Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ideas can be dangerous. . .

It is the stuff of crude humor and sophisticated sighs -- imagine that there was at one time a list of prohibited books... a movie rating system... an agency to warn Roman Catholics of dangers around them.  Ah, those were the days of darkness and ignorance and oppression, right?  When the Roman Catholic Church acted less like a motherly church and instead functioned like big brother -- peering into the homes of their people to see what books they read, what movies they watched, and what ideas they were exposed to...  Yes, no one wants to go back to those bad old days of censorship and patriarchal control.  Or do we?

David Mills, formerly of First Things and now contributing to several Roman Catholic publications, has published an interesting article in Aleteia suggesting that there was nothing to apologize for and no reason to be embarrassed about the past of prohibited books, movies, and ideas.  I think he is onto something.  We have mistakenly believed that books, ideas, and images are somehow not dangerous.  They are.  Every day our people are surrounded by and confronted by dangerous media and ideas that conflict with the faith -- not always in some obvious challenge but in subtle ways that are even more dangerous.

Mills insists that we are warned by dangers all around us.  The once unheard of warnings about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use have become ordinary and routine.  We accepted the fact that we needed to be warned of dangers not obvious to us.  All around us there are warnings -- from food labels to medicine bottles to clothing tags.  We have accepted the fact that we need to be warned of foods that may contain threats to some (peanut allergies, as but one example) and that medicines are not salutary unless used as prescribed or as recommended and that they have side effects and that not all clothing can be dumped in the washer together and dried under heat.  But if these dangers are serious enough to prompt warnings, why not warn the people in the pews of dangerous threats to the faith that come in the form of ideas, media, and influences that undermine or challenge the tenets of the faith?

It’s one of those “How could they?” facts of Catholic history that people assume shows how “medieval” the Church was — and is — and how secularism was such an improvement, especially if we get more of it. The Church abolished the Index of Prohibited Books 50 years ago this month, though she kept the idea that the bishops should guide their people’s reading and people shouldn’t read everything they wanted.

The Index is also one of those facts of Catholic history of which we’re expected to be ashamed. We’re supposed to cringe in embarrassment. The Oppressive Church banned books and every good person knows that was Bad Bad Bad, because no one has any right to tell anyone else what to read.

Have our lives improved because we no longer identify ideas as dangerous or threatening?  How has it served virtue to make it equal to all other things (from internet porn to narcissistic social media)?  Sure, there are those who would insist that warning is too strong and that people should be persuaded instead.  But therein lies the problem.  The dangers of the influences contrary to the faith lies even more so in their subtlety and some of the greatest threats to orthodox Christian doctrine and faith come from those who claim to be allies of the cause.  To fail to warn our people is to do a disservice to the people of God.  To fail to identify threats to orthodoxy is not about institutional security but about the difference between life and death, salvation and damnation.

I think Mills has a point.  We are long past the fallacy of the neutral idea and of the ability of all the faithful to see through the smoke screen to the dangers of things that challenge, contradict, and conflict with the faith.  We may not need a new index of of prohibited books but we need solid teaching and faithful leadership from our church leaders to help us see the dangers that may be less obvious but are not less pernicious.

A while back someone mentioned to me the sacrilege of a Trump comment about the Blessed Sacrament -- he takes a drink of wine and eats the cracker like the good Presbyterian he says he is...  My problem is that I often wonder if Lutherans find anything wrong with such a comment or if, perhaps, our less than rigorous catechesis and the distraction of our people has not had a detrimental influence on their own definition of the Blessed Sacrament.  Our people need to be educated and persuaded but they also need to be warned.  Ideas are at least as dangerous as physical dangers like smoking or drug abuse.  Until we begin treating intellectual ideas as seriously as we do other dangers, our people will be vulnerable and we will not have done a faithful job of caring for them.

G.K. Chesterton noted that “Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer.”

David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, - See more at: http://aleteia.org/2016/06/23/dangerous-ideas-the-church-and-the-index-of-prohibited-books/#sthash.O16aXUP7.dpuf
David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, - See more at: http://aleteia.org/2016/06/23/dangerous-ideas-the-church-and-the-index-of-prohibited-books/#sthash.O16aXUP7.dpuf
David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, - See more at: http://aleteia.org/2016/06/23/dangerous-ideas-the-church-and-the-index-of-prohibited-books/#sthash.O16aXUP7.dpuf

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Ah, yes. Chesterton is on to something here. People don't like catechesis. It takes too much time and energy, and they are surprised when the lion (idea) 'eats' them. They refuse to depend on the man trained to handle the wild idea and thus protect them.

Most people don't mean to blaspheme or to believe error; they just are thrown into a world of thoughts and ideas and have no tools with which to tame them. Eyes open to see Christ where He has promised to be. Ears open to hear His Voice in the voice of Scripture and the pastor. Minds not so open our brains fall out. Be guided by the Church, and thus prepared for the devil/lion in the idea/s that seek to devour us.