SPIRITUALITY AND MEDIA

Paper presented at the World Media Congress held at the Carmelites House of Spirituality, Tagaytay City, October 11, 2016.

MEDIA IS ALL ABOUT THE SELF.

Guttenberg ’s invention of the printing press made knowledge and information readily accessible to masses of people. The oral tradition slowly eroded as a new world-order of literate information consumers was born.

The advent of electronic media with radio and television made the transmission of messages more immediate and intimate. The communications equation effectively emancipated message receivers from content creators and senders, their tastes and reactions dictating in great measure production and programming. In a sense, gate-keeping was shared between the senders and the receivers; feed-forward from the viewers became ever increasingly critical.

Digital media with its open access and user-friendly features, has irreversibly transformed the audience as the newsmaker himself. The anonymous anyone sends messages from the privacy of his location, as long as he is within the technology-media loop.

Of late, social media has become synonymous with personal media, creating sub-cultures of human perceptions and behaviors. People feel more empowered and entitled. But the abuse of that very same power has sometimes spiraled media to a state of anarchy where everyone makes his own rules, publishes what he wants with little or no regard to the sensibilities of others. In an increasingly individualized and individualistic communication culture, truth has often become subjective. Evidence, the test of truth’s veracity, has become very selective; the demarcation between reality and virtual has become blurred, right and wrong judged with the logic of mere repetition; half-truths are taken as universal gospel because of the spread and ease of their reach. Communication often unwittingly morphs into “confuscation.”

Are we not confused yet? Last night there were two kinds of distinct and clear sexes. This morning, I woke up to a lot of descriptive differentiations. Now, I am not sure anymore which comfort room to use.

AND WHERE IS SPIRITUALITY IN THE PICTURE? 

When consciousness focuses on the self, transcendence gets relegated to the back burners. And transcendence is the stuff of spirituality.

Media has become the powerful purveyor and mediator of the satisfaction of our various needs typified by Maslow’s Pyramid. Alas, this has also stymied many a soul in connecting with something above and beyond the self, the need, for transcendence. Understandably, this is beyond the pyramid. [7] Or isn’t Maslow saying that the satisfaction of our various needs assure our fulfillment beyond our own boundaries? Humans experience this transcendence as the power to dream, the energy to offer one’s self in love and sacrifice for another, the belief that life breaks through the mystery because there is the Unseen Someone who created this world and keeps it in orderly orbit today and tomorrow.

Such is transcendence, and spirituality is its living experience.

Spirituality is not merely the sum total of dogmas and practices connected with established religion. Religiosity is not spirituality. Further on, when the individual increasingly burrows unto himself, he becomes oblivious and ultimately denies the unseen reality present in his life. He needs no God, he says. How easily he concludes: there is no God. At most, the divine is pushed to a corner to be called upon only when needed.

Spirituality comes from the Latin words spiritus meaning life, and laeitas translated as joy. Spirituality therefore is that deep-felt joy with one’s life, the joie d’vivre. To be spiritual therefore means satisfying one’s thirst for happiness in that palpable relationship with the Great Other. In practice, the person prioritizes the Spirit.

This painful obscuring of spirituality in media, and by media, comes clearly across in the lives of today’s generation who never knew a world without the internet. They are socially connected via multiple devices, busy posting in a straightforward manner whatever is in their mind and that which is happening in their lives. Yet they recognize themselves as superficial, and ill-equipped when it comes to face-to-face communicating and relating. Even their shallowest habit – that of taking selfies at inopportune times – can be traced to their penchant for entitlement which easily leads them to disregard standard behaviors.

On the other hand, even if they do have a narcissistic complex, they can also be very caring when it comes to their friends, provided their friends form part of their “custom-built” closely-knit personal networks. It’s still the self hemmed in somehow.

And they keep track of everybody… from their mobile devices, where keeping in touch onscreen is good enough like living pokemons. Welcome to the instantaneous world of digital media where virtual is as good as real; where I—meaning the self—can turn reality on and off, or at least configure it in ways that suit me.

And the thirst to rest one’s heart in the Great Other remains unattended.

CAN MEDIA AND SPIRITUALITY GET MARRIED?

Let us put media where it belongs. Media is primarily the carrier of the communication exchange. By the year 2020, we will drown in 44 trillion gigabytes of information. Media dishes out an enormous amount of information, yet sadly bereft of deeper reflection.

Today’s media-savvy generation can process a very large amount of information, but prevent information overload by not thinking too deeply about all the information they have. How easily people flick from one channel to another, from one app to another, and even from one device to another.

Indeed, today’s social media can be mesmerizing, or in some instances, even addictive; but its penchant for content-overload does not lend itself to the wonder of pregnant emptiness—the staple of the human soul; its tenor of immediate entertainment rings empty when it comes to contemplation—the lifeblood of spirituality; its real-time and non-stop streaming obliterates the sacredness of silence. Quo vadis, human soul?

