SYMPOSIUM OF EPISCOPAL CONFERENCES FOR AFRICA AND MADAGASCAR: GENERAL ASSEMBLY. LUANDA, ANGOLA, 19-25 JULY 2016
THE INFLUENCE OF MODERN MEDIA AND NEW IDEOLOGIES ON THE FAMILY IN AFRICA TODAY
by Most Reverend Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, Bishop of Oyo and President of the Episcopal Committee for Social Communications for Africa and Madagascar (CEPACS)
Your Excellency, the President of SECAM, Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, distinguished participants at this assembly, I am honored to be called upon to address today IN 20 MINUTES a theme which touches the very essence of the identity chosen for the Church in Africa by all the Bishops of the continent at the very first Synod of Bishops for Africa in 1994, “The Church as Family of God”. Time will surely constrain my expression.
In this presentation, we shall consider the concept of the Family, the Modern Media, New Ideologies and their all-pervasive influence on the human community, of which the family is central. To what extent can we say that the concept of community has radically changed and the interaction between and among peoples especially the family been impacted upon by modern media? Can we conclude or infer that the Modern Media have promoted a new ‘thinking’ in the human race to the extent that they aid new ideologies in positively and/ or negatively redefining human sexuality, parenting, family life and communication across time and space? What is the combined effect of this brave new ‘world without borders’ on the future of the family, especially in Africa?
We shall, in conclusion, propose the way to help the family in Africa in this world of unrelenting change.
I wish to highlight immediately a very important challenge. One can access abundant research in pastoral and sociological fields concerning the family in Africa, thanks to the focus of the Church on the family especially since 1994. But there is little documented research that measure the influence of modern media and new ideologies on the family specifically referring to Africa. In that situation therefore we can only make hypothetical inferences based on personal experience, exchanges and on available global material.
We must also note an open secret, that modern media centered on internet technology and the ubiquitous cell phone have penetrated every nook and cranny of Africa and their influence on all is both negative and positive.
The family has been described as the bedrock of society, until the advent of new ideologies. Sociologists Zinn and Eitzen (2002, p.7) referred to the family as ‘a haven, a place of intimacy, love and trust’. Macionis (2011, p.112) described the family as ‘an agent of socialization and the primary source of influence behind the formation of personality and the growth of a child.’ The Church, has self-defined herself as family in Africa asserting that ‘a man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family’, ‘a domestic church’(CCC: 2202), and the original cell of social life’. It goes further to describe it as the ‘community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honour God and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society.’ (CCC 2207, 2208).
We know that the family in Africa, traditionally is seldom monogamous and typically extends well beyond the nuclear family to include kith and kin and even strangers that have lived within the household for a long time. In the contribution of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar to the 3rd Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome, 2014, entitled: “The Family, Our Future” SECAM cautiously stated: “It is particularly noted that the Christian family comes from the sacramental and indissoluble union between a man and a woman. This union based on love, is opened to the procreation and Christian education of children. The indissolubility of Christian marriage remains a widely known brand…”(SECAM Publications, 2014). For the purpose of this paper, we can safely conclude that the Church’s understanding of the family has been coherent through the times and is based on the Holy Family as its model. It draws from the doctrine of the creation of every human being, man or woman, as created in the image and likeness of God, being by that fact, of equal dignity.
However, the concept of family and family life is being constantly redefined, just as the meaning of marriage within which the family should originate, has been subjected and is being subjected to various interpretations. This is partly because of urbanization and euro centricity, but even more with the emergence of ‘new ideologies’, new technologies and modern media which disseminate them with confusing consequences. The family in Africa gets little protection from that influence.
Modern or New Media
From one perspective, new media encompass all interactive forms of information exchange. These include social networking sites, blogs, podcasts, wikis, and virtual worlds. New media tend to level the playing field in terms of who is constructing messages (i.e., creating, publishing, distributing, and accessing information) (Lievrouw and Livingstone 2006). They also offer alternative forums to groups unable to gain access to traditional political or religious platforms, such as groups associated with the Arab Spring protests (van de Donk et al. 2004). However, there is no guarantee of the accuracy of the information offered.
