Wednesday, November 25, 2015

No Retweet; No Surrender

Every year, it seems there are more guides for young progressives in how to navigate political arguments with their less enlightened relatives.  Here's Vox's edition for this year.

The standard response to this type of thing is the reason for the holidays is for people to enjoy each other's company, not to score political points. And I'm on board with that.

But to take a slightly different tack, I think people are more likely to be moved by your perspective and your stories than echoing Ezra Klein's talking points.  If you know someone who stands to benefit from a policy you favor, or who suffers from one you oppose, tell that story. If it's more about the values that are dear to you, share that. If it's more of a technocratic number-crunching, well, maybe that's a discussion for the negotiating table rather than the holiday dinner table.

Your relatives invited you to celebrate the holidays with them. If they just wanted to hear what prominent writers had to say about issues, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and pulled up their columns instead of hosting or traveling to a family gathering.

You have a unique perspective on what's going on. Not because you read blogs that others don't but because of your life. I suspect that if you are welcome at a family gathering, so would that perspective, even if not everyone agrees with your conclusions.  If your older relatives have more anecdotes than you do, well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to listen to them, and incorporate their experience in your worldview. That doesn't mean you're wrong, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of how things impact people or how they're perceived.

In short, let's start standing up for ourselves and what we think instead of counting on pundits, memes, and think tanks do it for us.  They probably weren't addressing the human person who is in front of us, anyway.

And, maybe we can also bring more of ourselves to our other gatherings and spaces as well -- start talking to each other instead of throwing talking points, memes, and videos at each other.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Picking up the thread....

After spending several posts setting the table, I never got around to serving the meal on my response to the conflict between Ross Douthat and the Catholic academics. (If you want timely commentary, read a less busy blogger).

On a gut level, I agree with Bishop Barron's take. The way to respond to arguments that you don't like it to offer a persuasive counter-argument, not to complain to the writer's bosses. I would also agree with Damon Linker's note that Douthat's commentary on the synod is a curious point at which to commence concern with the New York Times publishing incorrect or misleading information about Catholicism. (ahem).

Nevertheless, one needn't look around too long to note that public debates aren't always won by those who have the truth on their side, at least in the short run. There are any number of issues where public opinion and policy runs directly against the facts.

In many of these cases, the argument that people cling to is something akin to, "Bad people are conspiring behind closed doors against you and lying to you about their true intentions."  This is an argument which, to Bishop Barron's point, is impossible to disprove.  It is an argument people will cling to in the face of evidence against their position.  It is an argument that drives people apart and leads them to distrust each other.

Given this, I think it is irresponsible to advance such an argument absent some solid information that this is the case.

I hasten to add that Douthat's commentary is irresponsible in the same way that much of, for example, Father James Martin's commentary about the doings of more conservative members of the hierarchy is; for example, his suggestion that the investigation of the LCWR was really just a politcially-motivated hit job.  Or the notion that Pope Francis only met with Kim Davis because some conservative bishop pulled a fast one on him.

From the beginning, it appeared that Douthat's coverage of the synod was akin to how he would cover a political convention - different factions jockeying for influence to push their agendas. I understand that often when politicians say they want a "conversation," what they really want is a particular out come of that conversation, and they will use whatever means at their disposal to drive the conversation to that outcome.

Perhaps it is naivete on my part (as Douthat's mocking summary of the synod would suggest), but that is not what I saw Pope Francis doing. I saw him recognizing a pastoral problem, and getting people together to try to figure out how to address it. Perhaps he was hoping for a particular outcome, but was open to where the spirit would lead them.

Now, this is not the argument the theologians made. They argued that Douthat did not have sufficient credentials to publicly comment theologically.

So I understand why the academics responded in a way other than a robust exchange of ideas. Columnists like Ross Douthat and his editors at the New York Times do bear a responsibility regarding the arguments they advance, give prominence to, or support.

Thus, my conclusion is that there's no real winners here.



Friday, November 13, 2015

Red Cups and the Pharisee's Prayer

Shortly after the red cups came out, I posted the following on my Facebook profile:

The way I respond to secularization of Christmas is to stand at the doorway of my church before Christmas Mass and wish everyone who walks in a Merry Christmas in my warmest voice, paying particular attention to those who may be arriving alone.

I also suspect there will be plenty of people in Christian run shelters, nursing homes, hospitals, and soup kitchens who will happily receive Christmas greetings.

If we're looking for Christ in our consumer purchases from big corporations, we're looking in the wrong place.

I received a good amount of positive feedback for this.

As the trickle of responses to this controversy developed into a flood, I started to feel a little bad about it. The number of people mocking those who were outraged seemed to greatly outnumber the people actually outraged. and it felt like I was part of a bullying mob.

