Small Talk and Big Appetites for Truth in Communications

Posted by Bill Schmitt on Mar 3, 2020 7:00:00 AM
Bill Schmitt

Schmitt Truth in Communication title

I spoke at a recent “Theology on Tap” event for my parish, reflecting on Pope Francis’ 2018 World Communications Day address, “The Truth Will Set You Free: Fake News and Journalism for Peace.

Pope Francis has called Catholics to find better ways to generate, consume, and spread the torrent of information found in mass media. This topic is evergreen, yielding endless opportunities for me to update such presentations, partly due to my deepening fears that respectful, inclusive, problem-solving conversations are disappearing in our polarized public square.

Apart from the topic itself, the Pope himself also provides ongoing reasons to ponder this problem. He’s perhaps the only world leader regularly pinpointing concerns about the uncommunicative tendencies of our so-called “culture of contempt.” In his Angelus remarks this past December 29, the Feast of the Holy Family, Francis urged families to put away their smartphones so they can talk around the dinner table, honoring their dignity and identity. 

He has expressed similar concerns elsewhere, such as his 2019 World Communications Day message. There, he connected faith, love, community, and a shared journey toward truth: “God is not solitude, but communion,” he said. “He is love, and love always communicates.”

These insights build up my own understanding of the cause I’ve adopted—encouraging more faith-filled values to nurture healthy communication, both face-to-face and screen-to-screen. A commitment to seek truth, in the form of confirmed facts and deep dives into reality, was a basic take-away from my old-school training in journalism. This led me, and still leads me, to believe that a revived ethic of fair, objective truth-telling, really working to understand the players and motivations in life’s dramas, can bring religious believers and more secular-minded people together to start healing our contentious world.

With help from Pope Francis and our Church’s emphasis on personal accompaniment and community responsibility, I have increasingly realized that any renewal in our information flows must start at the local level. National and global media structures are so driven by profit motives, technological developments and entertainment/ego values that instilling a “journalism of peace” there will take more time. 

Meanwhile, the local focus and meaningful experiences of communion have helped me realize that parishes and other faith communities are great places to promote communication that incorporates love, mercy, and justice. I’ve seen a hunger for deeper understanding, better outreach, and common-good outcomes among those who come to talks and meetings with a convivial, self-donating spirit. “Theology on Tap” events are just one example of venues where a variety of people, including “nones,” can comfortably get to know each other better as whole persons and discover mutual interests.

As the McGrath Institute’s new Church Communications Ecology program recognizes, fruitful ministry increasingly requires a comfort level with technology and secular discourse. A parish’s healthy identity and values-informed dynamics can stream out the church doors to help spark synergies in the local community.

My “anti-polarization” campaign is taking one additional evolutionary step. Based on the reminders that God is love and “love always communicates,” I’m hoping Catholics—starting with me—will pursue truth through new encounters and conversations, not merely as a social-justice accomplishment or a cure for shallow journalism, but as an inseparable part of one’s relationship with Christ. 

A broader embrace of objective reality can make us less prone to confirmation bias and exclusionary snap-judgments. It can help us deter the isolation and artificiality Pope Francis recognizes as digital-media traps. But, as ministers to each other and to our society, we can see greater impact: a committed search for the truth is a humble, healing, even holy act because Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

Social polarization marked by relativism and indifference to the truth is more than a political phenomenon that hurts people and endangers democracy. It’s a destroyer of human freedom and potential that God takes personally. 

This fact may be too strong a brew for a “Theology on Tap” session. But it does suggest Catholics “ought to get out more” to learn and share reality through communication that’s well-informed and well-formed. It confirms the urgency of media-savvy discipleship at the Vatican level, at the parish level, and at the level of the phones in our hands.

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Topics: communication, Politics, social media, truth, journalism, Super Tuesday

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The McGrath Institute Blog helps Catholics live and hand on their faith in Jesus Christ, especially in the family, home and parish, and cultivates and inspires everyday leaders to live out the fullness and richness of their faith in the simple, little ways that make up Church life.

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