Media unwilling to wander off the familiar territory of ‘controversy’

Opinion: we are now left operating with just a portion of our reason

On Thursday last week I arrived back from holidays and immediately accepted an invitation from TV3's Tonight with Vincent Browne to discuss "the state of the nation". The discussion got off to a somewhat chaotic start on Gerry Adams's credibility as a moral spokesman but arrived quickly at one of the topics flagged by the researcher to whom I had spoken earlier: the potential dangers of the relentless drive towards secularisation in the "new" Ireland.

I began my contribution on this question by referring to the structural need of human beings for a relationship with the infinite/transcendent dimension of reality, but was immediately interrupted by the stand-in presenter, Ger Colleran, who demanded that I outline my position on paedophile priests. I indicated that I was rather bored by that topic and would prefer to continue what I was saying.

I like Ger Colleran. Professionally we’ve had some robust ding-dongs but he never seems to take things personally or bear grudges. Mostly, when we’ve met in TV or radio studios, I’ve found him open-minded and reasonable. But last week I was confronted by a different phenomenon: Ger plus a rattling thing in his ear.

Very quickly it became clear that, one way or another, there would be no discussion about the structure and nature of human beings. Ger, his earpiece or the two thinking as one had determined that I would be permitted to address just one question: clerical sex abuse. After another brief ding-dong we went to a commercial break, during which the stalemate continued. When the programme recommenced, the discussion diverted into less fraught territory and, near the end, the presenter said he would give me 45 seconds to make the point I’d been trying to make earlier. I took the opportunity to observe that many thousands of citizens and viewers were being disenfranchised by the kind of episode we had just witnessed. More or less immediately the programme wound up. Afterwards the presenter and I had a friendly conversation in which he thanked me for being prepared to make unpopular arguments.

What happened that night was that the apparatus of the Tonight programme's functioning groupthink kicked in to close down a discussion that threatened to take the programme beyond its ideological comfort zone. The moral shield afforded by the highly emotive issue of clerical sex abuse gave adequate protection for what was really an act of censorship.

The human person: a state of emergency
Five days later I delivered the keynote address at the Rimini Meeting, to the title of this year's event: "The Human Person: a State of Emergency." I spoke for 90 minutes to an audience of perhaps 20,000 between the immediate arena and others gathering around the sprawling campus of the Rimini Fiera. My theme was essentially the one I had attempted to open up on Tonight. Here, however, I received an enthusiastic hearing and, beforehand and afterwards, was interviewed at length by numerous outlets.

The “human emergency” I described as occurring at the point where the human person meets “society”, but reverberating backwards to the core of every human heart. Each of us, in the cultures constructed for our protection and advancement, feels increasing dissociated by virtue of being cut off from understandings relating to the infinite mysterious reality which is our true “home”. The ways human beings have through the ages sought to couch and capture this sense of mysteriousness are gradually being sidelined, leaving us operating with just a portion of our reason and a concomitant reduction in our functioning capacities.

One of the chief symptoms of the problem is that we fail to recognise that there’s a problem here at all. But everything that assails us can be described in these terms – including our economic situation, which is really the creaking of a man-made system under the pressure of the infinite desiring of human beings.

I’m fully aware that these will read as strangely-worded propositions. This may well be the most urgent aspect of the problem: that it can no longer even be stated because the language of the topic has been rendered alien and because there’s always a voice to interrupt, to divert the discussion into something safe or bland or having the potential to generate heat rather than light.

In stark contrast to other European societies there’s now no place in Irish media for penetrative discussion of the most vital and preoccupying questions confronting the human person in the modern world. All we have are ideological forums that allow for limited treatment of selected topics adjudged useful in furthering the objectives of the ruling orthodoxies – and even here the possibilities have been reduced to what can be absorbed and swallowed by the most unthinking. To call these conditions “dumbed down” is to flatter them shamelessly.