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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Has America Lost Her Salt?

In his most recent column for Catholic Exchange, Mark Shea makes much of the fact that the press has, for the last three years, been intolerably cruel to Pope Benedict XVI. He uses as evidence word searches on Google.
“Benedict XVI” rigid – 52,800
“Benedict XVI” hardliner – 27,100
“Benedict XVI” inflexible – 10,300
“Benedict XVI” dominating – 290,000
“Benedict XVI” ruthless – 126,000
“Benedict XVI” enforcer – 28,800
“Benedict XVI” archaic – 22,400
“Benedict XVI” medieval – 169,000
“Benedict XVI” intolerant – 148,000
“Benedict XVI” backward – 122,000
“Benedict XVI” “Hitler Youth” – 30,700
“pope cracks down” – 1,080,000
The conclusion we're supposed to draw is that all of those terms are being attributed to the Pope. Well, let's test that assumption. We'll compare the Pope's hit count with someone that the press might not be so adversarial towards: Hillary Clinton. The Pope's numbers are in parentheses for ease of comparison.
“Hillary Clinton” rigid – 102,000 (52,800)
“Hillary Clinton” hardliner – 26,100 (27,100)
“Hillary Clinton” inflexible – 31,400 (10,300)
“Hillary Clinton” dominating – 215,000 (290,000)
“Hillary Clinton” ruthless – 125,000 (126,000 )
“Hillary Clinton” enforcer – 47,600 (22,800)
“Hillary Clinton” archaic – 53,300 (22,400)
“Hillary Clinton” medieval – 126,000 (169,000)
“Hillary Clinton” intolerant – 614,000 (148,000)
“Hillary Clinton” backward – 267,000 (122,000)
“Hillary Clinton” “Hitler Youth” – 11,700 (30,700)
“Hillary Clinton cracks down” – 426,000 (1,080,000)
Hmmm... Judging by the numbers, the press is roughly twice as hard on Hillary as it is on the Pope in every area except the Hitler Youth connection and "cracking down".

But maybe everyone hates Hillary. Let's pick someone who has only been in the news for about three or four years, someone not quite so divisive... Hmmm... who could we pick?
“Barack Obama" rigid – 103,000 (Clinton: 102,000, Pope: 52,800)
“Barack Obama” hardliner – 24,500 (Clinton 26,100, Pope: 27,100)
“Barack Obama” inflexible – 37,800 (Clinton: 31,400, Pope: 10,300)
“Barack Obama” dominating – 247,000 (Clinton: 215,000, Pope: 290,000)
“Barack Obama” ruthless – 354,000 (Clinton: 125,000, Pope: 126,000 )
“Barack Obama” enforcer – 93,800 (Clinton: 47,600, Pope: 22,800)
“Barack Obama” archaic – 105,000 (Clinton: 53,300, Pope: 22,400)
“Barack Obama” medieval – 131,000 (Clinton: 126,000, Pope: 169,000)
“Barack Obama” intolerant – 616,000 (Clinton: 614,000, Pope: 148,000)
“Barack Obama” backward – 272,000 (Clinton: 267,000, Pope: (122,000)
“Barack Obama” “Hitler Youth” – 8,500 (Clinton: 11,700, Pope: 30,700)
“Barack Obama cracks down” – 364,000 (Clinton: 426,000, Pope: 1,080,000)
Wow! And that's even without the "Hussein." When it comes to press coverage, it looks like Barack has a lot more to complain about than the Pope does on most scores.

Why the nasty numbers? Because Google counts a "hit" for every page that has those words, regardless of how the content is arranged. A news page may be talking about two dozen entirely different things (think the Washington Post or Drudgereport web pages), but that doesn't matter to the search engine. It doesn't distinguish between the appearance of Benedict's name in a religion lead and the appearance of the word "rigid" in a story about a new kind of plastic. As long as both words appeared on the same page, Google counts a hit.

The numbers are nonsense. But Mark Shea and Catholic Exchange apparently don't realize that, so they draw conclusions based on essentially no evidence at all.

