Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
Here is a textbook example of how a lie get popularized and becomes pseudoknowledge. Our Manufacturers of Culture, under the influence of powers and principalities, are slowly and surely preparing our culture to undertake a pogrom. Again and again, outright lies about Christians and their history get promulgated while we are told that it is “impeccable research” as, incredibly, the Da Vinci Code was described by one reviewer. Or, we get the ill-informed tracts by New Atheists that would embarrass any real atheist. But, above all, we begin to get the toxicity making its way into popular visual media like Agora.
The reason this matters is that visual media tend to bypass the critical intellect, and we live increasingly in a post-textual age. People get less and less of what they “know” about the world from reading books and processing arguments through critical faculties. Propaganda, prettily presented by the cinematographers art, can do wonders in transforming a culture. The image bypasses the rational faculties and people somehow find themselves agreeing around the water cooler that, as “everybody” knows, Christians are the enemies of learning who destroyed the Library at Alexandria.
The irony in all this, of course, is that the Christians are the ones who preserved the writings of antiquity—and these writing are precisely what no postmodern can be bothered to read. Who wants to read all those dusty books? That’s why the overwhelming mass of consumers of pop culture know everything they know about Christian history from watching the Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons or Kingdom of Heaven or (most recently) the egregious Robin Hood that Ridley Scott just burped out. Ask your average water cooler expert on the early Church or the Dark Ages, and he will favor you with a discourse on Christian history and theology that is derived almost entirely from stuff he saw in the movies or on TV. If you ask him to read the Fathers of the Church, or Plato, or Aristotle, he may promise to get to it, but—seriously—what are the odds? So much effort! Even reading Fr. Barron’s essay is so time-consuming! Couldn’t he have put all this into a nice Youtube video? To paraphrase Malibu Barbie, “Reading and thinking is hard!” So say the postmodern defenders of ancient learning against the swarming Christian hordes of antiquity, bent on destroying reason with their ignorant faith.
Which brings me to my last point. As Fr. Barron points out, there is a visual grammar at work in film which we all understand and yet which works subliminally. The visual message of Agora is that Christians are pestilential insects who need to be exterminated. Knead that message into a culture deeply enough and long enough and it is just a matter of time before somebody acts on it.