From another viewpoint the Modern Media are the ‘channels’ and ‘places’, where we digitally work, live, share, discover and learn; (Wikieducator.org) ‘place’ meaning hangouts, community, habitat and village. But the places are no longer necessarily geographical. Modern media in Africa prioritize new media technologies, (particularly the cell phone) driven by the internet and convergent even of traditional media materials. Types of Modern Media include blogs, social network, RSS (Real Simple Syndication), Podcasting and mobile media. It is estimated that as at 2012, 4.8billion people all over the world were mobile media users. Perhaps the most pervading are social networks with online connections and communities that develop among peoples around shared interest. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Quora to name a few. The evolution of the social web and its compelling mobility and visual engagement have unprecedented social impact and sometimes powerful disruptive influence on what had hitherto been held as sacred facts, truth and even faith.
Predictably, these powerful tools are challenging established societal hierarchies, including religion and morality, and forging new links between democracy, human rights and international security and; influencing people, often in subtle ways, to rethink their ideas about family and family life, especially marriage, gender, sex and intimacy and the meaning of life and existence, to name a few. Marshall MacLuhan, often called the media prophet of the 60s, already predicted how media technology can actually influence or even change culture. He warned of the unintended effects brought about by each communication choice or strategy. He probably did not envisage what we see today when he affirmed at the time that “The medium is the message”.
For the purpose of this discussion, we shall consider some statistics to illustrate the reach and influence of one of the social networks all over the world, FACEBOOK. Facebook is a social network platform of more than a billion people connecting to each other and digitally sharing daily activities, photos, videos, music, games, and engaging with brands. Imagine this:
As at March 2016, the homepage of Facebook had these statistics:
The implication of this is that new ideas, opinions, ideologies are pushed or foisted on an active, indiscriminate, impressionable and even potential audience in an unrelenting, visually graphic and auditory manner each minute of the day. The young, the old, female, male and in between, the lonely and desperate as well as the intelligent and secure are engaged in a continuous debate or dialogue about everything under the sun, including what was once considered sacred. Each person appears to have a voice in the on-going debate by ‘liking’ or commenting, Marketers and statisticians are able to and struggle to predict and exploit the current mood, taste, belief, insecurities, needs, wants opinions of literally, billions of people across the globe and act, depending on what they are peddling at the moment.
The truth must be told however that all these make the world more open and better connected and otherwise lonely people have ‘friends’ that they share information, fears, joys, prayers, opinions, facts, fallacies with over long distances at the click of a button. Many families are connected, regardless of time and space.
However, the fundamental characteristics of the family are being constantly altered and transformed. One of the classical characteristics of the average African family is that parents would monitor the company or friends which their children keep. This was standard practice. Today, given the technological divide, people have hundreds of friends and acquaintances on facebook that their parents cannot access, talk less of know. The young people themselves hardly really know the friends they have or keep. The same can be said even of spouses one to another. The overall effect of this on the concept of trust and commitment is significant. People today actually live under the same roof with complete strangers while having close friends with whom they share every few minutes of their lives living across the globe.
I wish to share with this audience, an excerpt from a book written already in 1970 on new ideologies by F.M. Esfandiary with the title Optimism One in which he claimed that the spirit of ‘our age’ was not only changing but becoming more “optimistic”. He wrote:
Social, economic, and political systems of the past are increasingly obsolete. They are less and less relevant to new conditions rapidly brought on by the loosening of authoritarianism at all levels of all societies, the death of god, the increasing strength and fluidity of the ego, the humanization and convergence of mankind, modern contraception, common markets, international economics, intranational politics, communication satellites, nuclear energy, electronics, lasers, space travel, biologic control of life …
Who are the new revolutionaries of our times? They are the geneticists, biologists, physicists, biotechnologists, nuclear scientists, cosmologists, astrophysicists, radio astronomers, cosmonauts, social scientists, youth corps volunteers, internationalists, humanists, science-fiction writers, normative thinkers, inventors …
A totally new set of premises and goals are now emerging…….
