National Catholic Register


Spirit & Life

Christian Cell Phoning

BY Jim Fair

June 29-July 5, 2003 Issue | Posted 6/29/03 at 2:00 PM


Dear Lance and Adrienne,

There are many differences between your generation and mine. One of the most obvious is our comfort with the cell phone.

For me, the cell phone is a useful tool. My boss can find me when I'm away from the office and I can find mom when I can't remember which of you I'm supposed to pick up after school. There are all sorts of features on my phone that I neither use nor understand.

You, at ages 11 and 17, are members of the cell-phone generation. You are comfortable with the gadgets and understand all the special features, including those video games I can't figure out.

But out of respect for our Catholic faith (and with regard for the welfare of the human race in general), our two generations (and any other generations lurking out there) should agree on a few points of behavior. In doing so, we'll be acting in accord with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which offers the following with regard to how we use the channels of social communication: “It is necessary that all members of society meet the demands of justice and charity in this domain.”

We'll also be following the advice of noted theologian Germain Grisez, who writes, “Since all communication should further community, a person should be appropriately receptive to efforts to communicate but should resist abuses of communications.”

Perhaps you think I'm stretching a bit to connect the proper use of cell phones to the Catechism and theology, but I think the connection is clear. Let's consider some basic rules that would, as they say in corporate America, align our theory and practice.

Rule One: Don't drive a car while holding a cell phone to your ear. It simply isn't safe and could cause you to violate the commandment not to kill. Contrary to what you may have observed people doing (or attempting to do), it isn't wise to drive a car, talk on the phone, apply makeup (or shave) and drink a cup of coffee — simultaneously.

Rule Two: It you are talking with someone face-to-face, don't suddenly ignore them when your cell phone rings and leave them standing there in mid-conversation. This communicates to the “live” party that they aren't as important as a ringing phone, which means, as your generation would say, you are “dissing” the person.

Rule Three: If you are going to carry a cell phone, don't bother to give anyone the number unless you are going to either answer the phone or promptly reply to your voice mail. Promptly is defined as a couple hours, as opposed to a couple days, weeks, years or centuries.

Rule Four: Listen to your voice mail and erase old messages so your in-basket doesn't fill and refuse to accept new messages.

Rule Five: Turn off your cell phone in such obvious places as church, theaters, funeral homes, hospitals, sit-down restaurants and schools. The consecration during Mass should be accompanied by an altar boy ringing bells, not a cell phone playing theme music from a television sit-com. Rule Six: When you must make a call in public, step out of the crowd and keep your voice low.

A cell phone is a wonderful tool that can help us stay in touch with people. But we shouldn't be rude — or unchristian — to others in the process. A cell phone is a lousy substitute for a living, breathing human.

Jim Fair cell-phones his column in from Chicago.