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“Ask a Priest: What If Pals Are Hooked on Extremist Media?”
Q: I have a lot of concern for two fellow Catholic acquaintances who have fully bought in to everything right-wing media tells them about the world. With recent events as they are, they have said anybody who questions their beliefs is no longer their friend. I’m worried they are in grave danger of being consumed by the hatred and falsehoods of their media environment. I’m afraid by speaking truth to them it will burn a bridge; yet, I know I can’t tacitly endorse their beliefs. The Bible says not to rebuke a fool, and Jesus says not to cast pearls before swine. I don’t want to give up on fellowship with them but feel tongue-tied. Is there advice you can offer on how to gently guide them back to truth and reality? More broadly, I feel the same dilemma afflicts the Church. I’m looking for guidance and wisdom on how to stand against the alternate reality of lies consuming the hearts of so many decent and otherwise innocent people on the right. The Church in the U.S. has been unusually quiet on this issue. Is the guidance of the Church simply to let it play out, and accept that many will grow more radicalized? – M.K.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It’s good that you are concerned about your friends.
While we do need to be prudent about casting pearls before swine, we recall that fraternal correction can be a great act of charity. “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
That said, it is a matter of prudence how we approach people. Polite debates in the realm of politics have been as rare as hen’s teeth in recent years.
So rather than focusing on the things that you and your friends disagree over, perhaps it would be better to look for things that could unite you.
For instance, if you got them involved in volunteer work, to help redirect their energies. A community service agency or needy parish might benefit from a group of friends working together.
All this might motivate your friends to spend less time cursing the darkness and more time lighting candles.
As for the Church’s reaction: The Church has certainly issued strong statements about recent violence, as it has about other matters such as abortion, immigration and the death penalty.
With so many problems out there, the Church as an institution can only focus on so many issues at a time. Getting involved with extremist content on the Internet would probably stretch the Church further than it can or should go right now. This is an area perhaps best left to the laity to address. In any case, it’s not clear that anyone can rid public discourse of its toxicity in the short term.
Again, my hunch is that the way to deal with extremist content, no matter which end of the political spectrum it comes from, is to get people focused on other things. If we focused more on helping one another in daily life, we would less time for toxic media.
If you need ideas for worthwhile projects, you might see if there is a Knights of Columbus in your area. They do lots of good work … and help build bonds among men.
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