I’m going to suddenly talk about a topic that shouldn’t be brought up in casual conversation.
Catholicism has a PR problem. Yes, I know, Islam also appears to be under fire, generally from bigots and racists who tend to judge and generalize prematurely. But, like feminism and the female race, at least Islam has defenders and it’s acceptably liberal and considered mature to be understanding towards the Islamic culture.
Catholicism, on the other hand, well, it’s supposed to be a powerful religion, but it’s also cool, and even considered somewhat liberal and educated, to question it’s authority.
I don’t despise religion. As a lover of culture and sociological realities, I adhere to the thought that entities that endure in society serve a purpose, no matter how much we reject the thought. Hence, the prevalence of gossip, reality TV, twitter and, yes, religion.
Religion, in the old understanding and practice of it, has gradually had to weaken its grip. It doesn’t have much of a choice. Much of its older functions have been taken over by other social realities. Giving people emotional comfort and steady distraction is already very well supplied by the Internet (Hah, Catholicism, you thought the boob tube was tough competition.)
What especially doesn’t help Catholicism, I think, is the use of certain terms with archaic connotations. See, I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with spirituality and faith. I can openly admit that at the toughest times in my life, I really needed to hold onto something bigger than myself, no matter how abstract it was, be it “God” or “the beauty of nature” or “others needing help from a healthy person who doesn’t know what to do with herself”. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to be a good, benevolent person. It’s what Buddhism tries to espouse with much better mass media aplomb.
In the homily yesterday (I live in a predominantly Catholic country), for example, the priest kept mentioning sinfulness, and how we have a duty to keep each other from sin. It’s a good and sensible thought. But, in a PR sense, it isn’t effective marketing/communication.
First, the concept of “sin” may not be as relevant to today’s individuals who may not have been brought up in strictly religious households. “Sin” implies a mistake or injury inflicted upon an abstract being, or because of ascribed moral commandments, more than the actual impact on people, or your own well-being.
Second, “sin” has begun to take quite a positive coat of paint from its frequent association with chocolate and sexiness, indulgence and luxury. So much so, that, I think when you say “sinful”, I automatically fantasize about a Dove bar. Or a lamb burger.
So, to help the Catholic church communicate, I suggest that it could focus more on the concept of acts being “hurtful”. I say this in the spirit of Made to Stick, which says ideas must be concrete or tangible to be sticky. Hurting someone is something I inherently don’t want to do. It’s relatable. It’s immediately understood. Everyone at some point in their life has done it. And it’s really what sin is about – hurting others and yourself, either immediately or in the long run. I imagine that Philosophy lesson I had ages ago, where morality was analyzed by thinking whether “if everyone in the world did it, would it be ok?”.
Why am I suddenly blogging about this? Because it makes me sad that concepts and ideas that could support goodness and kindness in the world are buried under bureaucracy and the natural folly of men. There is nothing wrong with trying to be a good person. Nothing wrong with prayer. Nothing wrong with reading Scripture if it helps your life. I just wish there wasn’t a whole lot of stigma attached to it.
A final note: It all boils down to critical thinking, I think. I have always supported respect for various beliefs, because, at the end of the day, again, religion is a social reality that serves a purpose. But its diversity is beautiful. And we can all learn how to be better people from lessons from different cultures. So all we really have to do is keep reading, questioning and trying to be kind to each other.