DOCAT contents for At-Home Lesson#6

DOCAT# 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, and 46 [1]

DOCAT#37 What are the media for?

When direct communication is not possible, we use the media as indirect providers of information and as platforms for exchange and discussion. The media serve to educate, inform, and entertain, with the entertainment aspect often outweighing the others. Without the media, we could organize neither our private life nor the complexity of our modern society. The media are like the communicative cement that holds society together—the larger and more complex the society, the more urgently we need the media. A democracy, especially, cannot function without the free exchange of opinions and information and without the participation of all.

DOCAT#38 How does the Church see the media?

The media are necessary building blocks of modern societies. They are not ends in themselves; rather, as social means of communication, they serve people and help them to understand one another. The media—and those who make them available and distribute them—have an ethical responsibility. They must direct their activity toward the goal of mutual understanding: What fosters this understanding, what impedes it? How can man and his social relations be promoted? What developments serve the common good, for example, the free exchange of news and opinions? The Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which was founded in 1948, deals intensively with the questions: 1) How can the faith be proclaimed in an appropriate way in the media? and 2) How are the media to be used “correctly”?

DOCAT#39 What is the Church’s attitude toward the social networks?

The Internet and above all the social networks are regarded as an important extension of the possibilities for communication. Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly took up this theme; thus he says: “The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks” (Benedict XVI, Message for the 45th World Communications Day, 2011). Just like all the media, however, the social networks, too, should serve the common good and human development. Pope Benedict calls for “serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age”. As a matter of principle, communication on social networks takes the form of a dialogue; this is a great opportunity for the Church to realize her potential as a communio, or fellowship. Pope Francis has a Twitter account (@pontifex), which Pope Benedict started. In early 2016 he had 26 million followers.

DOCAT#40 What is the “digital divide”?

The noblest goal of all social media is universal participation in shaping public affairs. On the Internet and in the social networks some people are excluded from the start, if for structural, financial, or personal reasons they have no access to the Internet or if they cannot use it competently. In order to avoid the exclusion of individuals or groups (the “digital divide”), the Church repeatedly calls for universal access to the means of social communication and a prohibition of monopolies and ideological supervision. If the exclusion affects the elderly, the unemployed, and people with less formal education, it is more correct to talk about a social divide, which absolutely must be overcome. Therefore this is a question not only about communicating but also about overcoming unjust structures that exclude individuals or groups from information and thus from education and development.

DOCAT#41 What is the right way to use the media?

Using the media sensibly is a challenge for every individual. Even with the classic mass media (newspaper, radio, television), one must decide what to be concerned about. Merely passive consumption often leaves the “user” feeling sad and spiritually empty. In this regard, parents, teachers, or youth group leaders have a particular responsibility. They must model for children and young people a disciplined way of using the media and acquaint them with media that are enriching. In the case of the digital media, a new level of responsibility is added: especially in social networks, one is no longer just a passive recipient, who receives what others have produced, printed, or sent. One can at any time be active also as a producer, “like” or comment on something or else post a message, a blog entry, a video, or a photo online. Thus one has a responsibility comparable to that of any other media producer.

DOCAT#42 What responsibility do I have in using the media?

The social media can bring people together or lead them into isolation. They can help people be better informed, enrich and inspire them, or seduce them to evil. What we do and permit in the media and the social networks ought to serve the purpose of all human communication: overcoming the confusion of languages at Babel (Gen 11:4-8) and coming to an understanding of all by the Spirit of God (Acts 2:5-11). The central ethical concept here is “responsibility”: responsibility to God, who wants us to help truth prevail and to seek one another in love; responsibility to our neighbor, who should be integrated, involved, and enriched through the social media; responsibility to myself, since I should enter into true community with others through the media instead of shutting myself off in self-centered “virtual” isolation from other people and their real needs.

DOCAT#43 What does ideal communication on the Internet look like?

As desirable as it is for Christians to conquer the “digital continent” and to fill it with the light of the Gospel, the way in which they communicate must be set apart from the usual approaches. It makes sense for Christians to post messages and run blogs dealing with Christian topics. But if they denounce other people in them, if they slander, belittle, and condemn others, if they cause or support divisions, then they are doing the opposite of what Pope Francis calls for in Evangelii gaudium: “The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded.” This applies also to the presence of Christians in the social media: “It is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance, or fear” (EG 23).

DOCAT#44 Are there good media and bad media?

Media as such are good, but they can be used badly; some are more useful, others less so. It always depends on one’s purpose and how one uses them. One can employ media in such a way that the result is nothing but meaningless entertainment and useless information; thereby one can keep people away from real life. Media owners can exploit the media by deliberately inducing addictive behaviors in media users. The media are becoming more and more commercialized. They often degenerate into cheap stimulants that distract from a dreary world without hope. People often go on the Internet for content that glorifies violence, and even more often for pornography. Providers, therefore, are always developing new forms of presenting media content (for instance, computer games) and marketing strategies so as to generate dependent (and often addicted) “users”. All this is an abuse of the media. Christians must therefore consistently avoid certain sorts of content and lovingly help individuals who are dependent on the Internet (especially young people) out of their misery.

DOCAT#45 How can we protect the media from being misused?

Misuse of the media should be decisively counteracted. Markets need freedom, but they also need to set moral goals. Those who offer access, services, and platforms are required more than ever to accept the ethical standard of the common good and human development. The devaluation of human sexuality, especially the distribution of child pornography, is a much too serious abuse for those responsible to keep ignoring it. Just as unacceptable are all forms of cyber-mobbing and disturbances that are becoming widespread based on the ability to use the Internet anonymously. With regard to the danger of the possible misuse of data by companies like Google, Facebook etc. (or even by governments), it is important not to reveal online everything about oneself and not to use a smartphone for pictures (selfies) of an intimate sort.

DOCAT#46 Must the Church go along with every technological development?

Science and technology are a “magnificent product of God-given creativity”. Yet progress is not an end in itself, and just because something is new does not automatically make it good. Every development has to be tested to determine whether it serves man (and thus the common good) or whether instead it disregards human dignity because it touts deceptive values and/or causes dependency.

References / Citations

[1] DOCAT: What to do? The Social Teaching of the Catholic Church. San Francisco, Calif: Ignatius Press, 2016.

[2] BibleGateway (online bible).