The talkpast

Among the difficulties in writing about politics, society, religion, is that of expectations. The reader today, even when he won’t admit it, has an “agenda” that is set by what our beloved last pope called “the council of the media.” This is so regardless of his opinions. He knows, or cannot help knowing, what the live issues are in the public forum; he must have some idea how the forces are arrayed, for and against specific propositions. There is Left and Right. There are allies and enemies one never chose, and one writes in the knowledge that they are accustomed to have the first and last words.

Let me express sympathy for Pope Francis for a moment. (Already I have the backs of some readers, and of some others, the backs up.) Consider this remark he made on an aeroplane, somewhere over the Ionian Sea I think, after specifically mentioning the warning of Pope Benedict XVI:

“When I convoked the first synod, the great concern of the majority of the media was communion for the divorced and remarried, and, since I am not a saint, this bothered me, and then made me sad. Because, thinking of those media who said, this, this, and that, do you not realize that that is not the important problem? Don’t you realize that instead the family throughout the world is in crisis? … And the family is the basis of society. Do you not realize that the youth don’t want to marry? Don’t you realize that the fall of the birth rate in Europe is to cry about? Don’t you realize that the lack of work or the little work available means that a mother has to get two jobs and the children grow up alone? These are the big problems.”

I happen to think that the Holy Father made this “problem of the problem” worse, from his first moments on the Throne of Peter, by touting men like Cardinal Kasper. (And uttering logical howlers as in that penultimate line: for if there’s little work available, how do millions of women get two jobs?) But as I wrote before, somewhere, even Kasper moans that he cannot get a hearing on topics beyond the pet project that the media have saddled on him; that on other issues, and especially in the context of contemporary, ultra-secularized Germany, he might almost be described as a conservative.

When reading other Catholic media (and the whole of the world’s media are my rivals for your attention, gentle reader), I am struck by the ease with which quite intelligent writers get sucked down the sinkholes. They are for instance revolted by some socialist proposition, and therefore align themselves with some (imaginary) “free market”; they are revolted by some laissez-faire proposition, and therefore align themselves with big nanny guvmint. Yet even if they don’t, the alignment will be made for them, and what they never said will be casually assumed.

A certain Thomas Aquinas predicted that this would be the downfall of “democracy” — that it divides a nation into factional camps, who soon talk past each other. I often hear him mumbling from his shelves, up here in the High Doganate, that yet again a “both/and” proposition has been misrepresented as an “either/or,” in the manner of those Reformation theologians, after they had lost the thread of scholastic reasoning. That his successors lack the patience to consider all the flowers in the fragrant garden. That seizing upon a beautiful flower, they yank it to their bosom by the roots. That they do their weeding with Agent Orange.

Reading through the latest electronic dollop of reader mail, I am moved to make a singular proclamation: That, what I haven’t said, I haven’t said.

Give me a chance and I’ll get around to it.