Trust matters

Words which Joseph Conrad once wrote about his motives as a writer might well be taken as a manifesto by any serious and responsible journalist – or we might wish that they would.

“Art itself”, he wrote in the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus, “may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect”. He accepted that his task should be this: “by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see!” Success for him would be that  “you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – all you demand; and perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask”.

More than a hundred years later we still look for these high standards from writers, journalists included. Do we reach them? This was what Pope Francis was looking for when in his recent book, Let Us Dream, he spoke about the role journalists have played in helping us to cope with the woes inflicted upon us by the latest visitation to our world of the horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

Journalists have had a key role in helping us to make sense of what was happening, to balance and assess different accounts and opinions. The best reporters took us to the margins, showed us what was happening there, and made us care. This is journalism at its most noble, helping us to conquer our existential myopia, and opening up spaces for discussion and debate. 

But a role is one thing and the execution of a role another. The evidence to be found in the agencies whose chosen and vocational job it is to bring to us our “deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm – and that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask” show that all too often, they fail us, succumbing to what the Pope calls their pathologies.

But the media also have their pathologies: disinformation, defamation, and a fascination with scandal. Some media are caught up in the post-truth culture, where facts matter much less than impact, seizing narratives as a way to wield power. The most corrupt media are those that pander to their readers and viewers, twisting the facts to suit their prejudices and fears.  

He writes that the media in this way cease to mediate and become intermediaries – presumably meaning that some in the media have  ceased to try to stand apart and have just become the mouthpieces of vested interests or loudspeakers for whatever bubble to which they happen to subscribe, obscuring our view of reality. For him, categorically, reporting that rearranges the facts to support ideology for financial gain is a corruption of journalism that frays our social fabric.  

But it is encouraging in some way to realise that the public is not fooled all of the time and that in the detritus of bad journalism which surrounds us there may lurk the seeds of redemption. While it has been said, with some accuracy, that no one ever lost money underestimating public taste, bad products do eventually self-destruct.

A Reuters Digital News Report published last year gave us the results of a survey of 2,000 people in the Republic of Ireland. It found that 48 per cent agreed they could trust most news most of the time, the same percentage as in 2019. That’s not a high level of trust. It is just about a pass mark in most people’s books.  But elsewhere, it got worse. In the UK findings showed trust levels in the news there to have fallen from 40 per cent to 28 per cent. In the US, trust levels dropped three points to 29 per cent. In the UK trust levels have plunged most among news users who lean to the political left, while in the US, it is right-leaning people who are much more likely to mistrust the news. This Reuters Report showed that the international average was 38 per cent, down four percentage points since 2019.

The question is how low can you go before you implode? We can only hope that sooner rather than later someone will shout “stop!’ and that glimpses of the truth are not going to cease to be part of the human experience.

Voices in the wilderness


Who in this secular age can hear these voices crying in the wilderness? Who can deny, in good faith, that they tell us truths on which the future well-being of our race depends, indeed the very preservation of our civilization?

First, these words, written just over twenty years ago and rooted in Christian anthropology:

 It must never be forgotten that the disordered use of sex tends progressively to destroy the person’s capacity to love by making pleasure, instead of sincere self-giving, the end of sexuality and by reducing other persons to objects of one’s own gratification. In this way the meaning of true love between a man and a woman (love always open to life) is weakened as well as the family itself. Moreover, this subsequently leads to disdain for the human life which could be conceived, which, in some situations, is then regarded as an evil that threatens personal pleasure. “The trivialization of sexuality is among the principal factors which have led to contempt for new life. Only a true love is able to protect life”.[i]

Who would have thought that in the space of those twenty odd years, this understanding of our nature and the foundations of our society would have been denied and forgotten so emphatically by a majority of the people of Ireland?

What has happened to cause this change, essentially a change in our perception of what it is to be human in the fullest sense, a radical change in the way we understand ourselves and our nature? Can it be the answer lies in these other words, also now heard only in the wilderness?

