Saturday, June 1, 2013

TFTD: On Rash Judgment and Divisions That Harm the Church

A friend brought to my attention an internet war between Catholics on the subject on where the line must be drawn between keeping hidden a truth which would be harmful to somebody if ever found out and outright lying.  Now I don't intend this article to take sides in this argument.  Rather, I write this to point out a fundamental lack of charity which is going on.

What saddens me about this debate is that it is not an issue of faithful Catholics versus "Cafeteria Catholics."  This is a debate between two groups of faithful Catholics who are losing sight of the actual intent of any discussion – to find the truth.  Instead, we see Catholics from both groups dogmatizing a certain interpretation and condemning the other as heretical.

The problem is, neither view is condemned by the Church (so long as the view does not say lying is morally acceptable when used to avoid evil or do good) and neither is mandated by the Church.  This isn't like the issue of abortion where the Church points out that the unborn child is a person from the moment of conception.  On that issue, there is a solid line in which no faithful Catholic can cross over without falling into error.  Instead, we have a range of understandings as to to what extent one can conceal the truth from one who would do evil with that knowledge.

Because of this, I write to ask people to remember the either-or fallacy.

The main point to consider is this (also called the fallacy of black or white thinking).  It takes an issue and divides it into two camps… one presented favorably and one unfavorably.  It argues "If you don't support [A] it means you must support [B]."  The problem is, if there is a position [C] out there, then the argument that an opponent must favor some evil if he does not accept your position is dishonest and lacks the charity which all Christians are called to.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2477-2478) reminds us:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

This means before one more Catholic blogger accuses another faithful Catholic of being heretical because he disagrees with said blogger, the question to be asked is: Does Church teaching contradict my opponent's position or does it allow different degrees on how the teaching is to be understood?

Again, this isn't an either-or issue like abortion.  Because the Church teaches that the unborn child is a person, no Catholic can take a stand which supports abortion (killing an unborn person).  This line is clear.

But other debates among the faithful of the Church are debates over whether situation [X] is on the right side of the line or not.  How does a Dutch citizen respond when Nazis show up at his door carrying submachine guns and asking "Where are the Jews?"  How does the undercover cop respond when a felon asks point blank, "are you a cop?"

These are not easy questions to answer.  Christians are forbidden to lie, we know.  An ancient Christian would be doing wrong if he replied "No" to the Roman soldiers asking the question "Are you a Christian?"  But what happens when someone demands to know something they have no right to know?  This is where the dispute exists.

This blog war is filled with rash judgment – many people are willing to assume bad will on the part of the other side.  But assuming bad will without evidence is the rash judgment which the Church condemns.

Both sides in a dispute where people disagree on how Church teaching is to be carried out need to look with charity towards their opponent and with a critical eye to their own position.  Respect and obey the Mother Church, but ask yourself if the position you hold is the Church position or whether it is the personal interpretation of what the Church teaches.

This is not to say that we should "give in to the other side" (that's the either-or fallacy again).  But when both sides in a dispute have a love for the Church, then the debate must be loving and charitable – where the goal is for everyone to reach a better understanding of the Church teaching and not to "defeat your opponent."

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