Religion and the Power of the Media
Daily and nightly, the mass media shout headline stories about the spreading influence of pan-Islamism. Daily and nightly the public is indoctrinated with the idea that the spread of the Islamic religion, in its various forms and factions, especially in its most extravagant forms of extremism, is about to overtake Western civilization.
The media are wrong.
While the mass media of the West fixate on the rise of Islamism to the detriment of Western society, another major religion is rapidly gaining ground in terms of its appeal to youth in particular, and more worryingly, its political clout.
The plain fact to which Western media have yet to awaken is that secularism is on the way to becoming passé. The liberal socialism that morphed out of a combine of godless German rationalism, child of the 18th-century period that historians label the Enlightenment, and its clone, godless communism, so long the mentor of our campus intelligentsia, is on the back foot. Religion of an older, traditional form is increasingly returning to fashion.
The arm-waving, foot-stomping, stupefyingly hyped-up emotionalism of so much of the evangelical Protestant movement that captivated a generation in Anglo-America seeking to fill the spiritual gap left by the three decades of experiments in social engineering during the 1960s through the ’80s has had its day. A powerful force is rising across the Atlantic, destined to pale all religious competition into relative insignificance. It’s centered around a highly intelligent and articulate personality holding an office of increasing political significance. It has an annual budget founded upon assets that make it the richest institution in the world. It has greater command of media than any single one of its competitors. It’s simply the oldest religion in the world, mother of them all, an imperial power in its own right.
Last week, Catholic World News reported that it had exceeded all records for reporting the number of current events involving the Vatican. Also last week, Pope Benedict xvi commented publicly on the power of the mass media to move the masses. Publicity and mass communication are so important to the Vatican that it has a high-profile department specifically devoted to its effective exploitation, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
“Speaking on the theme of this year’s plenary meeting for the Pontifical Council for Social Communications—the role of the media in the formation of young people—the pontiff said that the media have a grave responsibility for the attitudes they foster among youth. The proper education of children, he said, can be enhanced by the mass media ‘only to the extent that they promote fundamental human dignity, the true value of marriage and family life, and the positive achievements and goals of humanity’” (CWNews.com, March 9).
Having witnessed the powerful influence of Nazi propaganda during his days as a member of the Hitler Youth, Pope Benedict xvi is well aware of the mind-controlling power of effective communications psychology. Under John Paul ii, and now Benedict xvi, hundreds of thousands of youth have turned out at the annual Roman Catholic youth festivals. The pope knows that herein lies the future of the effort of the church to captivate and hold the minds of the upcoming generation—and the future of Roman Catholicism.
“During his Friday audience the pope took note of the important changes in the media industry, including the rising power of the electronic media and the waning influence of print. He pointed to the concentration of media ownership as a matter for concern, and the spread of the Internet, which ‘has opened up a world of knowledge and learning that previously for many could only be accessed with difficulty, if at all’” (ibid.).
Despite the nightly impression given that news of Islamic religious fervor dominates the mass media in the West, the figures tell a different story. The Vatican is winning the religious media war hands down! From the time of the record-breaking audiences that tuned in to see Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger conduct Pope John Paul ii’s funeral, to the massive media coverage of his investiture as Pope Benedict xvi, the small, slight figure of this Bavarian pope has become the most recognizable of personalities across the globe. Pope Benedict xvi enjoyed total audiences in 2006 greater than the annual audiences of any single previous pope, and far greater than any other single religious leader in history!
What makes the Vatican’s dominance of the mass media most intriguing is where it is all leading. More on that tomorrow.