We can no longer settle for better family life, more compatible marriages, more enlightened parent-child relations. We are on our way to dispensing with the very institution of family. We will settle for nothing less than the total elimination of neuroses, insecurities, and competitiveness which such inherently exclusivist systems such as family, clan, group, nation invariably engender. In time we want to dispense with the primitive act of procreation itself. We want to regenerate life outside the body and, in time, life
unconfined to any bodies at all……
This book was written almost six decades ago but the almost-on-the point-accuracy of it today is mindboggling! Marguerite A. Peeters in a study about the global cultural revolution entitled “The New Global Ethic” in 2006 warned about hundreds of new concepts introduced into human society by means of a new language which excludes, downplays or replaces concepts of the Judeo-Christian tradition like truth, morality, conscience etc. “Genuine human aspirations and perennial values got entangled with the bitter fruits of Western apostasy, which corrupted the process of globalization from within” (Peeters, 2006, p.2). Today, we have come almost full circle to postmodernity, where hitherto credible international organizations now undermine the family, encouraging children to “exercise their rights” against the instructions of parents and even religious leaders. A few weeks ago some news medium in Nigeria reported another such declaration that taking children to church could even be considered a violation of their rights of choice.
New concepts with hazy definitions have turned to normative global paradigm and action principles right under our noses. For example. the very concept of gender has been given new dimensions and sexuality has several odd ‘realities’ today that have been brought into the mainstream? It is no longer enough to be just Gay. The term LGBT has been enlarged to LGBTQIA+ to encompass the Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Queer, and as yet undefined others. By that acronym, gender is no longer just male and female but Cisgender, Transgender and even Genderless to name a few. In the realm of human sexuality, heterosexuals are no longer the accepted norm but accommodate the Bisexual, Intersexual and Asexual. Monogamy and Polygamy are no longer sufficient. Sologamy has entered into our vocabulary. There are no ‘deviants’ anymore, only ‘orientations’. Simon Parkins, while writing on the asexual orientation on bbc.com suggested that:
There are also different romantic orientations, he says. An asexual person can be heteroromantic (falling in love with someone of the opposite sex), homoromantic (feeling love for someone of the same sex), biromantic (experiencing love for both sexes) or aromantic (craving love and intimacy from no one), to name a few. Some may enjoy non-sexual forms of physical intimacy – like cuddling – while others may find it disturbing
We have even departed from just being spouses, boy or girlfriend to “partners” or “significant others” in order to cover up a multitude of relationships. Reproduction is no longer limited to conception and birth but in-vitro fertilization, sperm banking, surrogates parenting, egg adoption to name a few. All these “orientations” are vigorously seeking and obtaining legitimacy in law and sometimes through lobbying through the internationally recognized organizations and they hurt family life.
Esfandiary’s predictions have reached an advanced stage of realization. Even international organizations like the United Nations Organization and its subsidiaries UNESCO, UNFPA as well as the African Union (AU) and their declarations have come under the influence of powerful lobbyists and groups promoting anti-life and anti-family ideologies for self-serving interests. (e.g. The Maputo Protocol) Political parties, public and private organizations and even Christian NGOs which have either been infiltrated by the LGBT ideology or who profess it themselves have secured the backing of rich individuals and governments and now operate freely in many African countries, securing and influencing policies and legislation which affect families. The Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International and IPAS strongly operate in Africa promoting contraception, abortion rights and other anti-life strategies and dispose of huge funds with which they buy media coverage and space and disseminate so called comprehensive sexuality education, all of which undermines Christian and cultural values. They also lobby African governments to put in place anti family legislation for gay rights abortion, and other practices that favor their interest in exchange for huge grants and aids. In other words cultural imperialism, whereby authorities of African countries and peoples are compelled to accept alien and non-Christian ways of life in exchange for money and favors is thriving. In all this the modern media have become willing allies. In a similar manner the curriculum of education in some countries has been infiltrated and compromised to embrace and teach ideas and terminologies which parents hardly understand. How many people in this hall understand terminologies like “sexperience”, or “sexting” or “manopause”, not menopause, as english, not to talk of a whole glossary of abbreviations which could require a high school course for some of us to master?
