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Vision TV: subtlety and blurred vision: it presumes that all religions are equivalent by nature and that there can be no real distinctions between them.

I was re-reading the often neglected second part of Newman's The Idea of a University some time ago when I came across a statement which impelled me to pause. I was, in a sense, startled because the words that the Cardinal employed validated something which was unsettling me for some time. I was quite cognizant of this experience. Yet I was unable to adequately think it through, to put my finger on it to form a position on the issue, and to subsequently set it down on paper. The reason for this being the very essence of the subject I was endeavouring to apprehend, namely subtlety.

Infidelity of the Day

The triggering words are to be found in the opening sentence of the first section of the fifth part of Newman's "University Subjects," entitled "A form of Infidelity of the Day." It is as follows: "Though it cannot be denied that at the present day, in consequence of the close juxtaposition and intercourse of men of all religions, there is a considerable danger of the subtle, silent, unconscious perversion and corruption of Catholic intellects..." (U. of Notre Dame Press, 1986, p. 286)

Now my mind was in transit. As I recalled the books and articles I had read over the course of the last year, remembering some of my conversations with friends and acquaintances, a peculiar strain of pretence and demonstration manifested itself. The subjects I reviewed were diverse and did not, in many instances, gravitate around religion; though I began more and more to fathom their ramifications for religion when I extrapolated the intentions of those writings, vocalizations and images to their final consequences.

When I say this here I am not referring to my personal responses from abrasive propositions which state, for example, that "the pope is a relic of an age of superstition" or, to paraphrase T.H. Huxley, that "The Catholic Church is a menace to civilization." I mean, rather, that ubiquitous, subdued, minimalistic and virtually imperceptible buzz or background noise which one perceives upon those words and sights which incite a state of uncertainty and a consciousness of a looming danger ahead.

Perhaps I am being too abstract, making hazy something that is not at all intricate? But is that not what subtlety does? To make judgements arduous? To blur distinctions between things and notions? To smear and skew them to the point of non-identity?

Syncretic TV

In the electronic media, we can find few better exam ples of this confusion and subtlety than from watching Vision TV, Canada's syncretistic television network. Programs "from a variety of religious beliefs" are presented to us in its Saturday and Sunday "Mosaic" schedule. Everyone, from the histrionics of the bible-thumping John Hagee to the Eastern-oriental pagan guru, has a platform from which to communicate his worldview to a Canadian audience. For the remainder of the week, Vision's program listing includes documentaries on "liberation" movements from whatever kind or place, lecture series for disillusioned academics propounding the spirituality implicit in the natural world (i.e. pantheism), interviews with ecofeminist theologians promoting their soon-to-be-forgotten books, intermittent segments of pastoral scenes so as to soothe the weary soul and, of course, occasional slots with the notorious Tom Harpur presenting his usual anti-Catholic propaganda and schoolboy theology.

But it is not even these programs in their particularities that I want to discuss. Rather, it is the aura itself, the spirit so to speak, which emanates from Vision's agenda and philosophy of religion that has the potentiality, to again use Newman's words, for "the subtle, silent, unconscious perversion and corruption of Catholic intellects."

One of Vision's mottoes, is "The Spirit of Canada"--so, then, what is this spirit? To the contrary, it is not a spirit, but a presumption, and a false one at that. It presumes that all religions are equivalent by nature and that there are no real distinctions between them. Religion can only almost be true. This, of course, goes against St. Thomas Aquinas' principle of contradiction which says that something cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time. For what issues forth from your television screen when tuned into Vision TV is not real religion. It's virtual religion. And it is the "virtual" or the "almost" which comprises the nature of subtlety. The station does not stand for anything because it is not really trying to be representative of any specific religious community, but the entirety of them.

Democratic religion?

Not unexpectedly, some would object that this is democracy functioning in the media; that Vision's portrayal and presumption of the "equality" of all religions is a right. And I agree that individual denominations have the right to present their perspectives. But I am not concentrating on this.

