Tuesday, November 6, 2007
US vs. THEM
I attended a great 'Theology on Tap' talk in New York City last night featuring Lino Rulli, an Emmy Award winning TV host/producer who now hosts "The Catholic Guy" show daily on SIRIUS satellite radio's The Catholic Channel. Based on what I've read, Lino's got the most popular show on the channel because he combines his self-deprecating and offbeat sense of humor with an actual knowledge of Catholic theology.
The theme of Lino's talk last night was why the Church's message isn't heard in the mainstream media. As someone who works in mainstream media, he has some interesting and relevant insights. One of the problems he sees is that Catholics (and sometimes Christians in general) have an 'Us vs. Them' mentality. They often think there's some large conspiracy by journalists and such to portray Catholics or the Church in a bad light. Not true, says Lino. In some cases, there's a genuine ignorance of what the Church actually believes. But often he's discovered that when he's revealed he's Catholic in various workplaces, other Catholics revealed their faith to him too. Some were practicing, others weren't, but he didn't encounter hostility because of his faith.
Lino acknowledged that some journalists disagree with the church's stance on political issues like abortion or gay marriage, and will therefore approach a story about the church with some bias. He also admitted that this was a problem of human nature because when a group he disagrees with gets in trouble, he may take them to task also. The church, however, isn't well-served by approaching these people with an 'Us vs. Them' mentality. If we constantly speak out with anger and condemnation, we come across as un-Christian and even hypocritical. Lino discussed appearing on a radio show in which the host launched into a 20 minute diatribe against God and religion. Then he questioned Lino about certain things the church believes. After Lino explained these church beliefs or teachings in a rational, even humorous way, the host's response was, "Well that makes sense." By the end of the interview, this vehement atheist acknowledged that there might be more to this religion thing than he thought. That doesn't mean this radio host is going to become a Bible-thumper anytime soon, but he may have more of an open mind the next time he hears someone talking about their religious beliefs.
In terms of news coverage, Lino pointed out that the church makes news for bad things it does because everybody gets covered for the bad things they do. Newspapers and broadcasts in general cover bad news because that's what gets ratings. The Church, which is about Good News, can therefore have trouble getting positive stories on the air. A priest simply doing his job without scandal isn't a 'story.' Lino did point out that viewers can have an impact on positive coverage by letting station managers know when they like something instead of just complaining when they don't. He cited as an example a positive story he once did about a particular group that then sent an email blast to all its members telling them to contact the station offering compliments and thanks. Within hours, the station manager was inundated with so many positive notes that he promised to do more stories like it in the future.
My favorite part of Lino's talk dealt with how to approach things in our culture that seem to slam Christianity. The example he used was "The DaVinci Code." While he saw the story as a piece of crap, he didn't offer the kneejerk verbal assaults on the film like others in the Christian media. Instead, he attacked it with humor. He pointed out how ridiculous the premise was because the book suggested that a bunch of Italians kept a major secret about Jesus for hundreds of years. Lino said he's Italian and he knows Italians can't keep their mouths shut long enough to keep a secret for a few minutes, much less a few centuries. People and journalists were open to this argument because it was funny yet real. And it showed that Catholics can display a sense of humor.
Lino is an entertaining and insightful speaker and host who relates well to a young adult audience because he is one of us. He doesn't speak over peoples heads, but rather speaks to them where they are in life - because he is there also. If you ever get the chance to listen to him, you should definitely take the time. Chances are he'll leave you with something to think about - and laugh about.