Like many of you, this forced staying-home due to this Pandemic has meant watching TV more than usual. With Smart TVs and streaming services, it seems an endless array of programming is at our beck and call. There is a handful of channels that are exclusively religious, but they are sequestered and kept separate from the usual programming.
In surveying a lot of the programming, some things, in a general sense, seemed to become apparent. Gone from all the story lines and characters is any hint of the divine or the religious. When, for some plot line, it becomes convenient to inject a religious subplot or character point, it is usually in the negative. You can be sure that someone who is religious is characterized as either intellectually limited or morally twisted, and in a murder mystery, usually the culprit.
But this vast silence is something to be amazed at since religion is growing throughout the world (including in formerly atheistic Russia and in Communist China, where the growth of Christianity may make it the most populous Christian country in the world some day). In addition, when religions are mentioned, Buddhism, Islam and many native religions get high marks; but Christianity usually is presented as the harbor of child abuse, intolerance (Handmaids Tale), and anti-scientific fervor. Yet, usually the writers are from a culturally Christian background!
Many theologians have remarked about this seemingly all-pervasive self-hatred that has lodged in the hearts and minds of formerly Christian persons. They react with a vehemence and an intolerance that even non-Christians are amazed at.
This latent and not so latent reactionary rejection of all that Christianity holds dear is especially surprising. Much in what we term the secular sphere derives from a fundamentally Christian understanding of life that was forged in the centuries of Christian consensus in what we call ‘the West’.
We have come a long way from gladiator contests to the death and watching of wild animals tearing apart innocent human beings! We are very ignorant of history. Christianity has had a deep and wonderful impact on Western culture in its 2,000-year history. Even the most liberal and non-conformist strains of public opinion trace many of their concerns to our Christian roots. Of course, the Media hasn’t the foggiest about our history, nor does it care. In reading newspaper articles about the Church and Religion, I have been very surprised at the ignorance of the most intelligent and educated writers regarding the most basic facts about our Faith.
So, it is not surprising when there is such a silence on TV and other media about Faith. Honestly, it might be better this way. The disinformation and the false opinions may not make it worth it to be in the public square. But this enforced secularism can give the impartial and searching observer the false impression that Faith is dead or at least radically irrelevant.
While I don’t see any collusion or conspiracy about this wash-out of religious content in news and art, it is pervasive and requires, I think, an occasional corrective when we speak to family and friends. Faith matters; and the silence about it, while not legally enforced, can be seen to be culturally supported by an anti-religious point of view that consciously or unconsciously has taken hold of the public space in our nation.
One of the ways that I have found to counter this enforcement of privatization of Religion is to say grace before meals, even in a Restaurant (remember restaurants?!). I make the Sign of the Cross as I begin either to say the prayer quietly or to myself. But the Sign of the Cross is my statement that we are still here, that we still believe and that faith is not just a private thing.
I even make the Sign of the Cross when I pass by the Church on the street. It is a beautiful custom signaling my belief in the True Presence of our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. In Church, I genuflect when passing the Tabernacle; and outside, I make the Sign of the Cross. This is not against the Law (well not yet!).
While we should not pridefully do this to draw attention to ourselves, it is an exercise of our freedom of religion that is enshrined in our Bill of Rights.
We take no actions because of pride or judgement of others. We simply share our belief in the Faith that must come before any slight embarrassment that expression of it may cause.
“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither. May my tongue stick to my palate if I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem beyond all my delights” Psalm 137:5-6.