Surely, most of us communicators and media practitioners have grappled with the marriage of media and spirituality.

I believe the two are friends, but never could the twain fully unite. Media, with its technical prowess, could veritably be a market source of information about spirituality; but it is not the mountain of contemplation. It will never be the sacred space for prayer. It has no soul of its own. It behooves on the media-user himself, therefore, to establish connections with the Great Other.

THREE PROPOSALS

Surely, you are more involved in media today more than I do. I am not here to pontificate. But allow me to put three proposals on the table.

  1. Let us build community.

We live in a media-mediated world, and communication has never been so engaging as today. Yet the magic of transcendence happens when we get out of our personal comfort zones to establish connections. We need to recover the joys of community where communication happens in the flesh. Our smartphones have practically taken over our lives. Let us not allow them to substitute for our families.

Likewise, the avalanche of inspirational materials in the internet is mere noise if we do not let go of our gadgets, and disengage from the web if we are to rest in the presence of the Almighty.

Building bridges, connecting people is one of media’s forte. With media, mankind lives in a global village. Media can create a world favorable to the growth of spirituality.

  1. Let us stand up for authenticity.

Recent research from the Cornerstone Knowledge Network found that 67 per cent of millennials prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one. For today’s generation, who take “inauthentic” as a cutting insult, frustration comes with slick or shallow expressions of religion. Our media-savvy generation are not disillusioned with tradition; they will readily welcome a different point of view, if it comes from a source judged as truly authentic.

Being a part of a faith community is the undeniable foundation of personal spirituality. But these must be mentoring communities. People follow religion when perceived as genuine. Doesn’t talking about love ring hollow when we exclude from our worship and our lives those whom we judge as wayward or abnormal?

Honestly, don’t we gloss over those cutesy Jesus posts on Facebook? We don’t need people who sell Jesus; we look up to those who follow Jesus. Religion effectively becomes a stepping stone to spirituality the moment it stops being a merchant of dogmas and ritual fads. And media nowadays, married as it is to marketing, obviously does not fit the mentoring tab. There is a lot of masquerade put on, and those glamorous fads that dazzle us do not pluck any of our spiritual strings.

Sometime ago, research revealed that big-time tele-evangelists backed up with mammoth productions were able to raise large sums for their advocacies, but they seldom made genuine or lasting conversions. If that is true of the boob tube, could it not also be said of today’s social media? Would you bet your soul on an 18-wheeler rolling church, which leaves you behind next day? Would you believe the message of someone whom you do not know since Adam telling you to change your ways?

The truth is: authenticity inspires.

  1. Let us tell authentic stories of spiritual people.

We need mentors more urgently today if we would grow in spirituality.

We live in a world where contradictions do co-exist. Monogamous marriages as well as polygamous unions are parts of our day-to-day world. Integrity and corruption stand side by side in the open market. But it is precisely this confused state of affairs that gives birth to our identities, our dreams, our purpose, and our balance. It is in the discomforts of life where we build our homes with mystery and transcendence.

And life’s answers come to us in real terms, real people. We do not expect Asia’s next top model to make a difference in our lives. But Heneral Luna jolted us from our torpor. If media were to feed our spiritual hunger, media must dish out stories, yes, compelling stories of inspiring people. These are the mentors of the human soul who inspire everyone by reaching out to others through the fences of bigotries and apartheids, by appealing to higher principles that burnish contradictions with meaning, by holding on to the mystery of a Supreme Being.

Notice that these inspiring spirits come from the deserts of ordinary life, not the glitzy towers of production houses. Mentors of the human soul are media grabs, never media creations. We are talking of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Pope Francis. Robredo. Real prophets influence people with the sound bites of their lives, not with the ratings they get.

I remember Sir Danny, a quiet manager, who would go straight to the office after his blood transfusions and chemo-radiation sessions. He succumbed to cancer three year ago.

I am talking of a Nelson Mandela who risked everything to break the shackles of segregation in his country.

I am inspired by Saint John Bosco who suffered innumerable trials as he cared for the poor and the abandoned young. Today, the Church hails him as the father and teacher of youth.

I am thinking of Roderick Flores, a 15 year old Boy Scout who gave his life saving his friends from the sea.

But they are all dead.

Nowadays, as ever, countless living souls quietly affirm their vital connection with the Divine Being. And could it be that the task of media is to tell their stories.

I am talking of those boys and girls who have to carve through the hills and coastlines, and literally cross the sea, to get to their school. And when asked what they would want to become when they grow up, they responded shyly, “a teacher.” “I want to be a doctor.” Another said, “I want to become a police officer.” When asked “why?” their response was, “I want to help other people.”

Are you looking for a story? He or she may be sitting beside you right now.

SPIRITUALITY AND MEDIA @ www.pigeonscafe.org