Also, the criticisms began to sound like a modern version of the Pharisee's prayer.  I'm thankful I'm not like those other Christians who waste their time and energy getting mad about red cups. I care about homelessness, racism, the unborn, etc....

There was a tone of that to my message as well, though I also want to believe I meant it as earnest advice. I do find the need to stifle my holiday greetings to be a bit painful. For sure, it is not the worst pain in the world, and is probably not as intense as the pain non-Christians may feel of being excluded, but it is nonetheless real. I was suggesting some outlets for where to take that.

It did not come off that way, particularly in the context of a flood of mockery.

But was there value in this?

I suppose there was.  Absent this, the story would have been driven by the few who were outraged and atheists pointing to it as evidence of how screwed up those Christians are that they get bent out of shape over how Starbucks does or not decorate their cups. This provided an opportunity to demonstrate that those being outraged represented a tiny minority, and that most Christians actually are more concerned about human suffering than the degree to which big corporations validate their beliefs.

At the same time, I think we have to be careful that we're not putting ourselves above our fellow Christians.  It's a tough balance between speaking the truth about who we are and not lording it over other people.

Besides, observing what's happened to Halloween as its become separated from All Saints Day makes me wonder if the concerns about secularization should be so quickly dismissed.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Why Mercy Might Not Be Prudent

Mercy, by its nature, is inconsistent, and will appear to be unfair on the surface. A sin has been committed; it merits a certain punishment; that punishment is being commuted or eliminated.

Our sin merits eternal damnation. But Jesus has taken on those sins.  This is an enormous act of love. It is also profoundly unfair.

In a world where local church officials have the discretion to offer mercy and allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, there would necessarily be inconsistencies.  Some dioceses will be more lenient than others. Some may favor certain types of cases over others.

Our current media and cultural environment is very good at detecting and trumpeting these types of inconsistencies. Particularly if this those who benefit from the mercy are somehow less superficially sympathetic than those who do not (Imagine if a bishop allows a wealthy male Republican politician to receive, but not a poor woman whose first husband abandoned her...)

Thus far, the Church has not demonstrated skill in defending its positions and decisions in an environment (e.g. defending its right to not provide benefits that are in conflict with its values = a "war on women").  So, it seems likely that the fallen humans charged with implementing this policy will essentially grant a blanket amnesty, or apply some "consistent" but unwise rule for when people can be re-admitted.

This, as the critics point out, would represent a fundamental change to what the Church has always taught about marriage.

So, while I think that mercy brings us closer to Jesus, I don't know if we're equipped to handle it.

Ok, that should do it for putting my cards on the table. Now I'll look at the current conflict.

My Case For Mercy

I am generally disposed to favor the position of mercy, and allowing their return to the Eucharist for some divorced remarried couples.

What follows are my reasons for having this disposition. It is not an air-tight theologically rigorous case for this position. It is likely driven by some sloppy thinking that I will be embarrassed by later as I (hopefully) grow in understanding. But it's a snapshot of where I am now, and I want to be transparent about it.

I am generally opposed to using access to the sacraments, in particular the Eucharist, as a tool of doctrinal discipline. I have not supported efforts to pressure bishops to deny the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians (though I would support bishops who decide to do so), nor when this tactic was turned against those who favor torture.

Jesus's words are that those who do not partake of the Eucharist will die. That it is more vital to our eternal survival than actual physical food. I wouldn't discipline my daughters by denying them food, and this seems to me what denying the Eucharist to divorced remarried Catholics is akin to.

And it seems antithetical to the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels. Who tells the story of the Father running out to meet the Prodigal Son. Who offers Living Water to the woman at the well. I understand the temptation to build a Jesus in our own image and likeness, but it is still difficult for me to imagine the Jesus I encounter in the Gospels refusing the woman from the infamous phone call to Pope Francis (commentary on this is so polarized that I'll just link to a Google search on it).

To which one might respond that the divorced remarried are actively engaged in mortal sin by their continued involvement in their second adulterous marriage.

But it seems to me this proves too much. We Americans are all part of an economic system that continues to deny justice for the poor. A legal system that denies the right not to be killed to the unborn. That was wreaked destruction on the environment. And has been guilty of things like slavery, segregation, and destruction of native populations that we all now recognize as terrible injustices. And we are all, to some degree, implicated in them. Jesus seemed as concerned about these type of things as He was about adultery.

Now, we have not actively chosen to do so in the same way that someone who has entered into a second marriage has. But it does seem to me that one who would deny a repentant person in a second marriage communion for this reason, is a strong supporter of one of our two major political parties, and receives communion weekly without a bit of fear and trembling is engaging in a bit of selective outrage.

Again, this is what motivates my feelings. I'm am not saying this is what should motivate anyone else. And I will assent to whatever decision the magisterium comes up with. But this is why I welcome the conversation.

Next: why the merciful approach may not be currently prudent.