Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Polarization and the Golden Rule

I’m sure people who think Trump can do no right are gonna see this as after-the-fact justification. Maybe so. OTOH, I agree with the principle of waiting until you have good enough info to speak and act. Too bad he doesn’t apply that standard evenly as is amply evidenced on his Twitter feed.

As I recall, Trump made his “equivocal” statement before the news broke about the car homicide, and at the time, having watched some of the video feeds myself, it seemed that both sides were indeed acting out and inciting each other, which is pretty much par for the course for so-called “peaceful demonstrations” these days.

There have also been many violent and ugly protests (and riots) incited by folks on the left side of the political spectrum, many against Trump himself. This is not tu quoque. I am not excusing what happened. I am indicting both the left and the right for our ongoing extreme polarization and the violence that this leads to.

As I said on Saturday, have said before, and will probably say again, racism is a great evil and a great sin. There is no excuse for it. I am personally disgusted by the behavior and talk of white supremacists, and I abhor and denounce that ideology in all its various pernicious forms.

What I am addressing here is not the particular ideology of the particular latest demonstration-turned-riot. I am addressing the larger issue that we, as Americans, so very many of us, are increasingly becoming incapable of viewing each other as fellow human beings and fellow citizens with whom we may happen to hold significant disagreements.

Instead, we vilify, demonize, and shout down. We refuse to listen and refuse to discuss as rational beings. We imagine we know each others’ hearts, and we rarely question our own. This can only lead us to one end: hate and violence. And that, in itself, only breeds more of the same as recriminations escalate.

We see this in the workplace. We see this in the public square. We see this among friends, and yes even among family. This is a dark, dark path we are going down, far more deleterious than any saber rattling by governmental powers.

But it’s not too late to reverse it. Each one of us can make the effort, no matter how personally offensive someone’s ideas are, to remember that this is indeed another human being we are dealing with and to treat them like we would want to be treated.

There is no doubt that if we stand for anything, someone will take offense and objection to our positions, no matter how right we think we are, no matter how much we think we are ‘on the right side of history’. So it behooves us to engage in the Golden Rule, especially when we disagree and are inclined to see the Other as our enemy.

Those with political power (even in a democracy) will always be tempted to use it to unjustly oppress and suppress others. We have never been immune to this, even in a country founded on liberal ideals, and we are anything but immune to it today. We should not forget our own history, and we must ever be on guard against the temptation to use power—even in the service of arguably good ideals—to treat others as less than human. This includes the power of government and the power of the mob, in whatever form that takes.

We are all, witting or not, members of the government or the mob or both, that is, some society of individual persons who by banding together wield collective power, and so it is on each of us—individually—to resolve to use what power we have to respect the Other and to treat the Other as we would want to be treated.

And Christians, especially, are called to an even higher standard—to LOVE the Other, to seek the good of the Other, even when it doesn’t personally benefit us. We ought to be examplars of how to live at peace with each other, not ever backing down from confronting evil but also never conflating the evil with the person. “Love your enemies...” May God give us the grace to love perfectly.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tenders of Signs

When I first read of Bp. Paprocki's decree on those in homosexual unions, I thought it was unfortunate in terms of timing and narrow focus on this particular area of morals, because people are so sensitive about this right now in our society. Harping on it seems to set the wrong tone in calling people to repentance. As an approach, it seems to more lend towards hardening people's hearts and resistance to the Gospel than helping.

Others I know think the timing is exactly right because of the mass cultural delusion of acceptance of immoral sexual behavior (and I don't just mean homosexual behavior). They are of the mind that we must repeatedly and simply restate that such behavior is immoral because they believe that without doing this, people will remain and/or become more confused about sexual morals.

They seem to believe that the call to repentance, that is, evangelization, consists in simply telling people what is sinful. Or at least this seems to be the main feature of such an approach to sharing the Gospel. They often excoriate those, especially our pastors, who do not follow this approach, while lauding those who do. "Finally, someone is speaking the truth clearly!" they exclaim.

Bp. Paprocki is both well within his rights and duties as bishop to issue his decree. He is right that he is simply and objectively applying long-standing Church teaching to a new societal situation. Within the context of an internal memo to his priests, there would be little to criticize because it's not intended as an exposition of Catholic sexual ethics but merely clarifying his diocese's treatment of a new social situation.

He explains the timing of his decree has to do with the recent acceptance of civil homosexual marriage, and our society's shifting attitudes with regards to homosexual behavior (as being a morally acceptable alternative to heterosexual sex within marriage). That is understandable.

Of course it would be naive to think that such a decree would not become public when concerning such a controversial matter, and I am sure the bishop is not that naive. I imagine he is of the persuasion I outline above, that is that more or less simply restating Catholic doctrine as applied to this new situation is our most appropriate response to the new situation. His video here seems to support this inference.

For my part, I am inclined to think that it takes all types. Some people are at the place in their journey that benefits from simple statement of truth, kind of like a shock to the system, a jostling out of one's comfort zone. Others more likely need a gentler approach. They need time and more indirect means of warming to the necessity of turning away from this or that sin that is dear to them. They need a kind hand on the shoulder, an assurance they can do it.

I think that God works through all kinds of different approaches in drawing people to himself, and the Holy Spirit can use even our human blunders to reach people's hearts.
For my part, however, I tend to think at the social, public level, it's time to err on the side of gentility. It's too easy for people to harden their hearts and simply tune out of the truth. On this matter, especially, our zeitgeist sends a reinforcing message that this tuning out is exactly the right response. "These people are just homophobic bigots," it whispers. "They're just hateful. You don't need to listen."

And so they will become or remain lost--precisely because we have reinforced this notion, that being a faithful Christian means you have to be a bigot. Who would be attracted to that? Who would want to leave behind something that they feel brings them some amount of happiness in order to become like that? No one. That's who.

Jesus almost always erred on the side of gentleness and compassion with sinners. He saved the majority of his anger and direct confrontation for the religious leaders of his day, particularly those who were very good at articulating every detail of the Law, following it to the letter, and all-too-ready to condemn those who didn't. He wasn't ever unclear about the need to repent, but his approach tended to be more indirect and aspirational--stirring desire towards God rather than scaring people away from sin. That's the approach I would rather try to emulate.

It's just not enough to simply tell people what sin is and that they are sinning. That's not even the message of the Gospel. The Gospel is the grace of God acting in our lives, ever renewing us and strengthening us. The Gospel is that God's mercy is greater than our many sins--sexual or otherwise--and that no matter how many times we screw up and fall back into them, God is always there, ready and waiting to pull us up out of the ditch, tend to our wounds, and strengthen us to continue our journey towards eternal life with Him.

Yes, we need signs telling us which road to follow, we need warnings about the dangers and drop offs, but those are just means to our One, True End. I think we need to be less worried about sign maintenance and more worried about being the helping hand that God uses to pull people out of ditches and being the person God sends to accompany them on the way. Having someone who knows the way travel with you is immeasurably more valuable, appreciated, and effective than any number of signs.