It was during the beginning of the COVID Pandemic that the word ‘bubbles’ became something more than a description of what happens to soap in a bath. Since there was such great fear during the beginning of this plague, people sought protection even in social settings. There were lots of ways to stay safe; for example, gatherings and classes were done on Zoom (did anyone even know that Zoom existed before the pandemic?!). Another way was to wear masks and before we discovered that this illness was airborne and not on surfaces, we also wore protective gloves.
But once we were within our own family or group, which we habitually were connected to, we spoke about being in our ‘protective bubble’ where the infection could not affect us since our family or group were always together and never with anyone else. Hence, we spoke about being in our ‘bubble’, a safe place to be since no one could bring in the infection.
In speaking about bubbles in this essay, I am using the term in a metaphorical way. We can live in an environment where everyone assumes the same beliefs and lives a mutually supportive existence, where contrary views of life are not admitted or even deemed to exist.
I recently had to give a class to a group of teenage students in a course on comparative religions. None of the students were Catholics nor members of any religion. They were completely agnostic, and this was a secular school. To them, I was a representative of the past who believed in something that no one took seriously anymore (or so they thought). They all grew up in well-to-do homes of a liberal perspective. Religion, in their common view or bubble, was a thing of the past. They lived in a world where there was no God and in which society was whatever they wanted it to be.
Here I was, like a dinosaur, talking to them about a God that they had never even considered to be a reality. All the issues they brought up had to do with the archaic past. I had to first set forth some basic things that I believed were at variance with this supposedly invincible set of assumptions. I tried to explain to them that I believe there is a God that created us for a purpose, that this God revealed His will through Scripture. I told them that I believe that we will be judged by how we live that life He gave us. Sin was real and deadly. Jesus was the Son of God who came to instruct us and who died to save us from the errors we are all prone to; that the Church was the community of believers who carry on the work of salvation, etc. All of this was new to them and hopefully will get them to think that there is another world possible outside their bubble; and that it is ok to question their underlying antecedent convictions which they thought had no other alternatives.
The Internet, unfortunately, instead of opening people up to new horizons often condemns them to stay within their bubbles. As soon as they request a site within their bubble, 10 other sites pop up that further walls them in. This is commonly called the ‘echo chamber effect’. This is the reason why our politics has degenerated into a kind of tribalism: the other is the enemy. Gone are the days when the late Justice Antonin Scalia and late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could exchange opposing views and then continue in a friendship.
Many people are in rival camps or bubbles, oblivious that there may be other world views than theirs. Universities that should be places of free inquiry have become propagators of their own bubble beliefs, almost always to the detriment of faith (even in Catholic Institutions!)
We are also often afraid to ‘pop someone’s bubble’. We think that they will condemn us for being intolerant when we are merely trying to get them to perceive that their way of seeing is not the only way and that questioning their assumptions may be the first steps toward the truth.
Jesus was the great bubble popper. No one likes to have their bubble exposed. That is one of the reasons He was crucified. His teaching is profoundly unsettling to those who are comfortable in their bubbles since it is the truth that everyone is looking for, but no one really wants: the Truth that brings freedom.
I have always enjoyed the world of the Arts, but as I continue to wake up to the social bubble, we all find ourselves in, I find it necessary and pleasing to call them out of that limited world. What used to attract me by its daring and newness, lies exposed before my faith as very limited and, yes, boring. I get more excitement and joy from a page of St. John of the Cross than from the many accomplishments of the greatest of modern artists. I find God in the paintings, dances, films, and operas that I used to venerate as the ultimate in wisdom. I see in the many attacks on goodness by modern artists a lamentable blindness. The denial of the Almighty and the All-Loving in the great philosophies I now see as self-imposed limitations and as weaknesses of thought and blindness to the Truth.
It’s wonderful to be out of the social and philosophical bubble that the Church has termed ‘Modernism’!