by Marco Corvaglia
As early as 1985, La Civiltà Cattolica, the historic Jesuit magazine, wrote, about Medjugorje, "a large number of books, articles, interviews, videos, movies, radio and TV reports, which, in fact, give - and not only to us - the impression of an advertising campaign very well and diffusely organized” [Giovanni Caprile S. J., Circa i fatti di Medjugorje, "La Civiltà Cattolica", No. 3238, 18 May 1985, p. 363].
Perhaps there is an inaccuracy in this description. The advertising campaign was not and is not "diffusely organized". It grows in a completely natural way and is self-feeding: in many cases, those who make propaganda have in turn been victims of it.
It remains only to understand why it happens. And it is not difficult.
Let's start with the books: whether we are dealing with Medjugorje, or, for example, with any magical or mysterious belief, the market is dominated by publications in favor of the phenomena at issue.
Currently, in Italy, hundreds of books on astrology or on UFOs are on the market, nearly all written by and for "believers". With regard to reiki (a New Age practice), on the market there are 61 books, of which only one is critical.
As to Medjugorje, the situation is analogous.
What does it mean?
Since publishers are commercial entities and invest only in what can increase their gains, the alleged wonderful and mysterious phenomena, although there are deep differences between them, mainly attract the attention of those who believe in them already (and not of the skeptics who are more likely to ignore than to criticize them).
Stuart Sutherland, Professor of Psychology at Sussex University, noted:
The paranormal is news, its absence is not. In 1979 an excellent book (by David Marks and Richard Kammann), which debunked Uri Geller's tricks and other alleged paranormal phenomena, was turned down by over thirty American publishers, all of whom were competing to publish books endorsing psychic phenomena.
[Stuart Sutherland, Irrationality, Pinter & Martin Ltd, London, 2013, p. 225]
If we extend this scrutiny to the other mass-media, we must remember that these are also legitimate activities for profit. Therefore, they must give the general public what it wants.
London University Professor Stephen Law wrote:
Tabloid newspapers and TV production companies know that, as a rule, their audiences tend to be more interested in dramatic and extraordinary tales than in articles or programs that shed doubts on such stories. As a result, even while pretending to be "balanced", TV programs on the paranormal are often little more than puffs for self-styled psychics. Doubts, if voiced at all, tend to be in the background.
[Strephen Law, Believing Bullshit, Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 2011, p. 177]
The popular monthly of the Pauline Fathers, Jesus, in a survey which explored the way in which TV addresses the phenomena linked to religion, highlighted:
The TV preferred the easy and profitable way of turning into a spectacle the "religious fact" - both in the information and in fiction - instead of trying a more difficult but perhaps more respectful path of reflection and analysis.
[Laura Badaracchi, Schermo divino, "Jesus", No. 5/2004, p. 53]
Arnaldo Nesti, Catholic scholar, former Professor of Sociology of Religion at the University of Florence, in the same survey said that TV production is "in line with an external devotion and with sensationalism" [ibid.] and added that "religious communication remains in a context devoid of a critical aspect, as if there were the concern of not being respectful" [ibid., p. 52].
It seems that this is not so much a sincere respect as an instrumental use of certain religious phenomena. In any case, what happens is that an ample space is given to news reports and stories inspired by the sensationalism and, if the arguments are likely to hurt the feelings of many people, not too much room is left for criticism, not to irritate large parts of the public. It is clear that this does not help an informed and objective assessment of the facts.
Updated on 10 December 2013