Spiritual dangers coming from the mass media


(Abridged version)

For full text, see this link: vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/family/documents/rc_pc_family_doc_20080905_antonelli-media_en.html

The Mass Media:
a Gift and a Responsibility for All,
a Commitment for the Families
of H.E. Ennio Card. Antonelli
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
Ružomberok – September 5, 2008

The rapid and amazing development of the mass media is transforming in a radical way the work and the economy, the science and the culture, the entire society in the planetary dimension. The immense phenomenon of globalisation is closely tied to the mass media: the awesome and continuous flow of ideas, images, knowledge and technologies, of money, goods and sensations; the mobility and the migrations of multitudes of people, with the consequent blend of populations and cultures.
Also, the mass media do not modify society only, but also the single persons, their mentality, their interests, their attitudes, their behaviours, and even their psychology, their capacity and reactions. John Paul II underlined synthetically that the mass media have “a great capacity to model the ideas and to influence the behaviour” (MF 6).
We are entering in a world modeled in a great part by the mass media, for which some already speak of “mediocracy”. In the Church, many but unfortunately not all, perceive that the new situation requires new modes of evangelisation, new creativity and above all, new missionary impulse, shaking away the diffuse sense of impotence and resignation, recalling that, by the grace of God, David still a young lad, can always defeat the giant Goliath.
The mass media are transforming also the life of the families. As John Paul II was observing, now “they are welcomed daily as a familiar guest in many homes and families” (MF 6). In the homes live the old mass media, the press, the radio and the television that keep the children busy for a longer time than any other occupation, except for sleep and perhaps school. In the homes live the new media:* internet and email, cellular phones that have become for the adolescents and also for many children a fixed appendage to the body, the computer being always smaller and easy to carry. The new and the old mass media are always more interconnected and crossed between themselves in a rapid process of integration and in an increasing multiplicity of functions and services. From one’s own home, people, even the poor ones, have the possibility to extend their own view and their own action on the entire world. John Paul II explicitly indicated it: “Many families throughout the world, even those of quite modest means, now have access in their own homes to immense and varied media resources” (MF 2).

John Paul II indicated not only the advantages of the mass media but also the risks for the persons and the families. He explicitly spoke about the “new challenges” that derive from the messages (MF 1) and he made implicit reference to those that derive even from the use of the mass media (cf. MF 1; 5).*In reality, the mass media are powerful means either of education or bad example; they condition in good and in evil; they condition especially the minors, whose personality is still being formed.
The market has occupied and deformed the social communications and also the same interpersonal and family communication. The market relations are monetized exchange relations, instrumental relationships based on the coincidence of interests. Instead the relations of communication, as expression of truth and contact between people, are a value in themselves as knowledge, love, art, prayer, sport. Above all, the family relationships maintain themselves on gratuity and on the reciprocal recognition of the value of the persons: conjugal friendship is a great good in itself; children are in themselves a priceless treasure. “«Were a man to offer all his family wealth to buy love, contempt is all that he would gain» (Sg 8:7). Unfortunately, the hypertrophy of economy and of the market in our society tends to commoditize even the family relationships: the relation of the couple is often lived as a more or less lasting coincidence between two selfishness, in that the other serve as an instrument for one’s own self affirmation or for one’s own pleasure; the children are often felt, also by women, as an obstacle to the professional career and they also cost too much. Regarding social communications, it is also commoditized in an ever more pervasive way, since the 80’s when commercials have made their appearances in them. The programming is conceived in function of the publicity and of business. The program schedule is broadened so as to cover the 24 hours of day and night. The ruthless race of the audience is unleashed with programs of alienation, often superficial, with scenes of sex and violence, with the sensationalism and extravagance. It is the individual and not the family as such who is aimed; the attention is directed not towards the intelligence and the heart but rather to emotions and strong sensations. The same private vicissitudes, the intimacy, the feelings, the shapes of the human body contribute to make the performance.
John Paul II warned against the media, stating that they “have the capacity to do grave harm to families by presenting an inadequate or even deformed outlook on life, on the family, on religion and on morality” (MF 2). In fact, we notice how the religious and ethical themes are treated through debates among many opinions in contrast with each other and that follow each other in rapid succession like a carousel, or through opinion surveys, or also giving the podium to some entertainment star, often superficial and incompetent. This favours relativism in the religious and ethical fields. Children and adolescents, so much needy of certainties, become gravely disorientated. Since God, is marginal or absent in the media, He does not count anymore even in the concrete daily living, given that what does not appear in the media is irrelevant, as if it did not exist. Success, power, wealth, health, power, physical beauty, pleasure, transgression, violence are exalted: all this bears heavy repercussions on the moral degradation of society. The good and ordinary things, according to a deep-rooted prejudice, do not make the headlines. The solid traditional values are substituted with those of the secularized consumer oriented society (cf. MF 4), often luring fictitious needs and cultural conformism.


Regarding the family, John Paul II observed: “Infidelity, sexual activity outside of marriage, and the absence of a moral and spiritual vision of the marriage covenant are depicted uncritically, while positive support is at times given to divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality. Such portrayals, by promoting causes inimical to marriage and the family, are detrimental to the common good of society” (MF 3).Unfortunately, it is easy to verify how diffused is the vision of sex as an amusement and how sexual relationships before marriage are considered normal, at always more precocious ages, and those outside marriage, adultery, divorce, di facto unions, homosexuality, abortion and the parents surrendering in their educational commitments.
It must however be underlined that, above all the messages and their contents, the use itself of the mass media (in particular, TV, Internet, cell phones), if they are not managed with wisdom and moderation, they carry non negligible risks. It tends to absorb the interest of the users and to create psychological dependence, stealing away the time from other important activities, interpersonal relationships, work and prayer. The prevalence of images on words and the rapid sequence in which they exhibit themselves nourish continuous sensations and emotions at the cost of reflection, the capacity of being critical and of memory: from this comes the excessive emphasis in the decisions given to the subjective sensation instead of understanding or motivating. The too frequent contacts through media messages create superficial relations with others, sometimes deceptive, and can hide fears and solitude. The media play varied functions to the advantage of the user:
they provide company, they easily resolve his/her problems, they amuse him/her, they protect him/her, they give a sense of security, they actually make him/her feel at the centre of a vast world; but exactly for that reason, they can also contribute in making him/her shy from their responsibilities and in weakening their character, making him/her incapable of effort and suffering. The estrangement of reality reach many users to the experience of the so-called second life, a virtual life in a virtual ambient, where one enters with a fictitious identity to work, to buy, to build a house, to establish businesses, to dedicate free time in a gratifying way, to make interesting encounters, to bind affective and sexual ties, even to celebrate marriage, obviously all things being virtual.
To summarize: the mass media present great opportunities and great risks; therefore, they require an intelligent and responsible commitment


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