Newtown and New Media: must we “do better” on big questions? UPDATED

That’s the question I’m asking in my column at First Things, this week. More correctly, I suppose I am wondering, does the Pope (and the church) need to do better with the “hard” questions of faith that are now subject to New Media?

Or do we — and especially the non-believers who are pining for “big” questions — simply not understanding the depth of the answers?

It all started with a tweetback from…

a self-described “Agnostic Atheist, Freethinker, Skeptic . . . ” called the Pontiff’s responses “lame” and complained, “He doesn’t answer hard questions.”

In fact, Benedict XVI—who goes by the handle @Pontifex on Twitter—had answered a “hard” question, because the life of faith turns all questions into “hard” ones. The answers become hard, too, mostly because on the surface they seem so simplistic they can easily be mistaken for glib toss-offs: “Pray, always.” “Remember the love of Christ.” A believer sincerely living the life understands that—because we are faulty, broken creatures—none of this comes easily. One can understand how an unbeliever might read the words and dismiss them as mere platitudes, or ask, what does it even mean?
[...]
I tried to convey that truth, in its barest, 140-character-limited terms, to the atheist on Twitter, and in doing so inadvertently exposed him to some jeering from a few Catholics who read our back-and-forth. I was sorry for that, because in his tweet—-coming, as it did, in light of the horrific slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut—-I could sense nothing to jeer at. His complaint seemed to me like the disheartened irritation of one seeking a bit of solace in the face of some of our deepest of mysteries: why evil exists; why God allows it to exist so close to goodness, just as the thieves hung beside Christ at Calvary.

The pope had tweeted his answer days before Friday’s massacre, but the reader had seen it afterward, and to me his remark smacked less of mockery than of real pain: We have a thousand questions and you’ve given three answers! What are you doing swanking about with this woman’s insipid query when children are being sprayed with bullets and our hearts are broken? Where is God, old man? Where is he, and what does he want from us?

Benedict’s earlier tweet had already provided the answer.

You can read the rest, here. You’ll also then find out why the great David Niven graces this post.

UPDATE:
Ed Morrissey does some “do bettering” in his column, here:

For Christians, Advent is a compelling lesson in humility and hope in hopelessness. In order to save the world, God sent his Son into it in human incarnation, and not as a mighty king or dictator to impose God’s kingdom on Earth by force. His Son took on the fullness of human nature and found himself born into poverty and crushing oppression. Jesus did not work the miracles that followed in order to overshadow free will and force people to follow him. He worked his miracles as small signs of mercy in order to demonstrate that salvation isn’t found in princes or in public policy, but in following God’s will and putting love of neighbor in action. The one man who had all the answers spoke in parables to woo the hearts of fallen humanity to that love, rather than seize power and pass a blizzard of laws imposing it.

It’s comforting to believe that we have all the answers, and that we can stave off all of the evils of the world by exercising power over others… which brings me back to my closet. Over the last several years, I have collected almost two dozen jackets and coats, of various styles, fabrics, and sizes. I literally had filled an entire closet with them, absentmindedly, in the years of living in Minnesota, which has at least two dozen varieties of cold. It occurred to me a few days ago, when forced by my wife to clear the closet for company, that I had filled my closet with protection against the worst of winter weather as if I could keep it at bay by a proliferation of outerwear and sheer will. Never mind that I can only wear one at time, and that most haven’t provided warmth to a single person in years — those coats and jackets provided me some odd measure of security, much like Linus and his blanket. “

Read it all!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Laurie

    Do we need to do better? I don’t think so. Not every answer to a “hard” question needs to be complicated, detailed, or better explained. The simplicity of Benedict’s answer shows God is always with us. We have to be willing to open our hearts and souls to see him. If we trust in him, he’ll always be with us through the good and bad, with the beautiful and horrific, hearing everything. It doesn’t have to be terribly complicated.

  • Peggy m

    I agree with Laurie. simplicity can yet be profound. One could spend a lifetime contemplating any of those succinct tweets of the pope.

    A problem I notice is that modern men, especially Westerners, particularly Americans, tend to be exceptionally literal-minded. They do not “do” nuance and are apt not to recognize language that means more than meets the eye. Moreover, many want a neat, obvious, clear answer to hard questions. They are impatient with ambiguity, or what they see as ambiguity.

    We practicing Christians can read the pope’s simple tweets and nod our heads in agreement and admire his wisdom and skilled command of language. We are used to the rich language of Scripture and liturgy. We accept the paradoxes typical of our faith—the need to die so that we may live, understanding that the last will be first, etc. We are used to reading or hearing statements from clergy—the weekly essay in the bulletin, the homily, the bishops’ letters, papal greetings—and know they will be expressing spiritual and religious ideas that are set apart from quotidian matters. I eagerly anticipated the pope’s tweets and expected him to impart succinct and deep religious truths. That would be characteristic of him. I was not disappointed.

    Increasingly, I fear we do not speak the same language as many of our compatriots. They do not understand what we are saying. One thing, though—-there seems to be a recognition of evil, on some level.


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