For his church’s World Communication Day tomorrow, Pope Francis has chosen as his theme: “Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter.” Not to get all self-important or anything, but I like to think of my blog as at the service of the same cultural species, whether it be encountering other communicators via links or readers via interactive commenting.
The ideal, as the pope points out, is sweet: “creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all.” The real, not always so much:
The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings…It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply “connected”; connections need to grow into true encounters…We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive.
Which brings me back to that interactive commenting. Respectful and even chummy comments I get, but all too often this digital on-ramp seems designed to foster a culture of road rage and drive-bys. Only once, in the lengthy back and forth that resulted from my posting of a priest’s response to the Vatican’s questionnaire on the family, was the result the kind of true encounter that the pope seems to have in mind.
For all that, I’ve always maintained a policy of non-censorship. It’s not just that I find the abuse instructive. There’s more anti-Catholicism out there than I imagined, for example. But I think it’s only fair to allow people to respond with umbrage and venom to writing that touches their strongest feelings and ultimate concerns, especially when you indulge in the kind of critical commentary I do.
That’s not to say that I don’t find some of the comments offensive and dispiriting. Or that I don’t wonder, from time time, whether I am not in fact at the disservice of an authentic culture of encounter. Comments, anyone?