Magazine article The Christian Century

The Modern Unease: Locating the Culprit

Magazine article The Christian Century

The Modern Unease: Locating the Culprit

Article excerpt

LACKING A transcendent realm to anchor their lives, the inhabitants of modem culture are often in need of something else to provide structure and purpose to life. Often the something they seize upon is an enemy John Updike's memorable Everyman, Harry Angstrom, said it best: "War is a relief in many ways. Without the cold war, what's the point of being an American?" Without a tangible evil to focus on, chaos see s in. The violence and crime of the drug culture cry out for something or someone to blame. So politicians rush in with solutions. The Reagan-Bush administrations tried to blame Latin American coca growers and poured money into interdiction. President Clinton promises more police officers and a domestic interdiction of illicit drugs.

Meanwhile, looking for other culprits in our violence-prone society, Congress threatens television executives with restrictions on their profitmaking freedom. The executives solemnly promise to affix warning labels to identify the more violent programs. Labels would serve as a kind of admission of culpability, but they would largely be Band-Aids: they would call attention to the wound. A warning label doesn't halt or even slow down the steady stream of exploitative material available to every child old enough to wield a channel changer.

No label can properly point to what is at the core of our modern sense of unease--something for which we can find no tangible culprit. The news media demonstrate the ultimate nature of our unease when they treat signals of transcendent hope as reports of mere ecclesiastical conflict. This was apparent in the coverage of John Paul II's visit to Colorado. Peter Steinfels, religion writer for the New York Times, noted that the media focused almost exclusively on "disagreement within the Catholic church over questions of sexuality and gender, and discord between the pontiff and the American president over abortion."

Steinfels is one of the few reporters with a religious sensibility who can articulate it in a major newspaper. While front-page stories in the Times dutifully reported on the conflicts over sexuality and gender and the obvious difference between Clinton and the pope on abortion, Steinfels wrote in his column: "When Mile High Stadium shook on Thursday evening with the earsplitting exuberance of young people cheering John Paul II's arrival, nothing could have been further from their minds than Roe v. Wade or ordaining women. Nor have such issues loomed large in the activities of the week: daily Masses and religious discussions led by bishops, community service projects, all-night prayer vigils and yes, the horsing around and flirting on Denver',s downtown mall. …

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