Note: This is the first of three essays. Number one is entitled: The infallibility of the mass media; number two is entitled: The infallibility of science; and Number three is entitled: The infallibility of the Bible
I’ve had to outgrow a belief in the infallibility of human claims and human systems four times in my life. The first time was as an eight-year-old boy. My father had a 250-cc motorbike, and as I was reading the newspaper one day (the Cork Evening Echo), I came across a huge advertisement that screamed, “Use only BP, it’s the world’s best petrol.” I turned to my father and asked, “Dad what kind of petrol do you use in your motorbike?” He said, “Texaco” I said, “Texaco? Why not BP?” He responded, “Why would I use BP?” I said, “because it’s the world’s best petrol” So he asked, “why do you think that?” And I confidently and helpfully replied, “Because it says so in the ‘Echo’” He smiled a trifle sadly and told me, “you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers.” I was shocked. Shocked that people would be allowed to tell lies in the newspapers.
So, in this series of three essays, I want to treat of the topic of infallibility. Being raised Roman Catholic, I “knew” without a shadow of a doubt, that the pope was infallible. I was convinced that he communed daily with God and was given nuggets of knowledge to guide his one-billion-plus globally-scattered flock. It was sobering to learn that he was infallible only under very specific circumstances i.e., when he spoke “ex cathedra” on matters of faith and morals to be held by all the faithful. This circumscribed his omniscience significantly but he was still infallible under those constrained limitations. [In actual fact, the only example of an ex cathedra decree took place in 1950, when Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary as an article of faith.] Then I began to read church history and discovered the unbridled skullduggery including assassinations by wannabe popes of sitting popes whom they then succeeded to “the throne of Peter.” Throw into the mix sexual misconduct and all manners of Machiavellian intrigue. To make matters worse, I discovered that the doctrine of infallibility had only been decreed in 1870 at the First Vatican Council, in order to compensate a petulant Pius IX for the loss of his temporal power – the Papal States.
But I’ve realized it is not just Catholics who have this quaint notion but that most people have a belief in – even a need for – some form of infallibility even if it is at a subconscious level.
The Infallibility of the Mass Media
Propaganda is as old as storytelling, and its modern costume is “fake news.” The problem is that most of the fake news is coming from the mainstream media who are accusing the prophets of being the ones propagating the fake news. This deception is as old as the book of Jeremiah of 600 BCE, where the “court prophets”, who were aligned with the ruling class, accuse Jeremiah of promoting lies that could lead to the overthrow of the kingdom of Judea. As it turned out, of course, he was correct and within a few short years the royal family, “court prophets”, and the bulk of the populace were taken into exile in Babylon and the first temple (the one Solomon had built in 950 BCE) was destroyed.
In our times, the fourth estate (the current crop of court prophets) has become a willing partner to the oligarchy and used by them to distract, mis-inform and dis-inform us. And there are myriad pieces on their chessboard of “divide and conquer,” – ethnicity, racism, sexism, ageism, denominational affiliation, political parties and class (lower, working, middle, upper, elite, aristocratic, and royal.) These strident, finger-pointing “presstitutes” in the employ of the powerbrokers have abandoned their sacred mission as guardians of the truth and promoters of revelation. It is a well-known fact that if you want to succeed in a coup, you must first capture the mass media. I well remember August 1st 1982, when I was still living in Kenya, that a wannabe dictator (senior private grade I – the second lowest rank in the Kenya military hierarchy), Hezekiah Ochuka, attempted to overthrow President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi and his government. The first act was to take over the headquarters of the VOK (Voice of Kenya radio/TV system) and announce that there was a regime change. The coup lasted all of six hours, but the idea behind the takeover of the VOK was a classic effort to take control of the narrative. It’s classic because those who control the past (the official “history”) create and control the present, and those who own the present (“news media”) create and control the future.
These are the same folks who told us that the Patriot Act was patriotic; and that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was actually defending us. In reality, these pieces of legislation are dissolving our constitution and causing the outside world to both fear and despise us. Fake news and bought airtime have sold us Citizens United to ensure that we get the best “representatives” corporate money can buy and convinced us to reject state propositions that would have halted the race to the top of GMO foods. Perhaps it’s time to do a “news fast”—to put your TV and radio to bed and to save a tree by cancelling your subscription to your morning newspaper.
If you set out on a hike without a map, you may get lost; if you take an inaccurate map, you’ll probably get lost; but if you take an intentionally-drawn wrong map, you will certainly get lost. If you’re a cook and decide to be creative by not following a recipe, the results may taste foul; if you follow a bad recipe, it will probably taste foul; but if you follow a bad and poisonous recipe, not only will it definitely taste foul, it will also kill you.
Whether you’re hiking or cooking, examining your cosmology or pursuing a PhD in astrophysics, it is vital that you exercise critical thinking and not simply swallow what you are fed. We have to be very careful who the meme-makers and story-tellers are. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, emphasized that skill in spiritual direction was dependent on “de discretione spirituum” (the discernment among spirits). Even a cursory review of history and a week’s exposure, currently, to the mass media, should quickly convince the critical thinker that most memes and many stories have been either composed or corrupted by, at best, the bean counters and bureaucrats who steer the ship of state on a daily basis or, at worst, by dictators and oligarchs who chart the long-term trajectory.