There is now actually a dictionary of innocent looking words which we all have so far known and used but which have carefully been “repurposed” to mean another thing to this new generation. The project is a deliberate one under the banner of “New Global Ethic” engineered by an appropriation of apparently acceptable language for other purposes. Thus a concept which you have used all through life and would gladly use from the pulpit or in the family, thanks to the power of popular media and megamoney, now conveys a noxious meaning, thereby turning you to an unwitting agent of those new ideologies. Words like compassion, consensus and participation applied to the church and established institutions are now tools for entrenching relativism fall into this class. Media products and productions now disseminate powerful concepts and themes and names that alienate or downgrade African culture and Christian values and glamorize foreign and decadent ones. I could go on and on
It would not be fear-mongering therefore to say that the influence of modern media and the effect of new ideologies converge and affect families: let us examine a few:
Modern media influence:
Create or sell false images: Modern media entice people to create, construct and live with a false image of the self, according to the comments or likes one may gain as a result of posting that customised self-image. They give an illusion of having so many friends. Yet in real life, the individual could be a loner. Modern media applications are constructed in a “user friendly” way, providing Accessibility, Affordability and Anonymity, three powerful camouflages for moral misadventure. Thus, anonymous text chats, voice chats, sharing nude images and videos abound on facebook, wazzap, and instagram.
Perhaps the most fearsome dimension of this influence is found in the assault of Pornography: New media, easily provide and promote access to pornography which is the sale of false personalities. Pornography today is big business with derivable revenues by 2006 alone exceeding 97billion dollars. Different global studies have shown that Pornography is significantly responsible for prostitution, infidelity and divorce. A 2014 survey in the U.S showed that most young men between 21 and 31 did not want to marry because pornography meets all their sexual needs, thereby undercutting the raising of families. According to Sharon Slater, President of Family Watch International “Pornography destroys lives, dreams, marriages and families. It does not discriminate based on race, culture, age, gender, political affiliation, religion or financial status. It is a leading cause of marital breakdown today and generates serious problems for individuals, families and societies” (Slater, 2012. p.220) Pornography is one influence of modern media that deserves special attention if the Church is really concerned about preserving the family in Africa. Domestic violence, incest, divorce, prostitution, sex-related murders etc have all been linked to it and they are increasing in Africa.
Connect and disconnect: Modern media have created a “head-down culture”. People wish to relate and communicate every second of life with others, known and unknown, who are far away from the physical location. As a result, interpersonal relationship in the family or in the local communities is ignored and the individual laid open for ideological harvesting. The touch phones which made us to be in touch with others have put us out of touch with our relationship with the people who are living physically near us. It is what Albert Einstein predicted about the defeat of humanity by technology.
Compromise the Church and faith – Modern means of communication tend to render orthodox worship boring and irrelevant – After all one can obtain EVERYTHING in a “more fun way” with music, video and jokes from modern media. It is thus not uncommon to find people (irrespective of age) in church but also on their phone, reading a different homily and listening to music etc. Modern means of communication are also enemies of silence which is an important component of Christian spirituality.
Many people today listen and obey more the modern media rather than to parents, guardians, teachers etc. Modern media have become the source of reference – not the bible, not the spiritual books not even the television. Something is right or wrong because it has been declared so by modern media. Essentially, modern media play a key role in encouraging many to see family values as not important at all. This is because, in the African family context in particular, cultural practices which were traditionally prohibited, such as homosexuality, pornography and infidelity are now gradually being accepted and being embraced because modern media have declared them alright, glamorous and fashionable.
Influence of New Ideologies
The new ideologies, seeking to transform and even replace existing ethic and culture diffuse the following characteristics:
Easy going lifestyle: People have less and less values for the traditional way of living and respecting one another. Technology practically keeps away the people with whom we live. The new generation is so interested in counting the number of friends secured on Facebook and acquiring likes and dislikes. This has escalated to many virtual friends devoid of responsibility while ignoring heart-level communication or interpersonal communication in the family or in the society.
New Ideology teaches That prosperity is everything – Today’s “feel good” and prosperity ideology, wild fashion trends and superficiality suggest to people that only youthfulness, beauty, wealth and success makes one compete and that corrodes respect for old age, families values and cohesion. This ideology kills the African family instalmentally.
One child or no child is desirable – The ideology that promotes “the quality of living” rather than the sanctity of life is anti family and imposes the selfish Western notion of having less or no children at all on the younger generation. If you need no children why make a family? Thus, people, in order to belong, resort to the contraceptive culture etc to avoid pregnancy. At the same time so-called gender equality ideology advocates multiple sexual partners, or even better, freedom to cheat on your spouses. Logically, this too provokes family disintegration.