Now, we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God: that we may know the things that are given us from God. Which things also we speak: not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God. For it is foolishness to him: and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.[ii]

Those were the words of St. Paul addressing the first followers of the Christian Way in the City of Corinth. They also, it appears, had lost their grasp of what that Way said about the human condition in this world and what the choices it presented to them obliged them to do. A four hundred year old note of explanation on that text clarifies what he meant:

The sensual man—the spiritual man. . .The sensual man is either he who is taken up with sensual pleasures, with carnal and worldly affections; or he who measureth divine mysteries by natural reason, sense, and human wisdom only. Now such a man has little or no notion of the things of God. Whereas the spiritual man is he who, in the mysteries of religion, takes not human sense for his guide: but submits his judgment to the decisions of the church, which he is commanded to hear and obey. For Christ hath promised to remain to the end of the world with his church, and to direct her in all things by the Spirit of truth.[iii]

Choice is good but choices have consequences and it is the consequences of our choices that are ultimately more important than whether or not we have the freedom to choose. The consequences of ignoring that the disordered use of sex tends progressively to destroy the person’s capacity to love will be far more devastating for both individual lives and for our society that would be any restrictions our laws might put on our right to choose freely life-styles which institutionalize the abuse of our nature.

But if our society, in its laws, customs and practices, does ignore the principles of good and evil all is not lost. The individual need not lose sight of those principles and this is precisely why adherence to the single greatest body of knowledge articulating moral truth to which history bears witness stands with us to protect us from the evils our folly might otherwise bring down upon ourselves. That body of knowledge is contained in the Magisterium of the Christ’s Church – its Sacred Scriptures and Traditions.

So those in Ireland today, indeed all of those throughout the world, who find themselves perplexed and bewildered by the insanities spewing out of modernity, post-modernity and cultural Marxism, do have a solution. Listen to the voices which are echoing in the wilderness created by those cultural aberrations and in thought word and deed try to live by them. The message of love at their heart – demanding and utterly counter-cultural as it is in this day and age – has the key to the future of our civilization just as it did in the day of the prophets of the Old Testament, in the New Testament when it was newly new, and in countless epochs since then when cultural forces were captivated by those who measure divine mysteries by natural reason, sense, and human wisdom only.

[i] THE TRUTH AND MEANING OF HUMAN SEXUALITY: Guidelines for Education within the Family, (section 105), THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY.

[ii]  New Testament, Douay-Rheims, 1 Corinthians 2. 12ff

[iii]  Ibid. Archbishop Challoner note on 1 Corinthians 2.

We CAN know the truth

Charles Taylor explained it in his own way in A Secular Society. That was a difficult but rewarding read. Alasdair MacIntyre worried us all about it in his very sobering After Virtue. Then Brad Gregory took up the theme compellingly in The Unintended Reformation. But if you want to go for a very short and succinct treatment of what happened to our Christian Civilization over the past 500 years try Fr. Brian McKevitt’s version of the story in a short homily he delivered last month. Not only did he tell us how we got here but he very helpfully suggested to us what we might do to get ourselves back on track before we all eat ourselves alive.

Fr. Brian is an Irish Dominican priest who edits a monthly paper which some feel is one of the few things which is keeping Irish Catholics informed about the state of their religion in the world today. The paper plays all the tricks of the tabloids without being a tabloid and is read, standard systems of estimating these things would calculate, by at least a million people every month. Others feel that if there is one single organ keeping some semblance of Catholic orthodox belief in the country alive and kicking today it is Fr. McKevitt’s Alive!

If you like it please spread it around.


For Hollywood, it seems, history is the new rock’n’roll. Anne Applebaum, writing in the Washington Post recently on the spate of films centered on historical events or historical characters puts it down to the phenomenon of reality TV. She quotes Peter Morgan, who wrote the script for The Queen – a movie focused on the aftermath of the death of Princess Dianna: “If people need to explain what a film is about, the film stands very little chance of surviving. Reality is a brand which people can sell” he says.” Some of the biggest films on release over the past year have been such – the story of the Harvard student who invented Facebook, the story of a stuttering king – The King’s Speech, Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, and a story for which Applebaum was herself a historical consultant, The Way Back.

