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Crazies show how Google flattens the news

31 March 2017


WHAT to do about the crazies is always a problem. There are some people whose viewpoint is so far out of the mainstream that they see stuff that is visible to no one else, even when their view of everything else that is go­­ing on is otherwise hideously distorted.

It is rather like the way we all think of history: there are some things obvious to the fu­­ture which were very hard to see at the time, although the perspective that allows us to see them conceals a huge amount — just as im­portant — that was obvious at the time.

Which is a long way round to the web site Novus Ordo Watch. It is run by people who reject the Second Vatican Council so com­pletely that they suppose that there have been no real popes since John XXIII.

Not for them the proposition that Pope Benedict XVI was some kind of reactionary: “The past and present beliefs and actions of this individual reveal that he is not a Catholic, and therefore he cannot possibly have held the highest office in the Catholic Church, the papacy. Furthermore, the ‘episcopal consecra­tion’ of Fr. Ratzinger in 1977 was invalid, and hence Joseph Ratzinger is not even a bishop but only a priest (ordained in 1951).”

Their fury at Pope — sorry, “Pope” — Francis, of course, knows no bounds. The two most recent headlines are “Blasphemy! Fran­cis jokes about Most Holy Trinity” and “VATI LEAKS: Francis flaunts use of portable toilet during Milan Visit”.

Yet the site seems to have picked up a real story by its fanatical attention to the potential heresies of the Pope.

Quoting the Zenit news service, it says that when Pope Francis visited the Anglican Church in Rome last month, he said that he was perfectly happy that Roman Catholics and Anglicans went to communion in one an­­other’s churches in the remote reaches of northern Argentina, and that the Congrega­tion for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome knew about this. Admittedly, he does not say explicitly that either party actually takes com­munion on these occasions, but it is the clear implication of his remarks.

This produced the most wonderful outburst from Novus Ordo Watch: “There is more to it than a ‘mere’ participation in false worship, however, because not only is the worship of Anglicans heretical, schismatic, and un­­authorized, and therefore objectively odious in His sight (cf. Jn 4:24; Jude 11; Num 16), but any Anglican ‘Masses’ are also invalid because all ordinations performed by the Church of England are ‘absolutely null and utterly void’, as declared by Pope Leo XIII in 1896. . . “Winding up to a perfect conclusion: “Here we see once again that the real news is much more absurd than any fake news ever could be. You just can’t make this stuff up!”

Indeed you can’t.


APART from casting light on the Pope’s method for introducing change, which is
to make use of facts on the ground, the story also illuminates the flattening influence that Google has had on our consumption of news.

Back in the palaeographic era, before every­thing came on screens, there were all sorts of physical clues to suggest that the Vatican’s views on who was Pope might count for more than those of anyone else with a broadband connection. There would be the quality of the print and paper, as well as its quantity, and there would be the huge disparity in dis­tribution mechanisms.

But, in the eyes of Google’s index, all are now equal, a situation that the National Secular Society and Christian Concern have also ex­ploited. All opinions take up the same amount of screen space on my desk. All are an equal number of mouse-clicks away.

This will not be undone. The loss of estab­lished authority in print parallels its loss in the outer world. Online, at least, what has replaced it is brute power.

This is what makes so significant the con­tinuing withdrawal of advertising from Google-owned YouTube, and even from Google search ads, by companies unhappy about the material that their ads appear beside. That is much more significant than the Daily Mail’s clearly self-interested front page de­­nouncing Google for its links with the Cameron government.

Last week, AT&T and Verizon joined the YouTube boycott in the United States. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in play here.


ANOTHER worldwide trend is the revival of state religions. Nothing could seem less fash­ionable in England right now, although even here there is a strength in English nation­alist Christianity which is easily over­looked.

But The New York Times had a long story about the President of China, Xi Jinping, and his efforts to promote Buddhism as a part of Chinese greatness. “Mr. Xi, by making China a guardian of a major faith like Buddhism, also sees religion as a way to promote China’s posi­tion in a world still dominated by the United States. . . Indeed, one of Mr. Xi’s signature lines is, ‘If the people have faith, the nation has hope, and the country has strength.’”


MEANWHILE, The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that Mormon missionaries are ham­pered in their work in Brazil by the faith’s prohibition of coffee-drinking. Another case for radical inclusiveness.

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