National Catholic Register


Digital Dissing: Are Computers Anti-Catholic?

BY Eric Scheske

October 19-25, 2008 Issue | Posted 10/14/08 at 12:57 PM


Do you use the spell check feature on your word processor? Do you trust it? I use it, but I don’t trust it. It misses words; it implies incorrectly-used words are all right; it tends to make me a lazy and inattentive writer.

I also think the spell check software is slanted against a Catholic world view. As a Catholic writer, it annoys me that MS Word’s spell check feature doesn’t recognize “magisterium” and “Tridentine.” As a Catholic who converted from Lutheranism, I wonder why it recognizes “Melanchthon” but not “Bellarmine.”

Such electronic prejudice isn’t limited to Microsoft. Have you ever set up a My Yahoo! page? It’s slick. It turns your Internet homepage into a one-stop site of every electronic thing you need: calendar, calculator, to-do list, and notes to yourself. Its modules are one of the best features. They allow you to add automatic updates in a myriad of areas: TV listings, stocks, NASCAR news, and celebrity gossip. You name it, one of the hundreds of modules covers it.

Except Catholic stuff. Do you want a saint-of-the-day feature? The daily Mass readings? Catholic meditations? Not at My Yahoo!

I could find similar examples from Google, MySpace (why does it ask teenagers if they’re gay or straight?), Facebook and other successful digital businesses. The major digital players are largely oblivious to Catholicism, its 2,000 year history and its 1 billion living adherents.

It’s partly our fault: If the United States’ 65 million Catholics bought more Catholic stuff and spent more time on Catholic websites, big digital business would notice and fill our online menus with a dizzying array of Catholic options. It’s shameful that atheists and evangelical Protestants can sell a million copies of a book or shoot up the ranks of the most popular websites in the world, but their Catholic counterparts are lucky to sell 100,000 books or have a website in the 50th percentile of the most popular.

There’s more to it, though. Catholics aren’t patronizing digital businesses sufficiently to prompt them to provide more Catholic stuff. But why?

It goes back to the theme of this column: We are Catholics in a strange land. This is just one of the more troubling ways it manifests itself.

Most American Catholics aren’t surfing Catholic sites and buying Catholic merchandise because they’ve lost a sense of their Catholic identity. They’re Republicans, Democrats, Elks, Eagles, Kiwanians, Rotarians, golfers, birders, fishermen, gardeners, baseball fans, basketball fans, lawyers, doctors, sales reps, information technology guys . . . and also Catholics.

Their Catholicity is merely one characteristic among many, either no more important or only marginally more important than the rest. They might buy a rosary or a Catholic devotional, as long as they can afford it with their new fishing rod and Detroit Red Wings T-shirt. They’ll satisfy the weekend Mass obligation, but that pretty much marks the end of their Sabbath observation. Weekday Masses? They aren’t even on the radar.

America is big, and I’m not referring to its geographical boundaries. I’m referring to its way of smothering you with American-ness. America allows everyone to think how he wants, work how he wants, worship how he wants, dress how he wants.

But at the same time, there’s intense pressure to conform, to be an American first. And one of the overriding characteristics of American-ness is to have a lot of different characteristics. The simple man — say, the gardener who repeatedly prays the Rosary — isn’t considered a real American. It’s the complex man, the pseudo-Renaissance man that likes hiking, biking, home repair, business, and five other things that walks in the admired American way.

Unfortunately, when a Catholic lives like that, his Catholicism gets trampled and flattened.

Many Vatican observers think Pope Benedict wants to reestablish a Catholic identity. His effort to make the Tridentine Mass more available, they say, is part of that aim.

It’s a good thing, especially for American Catholics. The liturgy, after all, is the hallmark of Catholic life. If the liturgy resembles the greater culture around us, it doesn’t set us apart. By making it different, we’ll again become somewhat exotic to the rest of the culture. It’ll help distinguish us as Catholics.

It might also help more of us see that being Catholic and being American isn’t the same thing. They’re highly compatible, yes, but they are different, and both of them — not just the American part — need to be developed. If more people understand that — feel that, see that, intuit that — they’ll do more to nurture the religious part of that American Catholic biped. They will seek Catholic information, news and merchandise. They will then patronize digital Catholicism.

Who knows? Eventually maybe even the staunchest digital heads at Microsoft and Yahoo! will take notice and dedicate entire software applications to saints, sacraments and Scripture.

Eric Scheske is based in

Sturgis, Michigan.