Letter from Fr Toby Lees

Written by on 29/11/2022

Dear Listeners,

I’m going to start off with a provocative statement: ‘You’d be better off if you paid for more things’!

Now, you might retort, ‘Chance would be a fine thing, I have to pay for everything and more than I used to!’ And popular expressions would back you up, ‘Nothing in this life is free’, or ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’. However, I often tell my Uni students at King’s College London that the Uni years are an exception to this, there are about as many free lunches available as there are societies.

But once you leave Uni, the free lunches really do dry up, unless you become a priest or religious, in which case it is my experience that you’ll have lots of lovely people trying to feed you, and a mother’s voice in your ear saying, ‘Don’t eat too much of it, you’ll get fat!’

However, even for those of you who don’t have other people trying to feed you, however big the bills may be, it’s also the case that a lot of things that you had to pay for, once upon a time, are now free (except that they’re not, but we’ll come back to that later). You can now watch movies, listen to music, read the news from multiple sources, browse magazines, look up locations on maps, get live-time travel advice, listen to lectures from top academics and you can do all this on free wifi in many different places.

Of all these free things, I just want to think about free news for a moment. What does it say about a society where most people don’t pay for the news and are happy for advertising pressures to determine the content of the news? Because that is the reality, if you’re not paying, and no great philanthropist is paying, then somebody else is paying. When the thing that is being paid for is as precious as the news, I think you want to ask, ‘Why are they paying?’ You might also want to ask whether what they want from the news and what you want from the news align with one another?

Now what I want from the news is to be truly informed about what is going on in the world, and especially where I live, so that I can make informed decisions about what to do on the back of that information. Advertisers, it seems to me, want something very different. Advertisers want to stoke your desire or your sense of inadequacy.

Once upon a time there might have been a tension between these different interests of reader and advertiser. The newspapers ran adverts, but they received a good proportion of the money from readers who would complain if there were too many adverts or they got in the way of the news.

Now the tension is largely over, as the money comes from one side alone, and I’m not alone in thinking that the news suffered, and society as a result. There is less trust – and people now talk about fake news – we don’t just think other people have different opinions about what should be done, we think that other people are deliberately lying to us so that we are not properly informed and so cannot properly decide.

We now live in the age of the attention economy and we have to be alert to how it works. Nicholas Carr, a writer who looks at the interplay between technology, economics, and culture, once insightfully commented on the online world, ‘If you’re not paying for it, you are the product’. All the websites, all the news sources that you get for free because of advertising . . . well, what the advertisers are buying from the website is your attention. And they know your attention is precious because we tend to love that which we attend to, and we tend to give to that which we love.

But the news is far too important to be monetized purely through advertising. As tech philosopher Jarod Lanier said in a recent interview, ‘People survive by passing information between themselves. We’re putting that fundamental quality of humanness through a process with an inherent incentive for corruption and degradation. The fundamental drama of this period is whether we can figure out how to survive properly with those elements or not.’

What the Church calls the Tradition is the passing of information of members of the Church between themselves, especially down the generations. And the truths that the Church hands on in this way, are timeless truths, they are truths about Jesus Christ, and we should treat them like the pearl of great price.

Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and anyone who follows Him shall have eternal life. The truth about Him matters more than anything, and at Radio Maria we do not allow advertisers, so that nothing gets in the way of the preaching of the saving truth about Jesus Christ, and that nothing distracts you from it.

We’re asking you to support us with your donations so that we can continue to present to you the pearl of great price which cannot be sold, nor do we want to sell your precious attention to anyone else.

I’d suggest you pay for your newspaper too because the truth matters and the truth will set you free. But as well as setting you free, the truth also costs money to broadcast. Just like those journalists who are still animated by the quest for truth need support, we at Radio Maria, people who care about truth above all things, need your help to make sure there is a Christian voice available in homes for many years to come. It matters that Christian truths are broadcast on the airwaves and not just uttered in Churches. So, please join us in our important mission and support us in any way you are able.

Speaking of truth, I want to suggest two programmes in particular to you this month. First, we are delighted to be broadcasting a series with Aid to the Church in Need that brings stories to light of persecuted and faithful Christians whose stories might otherwise be forgotten. Thanks to the work of ACN the truth of persecution of so many Christians is brought to light. The stories are painful and beautiful, and in being so, they share in the saving truth of the Cross.

I’d also suggest that you have a listen to Fr Gregory Pine’s wonderful talk on ‘How to Think like St Thomas Aquinas’. You can find that amongst our podcasts by clicking on the link below. Fr Gregory tells us to pick a master, to pick someone who you can learn from and take them very seriously. If we don’t pick a master, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have one, it’s just that someone else will have done the picking.

As the elderly knight says in one of my favourite movie scenes at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, ‘You must choose, but choose wisely, the true grail will give you life, but a false grail will take it from you’. Of all the vessels the world presents to you to drink from, keep choosing with Our Lady and Her radio, choose Radio Maria!

God bless,

Fr Toby Lees

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