The British writer, C.S.Lewis speaks about some "modern" parents who wanted to make sure their daughter did not grow up with an anthropomorphic or human picture of God. So they taught her that God was a substance. Years later that girl, now a grown woman, said that the word "substance" always brought to her mind the image of tapioca pudding, and to make matters worse, she didn't even like tapioca pudding!

The words we use suggest images to us, and those images in turn promote particular attitudes. Over long years I have given many talks on the Church's social teaching. Occasionally someone would take great exception to what I said. In many cases I found that it was because my words on some topic suggested to them a particular image which they strongly rejected.

Some writers have deliberately used words that invite a particular image and corresponding attitude. Many years ago a well-known anti-union journalist in the United States, named Westbrook Pegler, started the practice of referring to the democratically elected leaders of labour unions as "labour bosses", thereby promoting an attitude of antagonism, by subtly suggesting that they were bullies. Pegler was so successful that this term has come into common usage today.

Years ago some newspapers began referring to labour-management conflicts as "labour conflicts" in spite of the fact that such conflicts represent a breakdown in relations between both labour and management. It takes two to tango! Once again this way of putting things has now become common and it serves to promote an attitude of antagonism toward organized labour.

There are many other expressions in common use that serve to foster negative attitudes. We find reference to "the deserving poor" (suggesting that many of the poor are undeserving) and to "the tax burden" (implying that the price we pay for a civilized society is somehow unfair or an unjust imposition).

Christianity is about conversion or change. We readily understand that this means a change of heart. However it also often means a change of attitudes or mental images. The French philosopher Paul Ricoeur writes: "Every real conversion is first a revolution on the level of our directive images. By changing his imagination, a man changes his existence." The British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein showed that many of our philosophical difficulties arise from our tendency to associate some word with a particular mental image. "A picture held us captive", he wrote. Once we see that the word could just as well evoke a different image, our philosophical difficulty vanishes.

Romano Guardini, a mid-20th century theologian showed that many of our difficulties with particular teachings of our faith arise from an image that we tend to associate with that teaching. Change the image and the difficulty is gone. What many people are dealing with, then, is not a failure of faith but a failure of imagination. In the same vein, Cardinal Newman wrote: "It is not reason that is against us but imagination."

Being open to the social teaching of our Church often involves being prepared to change our social images and the social attitudes that go with them. This can sometimes be a difficult process because all of us are profoundly influenced by the images and attitudes of our culture. We live and breathe those attitudes and most often we don't even notice them. They are simply there like the glasses that perhaps we wear.

What image comes to our mind when we speak of human dignity, of human society, of the common good, of human rights, of property, of work, of politics and politicians? In coming articles I want to look at the images and attitudes that these words promote in our culture, and to contrast them with the images and attitudes that we find in the social teaching of our Church. That teaching is, in many respects, very counter-cultural. In appreciating this fact, and seeking to exemplify our social teaching in the attitudes that we bring to daily life, we can more fully become the light that the Lord calls us to be in our society