The African Family: what can be done?
There is no gainsaying that we all live in an era of technology take over which will only increase in the future. The family does seem to be under siege. While some aversion to gay culture and its appendages still exists in Africa, some elements of the younger generation no longer feels much revulsion about gender bending and is already disposed to accommodating some form of sexual (dis)orientation. Some even use their choice of this lifestyle as a tool for securing asylum abroad, claiming to be avoiding persecution at home. The Church must however keep believing that the benefits of the new media far outweigh their demerits even with respect to pastoral possibilities and spiritual engagement. That has been the unassailable position of the Church which must however confront the challenges of their negative manifestations. Here below are some proposals:
What can be done
I count on the discussions from this assembly to enrich my perspectives and more importantly propose strategies for the Church to strengthen the family. Here below I propose some.
The Church must do all in her power to celebrate and “enrich” existing marriages and families at every opportunity and speak more openly and directly about the benefits of chastity before and within marriage. Can we not propose an annual Continental Day of the Family for every conference? As there can be no family where life is not welcome, we must collaborate with Pro-Life and Pro-Family organizations and groups irrespective of religious and denominational differences which favor and nurture the family. In this manner we can find a more effective way of teaching Natural Family Planning (NFP) and other approved sexuality support methods and re-emphasize that sexual intercourse belongs within marriage and the family and so denounce the borrowed culture which emphasizes the contrary.
There is need to clearly expose and denounce the key post modern concepts and paradigms that attack and affect family life and help people to deal with them. Reproductive health gender equality and family planning as opposed to responsible parenthood, the right to choose against the conscience, the right to freedom against divine revelation and the law of nature etc confound families and they need the pastoral guidance of the Church to discern what is right.
The Church must absolutely be more present on the digital media in a deliberate and informed manner. In this she must create new apostles, make allies of young people themselves who are natives of the digital world and entrust them with the gospel values. This has been proposed by a meeting of Bishops working in the communication apostolate as far back as 1989 in Rome. Same goes for investing in Priests, Religious and pastoral agents to see the digital media platforms as the new pulpits of our time. It is beyond contestation that billions of people today turn to the social media for their source of information yet there is too little investment in media programmes for evangelization in Africa.
The Church in Africa must commission experts in relevant fields to do more research and propose new solutions and approaches to contemporary challenges to evangelization. We must also respect, use and disseminate their work more. The Church must demonstrate more belief in the power of her own teaching and doctrine to bring about a new humanity and a new world, regardless of current appearances. She does not have to change her teachings to reach the people of today’s world but she has to deliver that teaching in a different way, with a new approach which today’s transformed, mediated populations can access and share.
4 . Be more prophetic
The Church must eloquently denounce harmful new ideologies as essentially atheistic, seeking to disestablish the concept of God and religion from public discourse and consciousness. She must be conscious of this and continue to creatively re-establish God and religion where they belong. The Church needs to denounce the sneak, elitist conspiracy which tries to victimize all religion identifying it as divisive, extremist and violent. She must strategically emphasize that authentic religion is indeed necessary for the sanity of human society. In fact, “If God did not exist we, in order to live sane, would have to invent him”.
It is necessary to regularly monitor and celebrate affirming news and activities about the family whenever possible. This is very important given the anti family lobbies in international organizations and forums seeking to impose harmful laws on developing nations especially. Fortunately some well-meaning groups and institutions also get results by resisting such anti-family legislation and groups. Only this month, Family Watch International announced a historic family resolution which has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council. Such a resolution which confirmed the role of the family in supporting and promoting the human rights of persons with disabilities, made at that level should be celebrated and disseminated to energize the resistance of families against the negative assault of media and new ideologies. Highlights of the resolution include the reaffirmation of the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society, which is entitled to protection by society and the State. Not only is this a major victory against the aggressive anti-family lobby in the United Nations, it is also in complete agreement with the definition of the family in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC. “The family is the original cell of social life…Family life is an initiation into life in society…” (CCC 2207-2210). It is important to support and encourage such groups that have the skills to secure such victories.
Thank you all for your attention!
Resource Persons Consulted