I am attempting rather to track down that elusive subtlety which works its way silently into the scene by being more specific about the character of this subtlety itself. And specific is the key word here. The words "specific" and "subtle" are not grammatical companions. For whenever one strives to be more specific about religion--about its precepts and moral codes -- then, and only then, does the tension noticeably amplify. Real distinctions between religions begin to arise from the subsurface; as specificity increases, subtlety decreases. The result: eventually one religion will emerge as being really distinct from the rest, one that is indicative and representative of the truth. And I can think of no other religion on this earth which is more specific and insistent in its belief system, dogma and promulgations than the Catholic Church.

It is this specificity which is exactly what Vision TV eschews. It prefers subtlety, to fuse religions into one but concurrently claim an equal validity for all. Yes, Catholicism is periodically on its format. Perhaps some quiescent priest will be permitted air time (so long as he remains within the bounds of "political correctness" --yet another subtle media cliche) or else some "Gucci nun," to use a classic phrase of Fr. George Rutler, is allocated a spot to voice her "frustrations" with the Pope and a church without women priests, et cetera, et cetera. But these individuals are not really representative of the Catholic standpoint. They represent, like many of the fly-by-night monophysites and dilettantes who are allotted air time on Vision TV, merely a small minority of disgruntled persons who falsely claim to represent the majority of Canadian Catholics. This is not democracy operating within the electronic media. It is an exercise in manipulation by an elite class.

How about Bishop Sheen?

If Vision TV is really democratic in its religious representation, then let it rebroadcast some of Bishop Sheen's shows from the 1950s. This will likely never happen, and if so, I am sure protest would immediately arise. Although it would not be a specific and loud protest. Not at all. It would be subtle; perhaps a swift decision made at a meeting within the offices of Vision TV, ordering the production coordinator to "flick the switch" on Sheen. Nothing would be heard of it outside the confines of Canada's syncretistic television network. No internal memo, no public notice. Just the disappearance of some black and white celluloid from the inventory sheet.

Why? Right away we note the enigmatic superforce that Sheen was. His mesmerizing voice and, as one priest told me, his "eyes like Christ's" would be too overwhelming. His appeal was immense, irrespective of religious predisposition. But these are minor, just manifestations of his personality and temperament. It is what Sheen said that would incite disquiet Vision TV's programmers. Sheen's television shows--whose format, incidentally, was not designed only for Catholics--boldly expressed the truths and falsities, the good and the evil, of modern culture. He was specific in what he said, and he really meant what he said. Sheen was certainly not a subtle man. And why should we wonder that almost nothing is spoken of the bishop (whose media presence was enormous just a couple of decades or so ago) in the electronic media, be it for or against him? The reason is that the media in general initiated their assault on traditional morals and ethics first in a subtle fashion. Only when they had interpenetrated the non-religious type of programming, and gained acceptance, did they move finally to aggressively mock and misconstrue all things associated with Catholicism.

Pan-religious format

Vision TV has yet to reach this extremity. Its pan-religious format is somewhat new to television broadcasting, and not enough time has passed for it to be influenced by non-religious sectors. But so long as its philosophy of subtlety remains, it will increasingly acquiesce in the liberal, anti-Catholic campaign now being waged by the rest of the media industry. More and more will one see hate-induced characters like Tom Harpur and ex-priests whining about "papal dictatorship," and so forth, until eventually Catholic television representation will evaporate altogether.

To conclude, manipulation by the media begins with subtlety. In the sphere of pan-religious television broadcasting, this consequently leads to an eradication of real distinctions between various religious beliefs until, at last, a complete and irremediable division occurs between all other religions (a juxtaposition which subsists on subtlety) and, as history as shown, the Catholic Church (which insists on specifics). And I think that this observation is part of the warning that Cardinal Newman was attempting to convey.

Am I perhaps separating the wheat from the chaff? No! I am only specifying that there is wheat and that there is chaff. It is subtlety which blurs the distinction between the two, finally separating them, throwing out the wheat (the truth), and invariably prioritizing the chaff. This is what Vision TV does: real and orthodox Catholicism is subsumed within a syncretistic format, and those Catholics who watch this station are simply presented with either distorted or untruthful versions of the faith.
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Author:Michael Morassutti
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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