Sherry wrote a few days ago about the Spiral of Silence, a communications theory postulated by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann over 25 years ago. As Sherry succinctly described it, "Neuman's idea is that most people have an intuitive awareness of the majority sentiment within a group, and most are less likely to speak up when they find themselves in the minority. The silencing effect thus reinforces itself: if a 40% minority does only 20% of the talking, they perceive themselves to be even more outnumbered than they truly are and are thus even less inclined to speak. Hence, the spiral into silence.
Neuman found that individuals avoid speaking out on controversial issues due to an innate fear of social isolation."
I believe part of the point Sherry was making was missed. What is sometimes proposed as a Catholic way of living the faith without talking about it may actually be a response to the clearly secular nature of contemporary American culture. In many popular television shows Christianity is often trivialized (think "South Park"), or Catholics are depicted as ignorant and superstitious (e.g., "Dogma"). That is part of the "opinion expressed as dominant by the media." I won't even go into the sound-byte treatment of magisterial pronouncements in the secular press. The media in our country fosters a culture of silence among Catholics.
But while poll after poll indicate 95% or more of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit, our contemporary misunderstanding of the Jeffersonian idea of the separation of Church and State tends to marginalize religious conversations even more. Stephen L. Carter, a law professor at Yale wrote, "The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion," and advanced the thesis that American law and politics "trivialize" religion by forcing the religiously faithful to subordinate their personal views to a public faith largely devoid of religion. Carter cogently argues that religious beliefs are marginalized in our society and political stances founded on faith treated as invalid. This adds further pressure upon the believer to keep his or her mouth shut.
Contributors at ID are sometimes accused of being "Protestant" or too focused upon talking about faith, rather than living it, or focusing on subjective feelings rather than sacramental reality. I would propose that talking about one's relationship with Jesus, along with participating in the sacramental life of the Church, personal prayer, and performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, are all essential elements of the Church's communio.
Fr. Robert Barron, a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago who teaches theology at Our Lady of the Lake University, describes communio as being like a rose window in a cathedral, "a wheel of light and color, all of whose elements are focused around a center that is invariably a depiction of Christ…it is a symbol of the well-ordered psyche, the well-ordered city, the well-ordered cosmos…Jesus preaches this communio message when he says, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and the rest will be given unto you.' In other words, find the center, and the periphery will tend to fall into place around it."
If Christ is the center of our life and the object of our love, it would be unusual for him to not crop up in our conversations from time to time. I talk about the people I love with others. I am terrible at keeping really good news I've received to myself. And if we are indeed living our faith and becoming more and more like him, then "through this wordless witness" we will "stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how [we] live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst?" Pope Paul VI said, "Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelization." [Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21]
But as the Pope explained, "There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onwards, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation." [EN, 22]
St. Paul certainly talked about Jesus, and was filled with a sense of urgency over the importance of that proclamation. "But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!'" Rom 10:14-15
The spiral of silence may explain why we may tend to not talk about our faith. Talk is cheap, but a life lived in such a way that it doesn't make sense unless God exists is bound to generate curiosity - and plenty of opportunities to give the reason behind our behavior.
But the same dynamics that prevent one from speaking against a perceived majority perspective also tend to prevent one from acting in a way perceived as strange – and Christianity is the strangest Way. So it should not be surprising that a recent survey from the Barna Group on Christians in America indicated virtually no difference in worldview and behavior from that of non-Christians.
Labels: don't ask don't tell, evangelization