“I think Jesus became an unwanted element to Christianity soon after the filth of imperial powers patronised it.”
Jose Vallikatt M.S.T
As one who studied media how important is the media in community especially in a country like India? How is public opinion made in democracy and how public opinion is also created by interested parties? What is the relation of public relation to truth?
Thank you very much for inviting me to this interview. As media is my specialised area of research and interest, I am most happy to discuss these issues in relation to our social and ecclesial life.
Media has been an inevitable part of human life ever since humans started communicating. Humans who have started off with verbal and nonverbal cues to communicate have now reached a level of live streaming, hashtags and social sharing. What came in between is mere technology, starting with printing, then radio and TV, whose advantage being to address a large mass at a time. The postmodern media or what we call social media in which we are in, are absolutely different as they are more dynamic, networked and interactive. The substantial difference between these can be traced from what the media theorist McLuhan said, “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.”Although I do not completely subscribe to his deterministic view, he has some answer to your question.
The Social media is significantly different from previous media as it opens greater possibility for public participation in opinion shaping. While I see this as a great opportunity, we cannot deny the challenges of viral spreading of lies and chance of interested parties to create their agenda. Yet, being an optimist, I believe that people realise truth one day and they would pro-actively engage with public opinion.
Within the church has the media any role? It is Pope Francis who introduced the idea of Synodality, do you think the bishops are ready and willing to go by the authority from multiple voices or pluri-linguality as Bakhtin says?
Media is not simply a tool for communication, but it is power, as elaborated by Harold Innis in his voluminous work ‘Empire and Communications.’ Role of media in church has to be seen on two planes: ad intra and ad extra. Church was slow to pick up the electronic media, perhaps due to its puritanical spectacle. Hence, in a way Church lost its dominance of communications ad extra. On the contrary, church (understood as the hierarchy) always played its controlling communication strategy to its lower levels that includes pastors and faithful (ad intra). Though synodality is theoretically present, we perceive less of it practically. Dialogue is considered as a ministry or office, yet we see less of dialogue within church. See, the birth of Church is fascinatingly characterised by coming together of different languages, an idea Bakhtin has called polyphony. He says, “…Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.”
As for you what is basis of authority in the church? What does the story of Dostoevsky’s Grant Inquisitor tells us?
The word authority has at least two meanings the way we look at it. Authority can be understood as power or force. On another plane, you claim authority by the authenticity and credibility of your own words, deeds and life. And that is absolute. This is the authority which Jesus describes in the Gospels. The power or force is material and bound by time and space. That is why Jesus reminds to Pilate, “had it (power) been given from above…” On the contrary about Jesus’ own authority he says, “it’s my own deeds that justify my authority,” and that is what makes people to say that Jesus “teaches with authority.” The former is oppressive, while the latter is submissive. Ecclesiastical authority shall definitely be modelled after this, which unfortunately is not.
First of all what we should understand is that online life is an extension
of offline life. So most of what people live in their offline will obviously be
expressed in online as well. So social media are not the problem,
but people’s character is. Of course social media provide an almost
free space for all of them to express what they want.
I have elaborated this in my book chapter ‘It Shall Not So Among You: Power, Authority And Mercy’: “When those in authority have the temptation to turn their legitimate power into absolute power, with their own vested interests, narrow perspectives and insecurities, they shall immediately undergo self-examination and be able to accommodate suggestions for improvement even from their colleagues as well as subjects.”
Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor is as relevant today as it was in his times. I think Jesus became an unwanted element to Christianity soon after the filth of imperial powers patronised it.
What is message of the Pope releasing to the public the MacCarick Report of the Vatican. Pope told the Roman Curia on 21 December not to “spread apprehension, become more rigid and less synodal, and impose a uniformity far removed from the richness and plurality that the Spirit has bestowed on his Church.” How do understand the Pope?
Any cover-up is hypocrisy, a vice which Jesus had been most critical about. With words “those who has not sinned may stone her first” Jesus was not simply pacifying or sanctioning sinners; instead he was exposing all those wicked. What we see today is that those who acquire power, arbitrates many illegitimate rights. And when these claims are more related to the rights of the weaker sections it is all the more alarming as they are the most vulnerable and speechless. It’s quite natural for anyone to violate, but the Church as a collective body cannot justify the predator or cover up the cases. The Church should primarily make the ecclesial environment safe for everyone, and secondly to reach out to people who were attacked of their rights. Pope Francis has been desperately trying to clean up the Church, however much has to be done on the lower levels of hierarchy.
We are a traditional church but the Pope tells us “Tradition is the guarantee of the future, not a museum, an urn of ashes”. The “old” is the truth and grace we already possess. The “new” are those different aspects of the truth that we gradually come to understand.”Is the church living by Ghar vapsi and the consequent communal problems?
What we call tradition today was something quite new many years or centuries ago. What evolved as Christianity was a radical reformation of Judaic religious worldview. I like to perceive this as the work of the Holy Spirit in the early Christian church. And thus we got the Tradition with capital T. If it is really the work of the Holy Spirit, I believe the Spirit is very much active and dynamic even today inviting us to renew the traditions with small t. That does not mean that we should completely destroy the old and depart from the Traditions. Even as the Traditions serve to be the foundation of the Church the Spirit gives us the opportunity to engage our Traditions with the present day cultures. If only we engage in that way the Word of God and Traditions become meaningful to us and to the world. Thus, new theologies and spiritualities and even canon law would emerge. Word becoming flesh shall be understood as Word pitching tent among men of the time and space. But because the Word is divine, and God is eternal, Word’s action of pitching among people is not bound by time and space. It is an ever dynamic process active even today. It’s our responsibility to take up that process to future. We should earnestly pray for a new Pentecost.
As a media man how do you explain the hatred and spite in our social media that is poisoning our social life? Why there so much hate? Why do Christian even priests succumb to hate?
First of all what we should understand is that online life is an extension of offline life. So most of what people live in their offline will obviously be expressed in online as well. So social media are not the problem, but people’s character is. Of course social media provide an almost free space for all of them to express what they want. However, hate speech shall be differentiated from freedom of speech. Social media are only technologies that do not think for itself and do not have ethics of its own. Instead people must learn indeed, and I repeat, it is a skill which must be learned, to express their views even if they are sharp and critical with respect and dignity.
It is surprisingly enigmatic for me that why and how Christians could be so spiteful in social media. As you have noticed we see a lot of toxic talk in social media in the name of ‘Christian values.’ Indeed they are not Christian at all. It’s alarming and disastrous to see that such expressions are garnered and geared by pastors and sometimes bishops. Most Communications Day Messages of Popes which have highlighted the fact of spreading truth and peace in our communications have fallen on deaf ears. In the message for this year released a couple of days ago, Pope Francis highlights the need to communicate truth by having an experience of ‘seeing it for first hand’ and communicate without being ‘narcissistic.’
“The lowest depth to which people can sink before God is defined by the word ‘journalist’. If I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced I should despair over her; I would hope for her salvation. But if I had a son who became a journalist and continued to be one for five years, I would give him up.” said Soren Kierkegaard. Why did he say so? Is there any truth in his statement?
Church has issued a document titled Ethics In Communications in 2000. I invite journalists and media users to read that document particularly article 20 and 26 in which it is said that “Communication must always be truthful” and “the Church’s practice of communication should be exemplary, reflecting the highest standards of truthfulness, accountability, sensitivity to human rights…” and Church should “communicate the fullness of the truth…” Unfortunately today Church personnel engage in promoting misinformation, half-baked truths and defamation and divisive communication. We need to travel a lot to be true communicators and true Christians.