Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Discerning Truth in Popular Culture

The bulletin insert from last week, obviously timed to coincide with the release of The Golden Compass.
How Do We Discern Truth in Popular Culture?

“It is not, then, that we hold the same opinions as others, but that all speak in imitation of ours. Among us these things can be heard and learned from persons who do not even know the forms of the letters, who are uneducated and barbarous in speech, though wise and believing in mind; some, indeed, even maimed and deprived of eyesight; so that you may understand that these things are not the effect of human wisdom, but are uttered by the power of God.”
St. Justin Martyr, The First Apology*


The Da Vinci Code. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Golden Compass.

These are just the latest in a long string of controversial works that often make Christians mount massive boycotts sight unseen. If the book or movie is for children the result is often that the works are forbidden, also sight unseen, by worried parents. This often has the result of making that forbidden fruit seem all the sweeter. An unintended consequence of such behavior is to confirm to the secular world that a Christian’s basic behavior is to condemn something.

Conversely, there always are plenty of “gurus” ready to direct our minds and take our money. Most recently this is evidenced by The Secret, which promises to reveal “the Law of Attraction” which has been passed on through the ages to make all our dreams come true. Promises such as these are often offered with the “Christian” label on them and just as often are swallowed hook, line, and sinker without a second thought.

We know that not everything good must be called “Christian” in order to have value, as St. Justin Martyr reminds us above. Essentially he is pointing out that, whatever the source, truth is from God who Himself is all Truth. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to name but a few, would not have been able to mine Greek philosophy for the nuggets of truth that contributed so richly to the bedrock of Catholic theological understanding if that were not the case.

Likewise, not everything presented in the secular world as “Christian” is always true. Where there is money to be made, there are people who will trade on good will to take hard earned dollars. Even when something is reliably “Christian” it does not necessarily contain the full truth that is found in our Catholic faith.

How do we discern what is harmful and what is not? There is one simple solution in both situations. We need to know our faith. We need to consider the world around us through the lens of that faith. If one is already in the habit of considering advertisements, television, movies, books, news, politics and more in a Catholic context, then assessing new material is a matter of course.

We must be educated, find trustworthy information, weigh opposing opinions, ask questions, and possibly review the actual material in question. Only then should we reject or accept stories and ideas, whether fully or in part. In short, it means taking responsibility and teaching our children to think and discern just as responsibly.
This can be quite a challenge. However, it is a challenge that is rewarded richly and that becomes easier and more enjoyable with time.

A side benefit is that you will have some fascinating conversations with your children or friends that may be broader and deeper than ever before. This not only educates us but adds to the richness and interest of everyday life. You can’t lose!

Our faith does not reject stories and ideas simply because of so called code words like “magic.” Our faith does not embrace hollow promises which come without the basic truth of Christ. God has given us Christ and the truth, the Church and her teachings, and our hearts and minds to use in His service. Let us put them all to good use in discerning true from false in popular culture.
* St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology was written around 155 A.D. in Rome to the emperor as a defense of Christianity.

No comments:

Post a Comment