For the record, I did not watch the CNBC debate debacle. I have read a lot about it, I have watched any number of highlight reel edits, and I have listened to a lot of talk radio in the last 24 hours or so. There seems to be universal disgust at the performance of the CNBC moderators. Howard Kurtz has a pretty good critique. Based on what I have ingested about the whole thing, I think the widespread disappointment is less about the inane, vapid and in some cases ignorant, questioning and more about the attitude of the moderators. They were snide and disrespectful. They acted as if the candidates were simply fodder for the show they were trying to put on. I found myself asking one of them, out loud, at some point while watching a highlight reel that if they were so smart why weren’t they running?
Some Catholic bishops evidently want to censor Ross Douthat for his writing on the recent Synod. In writing about it, Robert Barron says:
The letter to the Times is indicative indeed of a much wider problem in our intellectual culture, namely, the tendency to avoid real argument and to censor what makes us, for whatever reason, uncomfortable.
I think that hits one of the major problems we confront today right on the head. The problem stems, in part at least, from people no longer wanting to think about reality, and instead wanting to define it. We live in an age when media is a substitute for relationship. If you do not like the Marvel reality, you can change channels to the DC reality; or if you are bored with Middle Earth, Narnia is but a few clicks away. On Facebook we can craft an image rather than live with who we really are. Likewise, we may never really know the other as they are more on the screen than within actual conversational range. It is so easy in media to tune out that which we do not like that we think we can do so in real life.
And make no mistake, this situation has much to do with the failing fortunes of religion in our culture.
Nothing says “objective reality” like the concept of a supernatural deity. It is an extreme fallacy to think that God is the fanciful concept, detached from reality. If there is no “God’s eye view” of reality, then reality is defined entirely by out own perceptions. As we are seeing, people can be pretty narrow in their perceptions. Without a God’s eye view we end up with competing realities and there is no basis for argument between competing realities, there is only derision and dismissal of the other. This dear friends is why so many have commented on “the bubble” in which the CNBC moderators reside. Their very rude and snide behavior made it apparent that they were trying to force their reality onto the candidates.
I am convinced one of the reasons that, despite pretty remarkable success at all but the highest electoral levels, Republicans and conservatives are losing the cultural battles is because we keep arguing within objective reality while liberals and Democrats are willing to engage in the battle of realities. This is not; however, a call to abandon the objective reality battle field – to do so would be to sacrifice the very heart of who we are. Reality is a difficult task master – it has a way of reasserting itself despite our best efforts to avoid it.
This is a call for non-electoral conservative institutions to understand the battle that is really in front of us. When I was on Young Life staff, we used to talk a lot about “meeting the kids where they are.” That meant that we went to the schools and hangouts and pressed the flesh. I think the same strategy, slightly altered, will work today. We have to meet people at the point where objective reality intrudes with the reality they are attempting to construct and help guide them back to objective reality. That means we have to be close enough to know when the intrusion happens.
What that means is presence, physical presence. And that means it is not enough to post your ideas on Facebook, or argue in the lunchroom. That means we have to get messily in the lives of those around us. We have to stand next to them and be present when their constructed reality comes crashing in. This effort cannot be done by email, or message, or other proxy. Each of us has to do it in the lives of a few people around us.
We have to leave our own comfort bubbles. Will you?