Monday, 6 June 2011

The Pope Embraces The Digital Age

Believe in Santa; believe also in me
The Bishop of Rome wrote, yesterday, on the 45th World Communications Day, and in it attended to the issues surrounding "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age

I must confess to being mildly surprised that Pope Benedict XVI has a view on a world that seems now to be characterised by Facebook, MySpace - and in Christian circles, to blogging and Tweeting. I am pleasantly surprised too - not least of all because I clearly talked about this first a couple of days ago and it is always nice to pip a leading Christian to the post!

By way of summary, the Pope likens the advent of the digital age to the Industrial Revolution in terms of its scope and impact on the life of a large number of people. He points to the new possibilities for this new mode of communication and its implications not just for faith, but life as a whole. In summary:

  • The digital age brings a new appreciation of communication as a whole.
  • 'This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship'
  • Communication in a digital age can be at risk from being 'one-sided' and selective - that the communicator discloses only what they wish to disclose and on their terms.
  • Social networking, the main outworking of this new digital age for young people, brings with it a new way of relating to others, and allows 'new forms of interpersonal relations'.
  • While the dangers (of forming parallel personalities in cyber-space) have to be heeded, people enter cyber-space in a search for authenticity - of themselves and others. 
  • This raises the question of 'who is my neighbour' in a new world beyond the physical and geographic?
  • Will this have implications for the quality of our presence in the 'real' world in which we exist physically?
  • The risks of being distracted from our 'real' world (relationships, encounters) are to be heeded
  • 'When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically'
  • Christians should now be ready to account for the hope that exists within them when engaged in the digital world. 
  • Care must be taken in the integrity of the message proclaimed
    • Avoid popularity or a 'popular' view, or that which is intended to gain most attention
    • Avoid dilution and maintain the integrity of the message
    • The Gospel must be 'daily nourishment', not a 'fleeting attraction'
    • The Gospel should still be rooted in the real, and not left hanging in virtual space
    • 'Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!'
  • Christians are invited, 'with an informed and responsible creativity', to engage with the digital age
  • Ephesians 1: 10 - we are called to embrace this new field of existence
  • We should emulate the Emmaus Road dialogue in how we draw people to new understandings
  • Genuine testimony from those in discipleship to Christ are the main means by which the digital age will retain integrity and not a means of de-personalisation and deception. The human search for truth will mean that many will follow authentic testimony
Writing as a blogger, the needs for authenticity, integrity and responsibility are what ring out of this. So many blogs are hobby-horses, psychiatrist's couch or soap-boxes, partly written to play to a crowd like little mini Christian sects in an online church. That is where blogging fails. Where it seems to thrive is in its unique opportunity to allow everyone with a computer and a signal to communicate their faith authentically, simply and as it is experienced. The world doesn't need ranks of the perfect Christians telling them how it is or how it must be, but they desire real people writing about real struggles with real faith in real life. I have stated this elsewhere here many times. 

Catholic, Anglican or Free - all Christians who have a sense that the digital age represents more than a counter-Church fad will be edified by the Pope's sentiments. I commend them you you in those terms. 


  1. Reformed Carflick - Eastbourne Branch6 June 2011 at 14:27

    First thought - it reads like the 39 Articles of Blogging!

    Second thought - note to Pope, as in things to do with marriage & procreation, 'You no play-a de game, you no make-a de rules'.

    Third thought - even dressing him up as Santa doesn't seem to help, does it?

  2. Thanks for summarising this, David. Food for thought for all of us, I think. I particularly appreciate the bit you italicised about the way we communicate with each other being important (as important?) as what we actually say.



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