Four months have passed since the United States presidential election. Those who were ready to stay up a bit later that evening for the results, hoping to retire before midnight, were disappointed as uncertainty about electoral ballots continued on and on. Instead, what followed was not a day or week of uncertainty but a tortuous month of uncertainties before the Supreme Court determined the winner. Scores of books and investigative reports will narrate the sequence of events in years to come about the sequence of events, and conspiracy theories will doubtlessly abound.
As someone who has spent half of my adult life studying and teaching outside the United States, I found myself experiencing a growing sense of malaise about the mediaespecially televisioncoverage during that post-election turbulent month. It confirmed my uneasiness that something is awry about how what is going on in the world is reported. The news programs which today account for the principal source of reporting to the nation became mesmerized by the U.S. drama to the almost complete neglect of coverage of events elsewhere in the world. A high degree of interest in the national crisis was natural, but it was almost as thought the rest of the world had faded into dark outer space.
Broadcasting systems naturally report first on national news, but in most countriesexcept for dictatorial governments, and not only the tiny and economically uninfluential onesusually move quickly into news of the world. Reports include news of other countries such as violence, uprisings, natural disasters, internal reorganization and human accomplishments. One feels a sense of being part of the global scene. Perhaps that is why most other nations have a better sense of geography than most Americans. I view this as a public weakness in our national character, a kind of narcissictic narrowing of horizons, Newspapers, especially those published in larger cities with notable resources and huge circulations, will do a better job giving a global outlook. One may have to turn a number of pages, but eventually get to a news accounts about places such as Congo, Ukraine, the Philippines, or Iraq. And there are high-level weeklies of news and opinion that have a global perspective, but their circulation is highly limited.
Is there some way that those segments of our society in which we live and teach can assume some leadership for raising the awareness of their members and associates to the crises and needs of famine, illiteracy, pandemics, ecological disasters, but also good news such as achievements in research, learning, medical discoveries, explorations?
In 1870, the First Vatican Council described one aspect of papal ministry as the popes to express his sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum. Wherever responsibilities are exercised in the church, be it through ecclesiastical office or theological study and teaching, all those in leadership roles need to cultivate in themselves and others a true solicitude for the other churches and religions, for nations and cultures, for minorities, and those in need wherever on the globe they may be located. In its own modest way, the journal Theological Studies tries to promote a global awareness. One example from the last several years, at the suggestion of James Keenan, our yearly Notes on Moral Theology have tried to cover moral theology as it is being formulated and contextualized in the various continents such as Europe (1998), Asia (2000), and Africa (2001). Next year will feature an article on the study of Christian ethics in Latin America. We also are trying to promote more global awareness has been an increase in writers from other countries, not only English speaking countries such as Canada, Australia, Ireland, but also Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, etc.
The closer collaboration of our theological societies such as the Catholic Theological Society of America with European and Asian counterparts is to be praised. Especially in a time when international and transoceanic travel is easy. The various synods of bishops in recent years, both international and regional, have tried to foster a global sense of collegiality. Twinning of parishes, faculty exchange of professors in schools of theology, have been other means used.
Translations seem to have diminished. Not only because they are paid so poorly but because there are fewer and fewer English speakers who are adept at least in German, Dutch, French, and Italian.
Our recent December issue, devoted to African American Catholic theology has already taken one small step even within our own country we selectively concentrate on the major interests, and neglect minorities, powerless, and immigrants. Hopefully American foreign policy will not be based on perceived self-interest but on humanitarian sensitivity to the needs of the less fortunate.