A Mile Wide and a Foot Deep

Lent is a time for serious thinking. That does not mean morose thinking. Quite the opposite. Melancholia and even despair issue from living life superficially without engaging the profound mysteries that God sets before us. Serious thinking means that we take people seriously, and that means we take God seriously because He takes us seriously. If we do not, we miss out on the most marvelous opportunity of knowing why we exist. “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them”(Genesis 1:27).

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I have been struck lately by the superficiality of our society’s understanding of itself. I have never been polled by those agencies that supply lists of favorite “thises and thats,” so I did not figure in a recent report of Public Policy Polling which claims that 91 percent of Americans consider Lincoln the greatest person who ever lived, followed by Jesus at 90 percent, and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at 89 percent. Washington got 86 percent, Mother Teresa got 83 percent and Gandhi was three points lower than Santa Claus, who was the favorite of some 67 percent who seem to think he was real. (I doubt they had in mind St. Nicholas of Myra.) These people vote in general elections.

My knowledge of pop culture is notoriously thin, and so I had never heard of a popular chanteuse until some days ago when a television bulletin announced her death. Much television programming was replaced with film footage of the attractive singer with a pleasant voice and interviews with fans and several hyperbolic California coroners. For someone like me, whose notion of popular music encompasses Gilbert and Sullivan and John Philip Souza, and who thinks Cole Porter avant-garde, it was not clear why this entertainer’s sad death, caused by drugs, brought flags to half mast and got more coverage than threats of a nuclear showdown with Iran.

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I prefer to think that this myopia is more a projection of the media’s own banality, but if this is the depth to which most people plummet in the drama of life, we will be entranced by quick sound bites instead of the Word of God. “Stop being childish in your thinking. In respect to evil, be like infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

In his address in Westminster Hall in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI warned against the “inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems.”

We are facing one of our nation’s most challenging moral crises, and dim are the chances of resolving it if most voters skim the surface of reality. The Pope said: “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident – herein lies the real challenge for democracy.”


  • Fr. George W. Rutler

    Fr. George W. Rutler is a contributing editor to Crisis and pastor of St. Michael’s church in New York City. A four-volume anthology of his best spiritual writings, A Year with Fr. Rutler, is available now from the Sophia Institute Press.

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