But Hollywood and history are strange and uneasy bedfellows and not everyone is happy with the progeny they produce. Hollywood has played fast and loose with historical truth on so many occasions that we approach new movies based on history with not a little suspicion. But they keep coming and the latest soon to appear on a screen near you will be Roland Joffé’s new film, There Be Dragons – which some anticipate will be a return to form for the director of two of the most memorable films of the 1980s, The Mission and The Killing Fields, both again based on real events in history.

Joffé’s film, starring Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley, Dougray Scott and Olga Kurylenko, is set against the background of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the life of a canonised saint, Josemaría Escrivá (Cox), the founder of Opus Dei. The genre into which this movie fits, however, has much more in common with the historical novel than with films purporting to be a narrative account of historical events. In this there is a very open mixture of fact and fiction and without doubt the film-maker is setting out to show us what moves, inspires and shapes lives rather than give us a dry factual account of events. In every sense this is very much an auteur work since Joffé not only directs but also conceived and wrote the screenplay.

Applebaum’s musing on history and cinema are in the context of The Way Back, the recently released Peter Weir film based on a “true story” of prisoners escaping from Stalin’s gulag back in the 1940s. The original story came in the form of a book called The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, a Gulag survivor. It was a controversial book because while it appeared to be a first-hand account of Rawicz’s own story it later transpired that it was a story told to him by another escapee.

But, Applebaum argues that the story, certainly as portrayed in the film, is “true” in every way that matters. “Many of the camp scenes are taken directly from Soviet archives and memoirs. The starving men scrambling for garbage; the tattooed criminals, playing cards for the clothes of other prisoners; the narrow barracks; the logging camp; the vicious Siberian storms. Among the very plausible characters are an American who went to work on the Moscow subway and fell victim to the Great Terror of 1937, a Polish officer arrested after the Soviet Union’s 1939 invasion of Poland and a Latvian priest whose church was destroyed by the Bolsheviks.”

Joffé argues for the same kind of truth in his There Be Dragons, a truth built into the fictional story of London-based investigative journalist Robert Torres (Scott) who tries to unravel a deadly mystery nearly 70 years old that links his father to the founder of a Catholic organization called Opus Dei, only to discover that the shocking truth is far more than he bargained for.

Roland Joffé describes his experience of bringing the story to the screen in the following terms: “There Be Dragons was a wonderful experience that paralleled the one I had making The Mission. It is an intimate story of love and forgiveness set during one of the most bitter wars of the 20th century. Yet the themes of the film are as relevant today as ever, and I am hopeful that audiences will embrace them in that spirit.”

The film, made for $35 million, is being distributed in the US by Samuel Golden Films and is being released there on May 6. According to Meyer Gottlieb, president of the company: “We feel privileged to be working with such an acclaimed filmmaker in Roland Joffé and look forward to bringing There Be Dragons to audiences everywhere. This beautifully mounted and executed film based on true events is moving and inspirational, and it will make moviegoers cheer and applaud.”

The film has been made in English but rather unusually is having its dubbed Spanish language version released first. Its Spanish distributors have pushed and succeeded in getting it released there on screens across the country from 25 March. The release in Spain is timely because 2011 marks the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War. During this brutal conflict thousands of priests and nuns were persecuted and murdered. How a still-divided Spanish society will react to this retelling of those events is something which will be watched with great interest.

The film’s themes are already resonating with people of all faiths who must make daily choices to “conquer the dragons” – the allusion of the title – they encounter by avoiding conflict in favor of embracing opportunities for forgiveness. Previewers of the movie have described it as “a deeply moving depiction of the triumph of love and forgiveness”.

Motive Entertainment, the company that championed films like Mel Gibson’s The Passion and Disney’s Chronicles of Narnia, have been contracted to promote the film across the US and further afield in the Anglophone world.

See trailers: