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Commenting on the same interview with Justice Scalia to which Molly draws our attention below, David Carr in today's NY Times discusses how people today tend to self-select the information and commentary to which they wish to subject themselves. Some quotes:

The polarized political map is now accompanied by a media ecosystem that is equally gerrymandered into districts of self-reinforcing discourse. Justice Scalia and millions of news consumers select and assemble a worldview from sources that may please them, but rarely challenge them. ...

Data from Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on trends in news consumption released last year suggests people are assembling along separate media streams where they find mostly what they want to hear, and little else. Fully 78 percent of Sean Hannity’s audience on Fox News identified as conservative, with most of the rest of the audience identifying as moderate and just 5 present as liberal. Over on MSNBC, conservatives make up just 7 percent of Rachel Maddow’s audience.

It isn’t just politicians that are feeding their bases, it is the media outlets, as well. The village common — you know, that place where we all meet to discuss our problems, relying on the same set of facts — has shrunk to the size of a postage stamp, surrounded by the huge gated communities of like minds who never venture into the great beyond.

But if you look past cable, talk radio and traditional media, there is another layer of self-reinforcing messages that may be having an impact. As Eli Pariser described in “The Filter Bubble,” search companies rely on algorithms to predict what users want to see based on past clicks, meaning that users are moved farther away from information streams that don’t fit their ideological bent. ...

To take that one step further, think of your Facebook feed or your Twitter account, if you have either. When you pick people to follow, do you select from all over the map, or mostly from among those whose views on culture and politics tend to align with your own? Thought so.

Unless you make a conscious effort to diversify your feeds, what you see in your social media stream is often a reflection, even amplification, of what you already believe. It’s a choir that preaches to itself.

I think a similar self-selection also occurs with regard to Church-matters.

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Truly an irony. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, there was a view that with increased modes of travel and exposure to other cultures and perspectives, it would not be possible to retreat into Catholic ghettos. This meant we had to engage and understand the broader world outside of Catholic enclaves.

When the internet came to be widely used, there was great optimism that we would be wired to the world and would interact with a wide variety of people.

The polar opposite has happened. We have never been more global or had access to global trends, ideas, images and people. And yet, at the same time, people can now increasingly self select media, associations and the public square is diminishing and becoming less and less evident.

The future will be (or is), at best, a kind of association of various groups and interests who come together for a specific purpose and there may be occasionally appeal to global or national interests. But increasingly, it seems, all of us will retreat to our comfortable enclaves. 

Because we have no right to be wrong about some things, I think it's incumbent on us to overcome what the moral theologians used to call "vincible ingnorance".  (Do RCIA courses and high school religion classes still go into that notion and what it means for our consciences?)  The problem is to find the most rational among our opponents.

I find that Rod Dreher and David Frum are the two most reasonable Republican writers, though Frum has quit his blog.  Dreher tries to give both sides and refers his readers to both his colleages and opponents on the net.  And his blog has both conservatives and liberals commenting.  Yesterday I was happy to discover that Nate Silver's 538 blog has returned.  He does try to be fair, and his thinking is so, so brilliant.  No to mention his data.

I've never known a great deal about poltical philosophy, and I don't know any theorists  worth reading these days who is good both good at theorizing and good at applying his/her theory.  No James Madison or Thomas Jefferson or Hannah Arendt anywhere in sight.  Jacques Maritain did have a good bit to say, but he's been dead for 40 plus years.   And JOhn Courtney Murray is long gone too.   Sigh. 

David Carr seems to be talking largely about the "echo chamber" effect, but I wonder to what extent it's worse than in days of yore. It would be interesting to know how many liberals Buckley's National Review back in the 1960s or 1970s. Or how many conservatives read The Nation. 

The suggestion that people do the same thing with Church matters is interesting. I'd be interested to know more about things you've observed that indicate this is going on. Do you think it's worse than it used to be? And what's the effect on the Church? 

(Students have been discussing the echo chamber in my class lately--about politics, or at least certain political policies--so it would be interesting to hear more about this.)

Sorry:  ... how many liberals READ Buckley's ...

Jean --

I'd say that in the Church up until the 50's you wouldn't find "liberal" and "conservative" Cathois because in those days it was generally  considered sinful to disagree with "the Church" (i.e., the Vatican) about dogma.  In the 50's, I'd say with the advent of the pill, Catholics started to voice their opposition to the contraceptive teaching, and dissent has mushroomed ever since.

One problem with that, I think, is that we were taught that all doubt was a sin -- it has only been with Benedict (yes, Benedict, not Francis) that even admitting problems with "the Faith" has been recognized as part of mature faith journeys.  But there are still many, many older people ("conservatives") who still strongly believe that to question/doubt/dissent is in every case to sin, and so they think that all disagreement with Rome is a blow to the foundations of the Church and a serious sin.  (I think the whole question of questioning/doubt/dissent/heresy has to be reconsidered.  But even Francis might not allow that.)

Of course there were liberal and conservative Catholics before the 1950s.  For anyone unfamiliar with the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jay P. Dolan's The American Catholic Experience is a good introduction.

Some search terms:  (Archbishop) Ireland, Mundelein, liberals, conservatives, secret societies, McQuaid, Spalding, Keane, Hecker, etc., etc., etc.

"The future will be (or is), at best, a kind of association of various groups and interests who come together for a specific purpose and there may be occasionally appeal to global or national interests. But increasingly, it seems, all of us will retreat to our comfortable enclaves."

If I may be quasi-surly, so what?  I don't want noxious philosphical/religious propaganda wafting into my peaceful and serene domicile.  If I decide to investigate, say, Islamic writings - the Koran and it's most popular hadith - I will do so on my own terms, quietly in my rooms without having to listen to demented imams raving about islamophobia, or liberal commentators telling me yet again that Islam is the religion of peace...

And why would I want to watch that poor Maddow woman earnestly demanding that conservatives just shut up, or go away, or just disappear, or whatever she believes will pacify her churning and troubled heart...

And why (I know, I'm going on and on...and on) would I want to question my Christian beliefs in order to satisfy liberal Catholics who think that doubting one's beliefs is the way to the great marmalade skies, the great land of Oz, the great...whatever.


I'll take my serenity over your questions and doubts any day of the week. 

Gerelyn --

Of course there were academics and people with special interests who could be called liberal or conservative about some matters, but by and large the people in the pews didn't disagree with Mother Church, or, if they did, they didn't say so publicly unless they had "lost their Faith".   It was a bit different here in south Louisiana where there was some typically French anti-clericalism , but even here people  typiccally didn't air their misgivings about the dogmas, if they had any, until the pill appeared in the mid-50's.

Even when I was at Catholic U. in the 50's and knew people from all over the country, the words "liberal" and "conservative" just ween't part of  people's everyday vocabulary.  They weren't needed/

Do you think a lot of people are just afraid of people who think/look/act differently than they do?



Before looking at the Commonweal blogs this morning, I opened my email. And found a 45-page mishmash about the Common Core curriculum and attached prayer cards for urging the Blessed Mother and the Little Flower to work on killing it. We get a lot of things from right-to-lifers. (What has Common Core to do with right-to-life? It is the Communist-Bill Ayers-ACORN-junk science  nexus, of course.) Anyway, this mishmash is by a person who lists no affiliations or qualifications, although she produces 60-something footnotes. Among her assertions is that Horace Mann was brainwashed in Leipzig with Marxism five years before Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto.

Now, Common Core is not one of the great hidden mysteries of 2013. The newspapers have been full of it. But the folks who spread this "research report" don't read the newspaper and wouldn't believe it if they did. So how can I allay their fears of the communist takeover of Catholic schools? (Which, by the way, is almost complete.)

I have my own problems with Common Core, but there's no sense discussing them with its most fervent opponents because I'd wind up as loony as they are. I don't even want to be in the same hearing room with them.

Jean Raber, during the 1960s I did have simultaneous subscriptions to National Review and The Nation. Both of them became predictable, so I don't subscribe anymore. In the '60s both were interpreting the same facts. Now, not so much. I  peek on-line.

I don't think the divide is quite as bad within the church on strictly Catholic matters. The pastor is still allowed to lead. (Although the folks who sent this morning's email think our pastor doesn't talk about abortion often enough, which, to them, would be every Sunday.) Bible study classes around here accommodate fundamentalists and those who can see no way the beloved disciple could have written Revelation, and everyone seems to get along cheerily.

Carr misses something basic.   The mainstream media, which self-identifies as overwhelmingly left of center, ensures that everyone hears the liberal point of view.   Only those who seek out the conservative point of view get to hear it.   I think that’s why those on the far left so often resort to name-calling ("troll" seems to be the latest fashion) and such when they try to engage in debate.   When their views are credibly challenged, they simply have no reservoir of facts or ideas to draw on to support their view.    They simply refuse to believe that others can be so stupid as to need to have “what everyone already knows to be true” explained to them.

I think this happens to a lesser extent on church matters.    There, I think the bigger problem is that too many people don’t hear any view.

"I'd say that in the Church up until the 50's you wouldn't find "liberal" and "conservative" Cathois . . ."

"Even when I was at Catholic U. in the 50's and knew people from all over the country, the words "liberal" and "conservative" just ween't part of  people's everyday vocabulary.  They weren't needed/ . . ."


It's a mistake to attempt to extrapolate from your own experiences/notions.  And it's disrespectful to the memory of  American Catholics who were proudly and passionately liberal or conservative.  

Again I suggest Jay P. Dolan.  Try search terms like "parochial schools," "slavery," "labor," "Maurice J. Dorney," etc., etc.

John T. McGreevy (who writes for Commonweal and blogs here) is another great scholar whose books could enlighten you.  

"[McGreevy] has written the best intellectual history of the Catholic Church in America."—Commonweal

Try search terms like "liberal," "conservative," "reformers," "Chicago," etc., etc., etc.



Commonweal and Catholic New York both come to our mail box. Which one is more carefully read? Why?

"Among her assertions is that Horace Mann was brainwashed in Leipzig with Marxism five years before Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto."

Wonderful! it reminds me of a website I came across a few years ago denouncing the Papist Church, and giving as evidence the "fact" that Stalin had once been a student in a Jesuit seminary in Georgia.

And before Wikipedia began to crack down on the more obvious hoaxes, I remember reading an article there pointing out that Thomas Jefferson's ancestors (or was it James Madison's?) had emigrated to North America from New Zealand. But that was obviously just someone trying to see how much he (or she) could get away with. 


I think many, if not most, people tend to follow their leaders or party when it comes to basic policy directions. I include myself in this. It is just not possible to understand the details and minutia of every issue. And there are usually at least three sides to any given issue.

But I am a harmony guy. I tend to be fairly leftist when it comes to economic matters. My siblings in the US are totally right wing Republicans. So when I am there I watch Fox News, etc. And driving with them have to listen to Patriot radio and I do learn things but some people do get on my nerves. Sean Hannity - enough already but Mark Levin I am laughing out loud. He has a sharp wit and some good ideas.

I was always impressed with Van Jones and make it a point to listen to him when he is on. He seems like a man of the left but a good heart and listener.

To me, the issue is public and civil virtue. I am not a fan of the "take no prisoners" approach in so much of modern politics. I much prefer the Chinese notion of trying, as much as possible, to have solutions that allow all parties to "save face".

I think we should follow St. Ignatius saying that is repeated in the catechism of the Church

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved

If we, as Christians, were able to actually do this, then we would truly be seen as different and as salt and light.





N. Gregory Mankiw has another POV related to political self-gerrymandering in the NYT today. A Republican who teaches at Harvard, Mankiw extolls the virtues of seeing both sides of an issue.

Wonder if there are applications to self-gerrymandering and religious matters. Or whether, in trying to see both sides of church matters, you simply become a confused, doubtful, and, ultimately, a non-practicing Catholic. 



"Commonweal and Catholic New York both come to our mail box. Which one is more carefully read? Why?"


Well, I tried to figure it out.  Both are mostly by men about men for men.  

(The CNS video at CNY about St. Therese's writing relics called her pen a "fountain pen," which it isn't, but sloppy editing wouldn't account for your preference, would it?)

I think a similar self-selection also occurs with regard to Church-matters.

But most Catholics do not select not to listen to the pope, so he provides the common ground, the voice that all will listen to if not necessarily agree with.

Commonweal and First Things both come to our mailbox.

Both are carefully read (and occasional letters written to both :-)!)

See the articles by Cavadini and Huetter in their current issues for the reason why.

I think a similar self-selection also occurs with regard to Church-matters.

Then there is the problem of being in contact with only a biased sample, in spite of one's efforts. I try to be in contact with a diverse set of Catholics who have a broad range of opinions on Church-matters, yet I don't know anyone who puts Humanae Vitae into practice. One can find them on the internet, but in real life they are as rare as the white unicorn. Is that a sign that I am in contact with a non-representative set of people? Or is it a giant internet hoax, and is there in real life not a single person who applies Humanae Vitae to their sex life? How do you know whether the people you know form a good sample of contemporary Catholic sensibilities?

I confess to self-gerrymandering myself right out of the Catholic church. I am not an "official" Episcopalian but I have gone to mass on Sundays in an Episcopal church for the last five years because I was so tired  of the attacks on "progressive" Catholics, the continued insistence on keeping women "second-class" citizens of the church and blaming it on Jesus instead of patriarchy, and because of  the "leadership" who refused to hold accountable the bishops who enabled priests to move from parish to parish and molest kids. I was worn down and found some peace in the Episcopal church, in spite of their own internal problems, which, fortunately, have settled down now that the most unhappy 10% have left. The rise in the "nones" should not be a surprise. It is a logical consequence of the turmoil in the  churches that so mirrors that in the secular society.  Maybe some of the self-selected gerrymandering is actually a survival mechanism for those weary of the arguments, especially in the church and in politics.


Claire, you wrote: 

"But most Catholics do not select not to listen to the pope, so he provides the common ground, the voice that all will listen to if not necessarily agree with."


Even when I was still a very active and involved member of the Catholic church  I knew very few Catholics who paid even the slightest attention to what the pope said unless it grabbed headlines in the secular media or was on the nightly news. Very few Catholics read Catholic publications, or websites or even the (usually heavily censored) diocesan newspapers, much less books, "popular" or academic. Fighting through the dense prose of someone like Benedict does not interest most Catholics who did not bother to read his encyclicals. The readership of academic journals of theology, ecclesiology, biblical history etc seldom includes anyone beyond professionals (mostly academics) in the field - they are not read by many in the laity. The total circulation even for publications targeted to the non-professional such as America, Commonweal, First Things, the two NCRs etc is in the tens of thousands. Nominally, there are more than 60 million Catholics in the US.  Most Catholics pay less attention to what the pope says than to what Bono says. This may be changing with Francis, though, because it seems a whole lot of the world, Catholic and not, are listening to what he has to say - for now, anyway.


I stopped listening to the last pope. He did not provide much common ground, relentlessly going after progressive theologians, priests and religious sisters who dared "dissent" from the official Roman line and  silencing them, even excommunicating a few. And for many, all of the ivory tower academic theology he is famous for meant nothing because he could not act on simple black and white morality and remove the worst offenders among the bishops. Instead he removed a bishop who suggested dropping mandatory celibacy and revisiting the subject of opening the door to the seventh sacrament to all Catholics. Money mattered too - he removed several bishops because of financial impropriety. But he never removed bishops who enabled priests to molest kids. Why listen to such a man? Academic theology is fun for the intellectuals in the church, but when it came to "real" life, he failed miserably in the minds of millions of ordinary Catholics.


I am still vested in what happens in the Catholic church which is why I still read Commonweal, America etc. I am listening to this pope. But not every pope provides common ground and a voice that all will listen to. Even the few who start out listening may eventually be so disillusioned that they stop paying attention to someone who to them is pretty much only a distant figurehead sitting on a throne in a foreign country anyway. I stopped listening to John Paul II after his sucker punch in the gut to women in the form of his letter claiming that it is God's will that women be subservient to men - to be passive while men are active daring to call this updated version of ancient patriarchy "complementarity".


Claire, maybe the reason so few follow Humanae Vitae is because it does not represent the sensus fidelium. The (all male celibates)  have ignored Newman's counsel to "consult the faithful on matters of doctrine". It's a settled issue for the vast majority of Catholics and few pay the slightest attention to 'official" teaching on this.  You will find few adherants in "real" life because very few Catholics follow this teaching if they have other choices (for example, assuming they have access to modern contraception which many do not in the third world). Most of those who live the sacrament of marriage (unlike the male celibates who devised it)  understand how false a teaching it is. And I have had to suppress smiles when the one or two that I have known who claimed to follow HV mentioned that "unfortunately" they  "had" to go on the pill because of an irregular cycle or other "female" problems.


I have met one or two couples in real life who practice NFP in accord with Church teaching and they believed that it enhanced their relationship and furthered their intimacy. This was in marriage prep. many years ago. Now, there was not a big emphasis on it and it was presented as an option. I assume that others who were teaching did not adhere in the same way but they did not share their experience.

I met two other as well though but interestingly they were not Catholic but more on the Wiccan, new agey, spiritualist, organic farming side of the spectrum. They were ideologically opposed to pharmaceuticals and the dangers they might have. So, yes, they did practice NFP with their partners.

I think it is far better when church teaching is presented as proposals to consider based on experience and reflection.

On the point of self-gerrymandering in church matters. Frankly, I see it much more in the US than I do elsewhere. Maybe that is a reflection of the broader culture. But you don't need to have advanced degrees in social science to predict which political party, in the main, the following groups will likely vote for.

1. A parish with Latin mass, traditional devotions, and traditional liturgies.

2. A parish with a huge social justice emphasis, progressive styled liturgies, lots of lay participation as EHMC's etc.


I embrace the gerrymandering by seldom leaving San Francisco .. this way my Church, friends, relatives  information, politics  remain pure and getting toxic infections is rare.. (-:  I watch regularly the  conservative cable guys [no woman seems to be an authentic conservative]  much like I watch  the African safari travelogues,  to be somewhat familiar with strange doings. SF is like living in Sweden with a multi-racial cast.  

Ed, Oh, come on. There are Michele Malkin and Ann Coulter. And the other one with stringy blond hair. And Gretchen, the couch bouncer who now has a show of her own (something her male former  sidekicks will never get). Just to name four. And Phylis Schafley still shows up for the big events. And Lynn Cheney will be a player when gets her residence straight. And what about Michele Bachmann and the divine Sarah? What are you talking about with "no woman"?

1. A parish with Latin mass, traditional devotions, and traditional liturgies.

2. A parish with a huge social justice emphasis, progressive styled liturgies, lots of lay participation as EHMC's etc.

George - I know you were making these as stereotypical as possible to make a point.  But even so, I don't think the world of Catholics divides as neatly as we might think.  The people of our parish probably would strike most folks here as a bit staid, conservative and certainly suburban, but we don't do Latin masses and we're not actually very strong on traditional devotions.  We do have a pretty strong outreach to the poor, so on at least that part of social justice, I'm very proud of us.  (But as I tell my wife, it is sort of a Republican outreach; the people in the ministry are not notably progressive in their overall outlook, and are known to counsel our clients to take greater personal responsibility).  Our liturgies might strike some folks as a bit on the progressive side, particularly  the music, which intentionally leans to the new, the contemporary and the lively (without neglecting the classics).  We have pretty strong pay participation in all the liturgical ministries.  We push the envelope a very little bit in the sense that women will offer reflections a couple of times per year.  

My sense is that this is all pretty mainstream.  It's a large community (something like 3,000 registered families), so there is some diversity of outlook.  Mostly, I think what we do here is what Catholics do, and we work at not veering too far to the left or right so as to ensure that people feel welcome and at home.



Sure there are women so called conservatives out there. but they need to walk around the block  at least 5  times and get familiar with the neighborhood. And all  being on the Fox payroll looks to me that they are really  actors on a set.and there are too many are bottle blonds. Blond libs like Matthews and Redford were born that way.. it's really about genetics. .   

In looking back at this conversation, It strikes me that it's really hard to get away from the "liberal"/"conservative" dichotomy when talking about the Church. Looking at Church matters through the lens of gerrymandering seems to demand that we maintain, voluntarily, some kind of distinction between ourselves and "the other" type of Catholic, no?


Big difference between the echo chamber of the world and poltiics and the "self-gerrymandering" to the teachings of Christ.  If only we were all in the echo chamber of Christ, the one were living in His love meant obedience to the faith and fully living the faith, nothing else would matter.  Sadly, the worldly self-gerrymandering merely reflects our own will, not God's.

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