Now, it may well be the case that the press is opposed to all things orthodox - in fact, I personally I don't doubt that it is. But we should be careful not to take scandal without good reason.

Quite frankly, the press doesn't know much about Pope Benedict, and probably never will. The man bemuses them, as did John Paul II, as does every Pope. In order to hate someone, you have to know them at least moderately well. There has to be a substance to hatred just as there is a substance to love. The press lacks substance, so it really isn't capable of hate or even strong dislike. It can manage only a puzzled shrug.

In times past, the Catholic Faith was, indeed, hated, but no more. Today, orthodox Catholicism is neither known nor considered enough of a threat to merit strong emotions. The elites literally don't know enough about real Catholics to care.

Perhaps we would like them to hate us, if only because that would make us more relevant in their world. We should recognize our desire to be hated as a perverse form of pride. After all, if they hated us, we must matter enough to them, we must hinder them enough, to make us a hated minority.

But what if we don't matter enough to them?
What if we aren't hindering them in any significant way?
That would mean we weren't living the Gospel very well.

Jesus made people angry enough to merit his execution.
Peter managed to proclaim the Gospel so effectively he got himself crucified upside down.
Paul started a fight in every town he entered, got scourged, beaten with rods, stoned and finally beheaded, martyred just like every one of the original apostles. Even John, the apostle of love who died a natural death, managed to make it to old age only by dint of miraculously surviving an attempt to boil him alive.

But when was the last time the holy example and sacred preaching of Catholics in America made our fellow Americans angry enough to burn down a convent, smash up a school or demolish church? When has our witness to the truth been so strong that those who follow demons ground their teeth at us, writhed in frustration, and ultimately martyred one or more of us?

The culture clearly doesn't love Catholics, for the conversion rate is not high enough to indicate that they treasure who we are or how we live. They aren't hot about us.

But at this point, it's not clear they really hate us. They aren't in a cold rage about us either.

Shouldn't we find that a little disconcerting?

Update: The latest Pew Forum survey (released two days after this blog entry) shows fully 32% of Americans know so little about the Pope that they are unable to form an opinion about him.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time I didn't have to check that one through. I had just read it while sitting here waiting for the next to do item on my calendar and thought it a bit "untenable" for a research method.

Patrick said...

The only time that I saw Catholics even become a worthy small target over the last few years has been over embryonic stem cell research. However, that soon went away when the poll numbers of Catholics who supported the research shot over 70% in the Americas, 50% worldwide. The reason we are irrelevant is that, at least for the majority who call themselves Catholic outside of the Vatican, we usually support whatever the culture supports even if it should be completely against the faith. Yet, for the majority of us, we never hear a single sermon or local bishop letter that would try to re-direct our understanding to what we should believe. Most topics have become too touchy a topic and they don't want to lose the few that do show up for mass every week. Political correctness will kill the church if the church doesn't stand up and bring us back into line with the faith.

Kate B. said...

Query: What do you make of the MIddle Ages? Certainly some in power hated the Church and martyred the faithful who "spoke truth to power" in the popular phrase. But the culture in general didn't hate it. Was that because most people were lukewarm, or was the culture better?

I'm really curious--must we always be martyred, or can there be a Christian "pop culture"?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

In the Middle Ages, one in four persons were living under religious vows. There were so many monasteries per capita that if we were to equal that number today, we would need 300 monasteries and convents in each American diocese.

A hefty percentage of the religious lived white martyrdom as hermits, doing penance for the community each and every day of their lives.

The marketplace was built around the cathedral. Every day, the faithful prayed the Angelus at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm - the entire town, from king to tramp, tradesmen to peasant, including the people working the fields outside of town, dropped to its knees when the cathedral bells rang out the hours.

Anyone who waged war on Saturdays, Sundays, or holy days, including the seasons of Advent, Lent and Easter, were automatically excommunicated.

Every age has martyrs - some choosing it through religious life, others through witness to a pagan world. In America, we have done neither.

lisa a. said...

I think if Christ were to return today and speak the way he spoke in Scripture that people (esp. Christians) would call him unchristian. Manners wins in protestantized countries-not Truth.