How should Catholics think about Iran? And how should a Catholic think about Iran? These are two different questions, as an individual person and the Church are two different things, but in trying to follow the news recently, partly through electronic “tweets” directly from Iran, including those from one anonymous Catholic Persian we have on the scene, I’ve been thinking of both. And that, largely to triangulate a third position, “How would a Catholic medium” (newspaper, broadcaster, web aggregator, whatever) “report Iran, interpret Iran, comment on what is happening?”
I am a journalist myself, with a day job in that field, writing for a very “secular” newspaper, whose editors truly (and understandably) do not care about any of these questions. That is among the reasons I think of them. For some time now I’ve also been discussing with fellow Catholics the need for a specifically Catholic “mainstream” news medium.
By this I do not mean “a medium for Catholics,” for there are plenty of those, including this esteemed Web site, but rather something written and produced for anybody and everybody that just happens to be unambiguously Catholic in outlook.
Hilaire Belloc wrote extensively, and also wisely, about this, for the problem existed as much in the early 20th century in England and America as today all over the English-speaking world. G. K. Chesterton and others also dealt with it. English-speaking Catholics got their news then, as they do now, from secular sources; and so does everyone else.
And one would have to be somewhat obtuse to imagine that the very secular news media do not have an outlook of their own, quite different from the Catholic, and sometimes even lethally opposed to the Catholic or Christian.
Which is not to say the “MSM” is monolithic. Not quite; but close. A business newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal looks at things, therefore reports things, at a slightly different angle from, say, the New York Times. But neither paper is even slightly interested in the spiritual aspect of human affairs, or has any implicit stake in “the long view of history.”
And this is before we consider the opinions that secular journalists may hold, which (my colleagues will just have to forgive me) tend to be quite predictable. There are white hats and black hats. These are exchangeable, from story to story, depending on whom the writer most despises, but for the present moment all representatives of the Iranian regime wear black, all persons in the streets of Tehran wear white, and not even the BBC — normally a fairly supine apologist for Iran’s murderous dictators — is prepared to be evenhanded with them.
Neither is this Catholic journalist, for that matter. The Khomeinist revolution of 1979 was not something for which I could have any sympathy, though it was an interesting phenomenon, for it touched on every imaginable question of Church and State, and the idea of rebalancing the claims of the civil and religious orders was at least secretly attractive. With time — and not very much was required — it became clear that the new rulers were in fact bloodthirsty, power-crazed zealots, and no good example to anyone.
Yet the questions raised remained interesting questions. At the time I was working as a journalist in Asia, and found myself in animated discussion of “the Persian question” with such colleagues as a Malaysian journalist, a certain Rahim Karim. He was sincerely Sunni Muslim, I at that time a sincere High Anglican, both of us essentially Western-educated (though partly in Asia). Rahim’s eyes were sparkling — mine weren’t, but I could understand why his were.
And it is the capturing of that sparkle I discuss today. A Catholic, especially an educated Catholic, cannot casually dismiss the need for a religious ordering of society. Nor, on the other hand, can he forget Lord Acton — the very Christian and ultimately Catholic history of the emergence of human liberty. Nor Christ’s “give unto Caesar,” which opened heaven’s gate upon generations of political innovation, across everything that would become Christendom. Nor many other considerations unlikely ever to trouble the mind of the perfectly “secular” newspaper reporter.
These considerations in turn excite a lively interest in the actual history of Persia — of the Persian culture as much as any Iranian state or quasi-state (the country’s present rulers do not actually have a category for a political nation). It is not a country without a specifically Christian history; it retains to this day, even paradoxically in the behavior of its mullahs, the shadow of many centuries of Zoroastrianism, with the interest that follows from that (comparative religion was a Catholic sport from the first Christian century). It was a highly civilized country contemporaneously with ancient Greece, even ancient Israel. And it is not impossible to be a Persian Catholic, nor — in light of the number of Persian converts who have entered both Catholic and Protestant churches in the West — is a Christian future for Iran entirely inconceivable. (Any more than a Christian future was imaginable for the inhabitants of, say, Italy, in the age of Sts. Peter and Paul.)
It follows, I think, that even if he is not writing directly about such things, but merely holding all such items in reserve at the back of his mind, a Catholic journalist will report Iran in a different way from a “secular” journalist, and more tangibly, he will see things the latter would not see.
Which is why I think, especially in moments when the world is presented with significant breaking news, it is a great pity we have no genuinely Catholic horse in the “mainstream media.” Not only for Catholics, I think, but for the intelligent general reader and auditor, who often craves a broader perspective on events, and information not vetted and edited from clichéd angles.