy, and the Internet, which has no credibility.
That’s the programming power of media, and it’s frightening what its abuse is doing to our culture.