There is a fascinating three-minute You Tube segment making the circuit on the internet these days. In pitch black, it reveals a blacksmith working on red-hot iron in front of a roaring fire while music beats out a pulsating rhythm and a series of messages appears across the screen. We can only see the blacksmith from the glare of the fire: he is somewhat indistinct, but he yields a heavy hammer with a fierce expression on his face. The message is designed to inform the Catholic audience how they should vote this Fall. As the blacksmith pounds the red-hot metal, sentences appear out of the dark, remain on the screen for a few moments and then disappear.
It begins with a couple of sentences: “The Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. This generation of Catholics must do the same.” Note the oblique reference to the past coupled with strong language, including the words “sacred rights,” “always,” and “must” to dictate behavior. I’m not certain what is being referred to when we are told that the faithful have always stood up and protected “her sacred rights.” But perhaps others know exactly what this means. In any event, the message goes on slowly while the blacksmith pounds away and words appear and disappear into the fire, words like “Marriage,” “Life,” and “Freedom.” Familiar words accompanied by powerful images and relentless, pulsating music. Frightening, really.
We are told that “This November Catholics across the nation will be put to the test. . . Many issues are at stake but some issues are not negotiable. Marriage should be reinforced, not redefined.” Again, note the careful choice of words: “not negotiable.” Furthermore, “Forcing the Church to buy insurance that goes against her teachings is a violation of religious freedom.. . .When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental one shudders to think what lies ahead.” Here’s the classic “slippery slope”: one thing leads invariably to another, each worse than its predecessor — assuming we know what “forcing the Church to buy insurance” means. In any event, it is a “fundamental freedom,” and Catholics must resist the government’s attempts to deny religious freedom even though the Church here would deny the freedom of choice to its believers. There’s something afoot. The beat goes on….
We are told “Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity. Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?” This is a powerful and, as I say, a frightening (if not threatening) message, complete with the suggestion of eternal damnation accompanied by flames. One wonders what will come next.
Our Constitution defends the right of free speech — which the Supreme Court says extends to corporations. The Catholic Church is a corporation, among other things, and it follows that the Church also has a right to free speech. So there are no sound political grounds for objecting to this message. But there are sound philosophical and even moral reasons why messages should not be geared to the lowest, most base, elements of the human psyche — why a three-minute message should engage in appeals to fear and the threat of eternal damnation should the viewer ignore the commands put forward. As I say, it is precisely the freedom of the viewer that is denied since the message makes it very clear what is to be done without question and in doing so appeals to the baser emotions.
Please note, it is not the message itself that I object to. We all know what the Catholic Church’s stand has been on the issues of marriage, life, and freedom. I respect the right of any person to believe anything they want to believe as long as they don’t interfere with my right to agree or disagree with them. Further, the Church has always seen its role as that of dictating moral choices to the faithful. But fear of eternal damnation is a type of force. And succumbing to force negates freedom. No one is free to do what they must do.
Even if we acknowledge that the Church has always spoken ex cathedra regarding the behavior of its followers, the manner in which this particular message is delivered would deny even the most faithful the right to act in accordance with the dictates of the Church by choice or conscience. In a word, it denies their fundamental humanity, which is predicated on a person’s ability to say “no.” As I say the message is frightening; no one should be coerced into action through fear. The end does not justify the means.